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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Ranking the 20 best ‘Peep Show’ episodes

On September 19th, 2003, the comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb hit the screen for their debut outing as ‘The El Dude Brothers’. The creators of Peep Show, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, had struck gold with the pioneering point-of-view filming approach, but their astonishing ability to write such relatable yet wildly exaggerated characters broke the camel’s back, garnering one of the most substantial cult followings British comedy has ever known. 

Peep Show may not transcend cultural and linguistic barriers as fluidly as Mr. Bean, but it’s unbeatable within its parameters as a comical study and satire of the British psyche and external culture. As we watch Mark and Jez grapple with the intense mediocrity of mid-30s life in Croydon, we sympathise and admonish in equal measure. We warm to internal monologues of reason, but the actions never fail to shock or, indeed, convince us that someone requires a good, thorough sectioning. 

Accompanying Mark and Jez throughout the show’s 12-year run was a near-perfect extended cast of reprobates, unhinged family members and odious love rivals. Even the characters we grow to hate, such as Saz, Nancy, Jeff, Ben (the shit) and Matt Townshend, we can thank for adding a crucial thread to the series’ colourful tapestry. Stepping back, we realise that this tapestry reflects all aspects of life itself: it’s not a picnic, but there’s humour in everything if you look hard enough. 

On a therapeutic level, Peep Show reminds us that, no matter how bad things get in our own lives, at least we’ve (hopefully) never eaten dog meat, brought a venomous snake to children’s play gym, pooed in a pool, jilted a bride, or, God forbid, scratched Alan Johnson’s Beamer. 

For many of us, Peep Show isn’t just a comedy. It’s a vital, satirical study of the human condition. Though our reactions are no doubt muted, most of us can relate to Mark’s anxieties and frustration or Jez’s yearning for a lazy life void of a weekly graft and brimming with McCoy’s, Ribenas, Twirls and at least four Peshwari naan.

Without further ado, we present our ranking of the 20 best Peep Show episodes. Hopefully, you agree with our selections, but if you don’t and “if you can’t handle it, you can just… you know… fuck off.”

The 20 best Peep Show episodes ranked:

20. ‘Threeism’

In the ninth and final season of Peep Show, Mark and Jeremy’s true colours are revealed, with them both shown to be horrendous human beings in more egregious ways than before. Mark takes a particularly evil turn this season as he schemes to win over April after tracking her down. He conspires to steal her from her husband Angus and attempts to open up old wounds between the pair during a dinner party at his flat.

He cooks a horrible, apparently ‘Moroccan’ meal, which is akin to a lettuce, bean and egg casserole and some form of lettuce refreshment. Corrigan is unhinged in this one – he is forced to wear eyeshadow to cover up writing ‘Love You’ on his eyelids à la Indiana Jones, as it won’t scrub off. Elsewhere, Jeremy, now a life coach, has been individually having sex with a couple, Megan and Joe, who discover what is going on at the dinner party. They decide to give it a go as a ‘Threeism’ before it rapidly comes undone as the conditions of their written agreement are contested.

19. ‘A Beautiful Mind’

In the third episode of the seventh season, Jeremy is still bounding after Zahra like a Red Setter after a tennis ball. His illusion of refined intelligence wears dangerously thin when Zhara invites him to join her book club. Having only read Mr. Nice half a dozen times in the past, Jeremy has to lean on Mark to get him through Wuthering Heights

Lest we forget, this episode also introduces a new character: Kenneth, a nine-inch dildo or a leg of lamb; who can tell? “It’s just funny,” David Mitchell once told NME, picking the dildo scene out as one of his favourites. “It’s funny that he got a dildo. It’s funny that he was frightened of his dildo. It’s funny that it was in his drawer that he was scared to open. Everything about it is funny. On a normal filming day, you do a little rehearsal for the crew first. Then you do it for real. For this scene, they were absolutely loving it.”

