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Mind of the Modern Man: "Peep Show" Might Just Be the Best Comedy Series Not on US Telly

I'm not quite sure why British comedy series Peep Show hasn't caught on like gangbusters here in the States.

Created by Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, and Andrew O'Connor, Peep Show stars comedic duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb (of That Mitchell and Webb Look fame) as two flatmates who haven't quite come to grips with their adulthood, their manhood, or their tenuous grip on reality.

BBC America aired the first two seasons of the painfully hilarious series a few years back and then stopped showing the series for some reason, even as it went on to film three additional seasons, with a sixth expected this fall and a seventh on track for next year. (Hulu, meanwhile, is currently streaming the first season of this hysterical series.)

This summer, I decided to sit down and watch Peep Show's entire five season run so far on DVD, the spoils of a trip over to the United Kingdom, in part to see if it was as good as I remembered and to find out what had happened to Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb) since I last saw them.

I breezed through all five seasons of Peep Show this summer with gleeful abandon. If you know anything about the series (and if you don't, I've included the first two episodes in full below), you know that it hails from the same school of painful humor as the original British version of The Office. You can't help but wince and indeed cringe (and sometimes watch from behind your fingers) even as you're laughing uncontrollably.

Because each episode is told from the alternating point of view of both Mark and Jez, it's hard not to sympathize with their predicaments as we're privy to their innermost thoughts and fears... and odd little (or not so little) eccentricities. In another series, we might find their behavior abhorrent or even criminal; here, it's par for the course as we're dragged along for the ride, forced to hear the boys justify their mad ideas to themselves.

As for Mark and Jez themselves, they are an odd couple from the classic book of odd couples. Mark is a fastidious credit manager at JLB Credit, a man whose idea of living it up is to follow wheat toast with a slice of white toast ("the pudding," he calls it) and pining after his co-worker Sophie (Olivia Colman). Jez is a wastrel wannabe musician with a penchant for drug-induced mischief and a terrible, terrible taste in women, whether it be their married neighbor Toni (Elizabeth Marmur), the wealthy but manic Big Suze (Sophie Winkleman), or manipulative American flirt Nancy (Rachel Blanchard).

One might think on the surface that Jez is the true sociopath of the bunch but over the course of five seasons Mark engages in a host of bizarre behavior that makes one question his very sanity... or his grip on social convention. Together, they are a morass of immoral thought, action, and impulse. Yet it's hard not to fall for them, even as they squabble over anything and everything. They can be the best of friends (witness their El Dude Brothers routine) or the very worst of enemies (keep an eye out for an episode in which Jez keeps a stomach flu-suffering Mark a prisoner).

There's a surreal and heightened quality to the series that makes it a real treat, even as it satirizes the mundane elements of everyday life. What other series would have its protagonist peeing in the desk drawer of a rival (only to try to cover up the evidence) and have him terrorized by hooded juveniles in the streets?

Peep Show feels both contemporary and timeless in a way. Mark and Jez are very much living in our material-obsessed world but the humor that's derived from the awkward and uncomfortable situations they find themselves in (often of their own making) is universal. Who can't remember the sting of unrequited love? Or recall the sensation of having done something terrible while under the influence of some excessive indulgence? Or sympathize with the wracking guilt experienced after engaging in some morally complicit behavior?

Yet the real fun of the series is watching Mark and Jez stumble blindly into those very situations, often with the help of their so-called friends and colleagues. (Super Hans, I am looking right at you.) Even as you scream at the pair to stop whatever it is they are doing, the humor on Peep Show has a way of escalating at an alarming rate, taking you from merely uncomfortable territory to a downright squeamish kingdom of painful hilarity. Writers Bain and Armstrong have an uncanny knack for pushing these situations past their seeming breaking point to create a comedy that's often shocking in its scale.

But don't take my word for it. Watch the first season of Peep Show on Hulu and experience one of the very best comedies to come out of Britain in recent years and possibly the best series that's--very oddly--not currently on the air in the States. Once you peak into the depraved minds of Mark and Jez, you might not want to leave your house again, both for fear of who you might run into on the street and also because, like Super Hans, you'll want another fix straightaway.

Peep Show: "Warring Factions" (Season One, Episode One)

Peep Show: "The Interview" (Season One, Episode Two)

Peep Show returns to UK screens this fall with a sixth season on Channel 4.


Anonymous said…
I've seen every ep and it is easily in the top 5 best comedies on tv. These guys are amazing, theyre sketch show Mitchell and Webb Look is also excellent.
I was so mad when BBC America stopped showing Peep Show. It is brilliant and wickedly funny and by far one of the best comedies on television.
susie que said…
Imagine if Curb Your Enthusiasm was about two, young British guys instead of an old, Jewish writer and then multiply the awkwardness and hilarity by 100 and you have Peep Show.
Invisible Hand said…
Why else does BBC America exist if not to air shows like this? Seriously. It's funny, cutting edge and creative in a way that makes HBO comedies envious, yet so few people know about it. To me it deserves a place among the pantheon (Larry Sanders, The Office UK, etc...). It's that good. Thank God for Having Peep Show delivered every year is one of life's little pleasures.
ted23 said…
Just watched the two eps you posted and I'm in love! Really funny and painful as you said to watch. Checking out the next eps on Hulu. You've converted me!

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