To judge by last night’s Channel 4 News interview, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is as grumpy, lacking in social awareness and loath to say sorry as he was during his stormy tenure in No. 10 Downing Street. The same might be said about Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb) the protagonists of the brilliant Peep Show, which returned to C4 last night for its ninth and final series.
Six months after the long-suffering Dobby’s departure for New York, relations are still frosty between the El Dude Brothers. Mark has a shiny new career at Metro City Bank, where his piss-poor sales record has not gone unnoticed by his new/old boss, the scarily intense Johnson. Meanwhile “qualified” life coach and inveterate slacker Jeremy’s unwholesome lifestyle has hit a new low, as he’s living in the tiny bathroom at Super Hans’s flat. It’s all “toilet toast”, strategic pissing down the plug-hole and staying positive – “It’s a great space – extremely versatile”.
Back at Croydon’s most famous bachelor pad, Jez’s old room has been taken by bearded bore Jerry, who wears cardigans and argyle socks and likes to watch DVDs about William Morris. Can Mark reconcile himself to stupefyingly boring evenings of “Ruskin and a-reading” with Jerry or will all that talk of “wallpaper and workers’ rights” force him to forgive Jez for trying to steal Dobby?
This being Peep Show, you know that any attempt by the male characters to reform or to reinvent themselves is doomed to fail within 23 minutes (the average length of an episode). So it’s not long before Super Hans’s detox stag night degenerates into a coke-fuelled binge that sees Jez cruelly evicted from the bathroom and beating a path to Mark’s door.
After 12 years I don’t expect Peep Show to be as fresh, insightful and scabrously funny as it was in the early days. (Let’s face it, most comedies go into a terminal decline after a couple of series.) I was a late comer to the show, so I didn’t get hooked until about five years ago, when I binge-watched the first three series on a tiny portable DVD player during a wet and wi-fi free Christmas.
This was Men Behaving Badly for the 21st century, replete with swearing, STDs and self-loathing on an epic scale. I’m not usually a fan of toilet humour but I’ve sat and laughed through numerous “number 2” related gags. Obviously I’m not as sophisticated as I like to think I am: one of my favourite episodes is “Nether Zone” (Series 7) which involves pee, pizza and Jez’s experiments with a multi-functioning letterbox/”pleasure portal”.
Even an average Peep Show episode by writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain pisses all over most other so-called comedies of the past decade. That’s because the show’s unique selling point – the window into Jez and Mark’s mean-spirited, cringe-making and often deluded innermost thoughts – still has comedy mileage.
Though we’ve seen these characters plumb the depths of infantile and indefensible behaviour (last night’s “The William Morris Years” featured some impromptu waterboarding), David Mitchell and Robert Webb make Mark and Jez seem oddly likeable and all-too believable in their chronic inability to hold down a job or a steady relationship. I could listen all day long to Mark being angrily articulate, pompous and self-pitying, while still looking quite cuddly and vulnerable.
Jez, of course, has elevated the art of lying to an Olympic sport, but as we saw last night he’s less adept at crafting a sincere apology. If memory serves, sorry wasn’t a word that slipped easily from the lips of Gordon Brown following his disastrous encounter with Gillian Duffy during the 2010 General Election. I bet he wishes that “bigoted woman” comment had been a Peep Show-style unvoiced thought, instead of a soundbite relayed to the masses on his (still) open microphone.