Peep Show, a British tv series running from 2003 to 2015, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as a pair of miserable, co-dependent roommates living in Croydon, London, is the most realistic portrayal of evil I have ever seen.
Admittedly, I’m using “evil” in an unorthodox way. Most people think of “evil” as being synonymous with “malicious” and “doing really, really bad things.” But I have a broader view of “evil.” I consider a thing to be evil if it creates bad outcomes not just out of malice, but instinct or carelessness.
By that standard, Peep Shows’s protagonists, Mark Corrigan and Jeremy “Jez” Usborne, are evil. They’re not evil in quite the way serial killers and murderous dictators are, nor in the exaggerated cartoony manner of other comedic anti-heroes like the characters on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, or Archer. Rather, Peep Show’s characters are evil in the scariest way possible – they’re realistically evil. They embody the worst, weakest, most destructive traits that every single individual knows exists inside of them to one degree or another. They are evil incarnate.
Through nine seasons (each only six episodes) Peep Show mines our worst fears and failures for comedy. We see modern 30-somethings get rejected by women, get trapped in soul-crushing relationships, get one-upped by social rivals, get caught in countless awkward conversations, get screwed by ruthless corporate bullshit, get betrayed by unreliable friends, get betrayed by reliable friends who had already been betrayed, and so much more. We see this all not just by watching Mark and Jez go about their day-to-day lives, but by hearing their inner thoughts through voice-over monologues, which more often than not, reveal their actions and words as either cynical attempts to avoid facing their own failings, or desperate lies to obscure their true intentions, goals, and personalities.
This is what makes Peep Show so brilliant. It doesn’t just portray evil realistically, it portrays the root of evil realistically. Mark and Jeremy cause bad things to happen to their acquaintances, co-workers, friends, loved ones, family members, and most of all, themselves, because they are consumed by their vices. Not just the classic vices like gluttony and lust, but cowardice, evasion, hypocrisy, and apathy, all born from a rarely acknowledged, yet omnipresent self-loathing. These are vices that aren’t loudly announced by violent psychopaths or easily identified in scary individuals, but vices that sneak up on ordinary people, latch on to their psyches, and take over their lives.
Also, it’s one of the funniest tv shows I’ve ever seen.
With this essay, I’ll lay out how Peep Show portrays evil, what exactly makes Mark and Jeremy so evil, and how the two protagonists are essentially anti-role models from which we can all take lessons.
The Banality of Evil
Mark: No, Jez, the absolute worst thing that anyone could say about you is that you are a selfish moral blank whose lazy cynicism and sneering ironic take on the world encapsulates everything wrong with a generation. But you, my friend, are not evil.
Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem first showcased the concept of “banality of evil.” Arendt analyzed Adolph Eichmann, one of the chief bureaucrats behind the Holocaust, expecting to find a mustache-twirling villain who gleefully organized the murder of millions of Jews and other undesirables with gusto. Instead she found an ordinary, boring, middle-manager paper-pusher type who seemed more concerned with getting a spot at the local country club and buying his wife nice outfits than how many gas chambers he filled at work. Eichmann did unimaginably horrible things, but he didn’t seem like a horrible person. The way he looked, spoke, and acted made him appear to be a normal dude. To Arendt, that was the scariest thing of all – that such evil could be perpetrated by so banal an individual.
That’s basically how I see Mark and Jeremy on Peep Show. Their evil is not on the level of Eichmann, but their personas are so grounded that the contrast between how they appear and what they do is all the more striking.
Peep Show is a demented sitcom. Like any other sitcom, it’s based on “situational comedy” where the characters find themselves in uncomfortable situations that we laugh at. Like some sitcoms, Peep Show’s uncomfortable situations are of the character’s own makings, particularly their bad judgement and moral failings. But unlike any other sitcoms I can think of, Peep Show is designed to make you completely empathize with the bad characters doing bad things, even though they don’t learn their lessons.
