An Undeniably Great Episode of British Comedy – Peep Show: Threeism

Everybody’s got their own idea of the greatest Peep Show episode, whether it’s Mark’s Wedding, University Challenge, Quantocking, Jeremy Makes It, The William Morris Years or ‘the one where Jeremy eats the dog.’ You could make an excellent case for giving any of these the title of the greatest Peep Show episode, but there’s one in particular that has a special place in my heart and it involves eye shadow, yes, it’s Threeism.

The episode sees Mark finally track down April, the girl from the shoe shop, with whom he fell hopelessly in love with way back in series 2, whilst she fitted him for some new shoes (“Could get brown brogues? Best stick to black, don’t want to go completely mental.”). He plans to ‘steal her’ from her husband by inviting her to a dinner party that he’s hastily hosting, which, by no coincidence will only be attended by himself and April. Meanwhile, Jez has ended up in the ridiculous situation of dating both Megan, a woman who he’s supposed to be ‘life coaching’ and her boyfriend, Joe, or playing ‘genital Jenga’ as he so ‘chivalrously’ describes it.

After many series spent on Mark’s relationships with both Sophie and Dobby, it was interesting that series 9 threw the ultimate curve ball in bringing back April – a one-off love interest of Mark’s from the episode, University Challenge. As surprising as her return was, revisiting the episode you can definitely see that the pair had wonderful chemistry, even to the point that it was a bit heart-breaking when he walked away. Mark thinks, “This is OK. This is just a moment that will haunt me forever.” as April unknowingly disappears from his life.

But now April’s back! Mark’s finally found ‘the one’ again, so what could possibly go wrong? Everything naturally. She’s now a successful author and is also married, which presents a huge problem for Mark. Unperturbed by this setback he comes up with the useless dinner party plan to win her affections. As preparations for the dinner continue, things become more and more surreal, in what surely must be British Comedy’s greatest modern farce since The IT Crowd’s, The Work Outing.

Peep Show has always been masterful at presenting fairly normal situations that quickly crescendo into a cacophony of weirdness. As with all classic sitcom episodes the script and the actors are working in perfect harmony here; it’s no surprise as Peep Show writers, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have been working with David Mitchell and Robert Webb for many years. They know how to write for them, and it’s clear that only Mitchell & Webb could have pulled off a script like this. In less capable hands this episode wouldn’t have worked. But somehow everything from Jez convincing Mark to allow him to write ‘Love you’ on his eye lids (in a somewhat obscure call back to a scene in Indiana Jones) to Mark moulding some dairylea cheese with his bare hands before flecking it with a biro in order to create a ‘tasty young stilton’ just lands perfectly.

The dinner party plan turns into a complete nightmare for Mark when April calls him to say she’s bringing along her husband, Angus, played by Angus Wright (he’s Angus through and through). Even by Peep Show standards he is a bizarre character, when it’s revealed he cheated on April he tells Mark: ‘As Penance I went to live with the monks on Mount Athos for three months.’ April chimes in: ‘Apparently he lived on dry bread and goat’s milk, but when I picked him up I found a lot of Nutella jars in his recycling.’.

Jeremy’s attempt to look intelligent up against Angus was another highlight in an episode almost entirely composed of highlights: ‘Did Jesus have a cat? If you don’t know just say.’

Probably the best scene in the whole episode is Mark contemplating an entire evening where he won’t allow himself to blink due to the love message on his eyelids Jez had scrawled on earlier using a permanent marker, although, when his back is turned, he does manage to snatch a few blinks.

‘Ahhh, lovely, lovely blink. Enjoy it. Last one of the night.’

There’s an utter delight in watching this scene – Mark standing there, eyes wide open offering a glass of Rum, water, lettuce, vinegar and salt; taking a sip himself and then fighting back the desperate urge to blink!

Of course, Mark only made enough food for two people for his dinner party façade, so confronted with entertaining April’s husband he panics and makes ‘Moroccan Pasta!’ A dish you can make for yourself with old eggs, lettuce, baked beans, bread and fresh pasta. No seriously, there have been a few fan reworks of this recipe over the years, not least this amazing one by Youtuber Babish:

And this one from illustrator, Daniel Nash, who created these incredible Bake-off inspired drawings of Mark’s dinner party menu. ‘Look who’s won the lettuce lottery!’

