Good sitcoms are rare these days because broadcasters are too quick to axe new shows. Comedy needs time to grow roots—consider C4's Peep Showby Peter Bazalgette / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
It’s easy to get resentful in your fifties. Age creeps up on you in your forties, but after that it positively stalks you. Your children are at university, cruelly driving home the fact that your own brush with higher education was more than 30 years ago. You have to give up organised sport because your malfunctioning knees can no longer do much more than support a TV dinner. And you need your reading glasses to cut your toenails so as to avoid involuntary amputation. Old people are just like everyone else, except that they think that the previous window has vanished off their computer screen whenever they open a new one.
For this last observation we’re indebted to Peep Show, the comedy that has just finished its fifth run on Channel 4. Like all the best comedies, it treats us to clever, endearing revelations about ourselves. Peep Show first appeared in 2003 in a blast of originality. It featured two sex-obsessed twentysomething college friends, Mark and Jeremy, who share a bachelor flat in Croydon. Mark (“I want a fuck buddy”) is a credit manager at “JLB Credit.” Jeremy (“maybe I’m a knobhead”) is unemployed but fantasises about a music career with Super Hans, his narcotically challenged chum. So far, so ordinary. But all the dialogue is shot from the point of view of the characters—head on, into the camera. At the same time we hear the protagonists’ inner thoughts—lewd, neurotic and usually chaotically at odds with whatever is happening to them. The two characters are played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb, both incubated by Cambridge Footlights and more recently seen and heard in their own comedy sketch shows on Radio 4 and BBC2 (That Mitchell And Webb Look). The two desperate characters developed for them in Peep Show (by writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain) are a sort of Laurel and Hardy on crack cocaine, trapped in sub-suburbia.
From the start, Peep Show was a critical success. It felt fresh and experimental and attracted a small but devoted following, generally receiving around 1.2m viewers. But because your average sitcom costs a minimum of £200,000 per episode, Peep Show was not paying its way on Channel 4. Nevertheless, enjoying the critical plaudits, the programme commissioners ordered two further series, but by early 2006 they had pretty well decided to axe the show. Three things saved it: its DVD sales were…