It’s natural when experiencing any story to identify and sympathize with the protagonist. Whether its Tony Soprano or Walter White, we are drawn to root for the primary subject of the story because we understand their motives, perspective, and values more than any other characters. Thus it’s easy to watch Peep Show and get to like Mark and Jez, and to hope they succeed in getting dates, getting jobs, finding validation, or whatever other mad scheme they get up to each episode, all while forgetting just how terrible they are.
This tension is purposefully amplified by Peep Show’s unique filming style and story presentation. Nearly every shot in each episode is done from the first-person perspective of a character, usually Mark or Jez. This puts us in the protagonists’ physical spaces, which often amplifies the discomfort of situations. Plus, every scene includes Mark and/or Jez’s internal monologues via voice over. This gives the audience immediate feedback on their reactions, motivations, and justifications (and is hilarious). And every scene in the entire show features Mark and/or Jez. The story never pulls away from the two protagonists; we are squarely locked in their views of events.
As a result, every time we see Mark or Jez do something wrong, we are bathed in a maximally sympathetic presentation. If we take a step back, we can see they are clearly doing awful things, but under the onslaught of sympathy, relatable justifications, and even feeling the characters’ physical pressure, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s right and wrong on Peep Show.
(For example, watch this scene where Mark acts inappropriately at a funeral but constantly rationalizes his behavior in his own mind.)
For anyone who isn’t sure if Mark and Jez warrant being called “evil” or even just “bad people,” I’ve created a non-exhaustive list of the terrible things Mark and Jez do throughout the show:
· Lies to a woman about stalking her so he can continue running into her in different locations
· Lies to a woman about being a university student to try to sleep with her
· Attempts to gain control of Jez’s trust fund for the sake of enjoying the power over his friend
· Attempts to get a (sickly) rival as drunk as possible at a party so he won’t actively compete for a girl
· Attempts to trigger a man’s past obsessions to drive him insane to steal his wife.
· Attempts to instigate an assault to get a romantic competitor fired from his job (X2)
· Uses his managerial position to fire a man for pursuing a woman he’s interested in (backs down after the man threatens to sue)
· Masturbates to a woman’s Facebook pics, makes up lies to woman about a rival doing the same thing
· Seduces a married woman
· Helps Jez conceal the accidental killing of a woman’s dog
· Takes voucher from his baby-mama to get driving lessons, refuses to take the lessons, fails the driving test, doesn’t tell his baby-mama, tries to drive her to the hospital while she’s in labor anyway, nearly crashes the car and kills them
· Misleads Jez into signing a predatory bank loan to improve his sales record
· Leaves his baby-mama while she’s giving birth to eat KFC and go to an arcade
· Gives crack to a recovering addict to get him to leave him alone
· Coercively restrains (in a sleeping bag) and ejects his roommate in the middle of the night
· Helps Jez kidnap a man so he can romantically pursue his wife
Jeremy “Jez” Usborne:
· Lies to a woman about having chlamydia to try to sleep with her
· Lies to a woman about accidentally killing her dog to try to sleep with her (also tries to burn the dog corpse and dispose of it)
· Lies to a woman about having a child to try to sleep with her
· Lies to a woman about being in love with her to annoy Mark (the first time), and make another woman jealous (the second time)
· Lies to a woman about his entire personality to try to sleep with her (too many times to count)
· Cheats on his wife a week after they get married
· Kicks a homeless person out of his flat (after inviting him in to impress a woman) because he fears the man is competing for a woman he’s sleeping with
· While on a jury, begins dating the defendant of his case, finds proof she is not guilty on the case, but is guilty on the same charges elsewhere, yet convinces the jury to convict so he can break up with her
· Tries to get two friends sectioned in a mental hospital for personal gain
· Knowingly gives horrible, life-destroying advice to clients as a life coach
· Reveals confidential information about life coach patients to friends for fun
· Starts an affair with the boyfriend of a life coach client, then cheats on the boyfriend with the client
· Continues an affair with a woman after he finds out she’s in a long-term relationship and gets engaged
· Attempts to pimp out his girlfriend for £538
· Attempts to steal Mark’s girlfriend; successfully snogs Mark’s fiancé
· Locks Mark in his bedroom when he has diarrhea so Mark won’t interrupt his party
· Tries to get his mother’s boyfriend arrested by airport security by planting a gun in his luggage
· May have tried to murder a woman to steal her fiancé (X2)
· Drives drunk with a pregnant woman in the car, crashes
· Kidnaps a man in a misguided attempt to help Mark steal his wife
· Helps Mark coercively restrain (in a sleeping bag) and eject Mark’s roommate in the middle of the night, also waterboards the man
· Steals £4,000 through credit card fraud
· Mooches off Mark’s apartment rent-free for nearly a decade
· Constantly steals food and other household items from Mark, also leaves the heat too high
· Constantly berates and insults his extremely nice mother
While few of these incidents rise to truly heinous levels, they are numerous and severe enough to morally condemn Mark and Jez, especially considering that both men constantly lie to each other and other people throughout just about every single episode. They are toxic individuals who harm just about everyone they come into contact with, including each other, and especially themselves.
