Peep Show series 9 episode 1 review: The William Morris Years

Peep Show returns in rude health for its ninth and final (for the time being) series...

This review contains spoilers.

9.1 The William Morris Years

So, here we are… back with the El Dude Brothers for one final ride aboard the perennial train wreck that is their lives. Mark and Jez’s graceless swan-dive into mutually-assured destruction has been entertaining us since 2003, making it the longest-running comedy in Channel 4’s history. With the final leg underway, one can only wonder what protracted social crucifixions writers Sam Bain and Jesse Amstrong have cooked up for the duo in the episodes to come. Series Eight concluded in a predictably despondent fashion, with Dobby ditching the pair for the bright lights of New York, somehow finding the will to shun Mark’s offer of wardrobe space in one half of his grotty-looking bedroom (‘It ain’t Greenwich Village but it’s yours’). This of course meant our two socially-maladjusted heroes were once again left with only their misery and each other. Well, that and a live electric fence onto which they hurled each other in manic bouts of rage.     

The show picks up six months after the Dobby incident with the impromptu bout of electro-shock therapy seeming to have had no positive effect on Mark and Jez’s relationship. Things are decidedly frosty between the pair as they hook up for the first time in ages to celebrate Super Hans’ impending nupitals. Jez is currently living with the soon-to-be-married Hans, although his living arrangements have reached a new nadir; despite living in a bathroom, Jez’s self-delusions are still in place. He tries to convince himself that owning both a duvet and a sleeping bag means his life isn’t a failure and to enthuse about being able to ‘piss directly down the plughole’ without leaving his ‘sunken bed’.

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For Mark however, things seem to be on the up. He has a new, improved flatmate in the form of Jerry and seems content surrounding himself with the highbrow affectations that he’s always pretended to love. Jerry, played by Tim Key, sports a beard seemingly groomed for gloating and clearly has smug mode engaged when he informs Jez that the El Dude Brothers have been superceded by the Rebound Brothers. One of the episode’s most delightful moments soon follows with the trio indulging in a slightly-too-long-for-comfort laugh at Jez’s expense. The POV camera switches between the pair as their good-natured guffawing becomes tinged with a wilder note of hysteria, their eyes glittering with the onset of mania. It’s moments like this where Peep Show really can afford to play its comedic hand with a triumphant flourish; being the longest-running comedy in Channel 4’s history means that by this point, we understand and wholeheartedly relish every sordid nuance of the pair’s death-clutch of despair.

Mark’s laughter carries with it the undeniable ring of schadenfreude, mocking the greatly-reduced circumstances of his formerly-best friend. Much like the Emperor gloating over the Rebels’ destruction in Return Of The Jedi, Mark’s crowing laughter is reminiscent of Palpatine in his pomp and brings to mind Mark’s thought-impressions of the Sith Lord in the previous series’ final episode.

If Mark’s gloating laughter proves what a supercilious shit he really is, Jez’s maniacal laughter heralds the onset of another one of his morally bankrupt schemes. It’s moments like this, underscored by our long association with the characters, where the episode really shines. 

As surely as white toast follows brown, several more classic moments ensue, although as ever, the very best lines are reserved for the characters’ internal monologues with Mark’s unvoiced challenge to Jez (‘Would you like to play Capitalism?’) before he sells him a loan he knows he can ill-afford being a particular highlight.

Like most comedies, Peep Show generates its laughs by leading its characters into implausible situations. The show’s real brilliance however often lies in the journey to reach such darkly comic places. They say that the truly frightening thing about evil is its banality and to some degree a similar principle applies here: the most hilarious thing about Jez and Mark’s episodic descent into depravity (such as eating barbecued dog or being the unwilling recipient of strap-on ‘love’) is the ordinary nature of the choices that get them there. In this episode, Mark’s series of decisions to replace Jerry with Jez didn’t seem quite as well-oiled as some of the show’s very best descents into untold awfulness but was thoroughly entertaining nonetheless.

In some ways this episode felt like something of a place-setter to return things back to the state that we know so well: return Mark and Jez to a state of domestic discomfort? Check. Reduce Hans back to a state of degenerate debauchery? Check. Re-establish Johnson (who we want to see more of!) as a would-be balls-to-the-wall power player? Check once more. With only a handful of episodes left to run before the show makes its final bow, one hopes that Bain and Amstrong have used their time wisely as the characters seem poised to return once more to well-trodden beats. But after all, that is why we tune in and when the laughs are this good, who cares?

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The El Dude Brothers being reunited in misery is a beat that’s often been employed during the series’ closing episodes so it’s interesting to see it happen here so early on. Does this herald a possible change for the duo by the time the final curtain call comes? Will they finally break free of the endless karmic cycle of screwing each other over to attain a blissful Nirvana-like conclusion? The writers have joked in this interview that they originally wanted to “end it with them meditating on a hill in California, but then Mad Men did it, so we changed that.” Whatever the finish may be, this episode was a successful return comeback from one of the most triumphant British comedies out there. With only five episodes left before The End, we’re missing it already. 

Read our salute to the mighty Peep Show, here.