In the realm of comedy series, there are those that take time to find their groove and audience, leaving behind a lasting mark on the landscape of entertainment. The UK version of The Office stands as one such testament, alongside the brilliantly offbeat Peep Show. The creative minds behind these gems, including the likes of David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Sam Bain, and Jesse Armstrong, would go on to craft other iconic TV series like The Thick of It and Fresh Meat. Notably, Jesse Armstrong’s genius would later birth the acclaimed sensation, Succession.
Premiering in September 2003, Peep Show broke new ground with its innovative filming technique. The camera became the eyes of either Mark or Jez, the central characters, offering viewers a glimpse into their innermost thoughts.
While sitcoms centered around flat-mates were not a novel concept in British television, with Men Behaving Badly, Game On, and Spaced leading the charge in the 90s, Peep Show distinguished itself through its enduring run of 12 years. It chronicled the protagonists’ journey from their 20s into their 40s, all the while, they seemed to remain in a state of perpetual stasis.
Reflecting on the show’s inception two decades later, Sam Bain mused to The Guardian, “We realized that this weird camera technique, and these voiceovers, were a great, snazzy, unique selling point.” Commissioning editor Iain Morris echoed the sentiment, recalling, “The scripts were the funniest things I’d ever read and the performances the best I’d ever seen. I remember sitting in the rehearsal room going, ‘The only way this is going to mess up is if we’re shooting it weirdly.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to shoot it weirdly.'”
As for the title, David Mitchell revealed, “We shot the whole first series calling it POV (point of view) but knowing it wouldn’t be called POV. Sam and Jesse thought up the title Peep Show. I didn’t like it, but it was beyond my control.” Robert Webb added his perspective, saying, “My reaction was, ‘Ew, it sounds like a sex thing. Is it bad that we’re going to attract a load of lads whose girlfriends have gone to bed and they’re hoping for a wank?’ But maybe that didn’t do the figures any harm.”
Robert Webb reflected on the early days, remarking, “The first series really felt like the wild west. We were making up how to film this show as we went along. At one point, I was driving in Croydon with this cycle helmet on my head doing a scene and trying to film David, which is quite a lot to ask the human brain to do, particularly mine.”
Peep Show’s journey is a testament to a series that gradually won over its audience, each season narrowly securing its continuation. Such a feat in today’s swiftly cancelling landscape is a rarity, a point that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the writers’ guild, as they take a stand on numerous issues plaguing the industry.”