This might be my most heartbreaking interview ever. Maybe even more heartbreaking than the one in which Keith Richards expressed a fondness for James Bay.
The premise seemed simple enough. With the final series of Peep Show due to air next week, we asked you, the readers, to tweet us with your favourite ever bits from the preceding eight series of perhaps the most original and acerbically brilliant British sitcom of all time with the intention of getting David Mitchell and Robert Webb – or Mark and Jeremy – to whittle down a very long list into a definitive top 10 Peep Show moments.
“I watched a lot of the earlier ones again in the run-up to this,” Mitchell says. “Initially as a kind of homework, but then I got into it. Some episodes, I’d completely forgotten: like the one with the caravan trashing [where Mark smashes Jez’s manager’s crystal skull] or the one with the wallet [where Jez drops Mark’s wallet out of the car at a safari park].”
This is the problem. The more moments we discuss, the more also-brilliant, often-even-better moments spring to mind. Seven Super Hans ones come to light, and plenty for other supporting characters (“That Johnson moment,” says Webb, “when he goes, ‘Fuck a chicken if that’s what it takes. I’m serious.’”). It’s making today’s narrowing-down process hard. So begins the heartbreaking part: watching as inarguably classic Peep Show moments are culled from the list. In retrospect, we should have gone for a top 20…
(Images: Jay Brooks/Channel 4)
Jeremy tries to lift Mark’s spirits at his disastrous book launch
From ‘Business Secrets Of The Pharaohs’ (Series 8, Episode 2)
Truth be told, this was actually moment No 11: the last one to hit the cutting-room floor, at the behest of David Mitchell. But having realised there were two moments from one particular episode, it’s going back in.
OK, that’s not the reason at all. The reason is that it’s my favourite Peep Show moment ever, and so I made up the ‘only one moment per episode’ rule. This is a rare instance of Jeremy being genuinely affectionate towards his best friend. Typically, Jeremy sleeps with Mark’s fiancés or family members, steals or destroys his possessions, and generally belittles every aspect of his life. But here, with Mark’s book deal revealed to be a con-job – the copies at his launch party are “just printouts” – Jez attempts to gee up the Business Secrets Of The Pharaohs author’s spirits.
“Every fibre of my being wants to scream ‘I told you so’,” Jeremy’s internal monologue says. Yet he does the opposite.
“It works because it’s rare,” says Webb. “If this were Friends, it would be nothing remarkable.”
“It’s also rare because Mark is being a real idiot, and Jeremy sees it,” continues Mitchell. “And it’s not usually that way round. The publishing company name, British London, is extremely well chosen, too. It reminds you of, you know, the Oxfordbury & Cambridge Language School, that’s above a betting shop off Holloway Road.”
Sophie has to drive herself to hospital
From ‘Das Boot’ (Series 6, Episode 6)
At No 1 in this list, you will find the moment that Robert Webb proffered straight off the bat (“I’m not claiming to be original,” he smiles). Here, eight places further down, we find David Mitchell’s choice: where, as he not-very-succinctly puts it, “Sophie’s about to give birth, and Mark has to drive her to hospital and he can’t drive, and Jeremy’s drunk and trying to get back with Elena, and it ends with Sophie pregnantly driving with Mark and Jeremy in the back seat.”
In fact, this is about as concise a description of this series-closing moment as it’s possible to manage. Which is perhaps testament to just how sharp the writing on Peep Show is.
Jeremy pisses himself at Mark’s wedding
From ‘Wedding’ (Series 4, Episode 6)
At the start of our conversation today, I asked Mitchell and Webb if there were any moments during the filming of Peep Show that were difficult to get through without laughing. They both said that, due in part to the ‘first person’ way in which the show is shot, this rarely happens. However…
Mitchell: “This was one of the few moments that was difficult to shoot, because it looked so… Well, for a start, they’d set up a contraption in Robert's trousers…”
Webb: “It was the sound of that water hitting the floor: it was just like someone pissing themselves.”
Mitchell: “I was remembering a boy at school who pissed himself. When someone does that, there’s a lot of piss. And it really spreads out.”
Nancy gets Jeremy to black up and “fuck me like I’m your mom”
From ‘Rainbow Rhythms’ (Series 2, Episode 1)
Several moments from this episode deserve to be in here: the bit where Jez is forced to watch new love Nancy having sex with pseudo-hippie Gwyn and thinks, “This is good: this is like watching a porno, except I can’t see anything, I haven’t got a hard on, and I want to cry.” Or the Rainbow Rhythms dance class, where, Webb recalls, “I had to wrestle Gwyn, and I hurt my rib, and it didn’t get better for two months.” In the end, however, Webb plumps for the scene that came very early on into both Jez and Nancy’s sexual escapades and Peep Show’s lifespan, and was an indicator of just how far this show would go to push boundaries of taste.