The amount of fan art and general outpouring of love for this episode is almost unmatched. Although ‘four naans’ does give it a run for its money. You could spend all day quoting lines from this episode and you’d almost comprise the entire script – it’s that good, and could only really be called an ‘Undeniably Great Episode of Comedy’. Pour yourself a glass of Ribena, settle down to some scribbled cheddar and enjoy.

Thanks for reading and if you fancy reading some more comedy-themed ramblings, then why not check out my Comedy Blog:

Upstart Crow Facts – Series 2 Episode 4: Food of Love

A very affectionate look at Upstart Crow by @Chasqui Penguin

Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles our aim is to give a little more background to those and the Upstart Crow storyline surrounding it, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms, and the characters involved.

Series 2

Episode 4 – Food of Love

The title of this episode is from the opening line of Twelfth Night and is part of a quote by Orsino, Duke of Illyria:

If music be the food of love, play on…

However, there is little else of Twelfth Night in this episode as Food of Love revolves around musician Thomas Morley and Will’s alleged invention of musicals, based on an early Shakespeare play The Comedy of Errors – his shortest and most farcical – the first recorded performance of which was on 28th December 1594, in London’s Gray’s Inn Hall and was part of the Christmas festivities.

The episode begins in Stratford when Will is visiting the family and learns that Susanna is a fan of Thomas Morley and loves the popular madrigals he writes. However, her father does not rate him highly! Whether all this is likely is open to speculation but it works within this storyline.

Back in London, Will reveals that on the coach he has written the first draft of another historical play Edward II but it needs much work. Kit, sitting across the table from him, has the answer to save him extra work: “Give the play to me. I’ll just chuck it on as is. I’m not proud.”However, Will refuses as he wants the credit for his own writing. In reality, this play was not written by William Shakespeare but by Christopher Marlowe who, with the near-perfection of his playwriting, probably agonised over each word of the blank verse, going over and over it and making amendments. It is a somewhat controversial drama which debuted, probably in 1592 at The Theatre, with Richard Burbage playing Edward II. This was unusual as most of Marlowe’s plays were first staged at The Rose with Edward Alleyn in the lead male role.

Will has also been working on another much lighter play which he has entitled A Comedy of Mistakes, Misunderstandings and Coincidences and which Kate feels is contrived. The story revolves around twins who share the same name, as do their twin servants. Each twin is separated from his brother at birth, but they all meet up later in life and are mistaken for each other by their respective girlfriends. Kate is of the opinion that a new form of theatre is needed, one which “appeals directly to the senses, the emotions, the soul”, but Will is stuck as he feels no such new form exists.

To cheer themselves up, Kate, Kit and Bottom start singing a Thomas Morley song, Now is the Month of Maying,then, as obvious fans, they list a few more of his well-known madrigals:

April is in My Mistress’ Face

My Bonny Lass She Smileth

Flora, Wilt Thou Torment Me?

Initially annoyed by this interruption while he is writing, Will suddenly realises that he has found that new format – music.

At The Red Lion the actors are disapprovingly discussing Will’s violent Titus Andronicus, a play they are rehearsing. During this Will arrives and tells them his idea for musical theatre. Although Burbage and Condell are excited by this, Kempe is less than enthusiastic. Will explains that initially he considered new songs being written but then came up with another idea and, with Burbage almost reading Will’s mind, the “greatest hits musical” is born using the madrigals of Thomas Morley, the most famous songwriter of the age. Of course, musicals as we know them today do not date back to Shakespeare or his era but evolved over later centuries. However, it seems very likely that music was featured in some of his plays, including compositions by Thomas Morley.

Will and Burbage visit Thomas Morley at his home to explain this new art form to him and offer him the chance to make his madrigals part of it. The musician turns out to be much like a stereotypical 20th/21st century rock star, with a London accent as opposed to his native Norfolk, and probably as far removed from the historical Thomas Morley as comedy could get! To Will’s dismay, they find he is not keen on the deal unless the musical focuses on him. Will had not envisaged writing the script around the celebrity but, after persuasion from Burbage, he concedes. Thomas Morley, “a one-man hit factory”, to use his own description of himself, then agrees to the venture as he will be the main character after whom their musical Norwich Boy will be named, at his suggestion. The real Thomas Morley was a composer of religious music, choirmaster and church organist at both Norwich Cathedral, in his home town, and St Paul’s in London. However, he also wrote over 50 songs/madrigals which were very popular during his lifetime, many still performed today, and in 1597 his book A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke was published.