The Root of All Evil
Jez: Yes, I’m so pathetic, as soon as you ordered me to piss myself I started the procedure. See what you’ve done? You’ve ground down my sense of self-worth over the years, I hope you’re happy!
If Peep Show has any sort of singular thematic message, it’s that low self-esteem is the root of all evil. This is the main principle I’ve derived from looking at Mark and Jeremy as templates of evil. All of their bad behavior, from petty lies and manipulations to theft and attempted murder, can be derived from the psychological reality that Mark and Jez hate themselves.
I’ll describe the roots of Mark and Jez’s self-loathing, how the two men parasitically exacerbate each other’s low self-esteem, and then how their issues manifest as evil in Peep Show’s world.
“Yes! A ditch. I should burrow further and further into the earth like the worm that I am.”
Mark and Jeremy are mirror images of each other’s inadequacies and neuroses. While both men are perpetual losers by ordinary standards, the manners in which they fail and relatively succeed in life are perfectly inverted in one another.
Mark idealizes the traditional, conservative British man. He wants to own his own property, secure a respectful wife, have orderly children, be professionally successful in a stable industry, read the newspaper and history books every day, have well-informed opinions on current events, and generally be thought of as an upstanding citizen. These values were likely instilled in Mark at a young age when his family was well-off enough to send him to a prestigious private school; that is until his father’s “British Aerospace shares went kaput” and his family tumbled into the working class.
Nevertheless, Mark continues to hold himself to these standards, and to his credit, he at least usually manages to achieve financial stability, a few long-term romantic partners, and even a son. However, either due to his upbringing or life circumstances, Mark develops a crippling view of himself that swings wildly between a superiority and inferiority complex.
On the one hand, Mark sees himself as intellectually superior to nearly everyone around him. He constantly brings up current events or elite-coded historical figures like Napoleon in daily conversation to show off his intelligence to others. Likewise, he looks down upon behaviors like parties, casual sex, drugs, and music as base and immature. Mark always believes that his great talents simply haven’t been discovered yet: he daydreams about writing a play about an “unrecognized genius,” writes a historical non-fiction business book in his spare time (Business Secrets of the Pharos), and secretly wants to get into MENSA.
At the same time, Mark sees himself as a pathetic weakling compared to almost everyone around him. Much of this instinct is born from his social awkwardness which makes it hard for him to make friends, and especially find romantic or sexual partners. While he often sneers at sex, drugs, partying, etc, he also not-so-secretly craves these endeavors on his own terms, and hates himself for not being able to achieve them at the same rate and with the same casualness that others around him do. These problems are exacerbated in later seasons as Mark suffers even in his supposed strengths. He gets fired from his long-held job at an insurance company to bounce between menial gigs and barely scrapes by financially. Meanwhile, his idealization of being the patriarch of a sound family is upended as he gets divorced and has a child out of wedlock.
Perhaps Mark’s worst curse is that he’s painfully self-aware of his failings. He never quite verbalizes his superiority complex (except over Jez), but he fully acknowledges his social, professional, and familial failings, and even revels in them for the sake of self-pity. As a result, Mark’s demeanor is typically awkward, passive, even submissive, as he recognizes himself as so weak that he avoids confrontation at all costs.
