I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have viewed and rewatched Peep Show, achingly acerbic and endlessly quotable, it’s a series that I regularly return to. Whilst the quality of the show, charting the lives of Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), has never dipped, I have found in recent years the portrayal of women, or rather Mark and Jeremy’s perception of women, to be increasingly problematic.
I note that it is Jeremy and Mark’s perception, rather than the writers’ portrayal of women, as being problematic because it is their perception that forms the narrative of the show through the use of frequent point of view shots.
Both men frequently refer to women as ‘the one’, seemingly believing that their interaction with these women will somehow improve their current outlook on life. Whilst the men may believe that they are simply looking for love, they are in actual fact more frequently defining themselves through the relationship with women. Jeremy notably advises Mark to tell women that he loves them very early on in the relationship as some manner of bargaining tool.
Mark, a pseudo-intellectual, has on first appearance a more positive approach in his interactions with women, but in actual fact it is Mark’s treatment that is most troubling. He spends the majority of the first couple of seasons pining after Sophie, a fellow co-worker. Initially, Sophie is an attractive, friendly co-worker who eventually succumbs to Mark’s persistence. By the end of her relationship with Mark, Sophie a previous bastion of professionalism, is facing the end of her career due to gross misconduct. No longer is she a self-actualized woman, instead, after Mark’s reluctance to marry her (despite it being his idea) Sophie is barely recognisable; rude, drunk and bitter, Mark has all but destroyed the person she was before.
In the later series, Mark finds a woman, Dobby, who may finally be a successful match for him. That doesn’t stop him disliking her various quirks, as he endlessly wishes that she could be slightly more normal. Nor does it prevent him ruing a job opportunity, or pretending that he wants to go interrailing with her, when in actual fact he is partaking in secret night classes and flirting with an attractive older woman.
Take as another example Mark’s treatment of a young university student who he is attracted to. After meeting her in a shoe shop he returns to thank her for her shopping advice, whilst noting to himself that such an action may be misconstrued as slightly creepy. Upon finding that she has gone back to university, he travels eight hours to see her again, feigning his reappearance as his being a mature student at the university. Mark is willing for this woman to believe in his subterfuge, commenting to Jeremy that she has the perfect combination of being attractive with low self-esteem. Mark is more concerned with the end result of sleeping with her than anything else, and displays little guilt at this aim, indeed ringing Sophie to boast of his supposed conquest.
At least Jeremy is open with his various lovers, despite his proclamation that he loves them. Throughout his interactions with his two great loves Nancy and Elena, he is selfless (often to the point of self-combustion), putting their needs above his own. That is not to suggest that his adulation is by any means healthy, but at least it is less damaging than Mark’s fixation upon finding the one and through finding the one, finding himself.