18. ‘The Love Bunker’

Mark’s love rivalry with Dobby’s ex, Simon, reaches new levels of misery as he tries, very much in vain, to fit in with the former couple’s wider friendship group. Early in the episode, Jez and Super Hans enter their element in a music-themed hat game, but Mark gets hopelessly caught up with musical knowledge limited to Snow Patrol and The Beatles, “famously a four-piece”. Mark embarrassed himself in front of Dobby’s boyfriend, but as he sits at the party next to his Napoleon biography, he appears strangely confident ahead of a paintballing session. 

Cut to the next day, the group find themselves in a wooded area, splitting into two teams. Mark, Jez and Superhans are put on the red team with poor weaponry, while Mrs Dob-Dobalina joins Simon on the yellow team with paint grenades and high-quality guns. In the face of pain, Mark cowers in a bunker with Super Hans, who starts sniffing Class A drugs and becomes paranoid that the yellow team will throw a ball bearing or – golden snitch – in with the paintballs. Crucially, this episode shows the early rumblings of Jez’s infatuation with Dobby. 

17. ‘St. Hospitals’ 

Given how the sixth season finished, it was no surprise that the seventh began with Sophie yowling in labour with Mark’s offspring. While baby Ian battles his way into the world, Mark frets about feeling anxious and entirely useless. Meanwhile, Jez finds his new sexual prey, Zahra. The only hurdle is that she’s already in a relationship with a comatose man named Ben, “sleepy Ben”. Jeremy might one day regret not giving Ben’s tubes a good “waggle”, but for now, he’s happy to sit, wait and read magazines to the man, much to Mark’s consternation. 

As Mark continues to fret, he decides to do a runner. After eating a family bucket like a human horse and playing a few games in the local arcade, it’s Jeremy, of all people, who persuades Mark to rejoin Sophie and face reality. Mark returns, relieved to see she’s been given an epidural and hasn’t the foggiest idea how long he’s been gone. He makes it there just in time for Ian’s cesarean delivery, a moment made all the merrier as Super Hans reveals a boiler incident has caused only “minimal water damage”.

16. ‘Jeremy’s Manager’

Jez and Super Hans’ band might be on the verge of hitting the big time. They acquire a new manager, Cally, with whom Jez develops a physical relationship. Cally is a straight-talking character who has no qualms with letting someone know when they’re doing something wrong, with Mark starting to think she is ‘The One’ because of this. Corrigan shows his duplicitous side in this episode. After tagging along to the Christian rock festival, he pretends to share Cally’s beliefs in the myths surrounding crystal skulls in order to have sex with her. It then comes back to bite him when Cally instructs him to tell Jez that he is no longer in the band.

After Mark informs Jez, he vandalises Cally’s trailer, with the rodential Mark taking the opportunity to smash one of her crystal skulls. It all blows up in his face, though, when Cally tells Jez he needs to now play the show because Super Hans has gone AWOL. When Cally enters the trailer, Jez lies and claims that it was Mark who caused the destruction. She ends up leaving the festival and flipping Mark off, whilst Jez ends up playing the gig to just one audience member. The best line is this one? It comes courtesy of Super Hans at the beginning: “Don’t pigeonhole me, dude. Barchester Chronicles. Ecclesiastical politics when you’re high. These guys really knew how to do a fucking number on each other.”

15. ‘The Test’

Another comedy of errors, ‘The Test’ is one of the stand-out junctures in season six. As Jeremy tries to impress the local marijuana dealer, Elena, and Mark makes a final play for Dobby, they are both told by Sophie that their odds of being the father of her child have dropped, as Jeff is also a possible candidate. After Elena comes over, Jez tells her that Sophie is pregnant by him, thinking that being a dad will impress her. Things start to unfold later in the evening when Sophie tells Jez that Mark is actually the father.