Given Mark’s damage, his on-and-off boss Alan Johnson becomes Mark’s bizarre idealization of himself. Johnson is a giga-chad alpha male who is extremely successful both professionally and socially. He manages to climb the corporate ranks at multiple companies with ruthless efficiency while effortlessly seducing any woman he sets his sights on. His daily demeanor is supremely confident and heartily augmented by boasting and ostentatious displays of wealth. Of course, Johnson is also a cruel, manipulative sociopath, but his machismo is so strong that Mark idolizes him anyway. Mark’s submissive tendencies and awe of Johnson are so strong that he develops a quasi-sexual attraction to his boss, despite Mark ostensibly being straight.
To summarize, Mark can’t decide if he’s better than everyone and frustrated at not living up to his potential, or worse than everyone and frustrated at his own inadequacy. The combination of the two impulses drives him to extreme awkwardness and self-sabotage as he condescendingly dismisses friends while vying for the approval of uninterested love interests and cynical professional superiors. At root, Mark can’t avoid hating himself for his failures in life.
Jeremy “Jez” Usborne
Ok… the truth is I lied. I said that I was having a baby because I wanted to impress you. Because you’re beautiful and intelligent and sexy and cool and I wanted to seem proper because… and I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but… I know I may look like a real person… but, I’m not actually a real person.
Jeremy is Mark’s inversion. While Mark is stable, awkward, and self-aware, Jez is free-spirited, relaxed, and oblivious. The poetic twist is that despite their differences, Jez’s self-hatred looks remarkably similar to Mark’s at its root.
Jez idealizes the unrestrained lifestyle of rockstars. He doesn’t want to work a traditional job, let alone sit at a desk or answer to bosses. He wants to live in the moment: jam out to great music, have lots of sex, do lots of drugs, party with friends, and never worry about the boring gears of life like income, rent, or romantic fidelity. To Jez, most other people have fallen for the sad trap of ordinary life and have consigned themselves to being miserable day-after-day in the rat race; only he and a few friends have found the secret to happiness and have the will to embrace it.
Until the last season of Peep Show, Jez manages to mostly live the dream. He stays in Mark’s apartment rent-free and pursues a career as a musician with his good friend, Super Hans. Most of Jez’s days consist of “wanking” and doing drugs, yet his natural charm and skill at bullshitting allow him to make lots of friends and seduce countless hot girls.
While Jez’s inadequacies are far more repressed, they can’t help but bubble up to the surface, especially as the show progresses and Jez’s age rises higher into his 30s. It becomes increasingly apparent that Jez’s financial situation is dangerously close to “homelessness,” especially when Jez temporarily needs to move out of Mark’s apartment on a few occasions and is forced to live in a bathtub, a room full of snakes, or a garbage bag in the corner of a mad man’s studio apartment. He is also repeatedly humiliated by having to ask Mark for money to buy food, drinks, transportation, and just about everything since he is usually flat-broke.
While Mark feels like a failed person, Jez feels like “not a real person.” Despite his many adventures, he lacks even the most basic semblances of normal life (possessions, long-term romantic partners, notable achievements, etc.). Despite “working” as a musician for years, he scarcely makes any money from it, and becomes increasingly paranoid that he will never “make it.” During one of his moves out of Mark’s apartment, Jez gathers up all his belongings and realizes that the sum total of his life is a few bags of clothes and a box of porn. Jez’s refusal to be nailed down and invest in personal growth left him without even the foundations of modern existence.
Thus, despite his swagger, Jez is highly insecure about his failings along typical life metrics, even to the point of hindering his legendary ability to get women. Jez lies to just about every woman he tries to seduce because he’s too embarrassed to admit his shortcomings. He lashes out at a homeless man he perceives to be a romantic rival, he debases and humiliates himself to hold on to multiple women who clearly don’t care for him (Toni, Elena), and he tries to pimp out his girlfriend for money while trying not to humiliate himself in front of Johnson. Likewise, while Jez claims to avoid getting a regular job as part of his life-philosophy, he seems to be partially aware that he lacks the competence and discipline to do real work anyway. Instead, he suffices to move into the shady career of unqualified life coaching, where he spreads his dysfunction to unsuspecting victims.
