Sam Bain: 'I Like To Think We've Created Hours Of Suffering With Peep Show'

As Peep Show prepares for its ninth and final season, co-creator Sam Bain explains how to write a hit sitcom – and when to stop

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1 | If it works, go with it
We never expected Peep Show to run this long. Initially, we were just grateful to get a series at all, and then the second series was a big deal because it meant we hadn’t screwed it up. It’s quite hard to create a good sitcom, so there’s no sense stopping it unless there’s a good reason. Shows like Fawlty Towers, The Office, Spaced – I guess they finished [after two seasons] because they didn’t want things to drop off, and that’s obviously a fear. But that fear has driven us to keep the quality up – we were conscious of not dwindling into eventual cancellation.

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2 | Put your characters through hell
The sitcom writing cliché of chasing your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them is definitely true – if they’re happy then it isn’t funny. Suffering is funny. When you write something like “Mark jumps into an icy lake”, though, you forget that David Mitchell actually has to do it. Last series, Jeremy slept in a bin bag on someone’s floor, but we’re trying to degrade him further.

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3 | Don’t hold back
We owe a debt of thanks to Channel 4, because at no point have we felt censored. In fact, we’ve been encouraged to push things further. When you’re writing a show where the main gimmick is thoughts, if you censor yourself, you might as well forget about it. There was an episode where Super Hans was addicted to crack, and he came off it by putting valium up his arse for the come down. Once you’ve written that, you feel like you can get away with anything.


4 | Always strive for better
There are obviously episodes that we’re more proud of than others (my favourite is probably Mark’s wedding – episode 6, series 4), but I wouldn’t say we’ve written the perfect episode. If we thought we had, then we’d probably have to stop. The thing about a sitcom is that in many ways you’re rewriting the same episode every time. Giving it another go and trying to make it perfect.

5 | Finish it properly
Part of the reason for making this the last series is that we were desperate to go out on a high. We wanted to design an ending that would leave people wanting more, and wouldn’t have them thinking we’d dropped off into mediocrity. We haven’t changed things too much this series – we still have Mark, Jez, Dobby, Super Hans, Johnson. None of the characters “win” really – if they did, it would be quite unfunny. Without giving away too much, no one gets an OBE and no one lives happily ever after. It doesn’t end like the first Star Wars, with a mass medal-giving ceremony.

6 | Consider your legacy
I like to think we’ve created hours and hours of human suffering. That would be our gift to the world – two men having their faces repeatedly smashed into brick walls. And hopefully, we’ve given the British viewing public a healthy shot of schadenfreude, so we can all enjoy our pathetic lives knowing they’re not as pathetic as Mark and Jeremy’s.

Peep Show's final season airs on Channel 4 from 11 November

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