“Dance Class” (season two, episode one; originally aired 11/12/2004)
(Available on Hulu)
Peep Show heads into its second season with a confident forward lurch, embodied by a new theme song: The tentative, tick-tock music that once accompanied the opening titles has been replaced by the “Green Day has risen from the grave” jerky swagger of Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” It fits like a glove, and it also makes it debut attached to an episode solidly located in the show’s sweet spot. Peep Show can be said to be about social embarrassment and the many different varieties of self-destruction available to modern man, but it’s at its most original, incisive, brutal, and ruthless when dealing with romantic love. It’s no wonder that Mark’s favorite reference point for his attempts to woo Sophie is Stalingrad. In the end, people were just grateful as hell to have come out of that alive, too.
By the time the show first introduced the idea that Mark is attracted to Sophie, things had already moved past the point of being able to tell what he ever saw in her. (This is in no way meant as a dig at Sophie or Olivia Colman. Plainly, there’s a lot to see.) But whatever it was, it made him dig in his heels, and now he’s at war. For Mark, trying to win fair lady is all about sneaking around and trying to decide which lie to tell and, most importantly of all, sweating like a stuck pig over the prospect that she’ll reject him in favor of the smarmy cretin, Jeff. Never mind the question of what he wants from Sophie: Are the two of them compatible in any way? For Mark, this is a question to be left unconsidered until he seems to be making progress, so that it can be used as his next excuse for a panic attack: God Lord, what have I done!?
Now that things have shaken out at work, with Alan Johnson snug in the driver’s seat, Mark has plenty of time and energy to focus on breaking into Sophie’s computer and reading her emails. He sneaks away from an office party—where he is conspicuously the only one in the room not wearing a stupid-looking paper hat—and sees that she has a personal file going labeled “Mark Vs. Jeff.” Having gained access to her innermost thoughts, Marks learns that Sophie does fancy Jeff, with reservations, because he’s “a laugh, but he can be a bit of an asshole.” Mark, on the other hand, strikes her as “clever and funny, but he’s so serious”—in a word, “uptight.” A few seconds later, he’s back at the party, with a paper hat on his head and a pencil dangling from one ear. (Remember, Mark: Nothing bigger than your elbow should go in there!)
Perhaps sensing weakness, Sophie lures him to her hippie-spaz dancing class, Rainbow Rhythms. Jez comes along, to supply the opposite of moral support. “Must remain non-uptight for Sophie,” thinks Mark, “even if they make you play trust exercises with their genitals.” This is, in fact, as plausible an explanation as any for much of what appears to be going on. Jez, who is feeling particularly vulnerable after telling Toni that he loves her—she immediately tells her ex-husband, who is nothing but sympathetic, seeming to view Jez as a fellow fly caught in her web—hooks up with Nancy (Rachel Blanchard), a blonde American who would test the self-control of even a principled lech. Nancy is all about walking on the wild side, and after she and Jez have broken the ice, as well as a few minor kitchen items, she forces him to do himself up in blackface before having sex. Even Jez can’t help but wonder if this isn’t maybe a teensy bit racist. “Jeremy,” she says, as she turns over to present him with her ass, “I come from America. I’ve seen the problems racism can cause. Now, fuck me and pretend I’m your mom.”
Everything comes to a head with an attempted orgy at the home of Gwyn, a rich hippie dude who’s even more unicorn-willowy than Nancy. (“Money’s just energy,” he says, by way of accounting for his pampered lifestyle, “and it’s just always flowed toward me. Especially after my parents died.”) This is not Mark’s scene, but he is determined to show Sophie that he, too, can go with the flow. (“For better or worse, the ’60s happened.”) But after Mark and Jez lock lips during a spirited round of that popular swingers’ game, Spin The Bottle, Sophie is ready to see that there are times when being uptight is the right play, and to agree with Mark’s anti-swingers’ creed: “An orgy sounds great, but you’re basically just multiplying the number of people you won’t be able to look in the eye later.” In the end, Mark overplays his hand when Sophie catches him checking her email again, but there’s a sweet moment when the two of them achieve a quiet, moonlit rapport while Jez is back at the “orgy,” sitting on the sidelines while Gwyn and Nancy go at it. “This is like watching a porno,” he thinks, “ except that I can’t see anything, I haven’t got a hard-on, and I want to cry.”