Unlike with Mark, Jez rarely recognizes his neuroses. Rather, he continually chooses to pursue short-term pleasures while further pushing himself away from the normal life-achievements he secretly craves. Thus Jez is arguably left worse off by the end of the show than Mark, as his problems will only exacerbate with age. This notion is brought to the forefront in the last season when Jez dates Joe, a much younger and more attractive man, to whom Jez is embarrassed to reveal his lack of income, office, and worse yet, his inability to keep up with the partying of a 20-something as Jez turns 40, thereby removing the very last vestige of pride Jez could cling on to.
Mark is to Johnson as Jez is to Super Hans, his idealization. Like Jez, Super Hans lives a life “free” of steady employment and responsibility, but filled with drugs, women, and partying. But unlike Jez, Super Hans appears content with his lot in life. He has his ups and downs (as any addict would) but is generally happy, especially since he’s oddly competent at engaging in productive work when he needs to (plumbing, architectural salvage, etc.). In the final season, when Jez finally starts to come to terms with his wasted life, Super Hans gets married to a stable woman (though they divorce not long afterward) and (sort of) cleans up his act. Super Hans, the “crack-addled maniac,” ends up in a more stable, healthy life situation than Jez.
To summarize, Jez pursues a Bohemian lifestyle in which he partially thrives due to his natural social charisma, but which leaves him empty and aimless. He hates himself for creating so little of meaningful value throughout his life, but lacks the discipline and competence to push himself in a better direction, so he wallows in self-pity and hedonism as coping mechanisms, all the while digging a deeper hole of misery.
Jez: Right. OK, man, yeah, good on you, because obviously we’ve always been amazing mates, but also a bit like lead weights dragging each other down?
Mark: Exactly. Living together, it’s been like… eating a vast portion of chips, very comforting but also there’s this lurking sense that you’re killing yourself. Right?
Mark and Jeremy are best friends. But they also hate each other, and indeed spend much of the show getting in fights over women, money, the apartment, and countless other matters at petty and grand scales. Why do they live together and maintain their friendship if they are such opposites?
Because Mark and Jez are parasites who live off each other. Each uses the other for gain while harming the other. The physical benefits they each get are different, but the mental benefits and imposed costs are quite similar.
From Mark, Jez gets wealth. He receives a free room at Mark’s apartment, often food, and is bailed out of a few situations (like defrauding Johnson out of £4,000). Jez also receives a social status elevation. Without Mark, Jez would be borderline-homeless, likely living with reprobates like Super Hans or Big Mad Andy, if not literally starving on the streets. By living with Mark, Jez is not only provided with material comforts, but the respectability that comes with living in an ordinary flat with ordinary people.
From Jez, Mark gets social access. Jez’s coolness and popularity allow Mark to tap into social groups to which he would otherwise have no access. Jez gets Mark into parties, brings friends over to Mark’s apartment, and gets Mark to meet women which he otherwise wouldn’t. As Mark puts it:
Finally, the use for Jeremy and Hans becomes clear – they’re my normality cloaks to slip into human society and wreak my evil doings/make friends and relax.
But those are just the surface parasite benefits. The main benefits are psychological.
From Mark, Jez gets a perpetual source of hierarchical superiority in the domains of sex, friendships, and coolness. Jez hates himself because he considers himself to be an elusive façade of a “real person,” but… every time he looks at Mark he is reminded of his relative skills and accomplishments. Mark is uncool; Jez is cool. Mark has a boring desk job; Jez is a musician. Mark has sex with few women, most of whom are mildly attractive; Jez has sex with many women, many of whom are highly attractive. Mark has vanilla sex and is bad at it; Jez has wild sex and is good at it. Etc.
