This felt like a "bottle episode" (traditionally a budget-saving exercise, using limited locations and cast), although I doubt it was intended as such. But it was further evidence that Peep Show's at its funniest when it's found a way to have Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb) interact with each other for as long as possible. They're a fantastic comedy double-act (which is remarkable when you remember they never share the screen because of Peep Show's POV format), and this fourth episode was a marvelous way to humiliate and frustrate them both in equal measure.
The whole half-hour saw Mark and Jez locked in the "netherzone" between Zhara's (Camilla Marie Beeput) flat and her building's exit, on the morning Mark's son is christened. As Mark panicked ("all I have in the dad-bank is my record of punctuality"), Jez was more laidback and blithely used his mobile phone's remaining battery charge to order a pizza -- which had to be pushed through a letterbox, piece by piece, sandwiched between a newspaper ("periodical pizza shields!")
Many sitcoms have attempted something similar to this episode, forcing characters into a claustrophobic situation (my favourite being Red Dward's "Marooned"), and Peep Show's offering proved an excellent way to accentuate the writing of this show. The plotting of Peep Show is quite rudimentary, but it's the characters and dialogue that are so relatable and hilarious, so this episode worked to its clear strengths.
By the time Mark and Jez had managed to get back inside Zhara's flat, only to then hide in the shower when her boyfriend Ben (Danny Babington) returned home and went for an audibly grotesque bowel movement, the greatness of this episode wasn't in question. The only downsides were the disappointingly abrupt development between Jez and Zhara (who have now slept together, between episodes), which felt rushed and unearned. It's a shame Peep Show only airs 6 episodes every year, because I can't help thinking a few story elements are hastily glossed over because time's in short supply. It would be great to have a situation where the Jez/Zhara storyline was allowed to breathe more.
Overall, this was a highlight of series 7 and a great way to focus the talent of writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, who turned a potentially sluggish and tedious setup into a brilliant comedy situation. They could probably write an episode where Mark and Jez became trapped together in an elevator and it would be a tour de force.
WRITERS: Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong
DIRECTOR: Becky Martin
TRANSMISSION: 17 December 2010, Channel 4/HD, 10PM