Peep Show‘s eighth series makes it the longest running sitcom on Channel Four, but is that a good thing, asks Jennie Pritchard?
I am of the opinion that in the UK, the longer a TV show goes on the worse it gets. Most shows manage two decent series and then begin to wilt considerably. There are some exceptions, of course, but looking at offenders such as Skins and Misfits on E4, and BBC3’s Being Human, you just wish that they’d quit while they were ahead.
Yet Channel 4’s longest running sitcom, Peep Show, has returned for an eighth series this week, and its opening episode suggests the show will continue to prove me wrong. At the end of the last series we were left with what could have been a finale for the show, with the two main characters agreeing to go their separate ways. But thankfully Sunday’s episode found Jeremy (Robert Webb) struggling to move out of Mark’s (David Mitchell) flat, making the pair inseparable once again.
The script from writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain is as strong as it was in the first series, and it is clear that the writers’ diversion into their other marvellous project, Fresh Meat, has not dampened their vigour for Peep Show. The programme is relentlessly quotable, usually at the hands of the “crack addled maniac” Super Hans (Matt King), who makes a fleeting yet welcome appearance in this first episode. (He now works in a bathroom store, amazed by the soft-close toilets seats: “It’s like they’re winking at you in slow motion. Flirty little fuckers”.)
Mitchell and Webb show no signs, either, of getting tired of their hapless counterparts Mark and Jeremy, even after the better part of a decade. The pair continue to indulge in what is less of a “love/ hate” relationship, and more like an “absolutely despise/ despise slightly less” relationship. The question of why a borderline-OCD, megalomaniacal, military history obsessive continues to tolerate and live with an ignorant, childish, compulsive liar is answered by the fact that they are both completely and utterly useless. And it is this shared uselessness that makes their relationship so exceptional. The series’ opener contains the greatest Indian-takeaway-based torture scene ever committed to film, and leaves a lasting image of Mitchell’s huge, sadistically owlish eyes in your mind which crops relentlessly back up just as you’re nodding off to sleep.
If any criticism could be made of the show, it is that very little has changed since we were introduced to the characters in 2003. Admittedly, Mark now has his baby son Ian, conclusion of a probably unpassionate night with Sophie (played by Olivia Coleman who is sadly absent from this episode, and we must assume is only too busy being brilliant to feature). Nevertheless the show retains its formula. Any hint of happiness for Mark and Jeremy is snatched away by their own inadequacy: they’re still stuck in the same flat, they’re still single, they’re still miserable.
But how can we deny this set-up works? It’s frighteningly true to real life. Whilst other shows attempt to liven their plots with stark re-imagination, there is little indication that Bain and Armstrong are running out of horrible and hilarious things to do to Mark and Jeremy.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and this new series of Peep Show is certainly as sharp as it has ever been. Part of me longs for a happy ending for Mark and Jeremy – but let’s hope it’s still a long way off.