From Jez, Mark gets a perpetual source of hierarchical superiority in the domains of finance, work, and stability. Mark hates himself because he considers himself a failure who can’t live up to his potential who is constantly mocked by normal people around him, but… every time he looks at Jez, he is reminded of his relative skills and accomplishments. Mark owns his own apartment; Jez is nearly homeless. Jez is broke; Mark has some money. Jez gets hangovers and STDs; Mark is healthy. Jez deals drugs and commits fraud; Mark is a law-abiding citizen. Jez has no family; Mark at least has a son. Etc.
These feelings of superiority are just as much drugs to Mark and Jez as Jez’s actual drugs. They act as life support to both men’s crippled self-esteems, providing a fig leaf of dark relief to conceal the colossal embarrassments of their full lives. Mark and Jez can both wake up feeling better each morning knowing that only a few yards away lies the other man whom they are obviously superior to in their own particular way.
Like all parasitism, the benefits incur a cost. And the cost of this parasitism is both inflicted on the other man and self-inflicted.
Mark is not only drained of wealth but also held back from rising to the standard of life he strives for. His ambitions to improve his career and start a stable family are hindered by the presence of a meddling slacker. From starting conflicts with Johnson, to trying to steal romantic partners, Jez is a constant thorn in Mark’s side than reduces his respectability and pulls him into moral muck.
Meanwhile, Jez is enabled by Mark so that the former never needs to make the necessary sacrifices to get his life on track. With some effort, Jez could get a real job, earn some money, get his own apartment, clean up, and in turn meet decent friends and women. But instead he perpetually lives rent-free with Mark where he has no demands on his daily routine, and so wastes it on masturbation and drugs. With the ensuing low status and confidence, Jez pursues flighty, arbitrary, and/or unavailable (albeit attractive) women who provide no long-term value.
Thus Mark and Jez are trapped in a parasitic relationship with one another. They derive benefits from each other, both on the surface and at a deeper psychological level, but the benefits are ultimately self-destructive. At some level, both men seem to be aware of this mutually harmful relationship, but commit to it nonetheless out of weakness.
The Deadly Sins
Mark: You what…? No turkey!? You fucking idiot, Jeremy! You total fucking idiot! That was your job, you fucking moron! You cretin! You’re a fuck head! That’s what you are! A fucking shit head!
Mark and Jeremy hate themselves. This self-hatred manifests in evil behavior which harms themselves, each other, and people around them throughout Peep Show. I believe their bad behavior can be narrowed down to five particular “sins”: cowardice, evasion, hypocrisy, pettiness, and apathy. In my opinion, these sins are the most realistic portrayal of why people do bad things, even more so than the classic “seven deadly sins” (lust, wrath, envy, gluttony, pride, greed, and sloth), though there is some overlap.
I’ll go through each of the sins to explain what they are and how they manifest in Mark and Jez.
Mark: I’m not marrying out of spite. I’m marrying out of fear. There’s a very big difference.
Mark and Jez are consummate liars. In any given episode, they will constantly lie (again) to other people, each other, and themselves. While these lies are sometimes for expedient gain or manipulation, their biggest lies tend to be out of cowardice. Specifically, they lie to avoid admitting their true thoughts, feelings, or motivations on a subject out of embarrassment.
Mark Example – Marriage to Sophie
Mark’s journey to marrying Sophie is one of my favorite television arcs of all time. After two seasons of will-they-won’t-they dynamics (1-2), Mark begins dating Sophie, his cute but erratic co-worker. A season later (3), Mark “accidentally” proposes marriage. In what is to becomes a precedent, Mark confirms the proposition once Sophie says “yes” purely out of fear of the social repercussions of backing down.
The entire following season (4) consists of Mark vacillating over marrying Sophie. He nearly breaks up with her in the first episode after Sophie’s father overhears Mark say he doesn’t love her. Later he joins a gym to spend less time with her, almost has an affair with a high school crush, and then almost starts dating another woman and moves to India (until Jez screws up the plan).
