Sunday, 8 June 2008

Still really love brown toast? Peep Show Series 5 Review

Series Five of Peep Show (Channel 4 legal edict dictates it should always be prefaced with the words “Award Winning Sitcom”, or at a push “acclaimed” but we heed not these petty rules) seems to have been over in the blink of an eye. One minute we were watching the opening episode in a critics screening hoping Bruce Dessau hadn’t paid any attention to our photo on the small chance he’d read this blog, trying to avoid making eye contact with him just in case, and concentrating on the screen in spite of the projector glare from Robert Webb’s bald patch; the next watching the credits role six weeks later on a flummoxed Mark in episode six, no wiser than he was back when the show launched in 2003. A good time, then, to reflect…

It’s always polite to start with the good stuff. Peep Show is still one of the most consistently painful and brilliant experiences in TV comedy today. Every episode has a guaranteed squirm factor, and several guaranteed laughs, and its testimony to its brilliance that six years on (although as David Mitchell has pointed out, that’s only one series on an American sitcom) we still care about Mark and Jez. Series Five has been funny, undeniably, undoubtably funny.

But there’s something wrong. Something we can’t quite put our finger on. For the first time since its inception, Peep Show wasn’t the classiest work on telly. Though there was still much to like, this series felt somehow incidental, unimportant, missable. Not bad by any means, not even off-the-boil in the way The Simpsons or Scrubs has gone. Just…ordinary.

There’s been something of diminishing returns in Peep Show, basically since it went to a second series. The first round of episodes remains the shows peak, with Mark and Jez feeling like representatives for everything we don’t like about ourselves. Their internal monologue reflected our own: Petty struggles and little victories that we could all relate to (“Of course I'm the one whose laughing as I actually love brown toast”/ “Yeah, take that Big Suze. Your toilet seat regime is over”). From series two we seemed to move away from that, with scenarios becoming more farcical, more desperate, and our champs becoming less everyman and more pathetic. The cringey-can’t-believe-what-we’re-seeing-painful-funny version of the show probably peaked last year with dog eating and Jez pissing himself in church. It’s hard to believe Peep Show will quite reach those peaks again.

In a way, it was series four that really made this more recent offering suffer. The finale of the past series saw the wedding of Mark and Sophie: the end point of an arc that dominated that series (Mark doesn’t want to get married but can’t quite seem to call it off), and the culmination of Marks story for the entire four-series run. After that event was out of the way, there was always going to be an air of redundancy. It also seemed to lose track of it’s own rules: Mark is a tragic loser who hates himself and is ridiculously awkward with women…so how come he finds himself involved with a different one in each episode? It’s not that no women should fancy Mark, but they seem to be coming along with unnatural frequency.

Missing, was an arc that gently steered the stories. There were loose themes (Mark’s search for “The One”, Jez’s sudden cash crisis) but they never felt as compelling as the broader issues dealt with in the past. With the exception of the last episode, the show never really felt it was going anywhere. There could have been something to play on…wasn’t Mark’s Dad supposed to appear in this series?–the daunting figure who has been hinted at since series one? Possibly he was dropped for Jez’s Mum, which is a shame as Mark’s Dad is probably the most interesting story pay-off left in the show.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. We could squeak for weeks at the perfect casting of Isy Suttie as Dobby the office techy, and she did us proud. The dialogue was as sharp as ever, and those internal voiceovers are still brilliantly written. Johnson is still ace.

This series performed well in the ratings, and deservedly so- even off form Peep Show beats the pants of most of the Friday Night Fare, and a sixth outing is in the bag already. Let’s just hope for a little more substance to the shenanigans next time around. The end of the series (a baby!) suggests it will. We’re always ready to give Peeps Show another chance.


Lena said...

Shows tend to simmer down after a few series but can regain that down to earth magic again - in just a Peep!

Daniel Tunnard said...

I kept wanting the fifth series to get better and it never quite did. I got into in with the fourth series, living in Argentina and being oblivious to developments over there until 4 years have passed (what's this about us invading Iraq?) Then I went backwards and forwards over episodes of seasons 1 to 3 and liked season 3 best, although I can't now remember any of it. This may be because I like seasons 3 and 4 of Seinfeld best, and consider these the magic numbers of all sitcoms.