Mark leaves Sophie a voicemail message
From ‘The Interview’ (Season 1, Episode 2)
“This is incredibly embarrassing to watch now,” smiles Webb. The full 50 seconds of Mark’s voicemail message for Sophie hits peak excruciating when he breaks into song – “And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid…”. Before he finishes up with “like I like you.”
“You see, uncharacteristically for Jeremy, that he is mortified with embarrassment at what Mark is doing,” says Mitchell. It’s Jez’s look of horror that makes it: as good an example of the awkward chemistry between these two as exists in any of the 46 episodes that would follow.
The bandage in Jez’s threesome
From Mugging (Series 3, Episode 1)
A threesome in Peep Show was only ever going to end in disaster, and the threesome Jez agrees to with soon-to-be-off girlfriend Michelle and her not-excited-looking friend (“Has he washed?” she says. “It doesn’t look like he’s washed”) certainly does not disappoint.
“The bandage around the ankle was the classic touch,” says Robert Webb of the final visual punchline in this scene.
Mitchell: “The sour look that you see her give Jeremy as she’s undoing her bandage is just perfect.”
Webb: “Then the next time you see Jeremy, he’s got pissed during the day, and he’s eating a piece of chicken going around the supermarket, and he’s clearly very depressed indeed.”
Mark explodes with festive rage at Jeremy
From ‘Seasonal Beatings’ (Series 7, Episode 5)
This being Peep Show, its Christmas episode is one of the bleakest ever, with peak bleak arriving when Mark rages like never before at Jeremy for forgetting to buy the turkey. It is Mitchell’s most operatic tantrum ever. “My wife won’t watch that moment, because she thinks it’s too sad,” he says. “When it turns out that Jeremy was actually playing a joke, she says, ‘It’s not funny: it’s too sad and unkind.’”
Webb: “I like how Mark really goes for it, and then Jeremy just says, ‘That wasn’t very Christmassy’. It’s just lovely.”
Mark has liaisons with Dobby in the stationery cupboard
From ‘Spin War’ (Series 5, Episode 2)
“Because of the way Peep Show is shot,” says Webb, “the embarrassing scenes, especially sex scenes, you’re just doing it with the cameraman. You’re kissing the pretend bottom of a camera rather than an actual face. So we’re spared the worst of it.”
“That’s why this moment was particularly horrible,” says Mitchell of a scene that features Dobby writhing on Mark’s groin in the JLB stationery cupboard, with the camera trained on both of their faces.
Webb: “And that was Isy’s [Suttie, who plays Dobby] first day!”
Mitchell: “Yeah, so I did not know Isy well at all. Then having to… It’s nice to hear this is there, but I can’t watch that moment without remembering how embarrassing it was.”
Mark’s Radio 4 speech
From ‘Jurying’ (Season 3, Episode 5)
There were lots of nominations for ‘Mark pretending to be on E’. But the pivotal moment has to be the end of his night out where, surrounded by nonsense-talking druggies and with Sophie in bed, he “stops pretending, and goes, ‘I’m opening the curtains, I’m turning on Radio 4, everyone fuck off’,” says Webb. So ‘the E bit’ is rechristened ‘the Radio 4 bit’.
Its popularity is because Peep Show has, as Mitchell puts it, “been there for many people’s journey from drugs to Radio 4.”
Mitchell: “I’m very with Mark in that moment, in terms of his puncturing of nebulous alternativism. But it does come off as… well, very Blair’s Britain. Very pre-crash. Britain under Blair, there was a broader acceptance that stuff was OK, not a total disaster. Then the credit crunch reversed that consensus. I don’t think Mark would have put it quite like that now.”
But we’re glad he did.
Jeremy eats a dog
From ‘Holiday’ (Season 4, Episode 3)
The top spot on this list was actually an easy, fairly unanimous choice. It got the most votes in our readers’ poll, while Webb proffered it as his favourite pretty much as soon as he sat down. Mitchell was in agreement: describing the moment where Jeremy eats the bagged-up, barbecued carcass of the pet dog belonging to a girl he is trying to sleep with, in front of her, as “just classic”.
So, by way of a grand finale, we turn to the genius writers of Peep Show, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong.
“I remember being on board the canal boat on the day of filming,” says Bain. “The art department had prepared a beautifully hair-ified turkey leg which turned in a wonderful performance in the role of dog leg. When Robert started chomping on it, I think we all felt we were in the presence of something very wrong. And quite often in comedy, very wrong can turn into very right.”
“Like Jeremy, I was never sure that he really had to eat the dog,” Armstrong remembers. “We tried to construct the plot – with the fear of dog microchips being found, and the semi-cremation, and the ground being too cold for burial, and Jeremy getting intercepted while carrying the dog remains – so that the eating was a credible bit of farce. But I still have my doubts. So I’m pleased but slightly disappointed people have voted this borderline incredible moment their favourite.”