The title page of Thomas Morley’s book
A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke

Back at his lodgings, Will is outlining the story of the musical, based on the latest comedy he is writing. This follows The Comedy of Errors we know today, whereby twins, both called Antipholus, and their twin servants, both called Dromio, all originally from Syracuse, were separated at birth following a shipwreck. One of each set of twins is believed to have drowned but years later the surviving brothers go in search of them. Happily, they did survive, having been rescued, taken to Ephesus and brought up in the court of its duke, Solinus, and the four young men are reunited. The play’s comedy centres on puns, slapstick and mistaken identities, revolving around both sets of identical twins. Will’s plan is to give Thomas Morley a twin brother called Tommy and for the musical to mirror his play, with the addition of a number of Morley’s madrigals which will already be known to the audience. Kate is keen for him to include a line he wrote which would be apt in this production: If music be the food of love… and Will takes up reciting it:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour!…

Both Kate and Bottom think he should leave it at the first line, Bottom even telling Will that he ruins so much by going on and on! In actual fact, Shakespeare used this speech in Twelfth Night, written circa 1601 and first performed at the Middle Temple, one of London’s Inns of Court (the four law schools), on 2nd February 1602.

Meanwhile, news of the musical has reached the ears of Robert Greene, who is against such a form of entertainment with the potential to make Will successful. He meets with fellow writers Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nashe and Edmund Spenser to try to thwart Will’s theatrical plan. It is almost certain that Greene would have known his guests but they would have been younger than depicted in this episode, having been born in 1558, 1567 and 1552 respectively.

Rehearsals for Norwich Boy go well,with Thomas Morley providing keyboard accompaniment. The very successful first night of the musical at The Red Lion ensues, and there is every likelihood that it will run for a very long time. Will and friends adjourn to Lucy’s tavern to celebrate. However, there is a fly in the ointment in the shape of Robert Greene who arrives with the news that their first night will also be their last as the musical has been cancelled. He then explains that it is not the type of production to be associated with a gentleman, before quickly quashing Will’s impression that he, the writer of the musical, falls into the category of a gentleman. At this point Thomas Morley walks in and announces that he’s “pulling the gig” and they can’t use his songs. This is surprising considering his enthusiasm at the first performance earlier that evening. Greene then reintroduces him as “Sir Tommy”, recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his charity work, which the musician claims to have “done a lot of”. Morley is obviously proud of his new title, showing his approval by saying, “Very nice, very tasteful, loving that”. Keen comedy fans may recall this as a slight variation on an oft-repeated statement by Ronnie (also a musician) in Ben Elton’s sitcom Blessed.

There is no record of the real Thomas Morley having ever been knighted. In his era, this accolade was not extended to the arts world. Had it been, we would no doubt be referring to Sir William Shakespeare, especially as his plays were very popular with both Queen Elizabeth I and her successor King James I.

Accepting that his musical is at an end after one night, Will suggests to Burbage that the acting company puts on his Comedy of Mistakes, Misunderstandings and Coincidences as a play instead. Burbage is in agreement, in the absence of any other offers, and succinctly describes the humorous drama as a comedy of errors. Will is impressed with this and decides to call it A Comedy of Mistakes, Misunderstandings, Coincidences and Errors. As we know, however, it is actually entitled The Comedy of Errors.

Back home in Stratford, Will has brought a present for Susanna – a shirt given to him by Thomas Morley who has autographed it. Instead of being delighted, Susanna is unimpressed, revealing that she is no longer a Thomas Morley fan because “He sold out…He did a musical”!

Later, during their late-night chat, Anne tells Will that he is ahead of his time with the invention of musicals. While he didn’t actually invent musicals, it is true to say that with the various adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, performed on stages across the world, some have been musical versions, so his dramatic skills have inspired this addition to many of his famous works.

As a footnote: For a brief background on the life of Thomas Morley, you may like to check out my Facts List on him via this link:

The next Facts List will delve into the writing of The Taming of the Shrew and the apparent first use of the word “feisty”.

Twitter: @ChasquiPenguin