‘Who’s the worst character in Peep Show?’ is a question with the power to divide nations. Unlike ‘Who’s the worst Friend?’ (Ross) or ‘Who’s the most annoying person in The Big Bang Theory?’ (all of them), it’s a question with no obvious answer.
For every bit of GPS-enabled stalking there’s a mushroom-party drugging, and for every attempt to manipulate a freehold committee, someone gets barricaded in a flotation tank. It’s a poser with profound implications for the way you see the world, psychologically and philosophically, and it can only be answered by considering a number of sub-conundra. For instance: do you judge a man by the worst things he’s done, or who he eventually becomes? What matters most: his actions, or his motivations? And, of course: is it better to (accidentally) kill and eat a dog, or to force your best friend to wet himself because you’ve decided to jilt your fiance?
We’ll start with The Dog Thing, because it’s the worst thing everyone instantly remembers about Jez, the rallying cry of the Mark-apologist. He ate a dog. Checkmate, Jezters: what could possibly top that? Well, let’s consider.
Firstly: it wasn’t an entire dog, it was a tiny bit of one.
Secondly, Jez is doing it to spare the dog’s owner the pain of finding out her dog is dead: yes, perhaps he’s doing that because he still thinks, in his lizard brain, that there’s a very slim chance that he’ll get to let the scuba squadron out of the barracks, but he’s not doing it to hurt her further.
Thirdly, yes, one might counter that hiding the truth is worse, that hope eternal is, in the long run, more painful than finding out your dog’s dead: but that’s not the way Jez thinks. In his own words, “In the moment, it really did feel like I needed to eat it." Jez acts, and then he deals with the consequences. At the time, by eating that dog, Jez was being the good guy.
But is this actually enough to redeem him? Arguably, one of the worst things Jez actually does is smashing up his record company manager’s trailer and then blaming the whole thing on Mark, moments after Mark’s confided in him that she might be his only chance at happiness. Yes, Mark would definitely have messed things up anyway, but still, it’s a low ebb. Jez backing away from the words ‘Sausage Muncher’ artlessly scrawled on a partition wall feels like Fredo meeting up with Johnny Ola in The Godfather 2: a line’s been crossed.
On the flipside, the caravan episode’s also a microcosm of the problem with Mark: his refusal to be brave, ever, inevitably lays the seeds of his destruction. He’d rather smash his new girlfriend’s crystal skull than tell her he doesn’t believe in it, just like he’d rather tell Suze she has a “Big, stupid, posh head” than admit that he’s started to fancy her. He agrees to get married because he’s too embarrassed to explain that he’s changed his mind, then he jilts Sophie at the altar because he’s too scared to go through with it. When you do the math(s), about 80% of Mark’s problems could be solved if he did the things he knows, in his heart of hearts, that he ought to. Jez, priapic manbaby that he is, is completely reactive. He follows Gaddafi’s law: if it feels good, he does it. Actually blaming him for any of it feels a lot like blaming that dog for running out behind daddy’s 4x4.
At the same time, does that matter? Maybe not, when you consider the sheer volume of atrocities on both sides. Jez kidnaps a man and ties him up during his own birthday party. He tries to section his (other) best friend to get control of a pub. He sleeps with Mark’s wife, then lies about having got her pregnant to seem more interesting to another woman. He makes sexy hand gestures at his (other) best friend’s girlfriend, and considers pulling the plug on a man in a coma. He commits jury fraud. He drugs and locks Mark in his own room and tries to make him poo in a bag. He swears in front of his mum. Sure, Mark admits that he’d probably have kept his head down in Nazi-occupied France, but on carnage caused, Jez looks like a monster.
What’s the nicest thing either of them do for each other? This is tricky. For Mark, assuming that you’re discounting the years of unpaid rent and stolen breakfast cereal or the time he bails Jez out over Johnson’s stolen credit card (these are mostly power plays), it’s probably his support when Jez almost moves in with a cult: his offer to deprogramme Jez and their subsequent bonding over a smashed TV is genuinely one of their most heartwarming moments as a couple.
For Jez, it’s almost certainly the wank-bullet from Season 6: greater love hath no man, after all, than one who’ll pretend he downloaded an extremely deviant porno to get his friend off the hook. They both have their moments, but most come when they’re bonding to destroy other people’s lives: framing them for pooing in a pool, say. Neither comes out of it well.
It’s tricky. It seems impossible: but there’s one last card to play. If you had to live with, or date, either one of them, who would you choose? The crystal-skull-clear answer: obviously Jez. Yes, he’s the Platonic ideal of a narcissist, driven by sheer impulse and his own rabid id. Yes, he’ll lie to your face or make you split up with someone for him if he thinks it’ll help him out. But here’s the thing: he’s completely predictable. He’ll always do what he thinks is best for him. When he’s in love, he’s like a loyal dog, smitten and adoring and willing to get married for Visa reasons or go to Hastings to buy a loaf of bread.
Mark, on the other hand, is actually more unpredictable, as likely to do the wrong thing because of furious embarrassment or because he secretly hates you. He’s a mild sociopath, who hacks a work-crush’s email and stalks at least one ex via mobile. Even when he’s being your friend, there’s at least a small chance he’s trying to drive you mad so he can steal your wife, or about to have you tied inside a sleeping bag and tossed in a lift. Oh, and yeah: in Season 1, he mentally references kicking a dog to death. Checkmate, Corriganites. He fantasizes about brutally murdering dogs, and doesn't even eat them.
It’s Mark. Mark is the worst character in Peep Show.
Apart from Super Hans, obviously.