Why is it that we enjoy watching other people make fools of themselves? Why are shows like The Office, Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Louie so popular? Why do we enjoy being uncomfortable while we’re being entertained?
Let’s go back. The shows listed above are all fantastic, but I have struggled to watch them, one and all. There’s something about the way I’m wired that prevents me from watching these characters get themselves into awkward situations without being reduced to a squirming mass of discomfort. This means most of the time I have to watch these shows in a few sittings with copious tea breaks in between to steady my nerves. And yes, if you haven’t already guessed, I am from England, where shame was invented. The one that gets me the most is Peep Show. Considering that each season is only six episodes long, it is amazing that it has taken me so long to catch up on it. Or not amazing when you consider I watch it in two minute bursts before I can’t bear to watch it anymore and have to take a break.
Peep Show is the story of two friends who probably hate each other. At best, they tolerate each other; at worst, they actively try to destroy each other. Both characters are amoral fools guided by their dicks and the misconception that they are meant for bigger and better things. David Mitchell plays Mark, a buttoned down nerd who works for a bank, fancies his co-worker, and is unbearably uncomfortable in his own skin. His flatmate, Jez (Robert Webb) is an eternal fuck up who believes that life as a musician awaits but that the Man can’t understand his music. They sort of stumble through life getting into horrendous situations and involving themselves with awful people. And yet both characters are oddly likable. Maybe it’s because we all know someone who is a Mark or a Jez, or, more likely, we are a Mark or a Jez, but no one can watch the show and not see a little bit of themselves in either character, for better or worse.
The best thing about this show is the way in which it’s all presented. When Mark or Jez are interacting with people, we see through their eyes and hear their thoughts. We can see the lies they’re telling and hear why. We can hear them screaming at themselves to do one thing while they do another. It is an incredibly frustrating show to watch, but, above all, it is also incredibly funny. If you can watch an episode of this show and not cringe and not be in pain from laughter, then you’re doing it wrong.
The whole series to date is available on Netflix. If you can binge watch it all, my hat goes off to you. As for me, I still think about some scenes from this show and then have to go take a lie down to try and relieve my crushing shame brought on by too much Englishness.