Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong on comedy endings - and why it's time to say goodbye to Peep Show
Peep Show has been running along on CHannel 4 for 12 years. Is there anything its co-creators still haven't done to Mark and Jeremy?
After 12 years, cult comedy Peep Show is coming to an end, with the final series beginning on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm.
Peep Show has been part of co-creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong lives for over a decade; in that time Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) and Jeremy Usborne (Robert Webb) have grown into fully dysfunctional adults and two of the best-loved characters in British comedy. Now, after nine series, it's time to say goodbye.
Sam Bain: Just to warn you, we might possibly pull a De Niro if it doesn’t go our ways. It’s not a threat it’s just a…you know.
Jesse Armstrong: What did De Niro walk out of?
JA: Oh really?
SB: I think she asked him about “do you ever worry about phoning it in” or something like that.
JA: Hitting a nerve territory? "How dare you ask me a real question?"
SB: We don’t like real questions either.
JA: Softball us?
Left to right; Bain, Armstrong, director Becky Martin, David Mitchell, writer Robert Popper and Robert Webb at the 2008 Baftas
OK; How would you say the runaway success of your careers has gone?
JA: Soft balls are hard – give us a medium ball.
Fair enough. What was different about writing this final series of Peep Show compared to the others?
SB: The big difference is the time gap between series, because we had to address that. Three years is quite a long time inbetween series, the longest we’ve ever had, and obviously at the end of last series Mark and Jeremy had ended on a very tense, fighty note. So that was interesting. But after we addressed that in episode one, it was sort of business as usual a bit.
JA: There was a certain additional pressure in making it good, but I think we’ve always felt the pressure to make it good hopefully, at the beginning of every series.
Was it helpful to have more time to work on it? It's been a few years since series eight.
SB: I don’t think we thought about it for the first two years. But we did start writing sooner than on previous series, that’s true, and I think that part of that was wanting to make sure we had enough time to make it good.
As Jesse says, a pretty helpful fear is fear of a drop in quality. And that felt very much the case on this series, and it was like right – let’s not f**k it up, let’s spend as much time as we need to getting it right. And I think that paid off, hopefully.
Did you feel a pressure to end on a high?
JA: Yeah – we wanted to make sure it was really, definitely funny, and we talked for a bit, didn’t we, about not necessarily making sure we had every character in, or that it was really anything other than a really funny series?
Without giving too much away, were there any bits this series that you particularly enjoyed writing?
SB: That’s a good question. Probably the happiest moment for me on set was the day we went to the flat after week three or something, because as soon as you’re with Mark and Jeremy in the flat, it feels like this is Peep Show. So a lot of the scenes I enjoyed writing and seeing filmed were the ones where they were just in the kitchen, the living room, as you’ve seen them for 12 years. That had a really nice feeling of continuity.
JA: There’s a discussion in one of the episodes about how Mark and Jeremy would react to the possibility of going back in time, which is…they’re just discussing which point in history they’d both go back to, and it's very funny.
This is a bit of a weird question, but what makes this series’ last episode the last ever episode? Once the camera stops whirring, could you imagine Mark and Jeremy carrying on without being filmed?
JA: I think it’s an end of series rather than an end of everything. Our better series have had relatively strong arcs for their relationships or whatever were their primary concerns. So those things come to a close. I don’t know whether people would feel like it has to be the end of the series.
SB: No, I think you’re right – the end of the series doesn’t feel like the end of them.
JA: They will get up tomorrow.
SB: None of them have failing organs in the final episode– it feels like they will continue.
Were there any ideas that you weren’t able to get in previous series that ended up in this one?
David Mitchell and Robert Webb
SB: Yeah, I think there were. Not many, but we have this document, this bag of ideas that we carry from series to series, and we find time for them. There’s a dinner party episode this year, and we’ve wanted to do one of those for a while.
JA: We’ve done that before…
SB: That’s another thing about writing Peep Show after 12 years – there’s a lot of ‘I think we’ve done that before, actually’…We’ve given Jeremy chlamydia twice.
Did you ever consider giving Mark and Jez a happy ending, or did you want it to be appropriately bleak?
JA: You’ll have to see what you think – there are different ways you can look at it. I think it feels appropriate. And we did think about it a lot, what sort of tone the ending should be.
Mitchell and Webb as Mark and Jeremy in the final series of Peep Show
How did working on this series compare with working on the last series of Fresh Meat, which is also coming up early next year?
JA: Well Fresh Meat is team-written, so we only wrote one series, whereas we wrote five out of six of these Peep Shows. Fresh Meat is shot up in Manchester and we rarely go, whereas in Peep Show one of us goes every day. So we’re much closer to Peep Show really, and we’ve done it for much longer, so it’s…it’s very different.
Is there anything you can tell us about what we can expect from this series of Fresh Meat?
The trailer for Fresh Meat series 1
SB: It’s the final two terms of their life at university. So that was again, quite a useful thing to have as a spine, because you’re always looking for what makes a series unique once you’ve done a few.
JA: And they do exams, and it felt like there’s some quite universal things about exams, and finals, the end of that period of life that felt would be good to write towards.
I was also going to ask about your Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You, Jesse. Is it still under option to be made into a film?
JA: Yes – it’s still rolling on. I think they’re developing it, I’m not writing a script. But yeah, Robert Downey Jr’s company bought it, and are developing it into a movie.
What’s it like working separately compared to together?
SB: Well, we’ve been doing more solo work recently, and I think it’s really good. It sounds like I’m talking from the point of view of someone who’s been to a Relate counsellor, which I’m not, but it’s good for our relationship, because I think it means we really appreciate writing together.
JA: It was really fun coming back and writing Peep Show.
SB: But it’s also good to go away and plough your own furrow, have total independence over your scripts up to a point. You can go different places that you wouldn’t necessarily go together. It’s tricky to manage three careers – mine, his and ours – but on the whole it’s been great really.
Are there plans for more Babylon?
SB: No, I think that’s probably it. It was an amazing show to write on – pretty full on, but I’m really proud of it.
JA: Yeah – I was watching Nicola Walker on River the other night [who features in Babylon], and with the cast for that show, and working with the directors and Danny, it was really a thrilling show to make. We enjoyed it very much. Getting everyone back together seemed like it would be extraordinarily complicated, so we haven’t pursued it.
OK guys – If you both had to describe the final series of Peep Show in three words, what would they be?
SB: Er...hilarious pain fest?
JA: Aggressive sexual mess.
SB: That’s the name of your nightclub in Clapham, isn't it?
Mark and Jeremy in the first episode of Peep Show series 9
And finally – how would you describe this series to a returning fan and then someone who’s never seen it before to get them both to watch it?
SB: To the returning fan, I’d say you’ve seen it before – you’ll probably like this. What would you say to someone new? I’d say don’t get put off by the weird camerawork, you will hopefully get used to it.
JA: Yeah, it’s nice being a bit of a minority or a cult show, because it’s like, 'If you like, come and have a look.' Honestly, just watch it until half-time and see if it’s for you. If you like it, you might really like it.
It also feels like all the people who might like it by now have probably seen a bit of it. There are shows that disappear before everyone that might like them gets to see them. That’s one of the nice things about doing it for so long – it feels like people have seen it.