- Although Mark is no longer trying to develop a capacity for sexual attraction to men—just in case he ever has the chance to get lucky with Johnson—he does approve of Johnson’s bad-cop approach as he addresses his troops at work: “Fuck carrot and stick! He’s making the stick out of carrot.”
- Mark, trying to find a TV role model for holding it together in an extreme situation: “I’m Louis Theroux! I’m Louis Theroux and his wry smile at the orgy!”
“Jeremy Makes It” (season two, episode two; originally aired 11/19/2004)
(Available on Hulu)
This episode, which begins at a party where Toni and Tony announce that they are officially making another go of their doomed marriage, sidesteps romance in favor of the minefields of bromance—less potent material, but it has a sting in its tail. Mark has been paired off at work with a fellow named Daryl. Mark is watching Jeff make time with Sophie and is in despair over it, so when a crumpled-up piece of paper comes flying through the air and hits him upside the head, his instinct is to take this as yet more evidence that God just hates his guts. But then Daryl smiles at him, and Mark is overjoyed: “Hurrah, it was a joke. A hilarious joke!” Soon, the two of them are frolicking around the office, and Mark is thinking, “I’ve got a friend! Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me.” In his euphoria, it’s easy to understand how he can overlook the many warning signs that there’s something wrong with his friend, who expresses his disdain for “chink food,” enjoys such pranks as attaching a sausage to Johnson’s office door, and hangs on Jeremy Clarkson’s every word.
Jez, meanwhile, has reunited with Gog, an old school chum whom he used to torture back when they were at that age where unearned self-confidence really pays off. Gog is now a successful ad man who needs a score a short film he’s making for Honda, and Jez, oblivious to the fact that Gog does not remember him fondly, eagerly offers his and Super Hans’ services. If Gog thinks that he can humiliate Jez more efficiently than Jez can humiliate himself, he has a lot to learn. At one point, Jez is in the studio with Super Hans and Nancy, who has been drafted as a vocalist, and is horrified to realize that they have only 39 minutes left and haven’t begun to write any music. Unfazed, Super Hans hits a note on a keyboard, and doesn’t vary it: “What we really need to do is create an incredible sense of dread. The longer the note, the bigger the dread.”
The incredible sense of dread that Super Hans is generating is nothing compared to the one building inside Mark as it dawns on him that Daryl is a racist, one who attends World War II re-enactments so he can dress in Nazi uniform and voice opinions that, Mark slowly realizes, he isn’t just saying for the sake of historical verisimilitude. (“Democracy’s all very well, but it’s weak and it’s dreadful.”) Doing his mealy-mouthed best to humor this lunatic, Mark has the shattering discovery that he himself is “even boring when I’m a Nazi.” Typically, he’s willing to consider the possibility that “Maybe everybody does it now, and it’s all cool and Ali G, and I’m an old stick-in-the-mud.” Jez sets him straight, but only after inquiring as to whether Daryl is a “proper” racist, or if perhaps “it isn’t just racial horseplay?”
The beginning of the end arrives when Daryl tells Johnson that his people sure are good at sports, but it isn’t until Mark has quietly ratted out his new friend that Daryl is asked to pack his shit and get the hell out of the office. To Mark’s surprise, Daryl takes it pretty well, almost as if he’s used to be driven out of town on a rail. The episode ends with the suggestion that he’s just a sad, lonely little man who has a different set of problems than Mark’s, which makes Mark’s rejection of him seem a little cruel. I kind of wish the show had brought him back, preferably after a life-changing experience. I can see him becoming a really interesting Hare Krishna.
- Mark, speaking for all those trying to thread the needle in these complicated times: “I hate political correctness gone mad as much as anyone. ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’—that would be horrible. But slavery, the Holocaust—that’s just not on!”
- In the resolution to Jez’s storyline, he and Super Hans attempt to assault Gog in his apartment, so they can get paid for their unusable soundtrack. Jez has brought a baseball bat, and Super Hans has thoughtfully brought along a ball and is wearing a catcher’s mitt, so they won’t look suspicious walking down the street with a baseball bat. “Punch him with the glove,” Jez shouts, as it’s all coming unraveled. “Punch him?” says Super Hans, holding up his gloved hand. “I can’t even make a fist.”