NINE series in and it’s the closing curtain for Channel 4’s beloved sitcom, Peep Show. As the usual mayhem ensues, Gemma Dunn talks to the stars about their less than sentimental end, objecting to Twitter and their plans for the future
It’s been 12 years since the first episode of Peep Show aired, and dysfunctional duo Mark Corrigan and Jeremy “Jez” Usborne, played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb respectively, have gone from a couple of twenty-something room-mates struggling to cope with day-to-day life, to a couple of middle-aged room-mates struggling to... Well, you get the gist.
“I don’t think they’ve changed at all,” admits 41-year-old Mitchell when talk turns to their haphazard characters.
“If we were to start growing, we would lose the situation that’s quite funny.”
From the show’s iconic point-of-view camera shots, to its cynical, audible voiceovers, writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have created a cult classic that more than warrants being the longest-running comedy in Channel 4 history - and then some.
For those out of the loop, Peep Show follows Mark and Jez as they navigate their way through life with little filter on their - mostly offensive - inner thoughts. Sharing a flat in Croydon, South London (and by sharing we mean unemployed, wannabe musician Jez lives in sensible loan manager Mark’s spare room), the twosome suffer a never-ending series of mishaps - usually involving the fairer sex.
Regular characters include Mark’s workmate, on-off love interest and mother of his child, Sophie Chapman (Olivia Colman); his boss Alan Johnson (Paterson Joseph) and Jez’s ‘band mate’, Super Hans (Matt King).
But while Webb says “there’s an acknowledgement it’s the last series”, with the aforementioned cast back for a ‘term’, viewers needn’t expect a sentimental finale.
“Once an episode is not doing what a sitcom should, then you’re letting it down,” says Mitchell.
“There’s a long-running sense of narrative. If you watched the final episode of the last series as your first episode of Peep Show it would work, but the fact this is the end makes sense too.”
With 48 episodes under their belt, Mitchell and Webb (who met at Cambridge University and now both live in London) insist they had no qualms reverting back to their characters’ tactless ways after a three-year hiatus.
“We had the same crew, director and cameramen, so it was probably the least eventful shoot,” claims Webb, 43.
“But the premise is changing. It was a show about two young men sharing a flat and it’s become two middle-aged men sharing a flat, which is a different level of sadness. I think it was getting too sad.”
While both Mitchell and Webb are happily married family men in real life, the same can’t be said for their characters.
Despite being married at least once each, and Mark fathering a child with Sophie, their love lives are all but plain sailing.
Have they at least reached a consensus as to which of them is the worse off?
“Jeremy is fundamentally quite a warm person, whereas Mark has a coldness at his core,” Mitchell confesses.
“There was a period when he was happy with Sophie, in a way, and it was more wholesome. Perhaps they become happy in this series and do a nice tour of English country trips...”
“Think of the times you see Mark doing a little leap of joy,” Webb quips. “It’s always because something has gone wrong for someone else,”
When questioned about the pair’s offensive ‘banter’, Mitchell laughs, “There’s a line I particularly like where Mark says to Jeremy, ‘Nothing you want is ever going to happen’.”
“One that sticks in my head is, ‘Everybody I know doesn’t want to talk to me’,” Webb chips in.
But despite being renowned for their back-and-forth jibes, both maintain they’ve never had to censor the jokes in Peep Show - with Mitchell confirming: “It’s not the subject matter, it’s the comic take that’s important.”
“As a society, we’re going through a bad patch in terms of people being judgemental about jokes. There’s a sport of trying to find offence and it’s killing the joy of humour. We all need to relax a bit, celebrate the urge to amuse and not be so quick to assume the person that’s making the joke has a lurking, horrendous, prejudiced agenda.
“I’m going to blame Twitter.”
Webb agrees. “Twitter is a terrible place for jokes and a great place for people who like to be misunderstood.”
Now approaching their forties, emotional scars still smarting and an impending wedding, it seems things might take an interesting turn for Mark and Jez in series nine.
However, writer Jesse Armstrong admits there’s to be no definitive end, as he’d love to revisit the duo in 10 years’ time in a different show.
“We would all love to do that at some point,” Mitchell reaffirms.
For now, the comedy duo is in the early stages of developing a script with comedy writer and producer Simon Blackwell (The Thick of It, Peep Show) for new Channel 4 sitcom, Back.
“It’s a very different show to Peep Show - a bit more middle-aged,” Mitchell says.
“We’ve made it a requirement that it should be slightly worse. It’s bang on a trajectory of artistic decline.”
With these comedic geniuses involved, that’s doubtful.
• The ninth series of Peep Show begins tomorrow Channel 4