Shows You Should Watch: Peep Show and Succession’s Approach to Authenticity

By Joe Bailey, Features Editor–

While the television programs “Peep Show” and “Succession” share the same creator, they couldn’t be more different when it comes to their readily-apparent themes and presentations.

Brainchild of co-writer Jesse Armstrong, “Peep Show” is a sitcom which ran on the BBC from 2003 until 2015. The show differentiates itself from others by shooting exclusively from the first-person perspectives of its characters. This aesthetic decision fits in well with the themes and written dialogue of the show; it is paired with the inner monologues and intimate thoughts of the two young men it follows.

Flatmates Mark and Jeremy are subject to episode after episode of romantic, social and professional misadventures, which expose the petty insecurities by which they, and many other young men, are tormented. While the thoughts and actions of these two characters are often vindictive, pathetic and embarrassing, they ultimately come across as earnest and likable because their flaws are laid bare for the audience.

The awkwardness and social horror so famously present in many British comedies presents itself in full force. Mark, the more neurotic of the two, even decides to get married to a woman he dislikes, just to avoid the embarrassment of calling off the relationship. In the end, the flatmates find unbreakable solidarity in their mutually pathetic existence.

Airing on HBO from 2018 to the present, “Succession,” Armstrong’s newest show, runs in a completely different direction.

Following the professional lives of those in the figurehead family of America’s top media company, the show revels in inauthenticity. The writing introduces Shakespearean levels of backstabbing and immaculately constructed verbal battles, but the whole thing is presented in the sleek office buildings and penthouses of Manhattan.

Appearances are everything to the characters in “Succession.” Much like the meaningless corporate-speak found in many companies’ press releases, the literal words spoken by characters often share little resemblance to what they are actually meant to convey. Understanding subtext is a crucial skill in a world where words can cost you millions. The show twists language into something which more often obscures meaning than expresses it.

In the words of the show’s principle character, Kendall Roy, “Words are just what? Nothing. Complicated airflow.”

All helplessly ambitious, the figures at the top of this company will do anything to climb another rung on the corporate ladder. Everyone being duplicitous means that the niceties of any character can never be taken at face value. To show the audience what a character is thinking is the last thing “Succession” would do. For an audience member, this inauthenticity also means characters become easy to hate.

But how would we react if we could listen to the thoughts of characters in “Succession?” Would they become more sympathetic or likable? What if we were barred from the inner worlds of Mark and Jeremy in “Peep Show?” Would they become less endearing? The characters of these shows are similarly despicable, so I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that the split in audience perception stems primarily from differences in presentation. If nothing else, both programs show how much authenticity contributes to likability, regardless of a character’s flaws.

If I could be authentic for a second, the real reason I’m saying all of this is that I love both of these shows. I think everyone should give them a shot. They are both enjoyable in their own way. “Succession” gave me a lot to think about, and “Peep Show” was painfully relatable from beginning to end—in a good way.

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