To celebrate Britain’s best current sitcom coming to an end, here’s my Top 10 episodes.
From the first episode, I was hooked on Peep Show. The original premise of being able to hear the internal thoughts of the two main characters – and the POV camerawork – was entertaining enough, but the show would not have been able to sustain on just this gimmick.
David Mitchell and Robert Webb have great chemistry (check out their sketch show if you haven’t already) and they make Mark and Jez into two of the best/worst characters on television. Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain crafted scripts that straddle both the mundane and the unbelievable. And the supporting characters are some of the most memorable in sitcoms, with Olivia Colman and Paterson Joseph becoming bigger stars than than the series’ leads.
As the main players have gone on to bigger and more lucrative things, the output has become more sporadic, which has built expectations with each passing season. Has the quality remained the same? I guess only by reading my list will you be able to find out…
So, to start –
NB: this was written during the last season of Peep Show, so I’ve not included any of the last 6 episodes. Firstly I haven’t seen all of them, and secondly I want to give the episodes (and last season) time to breathe before I include them. I will eventually update this list. And yes, I refer to them as “seasons”, and the show as a whole is a “series”.
10 – “University Challenge” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Mark meets April (Catherine Shepard), a pretty, shy, awkward soul salewoman, and so obviously becomes obsessed, and follows her to Dartmouth University when he finds out she has moved away. At the same time, Super Hans joins a band, and Jeremy tags along, allowed to play maracas. When the band gets a gig in Dartmouth, and Mark and Jez head south (the band don’t want Jez to travel with them) where Mark poses a mature student to spend some time with April, and they are invited to a dinner party with Professor McLeash:
Jeremy’s debut with the band ends predictably in a humiliating fashion, and he ends up gatecrashing the dinner party and outing Mark as a simple bank worker, not a student. Mark still ends up going back to April’s room, but misses his chance, as April lets him know they have 3 years to be together.
A brilliant episode, it felt like the entire characters of Mark and Jez were perfectly distilled into a 27 minute episode – before the reappearance of April in the last season, which could give it even more significance. This may be the perfect episode to introduce someone to the show.
9 – “On The Pull” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Mark and Jeremy go to a party, and end up going on a date with two girls to a bowling alley. One is next door neighbour Toni (Jeremy’s early obsession), the other is Valerie, a young goth he met at the party. The both end up going home with their dates, and having sex, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience for Mark or Jeremy.
This is the episode that got me truly hooked forever on Peep Show as more than just that internal-monologue show. Mark carrying his shopping through most of the episode is a particular highlight, and the sheer bleakness of the two sexual encounters is pitch perfect for the show.
8 – “Spin War” (Season 5, Epsiode 2)
If “On The Pull” was the episode that hooked me in the first place, “Spin War” showed it still had life in it after Mark and Sophie’s wedding. Returning to work after what should have been their honeymoon, Mark meets Sophie again, and unsurprisingly the entire office is on her side. All apart from a new IT girl, Dobby (Isy Suttie), who Mark immediately forms an attachment to.
This leads to a memorable scene in the stationary cupboard. At the same time, Sophie’s cousin wants to join Jez and Super Hans’ band, who obviously are not interested until they hear his music, and realise it is so much better than their efforts. They invite him to play a gig with them, before Super Hans makes him do a “bad thing”.
A quality episode that plays off so much of the season 4 drama – and Sophie’s re-appearance later on in the episode shows just how much unhappiness Mark is responsible for, even as he is trying to build a relationship with Dobby.
7 – “Sophie’s Parents” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Season 4 is almost universally viewed as the pinnacle of Peep Show’s run, and my list would tend to agree with that. The fourth season built to a brilliant climax, and started with this great episode, as Mark and Jeremy go to stay with Sophie’s parents for her birthday. Mark unhappiness with his relationship has grown, having been made to grown a goatee and wear more fashionable clothes (one scene involves Mark and Jez wearing the same jumper, much to Jeremy’s anger!)