On the day of the wedding, Mark is still undecided and terrified. He’s worried that marrying Sophie will mean a lifetime of boredom, resentment, and mediocrity, but breaking off the wedding will hurt Sophie and cause him to become a social pariah. He vacillates until sheer circumstances thrust him on the altar, where his indecision is so visible that both he and Sophie break down in tears of misery.
Mere minutes after the wedding, Sophie realizes how much of a coward Mark is, and breaks off the marriage herself.
Jez Example – Seducing Elena
While trying to have sex with his new sexy Russian neighbor, Elena, Jez realizes that everything about his life is pathetic, and he proceeds to lie out of fear to hide his true self. He’s asked about his job and painfully deflects. He’s asked about his musical ability and can’t admit he can’t really play any instruments. He’s asked about his poetry and can at least barely conjure a single bad poem (“Fuck You, Bush). Finally, Jez resorts to making up a lie about having a child as a desperate bid to seem interesting. Ironically, he ends up kissing Elena after “truthing” it.
Jez: Oh, come on mate. We both know you’re not gonna marry Sophie today. It’s making you tense, nervous, and unhappy. You’re gonna stay here with me. I don’t make you tense, nervous, or unhappy.
Mark: Yes you do!
Jez: Oh, come on, not to nearly the same extent.
This is similar to “cowardice” but different enough to warrant its own sin. Mark and Jez are chronic evaders because they don’t just lie to others but to themselves. Their self-disgust is so great that they usually can’t admit their own shortcomings even within their own minds. So both men constantly make excuses for their failings or tell themselves white lies to avoid the uncomfortable truths which keep screwing up their lives.
Mark Example – Relationship with Dobbie
Mark pursues a long-term relationship with another co-worker, Dobbie, the IT oddball. After another 2.5 seasons of courting (5-7), they get together, and not long afterward, Mark asks Dobbie to move it. Despite agreeing to the move, Dobbie is evasive about committing across the following season. It becomes increasingly clear to her and the viewer that she (adventurous hipster weirdo) and Mark (up-tight, tea-drinking, Tory) have nothing in common. Nevertheless, Mark embarks on a campaign to trap and trick Dobbie into moving in rather than acknowledging the obvious. As with Sophie, the relationship only ends when Dobbie wises up and leaves.
Jez Example – Relationship with Elena
Jez instantly falls in love with Elena. He’s so spellbound that he doesn’t notice Elena’s blatantly one-sided relationship style of using Jez as a household servant and to get out of work troubles (“taking a wank bullet”). Jez even agrees to stay with her after finding out that she’s in a long-term relationship with another woman. Eventually Jez gets Elena to commit to breaking up with her girlfriend and being exclusive with Jez, but she reneges almost immediately. Yet Jez doesn’t give up on the relationship until Elena moves away.
Mark (internal): I’m definitely going to agree to this. I just need to put up an acceptable level of objection so I can be all reproachful if it proves to be a disaster, which it almost certainly will.
Mark and Jez both have loose moral codes to ostensibly guide their behavior: Mark strives for order and stability while Jez aims for freedom and hedonism. However, both constantly find their weak moral codes faltering under the short term demands of potential petty gains, and thus act like hypocrites to achieve said gains.
Mark Example – Evicting Jerry
Mark caves to Jez’s pressure and agrees to evict Jerry so Jez can move back into the apartment. They invite Super Hans over to help figure out how to get Jerry out in the middle of the night. Jez suggests simply encasing Jerry in the sleeping bag he is sleeping in, and physically removing him from the apartment. Mark acts outraged by this absurd plan, but internally monologues that he is fine with it and just needs to appear outraged for social credit.
Jez Example – Sophie’s Cousin
Despite his free-wheeling lifestyle, Jez insults and bullies Sophie’s young cousin, who idolizes Jez as a musician. Jez uses the man’s naivete to trick him into signing an unfair work contract, stealing his music, and being used by Jez and Super Hans as a servant. Eventually, Super Hans goes as far as to get the cousin to give him a blow job (just to see if he will). Jez claims to be shocked by the development but appears to be secretly jealous.
