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One of the best comedy series just turned 20, and it’s still great

Twenty years ago, a British comedy series premiered that had a completely unique filming style that allowed us into the heads of the main characters.

British comedy series - The Office, Peep Show, The Thick of It

Occasionally comedy series come along which may take a little while to find their feet and their audience, but end up having a hugely influential legacy. The UK version of The Office is one such show, and another is Peep Show. The writers also worked on some of the best TV series, such as The Thick of It and Fresh Meat, and one of them – Jesse Armstrong – would go on to create a little something called Succession.

Peep Show was first aired in September 2003, and David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Sam Bain, and Jesse Armstrong have got together to reflect on how it was made. Peep Show was filmed in a unique way, by having the camera be the point-of-view of either Mark or Jez – the two main characters – with them narrating their inner thoughts.

British sitcoms about flat-mates were nothing new – with the likes of Men Behaving Badly (1992-1998), Game On (1995-1998), and Spaced (1999-2001) – all being amongst the best 90s TV shows. Peep Show evolved into something special because it ran for so long – 12 years – and followed the characters from their 20s to their 40s, but with them never really moving on with their lives.

Sam Bain told The Guardian, while reflecting on the origins of the series 20 years later; “We realized that this weird camera technique, and these voiceovers, were a great, snazzy, unique selling point.” Commissioning editor Iain Morris says; “The scripts were the funniest things I’d ever read and the performances the best I’d ever seen. I remember sitting in the rehearsal room going, ‘The only way this is going to fuck up is if we’re shooting it weirdly.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to shoot it weirdly.'”

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Regarding the title, David Mitchell says; “We shot the whole first series calling it POV (point of view) but knowing it wouldn’t be called POV. Sam and Jesse thought up the title Peep Show. I didn’t like it, but it was beyond my control.” Robert Webb says; “My reaction was, ‘Ew, it sounds like a sex thing. Is it bad that we’re going to attract a load of lads whose girlfriends have gone to bed and they’re hoping for a wank?’ But maybe that didn’t do the figures any harm.”

Robert Webb says; “The first series really felt like the wild west. We were making up how to film this show as we went along. At one point, I was driving in Croydon with this cycle helmet on my head doing a scene and trying to film David, which is quite a lot to ask the human brain to do, particularly mine.”

Peep Show is an example of a series that slowly built its audience over time, with each season being ‘recommissioned by the skin of its teeth.’ This is unlikely to happen in today’s cancellation-happy landscape, and it’s one of the many issues that the writers guild is striking about.

For more TV that we’re looking forward to – check out our guides to Wednesday season 2 and House of the Dragon season 2.