'They’ve spent so long going round in circles, it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else...' | David Mitchell and Robert Webb on the last series of Peep Show © C4/Mark Johnson

'They’ve spent so long going round in circles, it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else...'

David Mitchell and Robert Webb on the last series of Peep Show

The last series of Peep Show is about to start. Fans have been scouring Twitter and Instagram for clues as to what’s in store. Have you been aware of that?

DAVID: I’ve been aware of a lot of anticipation, but not, I suppose, of specific plot speculation.

ROBERT: I took a picture of the flat and put it on Twitter, and [co-writer] Sam Bain had said a few things, and that got put together as a story carried by Joe Bloggs Daily. People on Twitter come across loud and clear that they’re looking forward to it, so that’s all exciting!

With all of that speculation, is there anything you can tell us about the series?

DAVID: I don’t think we’re really allowed to say. Only things that would be already evident, like the fact that such people as Super Hans and Sophie and Johnson do appear. But I think it’s much better enjoyed in complete ignorance of what’s going to happen, like most stories.

ROBERT: They get chased up a tree and have rocks thrown at them, which is how Sam Bain defines the way he treats characters.

It’s been three years since the last series. Why the long pause?

DAVID: I think Sam and Jesse were too busy to write another series.

ROBERT: They had Fresh Meat and Babylon, Jesse worked on Veep, Sam worked on Rev.

DAVID: I think things just stacked up, there hasn’t been an opportunity until now. And I think that they were grateful for the gap – they came to this series feeling rejuvenated in terms of thinking of things to happen to Mark and Jeremy. After the last series, I think they felt “Gosh, how many more things can happen to them?” So they perhaps weren’t relishing the opportunity then. And now, when they have written it, they feel slightly as if they could have gone on and done some more.

When we left the last series, Mark and Jez were in a field, slightly electrocuted, with a destroyed Pork Pie and no Dobby. Is that where we pick things up?

DAVID: We pick things up a few months later. We don’t go back to them in the field, trying to match the weather and look like we’re not three years older.

Have you guys ever gone back and watched the early Peep Shows?

DAVID: Yeah, I watched most of it again, for the first time in ages, in the run-up to shooting this series. It had been such a long time that I’d genuinely forgotten a lot about it. I really got into it, I must say.

ROBERT: You start to think: ‘Hang on, this is really quite good!’ I wasn’t quite so methodical, but I sort of dipped into it every now and again. I think sometimes, probably in order to not do some work, I probably watched some of it. Somebody says, ‘Oh, this is a good scene on YouTube,’ and I go and watch it and am then on YouTube for the next two hours looking at scenes.

How do you feel when you watch yourselves? Are you self-critical, or can you just relax and enjoy it?

ROBERT: It depends how long has gone by. We’re doing the voiceovers for this series around now, which means we’re seeing episodes for the first time. You see your own mistakes, or you think, ‘Wasn’t there a better take?’ And then by the time you’re seeing it again a while later, or by the fourth time you’re seeing it, it’s fine, so you can afford to relax a bit more and enjoy it. But I certainly don’t enjoy it the very first time I see it.

DAVID: You always see it for the first time when it’s still being edited, so it’s not in the best shape yet, and it can still be changed. You watch it years later, and it is what it is, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Which makes it a lot easier not to.

It’s the longest running sitcom in Channel 4 history. Is that something you guys are proud of?

ROBERT: Yeah! Why not?!

DAVID: We always wanted it to go on for a long time. I remember having a conversation with Sam very early on, saying ‘Let’s keep doing this as long as we can.’ In a way, the proof of a sitcom is in how much material and how many storylines you can get out of the basic situation. I think it’s great to have broken the Channel 4 record.

ROBERT: And to be stopping on a nice, even nine!

DAVID: We did cross the 50 episode line, though!

The show’s also won awards, and huge critical acclaim, and fans love it, but it’s never had the audience it deserves. Would you rather have the awards and the acclaim, or a show that 5 million watched that was crap?

