“Mugging” (season three, episode one; originally aired 11/11/2005)
(Available on Hulu)
Comedy: Sure, it’s fun. But it can be educational, too, a great way for people to expand their understanding of the world around them and get to know more about people who, in various meaningful ways, are different from themselves. Exhibit A: One of the major plot threads running through “Mugging” deals with Mark’s inability to achieve arousal just when his relationship with Sophie has finally progressed to the point where an erection would come in handy. The first sign of trouble comes on a night when Sophie is coming over to Mark’s place for a “work” evening that both of them understand is going to be nothing of the sort. She shows up looking radiant, and also ravenous, with her hair loose and in full bloom—a man-eater, as Mark thinks to himself, with a mixture of appreciation and terror.
Mark, who has prepared for this moment by lighting enough candles to make a blacked-out rural Pottsylvania look like Vegas on New Year’s, cues up the “sex mix” CD that Jez has thoughtfully left him. Sophie leans in for a kiss so enthusiastic that the cameraman probably could have filed for combat pay, but Mark can’t get it up, and as he feels her hands groping toward his midsection, he thinks, “Please don’t touch my floppy disc!” In a panic, he draws back and tells her, “I want you to be sure,” adding, “I’m old-fashioned. I like courting!” Sophie, understandably, feels that she’s been receiving mixed signals. Ladies, just in case you’re not sure yourselves, this is exactly what’s going on whenever any man, anywhere, who is not a Mormon missionary turns all courtly and expresses a desire to give a sober woman (or man) more time “to be sure.” I suspect that the whole medieval concept of courtly love can be blamed on a period when most men simply weren’t getting enough protein.
Mark’s difficulties have nothing to do with Sophie. He’s distracted from having been accosted by a pair of snotty-nosed ruffians who cornered him in a dark tunnel. The thugs barely have to sneer at Mark before his imagination begins comparing worst possible scenarios: Do they mean to rape him? Kill him? (“If they rape me and kill me, I hope they kill me first. I sort of win.”) He finally presses his cell phone on them and makes a break for it, thinking, “I thought it was at least the muggers who had to run off.” Now that he has Sophie in his flat, all sexy and willing, he can’t shift his mind away from such thoughts as, “They’re probably going through my phone, eliminating contacts. That’s how they get their kicks.” The last thing Mark is going to do is tell Sophie what’s happened to him, lest she think him craven and lily-livered, so instead, he fends off her mildest advances, making himself appear skittish and neurotically afraid of physical contact, much less sex. Jez chides him to toughen up: “This is the 21st century. You’ve seen Mad Max. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Insufficient horniness is not Jez’s problem, at least not at first. With his sort-of wife Nancy a distant memory—at least until next season—he has been wiling away the hours with the eager Michelle, while anticipating his reunion with the love of his life, the tallish beauty Big Suze (Sophie Winkleman). Jez is so certain that Big Suze has been pining for him as eagerly as he has been panting for her, he doesn’t even wait to check in with her before trying to dump Michelle: “I was thinking,” he tells her, “that I like you, loads and loads, obviously, but also, we could try not see each other.” He hesitates only when Michelle misinterprets this as his way of saying that their sex has gotten too “vanilla” and he’s eager to try out their dirtiest fantasies together. As soon as she confirms that the dirty fantasies she’s willing to try out would include three-ways, she has him snared.
Jez’s dream of all dreams is that the three-way will include Big Suze. It will not, because Big Suze is now joined at the hip to a friendly ex-monk named Stu—her “hunk of monk,” as she calls him. But she does wish Jez the best of luck, seeing him off with the words, “My friend Jen did a threesome once. She said she cried for about an hour afterwards, but I’d still definitely like to try it sometime.” Jez’s own experience, with Michelle and a woman named Vickie who appears to have agreed to join them because she’s this close to committing suicide but needs to do something that will give her that last push she needs, inspires him to reflect: “It’s like I’m living in a porno. Porn stars probably get lovely sedatives so it feels like they’re not really there.” There is a common idea running through both storylines, having to do with the role that male sexual frustration has to do with outbursts of physical aggression: When Mark takes Sophie to the movies, they run into his mugger, and Mark, using the mugger’s noisy lack of cinema etiquette as an excuse, punches him in the back of the head, which helps him to finally get hard again. And Jez punches Stu in the snoot. This doesn’t get him anything but a punch in return, but underestimating the ex-monk’s ability to return in kind, he fails to run away immediately after. Whatever Mark’s failings, he remains the brains of the outfit.
- Mark, paying tribute to the tradition of British repression and the stiff upper lip: “People saw terrible things in the war and didn’t go on and on about them. They had a cup of tea and invented the NHS instead.”
- Meeting Big Suze for the first time in three years, Jez remarks on how she’s still as lovely as ever. “You’ve changed so much,” she replies. “Though I think you might be wearing the same clothes as the last time I saw you.”
- Mark, standing in line at the movies and dreading the next time Sophie reaches for his wedding tackle “Maybe I was too quick to delete those spam emails about erection enhancement. One of them might have been from a misunderstood scientific genius.”
- After Mark has called Sophie “Baby,” and it hasn’t gone well, one TV comedy icon pays tribute to another: “Note to self, Re: Being the Fonz: Mark, you are not the Fonz.”
“Sectioning” (season three, episode two; originally aired 11/18/2005)
(Available on Hulu)
The title of this episode refers to the practice of having a crazy person picked up for forced hospitalization. It’s pretty clear who is going to be on the receiving end when another old friend of Jez’s, Canadian Mary, shows up and immediately urges Jez and Super Hans to take charge of a pub that her family owns. This opportunity stirs Super Hans’ creative juices, and he’s soon thinking up ways to make the place “special,” such as renaming it Free The Pedos and leaving a derelict washing machine currently parked in the center of the room right where it is. (A washing machine in the middle of a pub? It’ll blow people’s minds! Whereupon, they’ll need a drink.) Jez is more prosaic about the whole thing. “I’ll literally be getting paid to go to the pub!” he tells Mark. Mark points out that this isn’t exactly true, since when he’s at the pub, he’ll be spending his time doing all the things that need to be done to keep the pub functioning, for the sake of all those people who really have just come to the pub. “Mark,” Jez pouts, “do you have to live quite so relentlessly in the real world?”
Poor Mary is bonkers, of course, as Mark ascertains when she grossly propositions him. This is one of Peep Show’s lesser episodes; it’s dragged down a bit by Mary herself, whose madness—especially in the scene where she hits on Mark—is played too straight, too believably miserable, to be very funny. The real joke is Jez’s amazement, after he’s made the necessary phone call, that it’s so easy to get someone sectioned; he’s soon trying to have Super Hans put away, and considers doing it to Mark, but thinks better of it, because if Mark found out and they were still living under the same roof, it might make for some awkward moments. He’s even a little bit disappointed in Mary, who he had so appreciated for being “kooky” before realizing that she was clinically batshit. “If I got sectioned,” he thinks, “I’d put up more of a fight. Downside: Might get lobotomized.”
- The perfect Mark line: “I’m just a normal, functioning human being, and there’s no way you can prove otherwise.”
- The perfect Jez line: “It’s worth a try. It’s not going to work.”
- The perfect Super Hans line, in response to Jez telling him that the pub should boast some of the things other pubs have, because people seem to like them: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis.”
- Jez, recalling the good old days, reminds Mark of “the night we did all the ‘Blues’: The Blues Brothers, Blue Velvet, Betty Blue, The Big Blue." Did everybody have more fun than me in college?