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As Last of the Summer Wine trundles on towards its one millionth episode, you could be forgiven for thinking that British comedy is in a pretty sorry state, especially since contemporary sitcoms tend to shut up shop after just a couple of series. Bearing that in mind, you have to have your wits about you and make sure you catch the best shows before their untimely, graceful finales. Top of your list should be Peep Show, Bafta-nominated but still garnering relatively low viewing figures on Channel 4.

Peep Show: Series One
Feature
Meet Mark and Jeremy, two flat-sharing friends with very different outlooks on life. Mark (David Mitchell) is career-driven with aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder. Jeremy (Robert Webb), on the other hand, harbours dreams of becoming a top musician—just as long as it doesn't interfere with his daily routine of festering on the sofa.

Episode One
Mark is victimised by a group of young children on the way to work.

Episode Two
Jeremy is forced to leave the confines of the lounge for a few days when Mark forces him to apply for a clerical position in his office.

Episode Three
Mark begins a rather unusual relationship with a teenage goth named Valerie.

Episode Four
Mark starts to question his own sexuality when he forms a strong friendship with one of the managers from his offices.

Episode Five
Jeremy finally gets a job in the music industry. Unfortunately, this involves working in the reception area of a studio.

Episode Six
Uncle Ray is sick with a terminal illness and so Jeremy decides to find religion to help him through this difficult time. Meanwhile, Mark finally makes a move on Sophie.  

Peep Show: Series One
So, a flat-share sitcom with diametrically opposed characters? Hardly original territory for the genre ( The Young Ones, Men Behaving Badly and Game On to name but three). Fortunately, Peep Show injects some originality into the formula. The show is shot from the point of view of the characters; we see what they see (via the means of shaky head-fixed cameras). There's the occasional establishing shot that strays from this method but, for the most part, actors stare down the barrel of the camera and appear to address the audience. The effect is a little unsettling at first, but after a couple of episodes the viewer no longer sees this as a gimmick, and instead views it as part of Peep Show's winning formula. Furthermore, in the case of Mark and Jeremy, we get to hear their thoughts through inner monologues. By doing this, the show gives a good insight into the facades that people use; the supposedly casual Jeremy is not quite as laid-back as he'd like people to think, while the seemingly mild-mannered Mark is actually an anger fuelled war-obsessive.

Since the audience regularly enter the mindsets of the two main characters, it's unsurprising that Peep Show tackles some pretty risqué comedy. Over the course of this first series, we cross the subjects of therapy, sexuality and terminal illnesses. Not to everyone's tastes, sure, but for those who like their comedy with a bit of bite, it's essential viewing.

Being controversial is all well and good, but it would be a redundant exercise if the show wasn't funny at the same time. Fortunately, the series is tightly scripted and extremely well observed. Helping matters is a good cast who will be familiar to viewers of Smoking Room, Big Train and, predictably, The Office.

When describing Peep Show, journalists have a tendency to rely on the hackneyed expression that it 'isn't your traditional sitcom'. While it's true that the show's no-holds barred take on controversial matters and it's original direction style are a far cry from mainstream comedy, Peep Show, like numerous sitcoms, relies on comical misunderstandings, embarrassing situations and conflicting characters. Fortunately, these well-worn dynamics are given a contemporary mix due to the conventions of the series.

Viewers have been comparing this show to The Office and, while Peep Show is just as squirm-inducing at times, it's actually something very different- and is all the better for that.    

Peep Show: Series One
Video
Unlike big-budget Hollywood releases which showcase vibrant and highly-contrasting shades, Peep Show is set firmly in the real world with bland colours conveying an overwhelming sense of the ordinary. While the images may not be as striking as, say, The Day After Tomorrow, the transition to DVD is a good one. Shot on video, there's none of the grime and dirt that you'll find on film and the picture is crisp and sharp. It's also worth noting that the show is presented in anamorphic widescreen; a welcome relief from the TV Disc norm of pan and scan.

Audio
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, the audio mix for Peep Show is not going to showcase the limits of your system but performs the required job in a thoroughly no-frills manner. There's a pleasing difference between the spoken dialogue and Mark and Jeremy's inner monologues and, considering that the show was filmed on location, it also gives good presentation to sound effects.  

Extras
The commentary with writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb, runs through just two of the six episodes. It's a relaxed affair with some interesting insight into the making of the show but, considering the subject matter, it's strangely straight-laced.  

Six short scenes have been created for the DVD. Oddly enough, they're not shot in POV but under the pretence that it's camcorder footage. Sadly, the scenes themselves lack the tight writing of the series and start to meander. It's a nice alternative to deleted scenes, but I know which I'd prefer.

Peep Show: Series One
Overall
Casual viewers of the show should not be tempted by the extras, which are sadly disappointing. However, Peep Show is one of those shows that gets even better upon repeat viewings and, if you've seen these episodes just once, then they're worthy of a second look. Despite the shortcomings of the disc, this is a DVD which deserves the attention of newcomers and devotees alike.


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