They say analyse something and you’ve ruined it. Normally I’d agree. But in this case I was asked to. And I wanted to. I’ll shut up now.
The cult comedy series Peep Show follows the lives of twenty-something flatmates Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy/’Jez’ (Robert Webb) in their awkward social graces and misfortune with women. The writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong express this in split dialogue consisting of external speech and the characters ‘internal’ thoughts, with the latter containing most of the shows satire. From the very first episode, these elements are introduced to us in the form of Jez’s bold internal dialogue (“This is fucking wicked! I’m almost definitely a musical genius”). As the more reckless character of the two, it was perhaps a conscious decision of the writer’s to open the series with Jeremy’s witless inner thoughts in contrast with the bookish ‘sensible’ nature of Mark’s dialogue. (“The longbow beats the crossbow my idiotic friend”). In addition to establishing personality, the outspoken manner of the words “wicked” and “almost definitely” reflect ‘teen speak’ and may be an attempt to create instant empathy with the viewer and therefore, prevent them from ‘channel-hopping’. This is commonplace throughout the series; often opening a scene with Mark and Jeremy’s ‘thoughts’ to set the surreal tone (“Shit. Gotta get on there. [Approaches bus stop] “Yes! I am the lord of the bus, said he”). The main ‘external’ dialogue doesn’t feature until four or five minutes into the episode and when used, it is merely a tool of ‘small talk’ to bridge the consistent internal narration (“Hi Mark. I tried calling but you know…”).
Taking the first episode as a typical example then, each script is structured so that the internal dialogue of the main characters heavily outweighs the external dialogue. For example, we don’t meet with Jeremy’s character again until the following day; in which time, Mark has invited a new character into their flat to laugh at Jez’s “wicked” track. Jeremy meanwhile continues in ‘inner dialogue’ form (“This Grammy goes out to all my homeboys in Compton”); until he hears laughter coming from his bedroom (“Mark, what are you-…?”). The scene to immediately follow this sees Mark continuing the ‘inner-voice’ strand (“Great. Humiliate your best friend to impress a girl who might possibly hate you”). Bain and Armstrong clearly want to present this as a norm throughout the opening episode, notably by beginning and ending the show with an internal ‘thought’ (“All right. That’s it. Do you want a taste of my steel?” [Mark charges into a group of thugs, brandishing a lead pipe]).
As well as using a split dialogue format to maintain a narrative stream, the show employs a P.O.V style of shooting; which is essential to the outcome of dialogue as it focuses on Mark and Jeremy’s social gaffs in a near claustrophobic manner. A particular scene involving Mark leaving his hand accidentally on a woman’s bus seat for the entire journey exemplifies this: (“I should probably say. No, too late. It’s already too late”). While this technique can be fairly limiting to the scale of the plot or location, Peep Show finds its hilarity in the painful accuracy of social situations and the characters brutal assessment of it. Interestingly, the most intrusive scenes i.e. the use of extreme close-ups seem to only enhance the dialogue; proving that the internal monologues of Mark and Jeremy govern almost the entire script and, in places, are vastly more significant than the plot itself.
Peep Show seems so reliant on internal speech in fact that, without it, each program would comprise of fillers and hesitations. Due to this, it is easy at times to overlook the storyline as it isn’t always predictable where the situation is taking us. In this sense, the program relies almost solely on the internal dialogue to inform its audience of a direction in plot. Quite simply, the contribution of writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong is creating a half-hour script out of the narrative we daren’t speak aloud.