Peep Show is truly a ‘British Institution’ – a show that would make almost no sense to anybody outside this bleak and soulless country. Its gloomy disposition and chaotically spiralling situations may not provide the sunny, ‘lesson-learned’ moments we would expect from something a little more… American, but instead opt for relentless and brutal reality. Coping with life isn’t easy, and Peep Show offers the perfect advice on exactly how not to live.
Sure, there are nuggets of wisdom embedded deep within Peep Show’s numerous episodes. Hyper-specific, questionable wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless. Mark’s unique understanding of fashion (“NEVER socks before pants. That’s the rule. Makes a man look scary, like a chicken”) or Super Hans’ best Steve Irwin impression (“Red next to black, jump the fuck back. Red and yella, cuddly fella”) are truly memorable turns of phrase that, regardless of worth, will at least stick in the brain. Some of this advice will ruin perfectly good things – never again can I look at a box of Crunchy Nut and not immediately dismiss it as ‘Frosties for Wankers’. Thanks Peep Show, you’ve ruined a perfectly good cereal. Perhaps a more subtle way that Peep Show spreads it’s advice is through it’s biting, British brand of cynicism. “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis, you can’t trust people, Jez” proclaims Super Hans– a mantra that’s perhaps more lucid than one might expect from someone soon describing how crack is just “really moreish” at a middle-class garden party. Other cynicism arises in the depressing nature of day-to-day life and the mind-numbing reality of spending money on things you’d really rather not, such as “a new boiler, surely the least enjoyable way to spend a thousand pounds… acquiring the resumption of an equitable temperature” or a spiteful plate of naan bread.
Underlying the jovial nature of Peep Show is the sad truth that all people are completely rubbish. The few rays of sunshine in the show’s roster of peculiar human beings (I’m looking at you, Dobby) are overshadowed by human stormclouds such as the palpably bizarre Johnson, the traitorous Gerald or disturbingly middle-class Big Suze. The crowd of misfits presented within Peep Show are not the most diverse cross-section of the English population – but they are the most quintessentially English – a collection of goons that represent everything from emotional repression to a sturdy stiff upper lip. These characters do not guide you with their sage wisdom or remarkable sayings, but perhaps by how they’re hardly more competent than our protagonists, Mark and Jez. Speaking of, it’s the twin dragons of Mark and Jez that round off Peep Show’s cast – polar opposites forced to live together through circumstance and an unspoken thread of obligation. We see here again that it’s not their very few positive traits that guide us, but instead their ineptitudes and failures – Mark pushes us to be a little looser, a little less uptight – but not quite as much as the workshy freeloader we see in Jez. There are no winners in Peep Show’s world – so I suppose its overarching advice would be that such follies are inevitable, just try to be less… British…
If there’s one positive thing that we can all take away from the complete upside-down world of Peep Show is its brief moments of optimism. “I don’t want to tempt fate, but I think everything is going to be totally great forever” proclaims Jez – a mantra that is desperately needed on those late nights and early mornings at university. Or, perhaps take Mark’s wholly positive proclamation – “that all dreams crumble to dust”. Fabulous.
Peep Show Seasons 1-9 are available to stream on Netflix and All4.