Might as well get the nitpicking out the way first: Both of these episodes are very funny, top-of-the-line stuff. But they both suffer a teensy bit from the circumstances of casting. Sophie is missing altogether, which makes you wonder if Olivia Colman had a crimp in her schedule. And through no fault of Sophie Winkleman’s, it takes time for Big Suze to find her own personality. In “Shrooming” in particular, she acts a lot like Nancy—which is probably because the writers only decided to give the lost love of Jez’s life a face and an onscreen presence when Rachel Blanchard became unavailable for the third season and they didn’t want to toss the ideas they already had for Nancy. Both episodes show Jez as triumphant as he can ever be, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, though watching them back-to-back, seeing Mark getting plowed under can wear a little thin. (Since they’re two sides of the same coin, you can scarcely have Jez get anywhere near the top without his boot sunk deep in Mark’s face.) Either episode is great on its own, but one after the other, the effect can be like seeing Lucy yank the football away from Charlie Brown for six straight months.
“Shrooming” (season three, episode three; originally aired 11/25/2005)
It’s been reported by more than one witness that whenever one of George W. Bush’s advisors wanted him to do something—whether it was invade a foreign country or chew his food 20 times before swallowing—they had a foolproof plan: They would tell him that the course of action they were recommending was something that only a tough, steely leader who was prepared to make the hard choices would even consider taking. Apparently, it worked every time. While Jez’s prospects for re-igniting the pilot light in Big Suze’s heart would appear to be hopeless, he does have his ace in the hole. He knows that the best way to get her attention—at least, so long as she’s practically Nancy’s doppelgänger—is to propose something that sounds wild and edgy, knowing that her insecurities about living too secure a life will compel her to try to hitch a ride on his crazy train. Here, Jez proposes that Big Suze come around to the flat so that she can do mushrooms with himself, Super Hans, and Super Hans’ lady love of the moment. She agrees, but not after feeling around the edges for a reason not to: “Will I still be able to play the piano?”
The fly in the sexy, shroomy ointment is Mark, dragging his aching carcass home early from work because he’s caught the gastric flu bug that’s been going around the office. He arrives to find a scene of horror and chaos, or whatever term best describes finding Super Hans boning someone in your bed. (It’s an image out of Lovecraft, if he’d written porn.) Mark succeeds in rousting Super Hans from his bed, but since Super Hans relocates to the bathroom, this counts as a Pyrrhic victory at best. It gets worse. Super Hans, who has a fear of enclosed spaces, is unable to get the door to open. Jez advises him to lift the knob. Super Hans chooses to smash the door off its hinges instead. A worker is brought in to repair the damage, but Mark chides Jez for being too nice to him: “You have to maintain a barrier, or else they’ll switch your radio to the commercial station and force you to borrow their pornography.” The only positive spin you can put on the final image of Mark’s boss, Big Suze, and all the rest staring at Mark sitting on the toilet is that any other conclusion would mess with your sense of what’s inevitable.
Trying to get rid of Mark before the shrooming party, Jez urges him to suck it up and put himself forward to represent the company at a team meeting in Frankfurt. “You the man!” he tells Mark. “I’m a man!” Mark replies, trying to get into the proper spirit. That’s as close as he can get. Unfortunately, the flight to Frankfurt is delayed, Jez’s bromance with his new proletarian friend goes badly, and he ends up trying to throw his party with no door on the bathroom and Mark heavily drugged and locked in the bedroom. (Mark is especially heavily drugged because Jez put a little something extra in his tea. He rationalizes this as “a white poisoning, a friendly poisoning. It’s so much more civilized than hitting him on the head with a hammer.”)
- Jez and Big Suze share the archetypal exchange between a guy who’s way into a girl and the girl who’s not way into him, but thinks he may need a plus one to something good: “Are you free?” “Don’t know. What’re you doing?”
- Mark, arriving home sick from work, with his ability to take any subject and debate it into the ground with himself completely unimpaired: “Feel awful. Still, made excellent time. Great bus driver. Same old route, though. Should probably alter it sometimes. Avoid kidnappers. Not much of a risk, but I’d feel such an ass if it happened.”
- Mark, improving on Robert Frost: “Big locks and walls aren’t cool, but they worked for Hadrian and Ariel Sharon.”
- Regaining consciousness in a locked room, dealing with shaky bowel control, Mark considers relieving himself in the nearest container at hand: “I could throw it out the window. No, that’s what they want you to do! Because that’s where society’s heading.”
“Sistering’ (season three, episode four; originally aired 12/2/2005)
Nothing is more discomforting to Mark than a feeling or anything else that might change his sedentary, passion-free life, and in this episode, he is appalled to find his heart stirring with thoughts of love for Big Suze. He’s always assumed that, because she’s statuesque and good-looking and once lived with Jez, she must be a horsey idiot, but after they spend a few minutes together and she proves able to string two sentences together, he’s dazzled: “My God, she’s not stupid, she’s incredibly perceptive!” She even enables him to rethink the limits of his own self-image: “She’s so posh that I, Mark Corrigan, who was privately educated until Dad’s aerospace shares went kaput, could be her bit of rough.”
Mark has the opportunity to get to know Big Suze better because Jez is temporarily indisposed, because he’s begun an affair with Mark’s sister, Sara (Eliza L. Bennett). Since Sara has come to see Mark, it’s as if he’s found a way to order sex in home-delivery form. But there’s a downside as well: Sara begins to think of them as a couple, and talks to him about her feelings, which makes things uncomfortable. In bed with her, Jez begins to notice things—like her smell—that remind him of Mark, which makes things weird. Mark, meanwhile, is in bed with Big Suze, but only because she needs a place to stay, and feels so safe with him that she doesn’t object to his presence. “It’s like sharing the bed with Fozzie the bear or Oscar the Grouch,” she tells him. Mark is already in deep enough that he tries to tell himself that this might be a way to take this as encouragement. Then she adds, fondly, that like “a modern-day eunuch.” “I know what I’ll do,” thinks Mark. “I’ll wait until she’s sleeping, and then I’ll touch her hair.”
Before Sara finally packs up and returns to her husband, her storyline turns into a custody battle between Jez and Mark, neither of whom wants her. Jez insists that it’s Mark’s duty, as a family member, to listen to his sister’s sad crap. Mark will have none of it: “If Uncle Lance was touched by the vicar and that’s why he’s such a tit at Christmas, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to hear about it!” That’s all pretty healthy compared to the painful climactic scene between Mark and Big Suze, in which he tells her, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want, and wouldn’t take her if he won her in a raffle—all for the sake of his friendship with Jez, or so he tells himself. The sudden suggestion that Big Suze is rather interested in Mark after all is makes it almost as sad as it is inexplicable. Mark’s dressing down of her propels her into Jez’s newly empty arms: A one-sided happy ending that befits an episode in which Jez gets to deliver the line that should be on his family crest—“Why should I take responsibility for my actions? I just do my actions. It’s not as if I spend hours and hours thinking about them!”
- Mark, thinking to himself as he plays a video game: “Am I enjoying this? Don’t know anymore. It doesn’t matter. Got to finish this level. Then I’ll read those. Do some sit-ups. Learn the clarinet.” I think the man speaks for all of us.
- Mark again: “Looking at porn is like lying to Parliament. It used to be wrong, but now it’s just a funny joke.”