Tuesday, 4 January 2011

'PEEP SHOW' 7.5 & 7.6 - "Mark's Parents" & "New Year's Eve"

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Apologies for the lateness of these closing reviews. Peep Show was a victim of a lazy Christmas and various New Year distractions. I'm going to mainly encapsulate my feelings about series 7 as a whole in this double-bill review.

The belated arrival of Peep Show in 2010 gave the show a rare opportunity to include two timely episodes, as the final weeks revolved around two big events in the calendar: Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. The former, in "Mark's Parents", was perhaps the highlight of the series, with Mark (David Mitchell) hosting Christmas dinner in the company of his supercilious parents, overexcited Jez (Robert Mitchell), spaced-out Super Hans (Matt King), and girlfriend Dobby (Isy Suttie) -- although Mark, in typically toe-curling fashion, decided it would be best to keep his relationship with dippy Dobby a secret, knowing his snobby parents wouldn't approve of her. What was interesting about episode 5 was seeing my usual reaction to Mark and Jez be reversed; as Jez was helpful and positive about Christmas Day (he even prepared the turkey in a responsible manner), whereas Mark dissolved into a short-tempered, haughty, cowardly mess.

Some of the best episodes of Peep Show restrict things to a single location (like the amazing party episode of series 6), so "Mark's Parents" worked especially well for taking place in the flat, with half the episode spent in the living room around a dining table. The greatest joy of this show is the incisive dialogue and character interaction, so there was plenty to savour with this meal between family and friends. You had to feel sorry for poor Dobby, asked to pretend she was Mark's platonic friend, when this was actually her ideal "meet the parents" moment, and Mark sunk to a new low in his failure to be proud he's dating someone as life-affirming as Dobby -- even if she may not be the sophisticate his parents want for him.

The finale, "New Year's Eve", was a fun episode with an adventurous nighttime lark, let-down by the fact it capped the six-part series in a rather mechanical, unimaginative way. The problem with Peep Show (maybe every odd-numbered series?), is that the overarching storyline rarely goes anywhere very interesting, often feels rushed, and sometimes stretches logic past breaking point.

I haven't been very interested in Jez's pursuit of Zahra (Camilla Marie Beeput) this series, for one key reason: it's ultimately just another variation on the joke of Jez lying to a woman above his social standing, yet dumb enough to fall for his dishonesty, before falling into his bed. The easily deluded seems to be the kind of woman Jez goes for, perhaps because writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain love to indulge the male fantasy of a loser successfully wooing a hot babe. For me, this situation only works when the woman in question is proven to have been manipulating Jez all along (like series 6's Russian émigré), but Zahra was just a plot-device. She spent the entirety of the finale following Jez around, failing to realize the erudite soul mate he's painted himself as is just a scruffy idiot. Nothing about the development of her relationship with Jez rang true this year, even allowing for some comedy wriggle room. And the fact series 7 ended without a confrontation between Jez and her boyfriend Ben was a big let-down.

It's also a shame that Peep Show delivers life-changing moments like Mark becoming a father, only to barely mention that fact the next five episodes. Mark's son only featured a few times after his birth -- because using babies for TV is expensive, according to a Twitter Q&A with Sam Bain -- but that doesn't excuse the baby's lack of impact. I don't need to see Mark's son every episode, I just wanted to feel his presence, or sense his birth has impacted Mark's character in some way. You could argue Mark's indifference is largely the joke (he's hiding from the responsibility), but I don't see him that way. Mark would want to be involved in his son's upbringing.

It's just a pain that the presence of a baby chips away at Peep Show's premise of two bachelors living together, so the writers avoided it as much as possible. Similarly to how they avoided Mark getting married to Sophie. It would rock the boat too much. Interestingly, this series climaxed with Jez deciding to live with Zahra, shortly before she dumped him, then discovering Mark's already asked Dobby to move into his vacant room. But while that's a big change primed form series 8, you know it won't last. They'll perhaps play with the Mark-and-Dobby-as-flatmates idea for a few episodes, then find a way to get Dobby out and Jez back in.

Overall, series 7 was less than the sum of its parts. I remain inordinately impressed by the superb dialogue Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Simon Blackwell write, and there are always some memorable moments in every episode, but the overarching narrative felt weak and recycled this year. Plus, it was almost criminal that the uproarious Johnson (Paterson Joseph) was reduced to a brief role in the finale, along with Jez's erstwhile girlfriend Big Suze (Sophie Winkleman). Together with the lack of Sophie (Olivia Colman) this year, it gave series 7 something of an undernourished feel.

What did you make of these final episodes, and series 7 as a whole?

WRITERS: Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
DIRECTOR: Becky Martin
TRANSMISSION: 24 & 29 December 2010, Channel 4/HD, 10PM