The trip to Sophie’s parents has three highlights – the hunting trip…
… a memorable incident with Jeremy and Sophie’s mother…
…and the truly bizarre birthday ritual
Mark makes a terrible impression on Sophie’s parents – which is pretty realistic, he would be a terrible son-in-law, admitting that he doesn’t love Sophie within earshot of her father. A great episode, that sets up the shows best season.
6 – “Quantocking” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Peep Show used the relationship dynamic between Sophie and Mark really well, building it towards a spectacularly bad weekend, when Mark had planned to propose to Sophie, but has decided against it. Of course, even things get even worse! Jeremy is also ruining his last real chance with Big Suze, and Mark and Jez getting lost is just classic Peep Show. A simple premise, a great episode. I could have swapped this and the previous episode, but this is the one that sets up the meeting of Sophie’s parents.
5 – “Seasonal Beatings” (Episode 7, Episode 5)
Just brilliant. We celebrate “Christmark” as Mark hosts Christmas at his flat for his family, and finally unravels and ends with him putting ham in the shredder (naturally). There’s not much more to say, it is the perfect Peep Show Christmas episode, with terrible gifts, passive aggression, and walk outs. Mark’s outburst at Jeremy shows the Corrigan bubbling rage brilliantly. Contains some slight bad language!
A definite highlight of the later seasons.
4 – “Jurying” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Jeremy gets a rare standalone main story as he is selected for jury duty, and gets involved with the defendant, before eventually convincing the jury she is guilty – even though he knows she isn’t – mainly because he is too afraid to break up with her.
The other story line involves Johnson telling Mark that Sophie is out of control and he needs to improve her performance. Mark tries to be her knight in shining armour, but instead end up going on a nights out with her where she gets really drunk and high. The next morning he kicks all of her friends out of the flat and tells Sophie she needs to get her act together at work – when his intention was to tell her he loves her. A quality episode that for once has Mark trying to do the right thing, but making things even worse – typical Peep Show! Maybe this is higher on my list than others would have it, but the sheer melodrama of the episode (Mark and Jeremy are trapped by their situations) and the fact it has two very strong – and very separate – stories makes it a memorable one for me. Plus any episode with Johnson gets bumped up a few places!
3 – “Mark Makes A Friend” (Season 1, Episode 4)
The introduction of Johnson.
The bad thing.
Do I need to write anymore???
2 – “Holiday” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Jeremy finally gets it right, and books a stag weekend for Mark on a canalboat.What follows is a perfect farce episode, worthy of Fawlty Towers. The guys meet two girls and their father, and after some terrible banter (“Oh, uh, naughty, you’ve combined metric and imperial, you might get an interdenominational…” – Corrigan at his smoothest! Cue his voiceover “Just stay mute, Mark. You’re a social freak. Remain in your compound.”) they actually hit it off, before one slight driving incident leads to, well this…
Mark is considering abandoning his wedding and moving to an Indian call centre, but – in a perfect metaphor for the whole show – his co-dependence with Jeremy and his own selfishness and idiocy end up ruining even this slight chance of happiness.
There are some classic lines in this episode, as the situation builds, Mark and Jez’s inner monologues allow the farce to grow even more. I’ve not given much away about this episode, so if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil what might be the best single story in all of Peep Show. There was only one episode that could top it.
1 – “The Wedding” (Season 4, Episode 6)
As good as the previous episode (both in the series and on this list), this is my favourite episode by far. It feels like this could have made an almost perfect series finale. Long running storylines are tied up, and the build to the crescendo of Mark and Sophie’s wedding would have been a fitting “climax” to the whole show.
Mark and Jez driving off together, the El Dude Brothers reunited, doomed and bound together forever would have rounded off the series perfectly for me. There have been some great stuff after this point (two episodes made this list, and the “clean shirt” reference in the very next episode), but finishing at this high point would have made Peep Show a near perfect show. A classic episode of a classic British comedy.
And that’s it! Agree? Disagree? Not enough Super Hans/Johnson/Sophie/Dobby? Peep Show will be missed by this Snooty Usher.
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s a collection of some of my favourite lines:
Plus the one that sums up Peep Show in one image:
And finally, my reaction to it finishing