Jez: That’s big of you, inviting him.
Mark: I thought it would look petty and vindictive not to, and as a petty and vindictive individual, I have to take extra care not to appear petty or vindictive.
Mark and Jez are both unhappy, if not out-right depressed. Given their weak wills, both are willing to strive for any minor, petty victory they can get to feel better about themselves, often regardless of the long-term costs. Thus Mark and Jez are remarkably petty individuals who hurt others for the smallest markers of recognition or pleasure.
Mark Example – Seizing Control of Jeremy’s Trust
By befriending Jez’s mother and new boyfriend, Mark finagles himself into the position of managing Jez’s sizeable inheritance from his great aunt. It’s clear from Mark’s mannerisms and monologue that he doesn’t do this out of responsibility for Jez or benevolence, but out of the sheer domineering pleasure of controlling Jez’s life.
Jez Example – Stealing Mark’s Chairs
When Jez temporarily leaves Mark’s apartment, he asks Super Hans to help him ship his possessions. Upon realizing that all he owns is a few bags of clothes and a porn collection, Jez steals Mark’s chairs. Just the petty victory of pretending to own a few more possessions makes him feel better.
Mark: Shit… five hours on Blitzkrieg… this wasn’t how it was meant to be! Week’s holiday… I was gonna get to grips with the Roman Republic, get into the GI diet. Can’t stop now… gotta win the war for the Nazis. Am I enjoying this? Don’t know anymore. Doesn’t matter. Gotta finish the level. Then read those… do some sit-ups… learn the clarinet.
Mark and Jez are not beyond saving. They could both take productive actions to improve their lives, like Mark getting therapy or Jez getting a real job. However, they are both afflicted with apathy. They see the world as so hopeless, their lives as so devoid of efficaciousness, that they would more often than not prefer to do nothing than something. Usually Mark and Jez are their own greatest victims of their apathy.
Mark Example – Unleashing Super Hans
Super Hans sees Mark as one of the few reliable individuals in his life (even making him his Best Man). So when Super Hans vows to get clean from crack, he gives Mark his final stash and asks Mark to vow to keep it from him no matter what. But when Super Hans shows up at Mark’s door a few nights later with a 2X4 wood demanding the crack, Mark immediately relents, just to not be bothered.
Jez Example – Unleashing Super Hans
Jez and Super Hans go on vacation. Super Hans vows to get clean, and wants to stay tied up in bed until he detoxes. Jez agrees to help initially, but later in the night he needs the bed to sleep with a girl, so Jez tapes some drugs to a Frisbee, throws it out the window, and then unties Super Hans to pursue it.
The El Dude Brothers
Mark: Jeremy… what can I say? A man I know very well indeed. Ummm… he’s not a great man. He’s, uhhh, not a wise man. Uhh, he’s not always a good man. But he is a nice man… up to a point. And I… like him.
What makes Mark Corrigan and Jeremy “Jez” Usborne so scary isn’t that they’re evil, but that the personalities of both men live inside of all of us to one degree or another.
Like Mark, many of us feel that everyone else in the world somehow has the manual for how to be a normally functioning human being, but somehow we’ve misplaced it. Like Jeremy, many of us feel that every day consists of a losing struggle against masturbation, drugs, and reality tv (or whatever your poison is) to actually do something productive. Like both men, many of us don’t like big parts of ourselves, but we lack the discipline, willpower, foresight, and judgement to make the choices which will change those parts. Instead we accept our lives as incomplete, insufficient, inadequate, and take whatever small pleasure we can to feel something good about ourselves, even if it’s just for the day, or a few hours, or minutes, or seconds.
That’s what makes Peep Show brilliant. It’s more than just one of the funniest tv shows ever made, it’s a surprisingly dark and realistic portrayal of how and why ordinary people are evil. It shows how fairly normal problems metastasize into personality cancers that first make the host miserable, and then spread to everyone who comes into contact. Mark and Jez represent the toxic parts of ourselves inflated to encompass entire persons. We must never forget that there’s a bit of Mark and Jez in all of us.