The Weekend’s Viewing: Peep Show's Pompous and Punchable deliver a tour de force of squirm
Peep Show, Sun, Channel 4 // Him & Her, Sun, BBC3 // 4Funnies: Dr Brown, Fri, Channel 4
There was a moment at the start of last night’s Peep Show where my own internal monologue got a bit antsy. Could the dysfunctional flat-share sitcom really be back for an eighth series? Surely Mark and Jeremy should have moved on a bit from their odd-couple shtick by now – Mark has a baby for goodness’ sake.
Wasn’t the joke, like the show’s protagonists, getting a bit old? But then Mark and Jeremy started interacting with other humans and it was all OK again. Or rather, it was very much not OK. It was, as usual, watch-through-your-fingers-make-it-stop stuff and sadistically enjoyable it was too.
Peep Show, shot on single camera and soundtracked by the thoughts spooling through the heads of its two anti-heroes, has been going since 2003. And while jobs, mates and girlfriends have come and gone, nothing has changed. Mark still thinks he’s cleverer than he is. Jeremy still thinks he’s cooler than he is. Both still have zero people skills. The wince-per-scene rate remains remarkably high.
The series kicked off with Jez packing up to make way for Mark’s girlfriend, Dobby, to move in. Except that Dobby seemed quite happy in her own flat and, worse, was spending an awful lot of time with Mark’s rival Gerrard. There was an inkling that Jez might not be moving out so soon after all.
As usual, the cringe-factor ratcheted up until Pompous and Punchable had each delivered a tour de force of squirm. Mark’s was a eulogy to his former rival that he précised into bullet points and a “take-home message” in order to rush off to an interview while Jeremy’s was a sweaty, paranoid and futile attempt to wrongfoot his therapist . Both were exquisitely performed by David Mitchell and Robert Webb but I still hope that this series might be their last. I’m not sure there’s much more the writers can put them, and us, through.
Besides, there’s plenty more out there to fill the gap. The weekend schedules are packed with choice comedy at the moment. Like Him and Her, which is back on BBC3 for a third series. A little bit Royle Family (Becky and Steve never leave the flat), a little bit Gavin & Stacey, with a hefty dollop of toilet humour, it maintains just the right balance between scuzzy and warm and fuzzy.
Stefan Golaszewski’s beautifully observed scripts spin something adorable out of nothing. This week’s episode boiled down to Becky and Steve trying to find a can of beer to drink while watching Children in Need. Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani give lovely, self-effacing performances in the central roles but, as is traditional in sitcom, it is the social climber character – Becky’s sister Laura, now with added smug pregnancy hormones – who steals the best lines. She kisses everyone on both cheeks, drinks only plum juice and, when handed a mobile phone that isn’t quite up to scratch, pouts, “Now, how does one unlock a Nokia?” A marvellous monster.
Elsewhere, Channel 4 has launched 4Funnies, a series of pilots by up-and-coming talents from the live circuit, in the post-pub Friday-night slot. First up was Dr Brown, the alter-ego of the classically trained American clown Phil Burgers who won the Edinburgh Comedy Award this year with a mime show. It turns out that he is just as funny when he allows himself to speak.
This was less a conventional set-up/punchline sketch show, though, than a ramble through a lightly disturbed mind. Toe-curling sketches about a creepy couple were intercut with odd little scenes featuring a babbling mystic in a gaping kimono and fez. There were Trigger Happy-style skits – I loved his weeping jogger – and silent sepia films set to mournful klezmer music. There was a fairly free attitude to full-frontal nudity. When you write it down, it sounds bonkers. And it was, but it was also hypnotic, rather beautiful and one of the most refreshingly odd half hours of pure comedy I’ve seen in some time.
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