Peep Show: David Mitchell and Robert Webb interview

Robert Webb and David Mitchell Robert Webb and David Mitchell
Posted: Thu Sep 17 2009

In 2003, Channel 4 premiered a hilarious comedy of modern manners about two dysfunctional friends sharing a flat in South London. With its point-of-view perspectives, tragicomic internal monologues and lashings of bad sex, weak drugs and ineptly performed rock 'n' roll, 'Peep Show' had cult hit written all over it. However, thanks to Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong's fine scripts and brilliant performances from David Mitchell and Robert Webb, it's proved surprisingly enduring. As series six begins on C4, Time Out gets inside the heads of solipsistic flatmates Mark and Jeremy AKA David Mitchell and Robert Webb

'Peep Show' must initially have seemed a fairly leftfield idea. Are you surprised by its endurance?
Robert Webb 'We were astonished and delighted when it was commissioned, and even more astonished and delighted when a second series was commissioned. But it is terribly well written. Sam and Jesse are phenomenally strict with themselves.'

Why has it been so successful?

RW 'People think things that they would never say. And that's the show's ace card. There's a whole set of extra jokes from what's going on in Mark and Jeremy's heads. And that also makes it, by accident, quite a lot ruder.'

David Mitchell 'Its strength is in its adherance to the classic rules of sitcom. People trapped between jeopardy and opportunity in situations that are worse than most people's lives but still recognisable. It's a stylistically different and original take on urban life, but there are a lot of similarities with many other sitcoms in approach. And that's the thing that makes it good.'

There's consolation in it too…
RW 'Absolutely. People think: Well, at least I'm not Mark or Jeremy. They constantly think everyone else is having a great time and they're just in this little sideline, this puddle. I think it's a relief for people to see that in fictional characters. It's quite common on “Peep Show” to hear someone saying, “I'm having a great time. Am I having a great time? I don't know.” '

DM 'What sitcoms teach you is that everyone feels like an outsider. There isn't anyone, even the people right in the middle of the gang, who doesn't feel that they're not properly in the gang.'

Where would you put in the lineage of British sitcoms?
DM 'From “Steptoe and Son” to “Yes Minister”, the classic British sitcoms are all reflections on our failures as a society. If that was all there was, the country would be a hellhole, but the fact that it laughs at itself and is selfknowing is a tremendous saving grace.'

Which are your favourite episodes?
RW 'When Jeremy gets himself into the situation of eating the charred remains of his would-be girlfriend's dog. It's the most extreme thing we ever got away with. And every step is completely logical. At no point do you think: That wouldn't happen. It's very carefully engineered so that it's the last logical thing in this grim trail.'

DM 'When they go back to university and Mark meets this girl. It's going really well and he says, “This would be great if I hadn't lied about everything but my name.” She was nice and there was a connection between them. It's a nice, sad episode. Mark makes all the wrong concessions to the modern world.'

How long can 'Peep Show' go on?
RW 'Artistically, there's no reason why it couldn't go on for a long time. As the characters get older, the pressure grows, the stakes get higher and it gets funnier. Also, to put it cynically, what with no one having any money, it's easier to recommission rather than take a risk on a new thing. I wouldn't want to be the poor bastard trying to get a new sitcom underway at the moment.'

DM 'If the Americans had made it, they'd have made 200 episodes in four years. At the UK's rate, before you get to 100 episodes, half the cast has died, like 'Last of the Summer Wine'. Maybe we'll be on that in 40 years' time, going down a hill in a wheelbarrow. It's an excellent scheme. It's like a retirement home for actors.'

'Peep Show', Friday, 10pm, C4.