ICYMI: Stuart McPherson on Peep Show
Scot Squad's Archie Pepper, stand-up comedian and all-round good guy Stuart McPherson enlightens us on his love of Peep Show
Balls out the bath: I’ve seen Peep Show before. Many times. Maybe one day I’ll do this properly and watch something I’ve always been told I’d love and have to watch but never got round to: Arrested Development, 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny... all fall into this camp. I’ve seen the odd episode and thought they were fine but just couldn’t be arsed with climbing a new mountain when I could simply watch Peep Show again. I’m always rewatching Peep Show. I reach the end, give it a month or two and then start again, like how painters of the Forth Bridge, upon completing the painting of the Forth Bridge, can’t wait to get back out there and paint the Forth Bridge again. They just love painting the Forth Bridge. I love watching Peep Show.
To be honest, I’ve no idea where to begin. Writing 700 words on Peep Show is like writing a pamphlet on War and Peace, I imagine – I’ve not read it (more of a Mr. Nice guy), but it looks big in Waterstones. 700 words would barely cover one facet of the show. A 700 word essay titled ‘Big Suze and the Modern British Class System’, I can see. 700 on ‘Big Mad Andy: A Psychoanalysis’, sure! A 700 word cross analysis of ‘Mark Corrigan’s Business Secrets of the Pharaohs in relation to the 21st Century Corporate Tactics of Alan Johnson’ I could look into. But Peep Show in general? It’s too big.
I’ve just finished season two of Jesse Armstrong’s Golden Globe-winning HBO drama Succession. I love it. It’s incredible. It’s not as good as Peep Show. I don’t think it comes close to telling us about the human experience the way Peep Show does. There’s more insight into what makes people tick and how the individual operates in society in Peep Show than in any other show I can think of. Above that, though, the main thing you’re struck by when rewatching is how consistently funny it is. We remember the big stuff: Jeremy eating Mummy (“The clutch on that thing!”); Mark lost on the Quantocks on his Sunday Times Megadeal (“I angered a crow that was defending its young.”); Jez pissing himself while the guests arrive for Mark and Sophie’s wedding (“Pass me that prayer bucket”).
But, for all the set pieces, Peep Show is at its best when dripping in the mundane. 700 words could be written on ‘Breakfast in Peep Show’. Mark and Jez, in their tiny kitchen mulling over their depressing breakfast choices while discussing how they’ve ruined their only chance with whatever 'the one' it is they’re pursuing. There’s something so Peep Show about starting the day with endless possibilities in theory, but knowing you’ve already fucked it. I can’t think of a show with as many iconic lines about breakfast alone: “Brown for first course, white for pudding… of course I’m the one who’s laughing because I actually love brown toast”; “Frosties are just cornflakes for people who can’t face reality”.
You forget how dark the first series is; even the theme song sounds sinister when you’re used to Flagpole Sitta. There’s still an existential darkness at the heart of the later series but it feels more hidden. You also forget how much stuff actually happens for a sitcom in the Seinfeld flat-share ‘show about nothing’ mould: how many women they each fall in love with; how many times they fall for the same woman; so many fleeting acquaintances and jobs come and go (“Hey, can I get some nachos or margaritas to kick you hombres off?”).
Peep Show’s been there my whole adult life. It first aired in 2003 (it turned ‘Fünf’ ‘Elf’ years ago) and it’s felt constantly relevant, sometimes prescient, the entire time. I feel like it’s overlooked as one of the great sitcoms as it doesn’t have a larger-than-life central character. We’re constantly reminded of The Office or Partridge when we see a cringy man trying to be funny. The beauty of Peep Show is how rounded Mark and Jeremy are. I’ve always felt I embody the worst aspects of Mark and Jez: simultaneously uptight and repressed, and a lazy fantasist. We don’t need to point at someone and say “she’s a Mark!” or “he’s a Jeremy!” – they’re in all of us.
Stuart McPherson: Come See What Papa's Cookin' (Work in Progress), The State Bar, Glasgow, Fri 20 Mar, 8pm, £5