ROBERT: I’m certainly perfectly satisfied to have it this way round – that the people who like it really, really like it – and to be associated with a show that, the people who have heard of it grin at you in the street because they like it. I’m perfectly happy that it remains a bit culty.

DAVID: It’s only a problem if it precludes future commissions, which in this case it hasn’t. So it’s perfectly enough people to sustain it. And you can only make broader comedies for wider audiences if that’s where your heart is. And the good sitcoms that have had huge mainstream audiences; that’s come sincerely from those writers and performers, and what they wanted to watch themselves. And Peep Show is the sort of show that me and Rob and Sam and Jesse would want to watch. You end up only making comedy for yourself, really, and then if anyone else at all wants to watch it, you’re lucky.

If you’d been able to choose the ideal way for your characters to finish Peep Show, what would you have gone for?

ROBERT: Exactly as it finishes. They can’t be happy. It’s not giving anything away to say they will not win the lottery. And even if they did, they’d find a way about being miserable about that, eventually. It wouldn’t be Peep Show if they were suddenly content.

DAVID: Yeah. Sitcoms are very different from films. They’re not about people changing and learning and things moving on, they’re about stasis, and that’s why people respond well to them. While some parts of people’s lives are about change, a lot of people’s lives are about stasis, about not changing, being trapped in situations, things being mundane and relentless. Sitcom is the art form that addresses that most directly. So when a sitcom ends, it’s not going to come to a conclusion. It’s not what it’s there to do. That’s almost a betrayal of the kind of thing it is, to suggest that things can finish neatly like a three-act-farce.

Since 2003, you’ve both enjoyed a considerable degree of success. What’s kept you coming back to Peep Show?

ROBERT: The work. It’s a very, very well-written show, and we’re playing characters that we know inside out now. It’s always a joy to work with David again, but also Matt King (Super Hans), Olivia Colman and the rest of the guys. And the crew have been very similar for the last few series, so it’s coming back to a – I’m not going to use the word ‘family’ because that turns my stomach, when actors talk like that…

DAVID:… It really is just like a business!

ROBERT: Like a friendly business. It’s coming back to a lovely friendly business. It’s always good fun. I have a great time playing Jeremy. He’s a great character. And it’s a job!

DAVID: As we’re inevitably now going to find out, it’s much harder coming up with a new situation world that people want to come back to and watch than it is to keep it going. When you’ve got characters and a situation that people like, you’re on to a good thing as a performer and a comedian, and you’re a fool to yourself if you don’t give people more of what they want. So that’s what we’ve been more than happy to do. The fundamental reason for now stopping is that it’s a show about young men, post-university, and as we have inevitably hit middle age, it’s a different idea now. Tow middle aged men sharing a flat like that, that’s too sad. It’s got to stop, because we’ve got older. We should have made it an animation, then we’d never have had to stop. Homer Simpson is under 40! It’s ridiculous.

ROBERT: You’d just hear our voices age.

Some people say you have to find something you like in a character in order to play them. Do you like Jeremy and Mark?

ROBERT: On paper, Jeremy is a real shit. But I like his puppyish enthusiasm. I like it when he gets excited. And I certainly like it when he’s at his most petulant and unreasonable. It’s not that I like the character, but I certainly enjoy playing him. It’s good fun. But if I met Jeremy, I wouldn’t be friends with him.

DAVID: I think Mark’s fundamentally a bad man, but parts of him I can identify with and agree with. I like his sarcasm and scepticism. The terrible and totally selfish things he often does make it impossible to like him overall. To be honest, I don’t think you need to like a character in order to play them. I would dispute that.

How did you find filming the last scenes? I know it’s not filmed in chronological order, and often you finish on some minor scene, but how was the experience of filming the last scene?

ROBERT: We shoot out of order, and in this case the very last scene of Peep Show was a two-hander between me and an estate agent showing me round an office.

DAVID: A chap who’d never been in the show before, that was his only scene, and it was the last scene ever on Peep Show. He didn’t know, before he arrived that day, that he was going to be the last day of a twelve year odyssey. It was a Tuesday. He had to do his scene while more and more people collected outside with bottles of champagne, ready to be opened. Quite a lot of people congregated on the last day.

