Peep Show: Series 6 Review
I have a theory that all comedy series have a natural life span after which they should be put out of their – and our – misery. The longevity of a particular show depends on the flexibility of the format and the space given to let the characters grow. Some bright writers and performers realise that this is the case and deliberately leave us wanting more –John Cleese and Ricky Gervais being prime examples – while others don’t and, consequently, stretch the show to such an extent that the audience begins to wonder why they watched in the first place.
It is with considerable regret that I’m beginning to wonder whether Peep Show isn’t threatening to fall into the latter category. When it started it was a breath of fresh, or perhaps more accurately filthy air which broke taboos with alacrity and brought the use of voiceover to a new level of ingenuity. What the writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain realised is that it’s far more important for us to find characters interesting and funny than for us to actually like them very much and, equally significantly, that it is often the bad behaviour of characters that we identify with rather than their heroic deeds. As the series progressed over the next couple of years, our sympathies kept shifting between the two central characters; Jeremy (Webb), a pretentious wanker whose inability to show any interest in getting a job and self-delusional belief in his own musical genius and sexual prowess is both infuriating and hilarious; and Mark (Mitchell), a drone in the service of a dodgy credit company whose insecurity, initially attractive to us as viewers, gradually breaks down into a variation of sociopathic madness, nervous breakdown and hysterical megalomania. Both these men are disastrous human beings – Mark is the underdog who knows it while Jeremy is the one who doesn’t. Most of us would cross the street to avoid them but we see enough of ourselves in them to keep us watching and laughing – and, crucially, hoping they might rise above themselves and find the happiness which eludes them.
By the end of series four, the show had found a perfect place to finish. Mark’s abortive wedding to his long-time dream girl Sophie (Coleman) ended in disaster and he was last seen driving away in the hire car accompanied by Jeremy. As in so many sitcom partnerships – Bob and Terry, Harold and Albert – the real marriage was to each other and any other relationship was doomed to be peripheral. If Peep Show had finished on this wonderfully bleak note, it would have been an unsullied masterpiece. But the fans wanted more and it came back for a patchy Series 5 which still had some gleefully disgusting set-pieces – Mark and Dobby in the cupboard being the best – but, overall, felt a bit strained. It ended with Sophie announcing that she was pregnant but left us in the dark as to whether the father was Mark or Jeremy.
So, at the start of Series 6, this remains unresolved and the series begins with a different focus – the closure of JLB Credit. This allows for some funny moments as Mark leads a protest committee but means that the scenes at JLB, which were often the backbone of some great episodes, can be no more. In later episodes in the series, an excuse – a party story – has to be found to reintroduce characters like Johnson, Gerard and Jeff and for the rest of the time I think we feel their absence quite keenly. The focus is placed squarely on three central relationships – Mark and Dobby, with whom he maintains a will-they-won’t-they teasing partnership; Jeremy and his new Eastern European girlfriend Elena; and Mark, Jeremy and Sophie. Certainly there are fine moments in the series involving these combinations and there is one single episode – where Mark’s attempts to become a history tour guide are scuppered by a combination of internet porn and Jeremy’s attempts to do the right thing – which is just as good as anything in the earlier series.
But on the whole it’s all a bit familiar by now with familiarity making the voiceovers seem less funny and the individual one-liners lacking sparkle. David Mitchell’s weight loss, while impressive seems to make Mark less immediately vulnerable and lovable and putting Jeremy in love means he loses a certain edge. Given the material, Mitchell and Webb do an admirable job and on the brief occasions when they appear, Paterson Joseph and Neil Fitzmaurice are typically excellent. Equally, Dobby remains one of the most enchanting female characters on telly. Don’t get me wrong - Peep Show is still funnier than most British sitcoms currently showing on television. But it would be a shame if the virtues continued to dissipate simply because no-one has the will to give up on a successful format.
The six episodes are presented on a single dual-layer disc in anamorphic widescreen. Video quality is pretty good with a reasonable level of detail on display, good colour balance and no obvious compression issues. The English DD2.0 audio is equally satisfying offering a no thrills presentation on a show that is primarily dialogue based. Optional English subtitles are available for the episodes and the extra features.
The extras are rather disappointing. There is a fairly brief behind-the-scenes featurette which contains uninformative interviews with Mitchell and Webb and shows footage of the readthroughs of the show and the eventual shoot. We also get a pointless graphics montage about what is needed to make the show, an outtakes reel and a couple of deleted scenes – one of which is Dobby’s protest song about the closure of JLB which is better than some of the things kept in the series.