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Peep Show at 20: A love letter to the great British sitcom and all the men who made me watch it

There are many things about men that I don’t understand. I don’t know why they think so much about the Roman Empire. Or why so many think that ghosting is an appropriate way to end a relationship. And I don’t really know what the phrase ‘emotionally unavailable’ means. But what I do know is that they love Peep Show.

I didn’t grow up in the UK. I moved here for university, but it wasn’t until after my degree that I properly started dating and, as a result, was introduced to the iconic piece of TV history that is Peep Show. It’s a show that marks its 20th anniversary today.

Though colleagues and my brother loved it, I didn’t give the show – starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as roommates Mark and Jeremy – a proper chance until the first lockdown, when the guy I was messaging with started talking about it.

He, a self-proclaimed Mark, convinced me to give it a go, and since it was a lockdown and I had nothing better to do, I did. And watching the episode when Mark and Jez host a party and Super Hans brings a (probably not dangerous) pet snake was the first time in weeks I really laughed. I laughed almost until the point of tears. And for that, I am grateful.

Cut to the second lockdown and I was already seeing someone else (the summer in between the lockdowns was a busy one…). This guy was closer to Super Hans than Mark – tall and lean and looked like he hadn’t slept in a week with a similar carefree attitude.

Maybe he wasn’t the best fit for someone who – whether I like it or not – leans more towards being a bit like Mark. I like the sense of control and order, going to bed at a reasonable time and I would never put on socks first when getting dressed. But lying on my sofa together in our bubble, laughing at Mark and Jez trying to get each other sectioned was a real comfort during this very hard time.

I have come across so many guys with Peep Show quotes written on their dating profiles, and it never fails as a conversation starter on a date. But why is it so popular, this low-budget noughties show? There’s nothing flashy about it, no A-list cameos, no real story progression, so why does every guy I meet want to ensure I’ve watched it? I think it’s because it doesn’t shy away from the awkwardness of life – instead, it magnifies it. It makes us look at all the human flaws we all share.

How many times have you, like Mark, not wanted to shout at a fitness instructor that you’ve simply had enough? Or getting fed up with people living “so relentlessly in the real world” when you’re trying to dream big like Jez? Or wanted to flirt with a colleague in a supply closet like Dobby?

There isn’t a single character who’s all good in this series, there is no moral compass to follow. There’s just mundane chaos followed by even more mundane chaos. And let’s be honest, isn’t that just life? People trying to do the right thing, and failing. Trying again and failing again. “It’s not wrong, just illegal. Like drunk driving” as Jez says when dating the defendant of a trial he’s the jury on.

So, thank you to all the guys who suggested I should watch it. Recommendations don’t always hit home, but this one did. Peep Show made the lockdowns easier, it has made my dating life easier and it’s a show I’ll forever keep close to my heart.