Elena sees how elated Jez is at the news. Still, he disguises his feelings to go along with the original version that he is the father, eventually leading to Mark believing that Jez is the dad. Jez finally gets his chance to tell Mark the real news, resulting in one of the most hilarious meltdowns in the show. Jez offers Mark a fork to angrily stab him, an invitation he declines for being “too weird”. Instead, he takes his flatmate up on the offer to fork his bag of shopping. That close-up shot of the furious Corrigan’s face while in the act is priceless. 

14. ‘Jeremy’s Mummy’

“Mummy, coffee fucky hurry-uppy!” is the stand-out line from this season five highlight. In ‘Jeremy’s Mummy’, we see Jeremy at his most petulant and start to understand why he is such a blemish of a human being. Both maternal and paternal issues come to the fore, as do other personal problems. Jeremy meets his mother, Jackie, and her new boyfriend, Martin, an ex-military man, who also brings along his butch daughter, Natalie.

While Jeremy hates Martin, Mark loves him and hopes to write his memoir. Jackie also decides that Corrigan should be in control of Jeremy’s finances after she promises her son £20,000 following the death of great aunt Gwen. Things do not pan out as planned for either of the pair, with Mark sexually assaulted by Natalie whilst asleep and Jeremy finding a gun – “gunny” – amongst the dead Gwen’s belongings. Both aspects converge at the end to create a mess for both men. 

13. ‘Jurying’

Jeremy Usborne is not an upstanding citizen; we all know that. It is made clear repeatedly across Peep Show. However, in ‘Jurying’, he makes up for his mistakes and covers his tracks in the best way possible. After being called for jury duty, Jez is put on a case where a woman is tried for credit card fraud. He decides to vote guilty, but after meeting the woman, Carla, in a cafe by accident, in typical Jez fashion, he is attracted to her and decides to change his vote.

The pair enter into a sexual relationship, and one night, they visit a gay club along with Mark, Sophie and her friends. Mark pretends to take drugs, and it is back at the flat at the after-party when Jez realises that Carla is a career criminal. He changes his mind again and wants to send her to prison. In order to do so, he gives a speech in front of his fellow jurors. It is one of the best moments in Peep Show and one of the best acting performances of Robert Webb’s career. “This woman is evil!” he proclaims, emulating traditional righteous characters like Atticus Finch as he convinces the jury to send Carla down. 

12. ‘Handyman’

“You’re The Orgozoid? Oh my god, I thought you were just a man in a shirt sitting on a chair!” Jeremy belatedly tells the newcomer to his group of friends, who turns out to be one of his favourite techno musicians. However, this burgeoning friendship doesn’t work out the way he expects, with him becoming the handyman for Russell ‘The Orgozoid’. After a period of performing menial tasks for a lot of money, Jez is then required to give him a hand in a much more direct way.

Running concurrently with this, Mark has rekindled a friendship with his teenage crush, Sally, after attending a high school reunion. She’s a cleaner by trade and is married to one of Corrgian’s school bullies, Foz, who hasn’t changed a bit. Things move quickly, and after going to the Safari Park, Mark tries to seduce Sally while Sophie is away. He pretends that Russell’s big house is his own and Jeremy is his butler. They’re about to get it on, too, but Foz appears, as he has been following her, thinking she’s been unfaithful. 

Corrigan hides in a cupboard, and Sally pretends she’s cleaning the house, but the ruse is uncovered. In one of his most humiliating moments, Foz finds Corrigan in the cupboard with his fly undone, looking as though he has been perversely spying on his wife. Admitting to spying and masturbating rather than revealing what was actually going on, this is an incredibly low moment for Corrigan and a real cringe-inducer. It is British comedy at its finest. 

11. ‘Jeremy at JLB’

Mark Corrigan thinks he is winning at life. He uses the promotion he earned at the end of season five to buy a new sofa and get Jez a job at JLB. However, in typical Peep Show fashion, things do not go to plan. On the first day of working together, a fire alarm goes off, which turns out to be a hoax by Johnson for him to gather all the staff and tell them they are being made redundant in the car park. After Johnson tells the flabbergasted workers what’s going on, he makes a swift exit, with Corrigan thinking to himself: “The last Beemer out of Saigon. I’m at the mercy of the Vietnamese peasants. Please don’t put me in a bamboo cage.”

