Peep Show: Series 1 Review
Peep Show is one of the most bizarre television comedy concepts in recent years. Using the simple premise of two very different friends who live together and get into all sorts of awkward predicaments, creators/writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain have come up with a winning formula that takes the mundane and catapults it into the realms of bizarre surrealism. The two protagonists in question are Mark (David Mitchell), a slightly chubby fellow who works in an office and has a very buttoned-down view of the world, and Jeremy (Robert Webb), a wannabe musician who prefers to leap before looking. Throught each of the six half-hour episodes that make up the first season, we see these two getting into all sorts of embarassing dilemmas, usually brought about as a result of their foolhardy conquests over the opposite (or occasionally same) sex. Secondary characters include Sophie (Olivia Colman), the object of Mark's affections who works in the same office as him, Super Hans (Matt King), Jeremy's idiot friend who happens to share his ambitions in the music industry, and Toni (Elizabeth Marmur), Mark and Jeremy's eccentric next-door neighbour and Jeremy's next potential conquest.
Barring a couple of establishing shots in each episode, everything is seen through the eyes of one of the characters - usually, but not limited to, Mark and Jeremy. By introducing this technique, we are allowed to see the world as seen by these characters and to experience their inner thoughts. This results in some truly bizarre photography, showing a side of life that is rarely witnessed in comedy, or indeed television in general. Especially disturbing are scenes involving sex and other such intimacies, as we see these moments in minute close-up - and POV shots of people girating wildly can be a little discomfiting. All this could easily become gimmicky, but thankfully this is for the most part avoided due to the fact that the show never once tries to take itself seriously. Everything is delivered in the same glib, deadpan manner throughout, and the fact that the show is mercifully devoid of a laugh track means that the jokes are not drawn attention to in an obvious way. The behaviour of the various players is also completely unpredictable, resulting in a number of exchanges and plot twists that prove to be genuinely unexpected. Characters are as likely to react with complete indifference as they are to launch into a string of imaginative expletives, and if I had to assign a label to the show, it would probably read "The Young Ones meets The Office". However, while I find The Office about as amusing as watching paint dry, I just happen to think that Peep Show is one of the most hilarious television shows created in the last decade.
What makes it so funny, and at times so disturbing, is the fact that virtually everyone will know a real-life counterpart to every single character. We all know a Mark, a Jeremy, a Sophie and a Toni, and they are probably no more or less eccentric than the ones in the show. The inhabitants of Mark and Jeremy's world are incredibly bizarre, but incredibly normal at the same time. Even when the situations they find themselves in get completely out of control, they are never allowed to progress so far into surrealism that they become unbelievable. It is this ambiguity that cuts right to the bone on many occasions, one of the best being in Episode 3 in which Jeremy, having sex with Toni while she at the same time conducts a ferocious row with her seemingly unconcerned husband about who gets to keep which CDs, wonders if this little twist is actually making the experience more or less enjoyable. Indeed, if I could select a favourite episode, it would be this one, as it cuts extremely close to the bone and treads the fine line between being hysterically funny and down-right unsettling.
Of course, not all episodes are created equal, and some of the story concepts are stronger than others. The amount of replay value that the show possesses is also questionable, since while I found each episode absolutely hilarious on the first viewing, certain moments failed to even raise a chuckle when watching them for the second or third time. This is, of course, very much the nature of television in general, but to Peep Show's credit, the show maintains a consistent tone throughout and no single episode can truly be described as a stinker. (A lot of this is probably due to the fact that the same director and writers were responsible for every one of the six episodes.) Overall, Peep Show is a highly entertaining piece of work that may not be outrageously intelligent, but it certainly appeals to my base insinct towards laughing at things that border on tasteless. If, like me, you find the idea of grow men uttering words like "Cocknob!" and substituting groceries for bowling balls immensely funny, then Peep Show should be right up your street.
Transferred anamorphically in its correct 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Peep Show looks about as good as can be expected given that it was shot on low quality digital video. The image is usually quite grotty-looking, especially in dimly lit scenes, and high contrasts tend to bloom to an extent. However, the low quality suits the "Peeping Tom" style of photography, and at the end of the day it looks about as good as it did on television. It's hardly going to show off your home theatre system to its fullest potential, but I doubt that anyone would expect it to.
Audio comes in the form of an unexceptional but serviceable stereo track. Again, like the image quality, it can hardly be accused of being high-tech, but it fits the style of the series itself perfectly well. English subtitles are provided for the episodes themselves but, sadly, for none of the bonus materials.
Bonus materials are fairly light but not entirely unsatisfying, kicking off with an Audio Commentary featuring writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and actors David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Covering Episodes 1 and 6, the on-screen work of these individuals is definitely superior to their contributions here, which are for the most part dull and uninformative. Perhaps there isn't a great deal that can be said about a show such as this, but I was certainly expecting more.
The other extras are divided into two sections, each named after one of the protagonists.
Mark's Extras are comprised of his Video CV, an embarassingly cheesy affair involving him trying to behave naturally and making all sorts of dreadful puns: definitely essential viewing. Two additional scenes involve Mark attempting to get first Jeremy and then Sophie to read sections of Scorpion Patrol, which in the actual show is the book read at Jeremy's uncle's funeral.
Jeremy's Extras, meanwhile contain his Audition Tape for Big Brother, which pokes fun at the gaggle of self-loving idiots that sign themselves up to that show every year, as well as his Last Will & Testament, a tie-in for Episode 6, in which he believes he has a fatal disease passed down to him by his uncle. The highlight, however, is his "Outrageous" music video, which is quite possibly one of the most disturbing pieces of work I have ever scene. It features Jeremy careening about and telling us that "This is outrageous, this is contagious", intercut with images of people disguised as Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden and the Queen in all sorts of unflattering positions. The video ends, appropriately enough, with Jeremy (disguised as an extra-terrestrial) running "the Queen" through with a large sword.
This DVD release of Peep Show: Series 1 is a reasonably satisfying and perfectly adequate presentation of all six episodes, rounded off with some relatively amusing bonus features. Compared with the lavish treatment given to TV series like Spooks on DVD, this might seem like a let-down, but on the other hand plenty of other shows are released bare-bones, if at all. If you have a penchant for the bizarre, you should definitely look into this release, whether or not you saw the series on television.
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:04:14