Peep Show started out as a cult little comedy on late-night Channel 4. It has since grown into a pretty big cult comedy on Channel 4, spawning a current total of five series, earning a loyal fan base along the way, and making stars of its two lead actors, David Mitchell and Robert Webb (let’s try to forget their irritating stint as PCs and Macs because, well, this book shows they’re very funny and likeable people). It’s no surprise, then, that there would be demand to know more about the series, its origins, the ideas, and the writers behind it. As we find out here, Mitchell and Webb are happy to take a back seat and admit the true credit goes to the show’s main writers, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain.
Laughs are to be had from the very first page, particularly in Robert Webb’s half of the introduction. He tells how, originally, the audience were to be given an insight into Sophie’s thoughts, as well as those of the main characters, Jeremy and Mark. “Learning these things can sometimes be a bit disconcerting,” he says, “- Sophie’s thoughts? It’s like when you learn the working title for Coronation Street was Chopstick Bang-a-Round or that Jeremy Kyle was originally conceived as a human being.”
As the title suggests, the main bulk consists of the scripts for every episode, word for word, right from series one through five, providing an unthinkable number of hours of laugh-out-loud moments. It also proves rather handy for having a whole gamut of quotes to hand, for entertaining/ annoying your mates. The book features some brilliant extra touches, including awkward emails between Mark and Sophie in the wake of their disastrous marriage (“Sit on it, fuckhead” being a favourite from Sophie), business memos from the outlandish Alan Johnson, and both Mark and Jeremy’s school reports (“Jeremy’s poem ‘After the Bomb is Dropped’ is a chilling evocation of a lifeless world. The repetition of a single word again and again and again eventually goes beyond the repetitive into the profound,’ Jeremy’s English teacher writes).
A personal favourite inclusion is the series of scraps from Mark’s notebook, which includes the following account: “Last night was troubled by a dream. In it I arrived at work to discover that I had been judged guilty of a series of attacks on farm animals. In the attacks, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and chickens had been sedated and then made up with cosmetics and wigs to look like unsuccessful American presidential candidates: Dukakis, Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, etc.” The awkward, cringeworthy and often surreal humour that made the show such a success is all present here, both in the old and new material.
The book goes into some detail about the genesis of an episode, from its rough draft to the final cut, which is probably not terribly interesting to anybody except perhaps die-hard fans and budding scriptwriters; but then, they’re more than likely to be the core group to purchase this. Everything is topped off with a generous smattering of photos of behind-the-scenes antics from the cast and crew. At over 300 pages long, you couldn’t ask for a more exhaustive exploration of the Peep Show phenomenon, and this is sure to prove essential reading for both fans of the show, and anybody who enjoys fresh, inventive comedy.
Peep Show: The Scripts and More is out now.