Corrigan comes into his own in this episode. He starts the JLB survivors group in a campaign to get everyone’s job back and keep hanging out with Dobby, who he thinks may well be ‘The One’. We see him put on a successful skit wherein he impersonates German JLB boss Steffan Strauss, albeit with a culturally insensitive but comic Hitler moustache. Together, a group of the survivors also trash the old JLB offices – one of the most madcap moments in the series’s timeline. 

A personal favourite, however, is the scene when the now-redundant Mark and Jeremy go to work with Super Hans. “You’re riding bitch,” the former is told by Hans after getting the trio lunch from a chicken shop. He messes their order up, though, with Hans complaining about his missing nuggets and Jez doing the same about onion rings. “You’ve fucked this order right up, haven’t ya? Ey? Haven’t ya? Ey?” Hans tells Mark in such a perfectly condescending way, as he confirms that he has indeed messed up and is left with an indeterminate puck of gristle for his troubles. 

10. ‘Jeremy Therapised’

As any fan will know, Peep Show thrives on things going wrong for Mark and Jez, but in this episode, the pair are pleasantly surprised. Mark invites Dobby over to watch The Apprentice and puts his foot down when she receives a cry for help from the sickly “stomach levels bullshit wanker”, Gerrard. Mark man handles Dobby’s phone, barring her from visiting his love rival and breathes bittersweet air the following morning when he discovers Gerrard is dead. 

With his rival in the ground, Mark tries to make amends with a vacant summary of a funeral speech and a not-so-personalised wake cake. It seems Mark is more focused on his job interview with a bathroom installation company. Meanwhile, Jeremy begins to nail his demons with therapy. At the end of the episode, Mark is elated to have secured a new job and have his rival out of the way. Unfortunately, Dobby no longer needs to move in with Mark now she has the money Gerrard left her in his will; the Dobby Club battle wages on from beyond the grave. 

9. ‘Mark Makes a Friend’

In season one, Mark’s status as a loser both inside and outside the walls of JLB Credit is established with conviction. By episode four, Mark finds himself sidelined for the journey home from a business trip but gets rescued roadside by the dashing Alan Johnson and his luxury Beamer. Mark’s pursuit of Sophie falters somewhat as he questions his sexuality amid Johnson-fantasies. 

Meanwhile, Jeremy’s situation is somehow even more precarious as he recovers from a protracted bender with everyone’s favourite crack-addled lunatic, Super Hans. Realising he had been so high he thought the “coffee table was being ironic”, Jez finds comfort in renewed impetus toward sobriety. If only he could remember what “the bad thing” was.

8. ‘Jeremy Makes It’

“Tell you what, that crack is really moreish,” Super Hans memorably utters to Jez at Tony and Toni’s re-marriage. A moment later, Jez notices Gog, a former classmate and bully victim who’s made a success of himself as an advertising agent against the odds. After revealing that Honda may be interested in Jez and Superhans’ music as a soundtrack to their TV commercial, Gog begins to string them along. 

Meanwhile, Mark befriends Daryl, whom he eventually realises is a bit of a racist. The Nazi reenactments and dodgy slurs add up, leaving Mark desperate to sever ties with the man; however, he becomes cornered by Jez and Hans, who need Daryl for his cor anglais virtuosity. The crack-hampered sessions forbode a crushing revelation that Jeremy hasn’t, in fact, made it. With few options left, Jez and Hans elect to duff Gog up with a baseball bat and mitt. The plan doesn’t go to plan, but Super Hans makes a rather forceful point by spilling Gog’s Crunchy Nut on the floor, which is “pretty expensive, as I recall”.

