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Peep Show: series two
cast: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Blanshard

director: Tristram Shapeero

155 minutes (15) 2004
Channel Four DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Peep Show was something of a sleeper hit for Channel Four in 2003. In the sea of bland American sitcoms and Jimmy Carr-infested schlock, its frequent use of first person camerawork and first person narration by the characters made it standout from the crowd slightly. It also appeared at the very height of Office mania and took the same cringe-inducing style and combined it with a fine line in memorable dialogue and created something truly special in this day and age; a brilliant British sitcom.

The series revolves around Mark and Jeremy. Cosmetically, they are something of a comedy odd couple. Mark is a neurotic geek with a joyless job eternally lusting after one of his co-workers and Jeremy is a lazy arrogant idiot who has managed to convince himself that he is a musician. Their differences are cosmetic because their situation is ultimately the same; because of their own failings they're stuck living together while happiness evades them again and again.

The writing for Peep Show is amid the best you will encounter anywhere. The memorable lines follow each other so quickly that the only way to take it all in is by viewing it again and again lest you miss such gems as "It's like watching a porno, except I can't see anything... and I don't have a hard on... and I feel like crying" and "I'm the alpha-est male here!" and both of those come from the first episode. But the writing skill doesn't limit itself to zingers.

Mark Kermode says that watching horror is a masochistic experience, as you will yourself to watch something truly unpleasant. The comedy of embarrassment is a similar phenomenon, as the characters are put through social situations so utterly mortifying that they are almost painful to watch. The skill here lies in taking the audience to the brink and no further because if you go too far it all collapses into camp and farce. Peep Show runs along the absolute bleeding edge of what is bearable, watching the DVD at home I frequently had to press pause as I simply could not take it. The writers are so good at walking that fine line that the only thing stopping the series from becoming unwatchable is the promise of the next great line and visual gag just around the corner. If you like I'm Alan Partridge, The Office, People Like Us, Curb Your Enthusiasm or even Fawlty Towers then you will simply adore Peep Show.

Peep Show is also lucky enough to have a talented cast to deliver that wonderful writing. Mitchell continues to be superb and the talent he displays really begs the question about his recent tendency to appear on terrible comedy panel shows. Webb is skilled at making a hateful character appear hateful and the supporting cast are all amazing and include Rachel Blanshard whose most notable role was taking over from Alicia Silverstone in the TV version of Clueless.

The one flaw in Peep Show's otherwise immaculate fa´┐Żade is the Mark/ Sophie relationship. A perversion of the Ross/ Rachel relationship from Friends, the writers clearly consider it a golden goose, allowing them to truly turn Mark into an absolute maniac as he goes to more and more desperate ends to seduce Sophie. However, Sophie remains an underwritten role when you compare it to the other supporting characters. However badly Mark behaves, his relationship with her remains a tabula rasa; at the end of every episode it goes back to normal. This means that Sophie can never really develop as a character so the amount of screen time she gets starts to irk when characters like Superhans, Johnson and Toni are reduced to little more than cameos. The reason why the Mark/ Sophie relationship works is because of Mark. I think the writers would get a very similar effect if rather than failing repeatedly with Sophie, he failed with different girls, allowing other supporting characters more room and getting rid of the reset button problem. The second episode demonstrates this wonderfully as Mark and Sophie aren't speaking, allowing a new character to appear and put Mark through a completely different kind of emotional wringer. However, this is a relatively minor matter and is more of a potential problem than an actual one.

In conclusion, this is simply sublime TV comedy. Anyone who wants more out of their comedy than the mindless repetition of Little Britain should buy not only this DVD but the first series too.
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