ROBERT: It was a random office location in Watford. Some of us managed to get to a pub, quite briefly. More emotional was the last day in the boys’ flat. Leaving that set, knowing that was it. That was tough.

DAVID: Everyone got to nominate a picture or prop from the set to keep.

What did you guys take?

ROBERT: I got Jeremy’s poetry exercise book, with Up Yours, Bush written on the cover.

DAVID: I had a picture from Mark’s bedroom, of a Bentley. I don’t know if it’s ever been in shot, but it’s definitely been there from the start. Quite often, you’d notice from one series to the next that something had been replaced by something similar. There’s always a picture on the wall about bowling, but it’s not remained the same picture.

Have you guys idly speculated about what the rest of their lives will hold for Mark and Jez?

DAVID: Yeah, I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I can’t really get anywhere with it.

ROBERT: They’ve spent so long going round in circles, it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else. They’re constantly saying ‘This is it, I’m gonna change’ – the new Mark Manifesto, Jeremy’s either really gonna go for it in the music business, or he’s decided ‘Fuck the music business’, they’re always making resolutions, and they never, ever, ever stick to any of them.

DAVID: Mark can just about keep a job, so I think he’ll remain just about solvent. He’s got a bit of property equity. So maybe he’ll move out of London in the long run, somewhere where he can bank a bit of his property money and live. I can also imagine Mark being a second husband of a slightly difficult older woman.

ROBERT: I think Jeremy will just wait for his mother to die, and he’ll get a house.

Have you got any favourite scenes or storylines from over the years?

ROBERT: The dog-eating was a lot of fun, because it was so extreme, but you get there very logically. The scene was, itself, very funny to do, and it was a lovely day on a canal boat with some lovely other actors. It was rather fun, especially the walk they do after, with Mark saying “Did you really have to eat it?” I really enjoyed that.

DAVID: My answer to this, particularly watching iot again, a scene that made me laugh a lot was the end of series where Sophie is about to give birth, Jeremy is pissed and in his pants, trying to proposition Elena, and Mark is pretending he’s learned to drive when he hasn’t. I think it’s a very funny and to the series.

How important has Peep Show been in your careers?

ROBERT: Crucial. It’s been very important.

DAVID: Yeah, very important. We were doing alright as a young double act, but it was our big break, really. Everything after it has been nicer and easier.

Where will you watch the last episode? Will you all get together?

DAVID: We’ll certainly all get together.

ROBERT: We’ll book a pub with a telly, and get a lot of friends to come and laugh at us.

DAVID: And then we’ll watch it again afterwards because people will have talked over bits of it.

ROBERT: We’ll become quite irritable as people clink their glasses.

DAVID: Even if you organise a social event only to watch a television programme, still people will talk all through it.

ROBERT: The mistake is to invite a bunch of friends who haven’t seen each other for ages. They’re all pleased to see each other, which is all very jolly…

DAVID: But we want them to listen to every syllable!

What will you miss most about making Peep Show?

ROBERT: All the people, really. And David mentioned that it’s a show that you know works. The great luxury of working on something where you know the character, you know the audience is aware of the situation, you play with their expectation, you don’t have to prove anything.

DAVID: The rare feeling of confidence you have when there’s a scene in Peep Show, where you just know that people who like watching Mark and Jeremy are going to like them doing this.

ROBERT: And you only get that from a show that’s been on for ages.

DAVID: I suppose if you’re a fireman, you’d say that your favourite part of the job is when you know that the fire is nearly out, when you’re finishing off, and you know it’s going to go out. But you know that pretty soon there will be another big fire, and you’ll have to start putting it out all over again, and you don’t want to, because it’s difficult. So the best bit is when you’ve almost put the fire out.

ROBERT: That’s what series nine of Peep Show is – a good dowsing.

• Peep Show series 9 starts at 10pm on November 11 on Channel 4.

Published: 28 Oct 2015

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