7. ‘Shrooming’

This episode never gets old, and it’s one where the more wicked side of Jeremy Usborne comes to the fore. In fact, many things qualify this one as a stone-cold classic. These include seeing Mark at his sickest and is locked in his room by Jez, Super Hans kicking the bathroom door off its hinges and revealing why he is messed up, Johnson saving Corrigan, and, of course, the introduction of Big Mad Andy, one of the show’s all-time great secondary characters. “Oh yeah, that’s the way it is, is it, yeah? Well, you can fuck off, pal, you can fuck right off!” he tells Jez before furiously kicking the repaired door off its hinges. 

Peep Show’s unique form of humour provides many a treat here. Aside from Andy’s outburst, the most iconic line comes at the end. When Johnson arrives to free Mark, he realises that he has gastric flu and won’t be able to make the job in Frankfurt that he was due to be on. After convincing Jeremy to unlock Mark’s door, the sick man runs to the toilet, which is without a door. Johnson witnesses first-hand the destruction his employee is splattering onto the ceramic. “Is that normal pooing you’re doing? It doesn’t sound normal, Mark, it doesn’t smell normal,” the disgusted businessman says before taking Mark off the Frankfurt project.  

6. ‘University Challenge’

There was no way ‘University Challenge’ was not going to be on the list. It’s the episode in which Mark meets April, his ultimate love interest, who gets away before returning years later in 2015’s season nine. Mark meets April in the shoe shop where she works, so he accompanies Jez to their old university town of Dartmouth, where she is a student, hoping to find her. 

Meanwhile, Jez finds himself back where he and Mark met as students as he works as a crew member for The Executioner’s Bong, one of the many great band names that appear throughout the show. 

This episode also features another classic name, Coming Up For Blair, and one of Super Hans’ best lines: “The secret ingredient is crime”. Elsewhere in this episode, Jeremy and Mark are held captive by the storied shopkeeper, Mr. Rashid, after the former tries to shoplift, and Mark pretends to be a mature student at Dartmouth University to hang out with April more. This ploy results in him being invited to a party hosted by the celebrated history Professor MacLeish – played by Peter Capaldi – before it falls apart thanks to Jez’s interruption. A significant episode for many reasons, it will always be regarded as one of the finest Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain conceived.

5. ‘Wedding’

Throughout nine bulletproof seasons, we witness several weddings, including Jeremy’s, where he dances solo while Nancy goes for a “biggie” job interview, and Super Hans’, where we meet the bloody twins for the first time. However, I think we can all agree that the ultimate wedding is Mark and Sophie’s, as the episode title so succinctly denotes. From piss-soaked pews to puke-stained cummerbunds, this episode has it all. 

As Mark wakes up from his stag, which he barely attended, he finds a super-hungover Super Hans outside his bedroom door; this is pretty much the high point of a day that spirals out of control as he attempts in vain to excuse himself from the imminent wedding ceremony. The insecure worm of a man goes through with the wedding, but Sophie knows the score. “It’s not that easy, Soph; that was the Church of England marriage service, not applying for a Nectar Card,” Mark says to Sophie, who wants an annulment the second they leave the church. 

4. ‘Dance Class’

One of the most iconic episodes of Peep Show, ‘Dance Class’ remains one of its most mirthful. After Mark hacks into Sophie’s email account, he and Jez end up at her dance class’ Rainbow Rhythms’, a hippie environment that sees the square Corrigan wholly out of his depth. It’s also the episode where Jez meets his American love interest, the Christian but free-loving Nancy. After hitting it off at the dance class, Jez and Nancy begin a taboo-breaking relationship that involves anal sex and a controversial blackface scene.

Meanwhile, as Mark tries to poach Sophie from his eternal rival, Jeff, he finds his plans stunted as they go to the dance class. “Is this it? Is this what my Grandad died for, the freedom to do this?” he asks himself as he watches Jez run around like a maniac while pulling Nancy around upside down. Whilst there are many highlights of this instalment, including the moment Mark is told he is “so not ‘Rainbow Rhythms’” and his reaction, his freak-out dancing stands out most in the memory. “God, it’s so easy being a freak,” Corrigan says to himself, “no wonder they’re ten a penny”. Comedy gold. 

