You’ve Watched Succession, Now You’re Ready For Peep Show

Forget the billionaire Roy family, it’s time for men with ven.

Robert Webb and David Mitchell in Peep Show on Channel 4
Photo: Channel 4

Warning: contains spoilers for the Succession season four finale.

In the final scene of British comedy Peep Show (2003 – 2015), longtime flatmates Jez and Mark are watching TV and idly swapping murder methods they’d use on each other. “Aw,” Jez thinks in voiceover as he gazes fondly over at Mark, “we do love each other really.” In silence, Mark looks back at Jez as his own inner monologue concludes, “I simply must get rid of him.” 

Roll credits. 

It’s the perfect ending to a nigh-on perfect male friendship comedy – funny, unsentimental, and truthful. You can be married to somebody, related to somebody, or like Mark and Jez, be two mismatched socks paired up by tumble dryer static decades ago who never had the wherewithal to peel yourselves apart, and still never know what another person is really thinking. 

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Take Tom Wambsgans and Shiv Roy, the billionaire husband and wife who end HBO’s Succession on a volatile truce. Tom has unexpectedly won their ongoing game of shaft-your-spouse and been awarded the dubious prize of the Waystar Royco CEOship over which Shiv and her brothers had been fighting. Reunited in the back of a $170k car, they hold hands with what can only be described as a homeopathic level of commitment. Without turning to look at each other, digits are gingerly rested on palm like two 18th century European kings unwilling to concede a gram of territory. What might be going through their heads? 

Tom: “Aw, we do love each other really.”
Shiv: “I simply must get rid of him.”

Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) sit in the back of a car barely holding hands

I mean, probably not, but it’s a close enough possibility to point at the commonality between Succession, created by Jesse Armstrong, and Peep Show, created by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. Though the stakes, realms, tones and budgets of the HBO and Channel 4 shows are wildly different, they’re siblings with the same wry worldview and the same precise, exuberant and unforgettable writing. They also share the essential perspective that under the hood, their main characters are just scared, selfish children masquerading as grown-ups. 

Peep Show’s point-of-view camera and first-person voiceovers told us what Mark and Jez – David Mitchell’s uptight rule-follower and Robert Webb’s feckless slacker, who’d lived together since university – were thinking. It made for a very funny but not at all pretty picture. The gap between the faces they aimed to present to the world and the sulphurous witch cauldron of insecurity, idiocy and selfishness bubbling underneath was vast. Just as it is with the Succession kids, although we don’t hear their terrible inner monologues out loud, the brilliant actors manage to squeeze them out of their faces while they’re saying other stuff.

Peep Show‘s Mark being a loan manager in a low-level UK finance firm, and Jez being an unemployed musician with loyalty only to the Big Beats Manifesto (“Big Beats are the best. Get high all the time”), their inadequacy as people had an understandably limited influence on the global situation. In contrast, the Roy siblings’ personal failings very nearly brought down democracy.

Watching Succession‘s Armani-wrapped toddlers pretending they knew how to live in, and run, the world was like watching a litter of puppies managing the International Monetary Fund – biting each other’s ears and shitting on the floor while inflation balloons and everybody whose dad isn’t a billionaire is made homeless. Posturing like their gargantuan father, trying – as son Kendall Roy said – “to Dad it” from inside their sloshing, liquified centres, was disastrous. For the Roys, for America, and for the world. As it always is when self-serving, unloved baby-men and baby-women who never had a friend they didn’t buy come to power.

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Mark and Jez may once have cooked and eaten a dog, but they never crowned a Neo-fascist President of the USA. That’s more the kind of thing Super Hans would do anyway, on a weekend bender. Matt King’s legendary Peep Show character is Jez’s former bandmate in Various Artists (alternately Danny Dyer’s Chocolate Homunculus, to name just one variant). Hans is a hedonist with a bottomless appetite for drugs and chaos, who could deliver pretty much any of Kendall Roy’s lines in Succession without anybody noticing the difference, and vice versa, from “carpe the fucking diem” and “sweaty spaghetti” to the one about having his rental snake dry-cleaned.

You could say the same for Succession’s Cousin Greg whose hesitant, clause-filled, prodding around in the conversational dirt is pure Mark Corrigan. (Read this in David Mitchell’s voice: “Do you think it’s possible to sue a person, like a grandparent, in an affectionate way? Like, I love you, I’m glad you’re part of my life, but I am taking legal action against you.”) See Greg the Egg repeatedly call a girl he’s trying to chat up “fair maiden” in a faux southern genteel accent and the afterburn of Mark won’t shift. 

Try it: a little ‘who said it?’ quote quiz – Peep Show or Succession? (Answers below)

1. What the fuck is this obsession with milk? You know who drinks milk? Kittens and perverts.
2. You don’t hear much about syphilis these days. Very much the Myspace of STDs.
3. Should we get married? Not that, like an equivalent thing, like I abduct you and force you to live with me.
4. He ate my fucking chicken. What’s next? Stick his cock in my potato salad?
5. You realise that tinned food is just for crackheads and wars.
6. I wonder if anyone has ever been this unhappy while drinking champagne.
7. Looking at porn is like lying to Parliament. It used to be wrong but now it’s all a big laugh.
8. I’m just a normal, functioning member of the human race and there’s no way anyone can prove otherwise.
9. On the count of three, the last piggy to eat a sausage is the mole.
10. People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis, you can’t trust people.

There’s more overlap too, in the ambivalent marriages of Shiv, Tom and Mark and Sophie (Olivia Colman, Oscar-winner fans), in the rainbow of inventive insults, in how close the characters always are to explosive anger, in their venal self-interest, in their bathetic inarticulacy when confronted with life’s big moments, in their ruinous insecurity and astronomical ego. 

We could think of Succession and Peep Show as two different paths – one paved with Carrara marble, the other strewn with empty Monster Munch packets – leading to the same destination. They both made us care about horrid, pathetic characters, both made us laugh, and both showed us that no matter what the outside looks like, on the inside, we’re all just exactly as small as each other. 

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1. Roman, Succession
2. Tom, Succession
3. Roman, Succession
4. Logan, Succession
5. Jez, Peep Show
6. Mark, Peep Show
7. Mark, Peep Show
8. Mark, Peep Show
9. Logan, Succession
10. Super Hans, Peep Show

Succession is available to stream on Max and NOW. Peep Show is available to stream on in the UK and on Fubo, Roki and Tubi, among others, in the US.