Monday, June 09, 2008

Peep Show - Series Five

Peep Show series five has just aired in the UK, and was once again a familiar combination of laugh-out-loud funny inner-monologue, cringeworthy situations and abject misery as we live within the heads of two social misfits, Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), as they embark on the day-to-day grind of modern-day life.

As with the previous four series, home is the two-bedroom flat in Croydon. Mark still crunches numbers at JLB while Jez harbours dreams of making it as a musician, all the while sponging from Mark. We rejoin the odd couple at an unsurprisingly downbeat juncture with Mark trying to hoist himself from post-wedding depression by desperately searching for ‘the one’. Meanwhile, Jez still drifts through life, riding on the coattails of his housemate and, as we discover, his mother.

During the six-episode series, which is largely centred around Mark, the duo get up to the usual scrapes including a disastrous double-date which ends with them encountering a teenage burglar. Elsewhere Mark getts raped by a ‘lesbian’ and Jez performs at a Christian music festival. All the action, once again, is entirely shown from the POV of its characters and, as always, the best moments come from the characters’ inner thoughts.

The protagonists are obviously perfectly-defined by now. Jez is still having sex with everything that moves while Mark, in spite of the fact that he seems to have more romantic liaisons this time round than in the show’s entire history, is still a mess of deep-rooted anxiety, guilt, misery and awkwardness.

While Peep Show is still clearly the best situational comedy around right now, series five wasn’t the best so far. Its episodes were far too self-contained. While that may sound like an odd complaint (all sitcom episodes are self-contained), the narrative lacked enough of a thread to carry it along from the start of the season until the end. Mark and Jez seemed to just move from one embarrassing and ultimately disastrous scrape to the next with no real direction. While this was a similar problem in the last series, at least then it was all building up to the big will-they/won’t-they wedding. In earlier seasons, Mark’s long-standing infatuation with Sophie and Jez’s marriage to Nancy/love for Big Suze/Toni tied everything together well and gave each episode nice subtext and drive. We are so invested in these characters now that we need more than what almost amounts to a collection of unrelated incidents.

Another problem with this series was the under-use of long-term peripheral characters. While Big Suze, Johnson and Jeff perhaps had a smiliar amount of screen-time as with previous outings, they certainly didn't have the same impact on the narrative. Perhaps most disappointingly though was that Superhans (above) seemed not to be as prominent as before. He was the lynchpin of the funniest show of the series, episode two, where he gets Sophie's cousin Barney to… well, you’ll just have to watch, but otherwise he was used too sparingly - often just for the occasional, outstanding quote ("Jez can you tell me, yeah, as a mate, someone who knows me really well; is the bottom half of me on fire?").

One interesting new character though is Dobby, the computer nerd who is surely ‘the one’ for Mark. Hopefully the writers were foreshadowing something for the next series, as she is an excellent addition to the Peep Show world.

Ultimately though, the whole thing just felt too downbeat, even for Peep Show. Jez’s selfishness came across as slightly malicious and the sense of doomed inevitability surrounding poor old Mark removed any sense of hope or surprise in most of the situations. We just knew things were going to go horribly wrong, thanks usually to Jez. Okay, so that is the tried and tested Peep Show way, but it just felt a little too formulaic in this latest run of shows. To quote Mark, it was too “grimly predictable.” For the first time some of the gags really missed the mark too – most notably the sperm-bank scene.

In spite of these issues, there are still as many funny individual moments here as before, and of course, there are quotes to die for (“I would literally stab a baby for that,” “Never said it was bum-rape, Mark,”) and thankfully the cliff-hanger end was strangely optimistic and leaves the door wide open for series six. Indeed, the closing scene even offered redemption for Jez, who had a wonderful moment akin to David Brent telling Finchy to ‘fuck off’ in The Office. Ironically, although episode six was the least amusing, it was possibly the best of the series as, for the first time in what feels like ages, it wrapped itself in plot revolving around Mark, Jez and Sophie. Now that is what we bought into.

Narrative issues or not, Peep Show is still head and shoulders above the rest, and hopefully, if series six can reintroduce Nancy (or give Big Suze more to do) for the sake of Jez's character, get Superhans even more amongst the plot and tie Dobby, Soph and Mark into a storyline together, we are in for a treat. And then of course there is the whole mess between Mark, Jez and Soph. Yikes.


dave said...

I agree I wasn't massively impressed with this series. Still better than most other stuff tho. Whats your favourite series. Mine is probs 2 or 3

Rob Townsend... said...

Erm, I think series two is the best one in terms of narrative and structure. And I think series three is the best in terms of funny quotes. Then, series one, four and five in that order.

I think they're all brilliant though to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Super Hans rules!

Marky Mark said...

As a massive Peep Show fan, I have to say I agree with what your saying.

Overall series 5 has been my least favourate so far, although Marks desperate claims that every girl he met could possibly be 'the one' always made me laugh.

Strongly agree that Super Hans is underused. Matt King could not play the role any better and writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain have both commented that Matt King makes the character 20 per cent better. Thank god Russell Brand wasn't cast as him!!

spunkwhale said...

Best Superhans quote, a tiny one-liner, was when Jez was hunting through his dead aunt's belongings and exclaimed 'Fuck!'. Superhans' response...'what? Dildo?'. Had me in tears.

Bobby Six is Rob Townsend... said...

My fave from SUperhans goes something like: "I tell you what, that crack... it's eally moorish."

Also great from Jez/Mark: "We could try the number."

"The three digit number."

"Yeah. It's worth a try.... It's not gonna work.... It doesn't work."

Anonymous said...

I love peepshow. I love British TV. Too bad American shows are so over written and badly acted.

Anonymous said...

best quote was mark after supposedley taking an e
'I think ive got the famous munchies'

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