3. ‘Sophie’s Parents’

In Peep Show, there’s never a dull moment, but some episodes cram in so many references, puns and jaw-dropping atrocities that they deserve a few hundred re-watches before full absorption; ‘Sophie’s Parents’ is undoubtedly one of these cases. We’re introduced to Penny, Ian and Jamie, Sophie’s affluent, dysfunctional family, who live in the countryside. Jeremy accompanies Mark as a chew toy for the unsettlingly enthusiastic Jamie but ends up on top as “James Bond” after bedding the jam-crazy Penny. 

After beheading a pheasant in vain attempts to impress Ian, the homophobic badger baiter, Mark admits that he’s not truly in love with Sophie. After agreeing to come clean with Sophie, Mark reconsiders his options as Nanna’s Cottage enters the equation. He just has to expose a barn burner before entering a loveless husk of a marriage. 

2. ‘Seasonal Beatings’

There aren’t many sitcoms that can boast perennial seasonal specials. Alas, not every sitcom is Peep Show. In undoubtedly one of the series’ brightest moments, Mark and Jeremy spend Christmas together at Apollo House for the first time. Jeremy’s mother is sailing around the Med with Mr. Potato Head, and the turkey knife is “passed down the generations” from Dan, Mark’s endlessly cantankerous father. 

This episode is non-stop gold: your toes will curl with cringe as your sides split. Jeremy’s out-of-character innocence and childish approach to Christmas make for an interesting development of character and throw-up highlight moments, especially when he and Mark open their stockings at the beginning. From charades to the Christmas smoothie, ‘Seasonal Beatings’ is chock full of unforgettable moments; need we say more? Oh, perhaps “No Turkey?!”

1. ‘The Holiday’

Having anguished over this decision for at least a few minutes, we decided to place ‘The Holiday’ at number one. The episode, which would be more aptly titled ‘The Stag’, follows the beloved El Dude Brothers as they set sail for the stag aquatic on the Shropshire Union Canal. As Jeremy tries to “stag” the recently-engaged Mark, we encounter some truly memorable quotes, such as, “Hey, is that a kingfisher”, “You’re very welcome to try”, and “I’m not wearing them, they’re Hitler’s boots”.

One of the episode’s finest moments comes when the pair stop off at a pub to drink some yards. Spying a couple of “hotties” sat eating dinner, Jez suggests to a reticent Mark that they try to chat them up. Mark reluctantly joins in and primes his mind for some top-flight flirtation: “Come on, Mark! Turn it on, play the game!”

Lucy, Mark’s target, jokes: “Can I get a metre of vodka… with an inch of tonic?” to which Mark responds: “Oh, uh, naughty, you’ve combined metric and imperial, you might get an interdenominational… you know, from mixing the two measurement systems, a hangover of that kind.” Wincing in embarrassment, he reminds himself to “just stay mute, Mark. You’re a social freak. Remain in your compound”.

At this point, Mark’s woes are only just beginning to bud. After meeting Lucy and Aurora’s father, who runs a business in India, Mark realises he may have found a route out of his imminent marriage to Sophie. Sadly, and rather grotesquely, this plan is scarpered when Mark realises what Jez has been up to meanwhile. He claims it’s undercooked turkey leg, but we all know what it is. 

This startling gem of black comedy undoubtedly marks one of the series’ highest points and Jez’s lowest. When asked to name their favourite Peep Show episodes in a 2012 interview with Digital Spy, Robert Webb replied: “The one that always springs to mind is the dog eating episode on the canal boat. That whole episode was a lot of fun.”

David Mitchell concurred: “The two that always spring to my mind are the wedding and the dog eating.”

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