Peep Show: Series Two Review

There are a number of pre-cursors to Peep Show - it’s a buddy sitcom in a similar vein to The Likely Lads; its protagonists happen to be flatmates à la Men Behaving Badly, 15 Storeys High and perhaps The Young Ones - yet it occupies its own niche. It is, undoubtedly, a sitcom, but it’s also far cleverer than Men Behaving Badly (which would never be able to get away with an undisclosed Macbeth gag, by way of example) and doesn’t quite revel in its own oddness as 15 Storeys High had a tendency to. That said, there is an aspect which most definitely conforms to the latter and that is its fundamental approach. Essentially, Peep Show is seen solely through the eyes of the characters on screen and as such we are also privy to their thoughts.

Not that this is in any way a gimmick. Indeed, it’s demonstrative not only of the way it’s been executed but also the strength of the performances and the writing that this never becomes the show’s key facet; within minutes we barely even register it. During his episode commentary director Tristram Shapeero points out various moments where angles are incorrect or have been manipulated, yet you’d have to be incredibly attentive to notice otherwise. The simple fact is that it’s the plotlines which draws us in and not the gimmickry.

What this means for the series is that everything is pretty much the same as before. Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb) are still flatmates; Mark’s still uptight (“If you ask me Skywalker was bloody lucky turning off his guidance system”) and Jeremy’s still difficult to pin down exactly, though by his own admission he’s hardly part of “the mainstream” and occupies his “own little puddle”. And this series is still primarily concerned with their love lives. Mark still pines for Sophie (Olivia Colman), Jeremy still pines for neighbour Toni (Elizabeth Marmur), but then religious American beauty Nancy (Rachel Blanchard) comes on the scene and entices the latter. Plus, we have a of number characters around the edges to flesh things out: Toni’s husband Tony (John Hodgkinson) returns; Super Hans (Matt King) is currently on crack; Alan Johnson (Paterson Joseph) returns from the first series to become Mark’s boss; and there are a pair of his work colleagues in the form of love rival Jeff (Neil Fitzmaurice, co-writer on Phoenix Nights) and racist Daryl (Steve Edge, though he's sadly only around for a single episode).

In focusing on the romantic mores of our intrepid pair, Peep Show sets itself up as observational comedy. Everything becomes a potential minefield – from Mark buying condom for Jeff to him trying to ascertain whether “mate” or “pal” would be more appropriate when trying to bribe a security guard – and in this respect you could draw parallels with The Office. Yet Peep Show also moves beyond the embarrassment and manages to achieve a genuine emotional connection. By allowing us to hear the characters’ thoughts, or rather just those of Mark and Jeremy, we are allowed a level access that wouldn’t come with your average voice-over. As such there’s a dramatic weight beyond the laughs which can lead to a number of heartfelt moments. Episode four, in particular, in which Mark “stalks” a student with “the magic of beauty and low self-esteem”, and nearly succeeds, packs quite a punch. In fact, the overall sense of dejection which infuses all six instalments often makes Peep Show as downbeat as it is uproariously funny.

For this is a sitcom and an incredibly precise one at that. It’s not simply the performances which are spot-on, but the overall construction. As with, say, Fawlty Towers or Curb Your Enthusiasm it throws in various disparate threads only for them to escalate into a near-inevitable conclusion. Thus, romantic jealousy in episode three leads to being declared anti-social on the local news which in turn prompts a fake Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and demanding to be punched on CCTV. Or there’s the “stalker” episode which begins rather benignly with a trip to the shoe shop and later takes in the pair being held prisoner in a corner stop storeroom. And ultimately it is entire episodes and their warped logic which we remember, not just the standout gags – surely the mark of a first class comedy.

The Disc

Peep Show’s second series comes on a single disc. All six episodes are present and correct and treated to an anamorphic presentation. On the whole, they look pretty good – there are no signs of damage, though it could be said that they do appear a little murky at times. That said, this could also be the result of small scale digital cameras which was used rather than the disc. Watching the accompanying featurette reveals that different cameras had to be used for different situations (a “head cam” was devised for shots involving great deals of movement, for example) which explains the discrepancies. As for the soundtrack, here we get a decent DD2.0 mix as per its original television transmissions. Again, this is fine and handles the dialogue heavy script without a single discernible flaw.

The extras, however, are on the disappointing side. The featurette errs towards the smug and unfunny, as do the commentaries. Webb and Mitchell contribute ones to episodes one and six alongside writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, whilst Shapeero teams up with producer Phil Clarke for episode four. The former are nowhere near as funny as you’d expect (especially if you’d experienced Mitchell’s fairly recent Have I Got News For You appearance) and the latter tends to be a little too technical for its own good.

The only pieces of interest then are the collection of deleted/alternate/extended scenes and Gog’s film (which is key to episode two). Television series being of course restricted by timing considerations the former excerpts therefore contain a number of minor gems. Note however that the picture quality does not equal that of the series proper. As for subtitles, these are present on the featurette and the deleted scenes, but not the commentary. (Gog’s film has only musical accompaniment and therefore doesn’t require any.)

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Last updated: 14/06/2018 08:12:42

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