TV reviews: Peep Show | Alan Bennett and the Habit of Art

Peep ShowFriday, Channel 4Alan Bennett and the Habit of ArtSaturday, More4

NOW in its seventh series, Peep Show is officially Channel 4's longest-running sitcom. It's also one of its best, although a brisk scan of my brain archive reveals that it doesn't have much competition. If you discount US imports such as Cheers, in 28 years Channel 4 has broadcast few outstanding sitcoms: Father Ted, Spaced and, at a push, Phoenix Nights and Black Books are the only ones that spring to mind. Still, that's five more than BBC3 will ever produce in twice that time.

In any case, this comedy about two dysfunctional, co-dependent losers is assured of its place in the pantheon. And if the last couple of series haven't felt quite as consistent as before, that's only because the standard set by writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain was so high in its earlier years. But a variable Peep Show is still funnier than most other British sitcoms of recent times.

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The latest series began with Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb) anxiously awaiting the birth of Mark's first child. Correction: Jez wasn't remotely anxious, as is befitting of a feckless, immature, amoral idiot whose only concerns are for himself.

As the hopelessly neurotic Mark fretted over his role in the birthing process, Jez occupied himself with chatting up an attractive woman whose partner lay in a coma: a typically black subplot, just as it was when Seinfeld used it first in 1992. Let's charitably assume that it was unconscious theft on the writers' part.

Though still enjoyable as always, this wasn't the funniest Peep Show episode by any means. Some of Mark's inner monologues felt laboured to the point of self-parody, although his out-of-body fleeing from the hospital was an undoubted highlight.

I was also surprised and warmed by the poignant final moments, where Mark and Jez shared a rare moment of mutual happiness over the birth. It was all the more effective for being so atypical of the series.

In terms of performance, Mitchell and Webb continue to excel in roles they must know intimately by now. Webb in particular gets laughs with his innately amusing facial expressions alone. For all its deserved reputation as a sharply dialogue-orientated comedy, Peep Show remains an ideal vehicle for his clownish physicality.

An exceptional arts documentary, Alan Bennett and The Habit of Art traced the evolution from page to stage of the great playwright's latest work for the National Theatre. It explored the close working relationship between Bennett and his longtime collaborator, director Nicholas Hytner, and the linked lives of WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, upon whom The Habit of Art is based.

In tandem with the themes of Bennett's meta-textual play, the programme was a ruminative meditation on the act of creation and collaboration, and the triggers that propel all great artists.Eschewing narration in favour of revealing interviews with Bennett, Hytner and various learned talking heads (no pun intended), it carried a rather wistful air. Is The Habit of Art Bennett's valedictory statement on the nature of creative expression, as was rather morbidly suggested by one contributor? I hope not. A world without him would be a sorrier place.