If, as Lenny Bruce might have told you, especially if he’d had a couple of beers and you were a cute graduate student working on her thesis about transgressive humor, sick comedy is a healthy way of dealing with anxieties and guilty feelings that we’re not comfortable addressing head-on, then the concluding episodes of the fourth season of Peep Show add up to one of the healthiest hours in the history of television comedy. This is especially true of “Holiday,” which begins with Jez offering an unusually honest description of the terms of his and Mark’s relationship, and ends with Jez, who has tried to conceal the fact that he accidentally killed the dog of a woman he likes by burning the evidence, taking a bite out of the animal’s charred corpse, trying to pass it off as the badly barbecued drumstick of a very hairy turkey. As the last episode before “Wedding,” it should qualify as the calm before the storm, but it was a calm like this that capsized the SS Poseidon.
“Holiday” (season 4, episode 5; originally aired 5/11/2007)
That speech Jez gives at the beginning of this episode goes: “Look, no matter how unpalatable it may be, I’m your best friend, and I know you don’t want to hear it, but I love you. And in your own dried-up, dessicated, weirdly unfriendly way, you love me, too.” In this spirit—and Mark disputes none of it—he’s offering to take Mark away for the weekend, so he can have fun one last time and forget “how depressed you are about getting married.” This Mark does dispute, sort of: “I’m looking forward to it. That’s the line. Besides, it’s possible I might find a way out.”
Mark’s way out is that Sophie has scheduled them a session with a couples counselor, and Mark is confident the counselor will see right through his protestations of happiness: “It’ll all come out, the whole disgusting mess,” and he won’t be to blame, because he did his best to go with the program. But after he lies through his teeth about how much he loves Sophie, he’s stunned when the counselor nods, and then asks Sophie if she has any reservations. She does. She doesn’t get what she wants from their sex life. (“Unfilled!?” gasps Mark. “Unfulfilled,” Sophie corrects him.) In a nutshell, Mark tends to “ejaculate quite a long time before I’ve started to feel like I’m enjoying myself.” “Thanks for that, Soph,” groans Mark, who is determined to be a sport about all this.
After this debacle, Mark badly needs that getaway with his best friend. But though Jez has talked a good game about wanting to play chess with his friend, or at least switch on the computer function and let his friend pretend they’re playing chess together, once they’re away from the city, he cannot restrain his selfish, lazy impulses. “You can tell,” he pouts at the chess board, “that this game is a thousand years old.” He doesn’t want to play anymore. “Because I’m winning?” says Mark. “I don’t even know who’s winning,” says Jez, very believably. He drags Mark downstairs to the bar, where they meet a couple of sisters, Aurora and Lucy. Lucy is slightly heavyset, which means she’s all Mark’s as far as Jez is concerned. And the girls’ father is successful and looking for someone to fill a management position, which, combined with the fact that she isn’t Sophie, makes Lucy look pretty good to Mark. “Wealthy, lovely family,” he thinks. “If only she weren’t such a horrible person, she’d be the woman of my dreams.” Things start falling apart pretty fast once Jez runs over that dog, but one moment of private panic as Mark is chatting with Lucy and her father makes it clear just how doggedly his body rejects any threat of even moderate happiness: “Maybe,” he thinks, “they’re Sophie and Johnson wearing masks, and this is all being paid for by MTV and the Playboy Channel!”
- Jez’s current band is called Various Artists, so they can “fuck over people with iPods. We figure it’ll set us back about two years, which is cool.”
- Gratuitous but oddly timely-as-of-this-week Star Trek riff, after Jez takes command of a boat and calls Mark “Scotty”: “Oh God, I’m Scotty! He’s off cross-breeding with the beautiful aliens, and I’m stuck down in the engine room with the probably cancer-causing fuel cells.”
“Wedding” (season 4, episode 6; originally aired 5/18/2007)
“Wedding” doesn’t exactly barrel along. Like the chase scene with the car that won’t start in Children Of Men, it’s a slower sort of nightmare, the kind your subconscious has devised so that you can really savor every detail. On the morning of his wedding, Mark wakes up amid the wreckage of the previous night’s party, turning over in his mind every possible aspect of his future unhappiness. His style is in marked contrast to that of Jez, who fears that Nancy, passed out on the couch (where she spent the night fending off sexual molestation from Super Hans), is going back to America and exiting his life forever. “What’ll I do?” he thinks. “Could pretend it’s not happening. That’s worked for everything else.”
This is not Mark’s way. Stalking about the city, meeting a barista and imagining that she must be the woman he could be happy with (because she’s pretty and is reading a biography of Winston Churchill), he struggles with the thought that he needs more time to think. (But how? “Contract TB? But where from? No badgers.” He also thinks about picking a fight with a stranger, but can’t settle on an insult. “Could call him a jizz-cock. Not actually an insult. All penises are jizz-cocks, really. Be like calling someone a piss-kidney.”) The truth is that when Mark imagines he needs more time to think, he means he really wants more time to stew in his own juice. The comic tragedy of many people’s lives is that wanting something is more exciting than getting it, so the period before they get it is the most satisfying part of their lives. Given his pessimistic nature, what Mark really wants is to exist in a limbo of perpetual dread. It’s the emotional state he’s comfortable with. He’s an observer, not a doer. Perhaps that’s why he feels like the perfect identification figure for self-aware people who watch too much TV.
This is confirmed when Mark and Jez hide out upstairs at the church, only coming down to join the wedding party when Jez pees on the floor and gives away their location. Mark congratulates himself on his “brilliant joke” of hiding and comes down to do his duty, standing alongside Sophie at the altar. But she can tell his heart isn’t in it, and as she gives in to the impulse to cry her heart out, even while saying the right thing in response to the cues from the minister, it is reminiscent of nothing so much as the famous sequence in the Twin Peaks pilot where everyone in town learns about the death of Laura Palmer. Afterwards, she and Mark get into the car and roll along a few feet before she opens the door and climbs out, desperate to get away from the brute. (“I feel like I’ve been shot in the stomach,” she says, between crying jags. “I just want to go scrub it all out!”) Her seat is taken by Jez, who has nothing better to do than console his buddy now that Nancy is making out with Super Hans. The final image of the two of them, much relieved, riding away from the church, is like the end of a Laurel and Hardy movie, except that Laurel and Hardy might have had less reason to worry about one of them trying to give the other a celebratory drunken hand job.
- For anyone else who’s been curious about it, Nancy does confirm that she and Jez are still technically married, and also that she never gives it a thought and usually just forgets about it.
- This episode is very big on Seinfeld-esque arguments about the parsing of delicate distinctions. Mark would like nothing better than to call off the wedding, but Jez gives him pause when he suggests that this would amount to jilting Sophie. Jez says that anything that happens on the day of the wedding counts as a jilting, but Mark disagrees: Isn’t “He jilted her at the altar” the phrase you always hear? Jez mumbles that this seems to prove his point, since people wouldn’t add the clarifier if he couldn't have done it someplace else.
- Peep Show reviews will return in the fall. Look for our summer TV Club Classic schedule soon!