BBC Video // 2003 // 145 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 11th, 2006
Welcome to the private world of Jeremy and Mark -- two very ordinary weirdos.
The insurgence of reality television has done a lot more than just change the face of television programming. It's also forced scripted series to change and adapt. One such example is Peep Show, a series that puts the viewer inside the perspective of the characters in the show by letting us hear what they think, and see what they see via cameras mounted on their heads. The series' gritty, rough look is designed to emulate the cheaper reality show aesthetic. It's definitely a series built around a gimmick, but it ultimately works out pretty well.
Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb) share a small apartment. Deep down inside, they are both pretty ordinary guys. We know they are ordinary because we get to hear their deepest, inner-most thoughts -- whether we want to or not.
Mark works at a nearby office, where his life is a safe, stable, and consistent routine. The only thing that threatens that stability is his co-worker Sophie (Olivia Colman), who he is madly in love with. Jeremy, on the other hand, enjoys his life of total chaos. He is a (currently unemployed) musician, and enjoys sleeping in, working on his techno tracks, and figuring out ways to bed Toni (Elizabeth Marmur), their hot neighbor.
If you cut to the core of Peep Show, it's actually a pretty generic sitcom. Mark and Jeremy go through many of the typical sitcom situations (falling in love with the unattainable local beauty, the death of an uncle, failure to get a promotion at work), but relies on its unique presentation to set it apart. Although we hardly need to hear internal narration to understand most sitcom characters, the ability to hear their thoughts is a gimmick that genuinely works to get new, fresh laughs.
It helps that both Mark and Jeremy are well-written and well-performed. Although Mark's thoughts are often well over the top, there is something in him that every nerd (or ex-nerd) will be able to recognize. He stumbles into the most awkward and poorly-handled situations imaginable, and yet still manages to maintain a certain level of pathos throughout. Jeremy is a very different character, but equally familiar. Much of the humor pokes fun at typical male behavior, such as Mark and Jeremy's thought processes as they converse with attractive women. It's a fantastic parody (and perhaps antidote) to the recent trend of sensitive "what's your man really thinking" literature.
Peep Show is as shocking and offensive as we have come to expect of British comedy. Although it's never graphic in terms of what it shows, the narration is entirely uncensored, and few topics are left untouched over the six episodes included. Sex, homosexuality, racism...this is an easy series to be offended by if that's what you want. For people who love Little Britain, though, the uncompromising willingness of this script to broach any topic is a blast. It is quite witty, too, in a raunchy kind of way. The performances are remarkable, especially considering the actors spend so much time either wearing a digital camera on their heads or talking directly to someone else wearing one. The illusion is never broken throughout the show, and it gets less distracting as the series continues. The camera work is fascinating, and manages to hold the premise together well.
Of course, series based around a gimmick tend to fall apart after a while. Peep Show is no different. Once we adjust to the strangeness of hearing the characters' thoughts and seeing through their eyes, tedium starts to set in. By the last two episodes, it becomes clear that the show's creators were having too much fun with the premise to bother thinking through a full series arc. While most of the important threads are sorted out by the end, there is the same meandering chaos that plagues the reality shows Peep Show lampoons. The good news is, with only six episodes in a series, it's over before things get dull or fall apart. Had I watched these episodes farther apart, I probably wouldn't have felt this way at all.
As with most BBC series from the past few years, the transfer on Peep Show is quite solid. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, there are few visual transfer flaws to complain about. The image isn't as sharp and clean as many series are, but it was shot digital in some challenging circumstances. Considering how the series was filmed, it looks fantastic. The sound is solid as well. It comes in a clear stereo track, and the voices (internal and external) are always easy to understand.
Although Peep Show isn't as packed with extra features as some television series, there are a few to check out. There are commentary tracks on the first and last episodes, which aren't nearly as entertaining as one would expect, given the nature of the show. In fact, they're somewhat dry. There are a number of bonus scenes, though, which are hilarious.
Die-hard British comedy fans will want to make sure Peep Show makes it into their collections. It may be a generic sitcom at heart, but it really does cover some new and fresh ground as well. It feels nothing like any other series I have ever seen. The easily offended are advised to stay clear, though, as there are sequences that will rattle the toughest cages. Thinking back, there are a number of sequences that surprised and offended me, but I also spent a lot of time laughing. With the whole season on one disc, it's a pretty safe bet for people who like comedy. Just don't watch it with your mom.
Not guilty. I wouldn't want to live with Mark and Jeremy, but it's been a great little visit.
Review content copyright © 2006 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extra Scenes
* Commentary Tracks