Peep Show may be well and truly over, but the Mitchell and Webb partnership lives on.
The duo’s new show — a entertainingly awkward comedy called Back about a dysfunctional extended family — kicks off on Channel 4 on Wednesday night.
Mashable previewed the first two episodes and spoke to David Mitchell and Robert Webb at a roundtable event in London to get the lowdown.
What’s the show actually about?
Mitchell plays Stephen Nicholls, a mildly pathetic pub owner struggling to manage the family business in the aftermath of his dad’s death. Webb is his long-lost, smirking foster brother Andrew — a man who says he spent five months living with Stephen’s family as a child, and who now wants to return home to claim his own stake in the pub.
Stephen is inevitably suspicious of Andrew, but everyone else is inevitably charmed — and the stage is set for a typically awkward showdown as the two tussle for control.
So is it any good?
By the time Peep Show finished it had been running for nine series. The cringy situations and the POV style were canon. It was difficult to remember a time when the show wasn’t hilarious.
The thing is, getting used to a new comedy takes a while. You need to warm into it. When I started watching Back, I found it hard at first to separate Mitchell and Webb’s characters from their Peep Show counterparts. Stephen’s repeat failures and Andrew’s constant blagging have undeniable echoes of Mark and Jeremy, as do the awkward situations (taking a selfie while trying to break into someone’s phone; having to endure an older relative accidentally blasting porn through some speakers) that the characters find themselves in.
This isn’t necessarily a weakness, though. Creator Simon Blackwell has done an impressive job of making Mitchell and Webb’s characters original, while still tapping into the attributes that made Peep Show so popular.
“We wanted it to be distinct from Peep Show“
“We wanted it to be distinct from Peep Show,” said Mitchell. “At the same time that’s not the main aim.
“Simon tried to construct characters that were different from Mark and Jeremy, but not looking like they were there to be different from Mark and Jeremy.”
In this sense, they’ve succeeded. Mitchell’s character is like a middle-aged, even more downtrodden Mark Corrigan, while Webb’s Andrew is a slicker and more consciously manipulative Jeremy.
“I think Mark is a nastier, stronger person than Stephen,” Mitchell added. “Stephen’s really a defeated figure, but they both express themselves forcefully sometimes.”
Webb went on to explain that there’s only so much change an audience will accept after they’ve watched you playing one character for 12 years — but he still stressed that Andrew and Jeremy have their differences.
“Andrew is cleverer than Jeremy,” he said. “Jeremy is a terrible liar, and Andrew is a brilliant liar, and he’s just so much more in control. You see him drinking but he will never be drunk, and he will never laugh unless he’s decided to laugh.
“He is a really interesting character like that. And it could be that he’s just this very needy guy that just wants everyone to love him, or it could be that he has this implacable streak of malice and he’s here to destroy Stephen.”
As was the case with Peep Show, it’s the dynamic between Mitchell and Webb’s characters that lies at the heart of the show. By the end of episode two of Back this dynamic was already getting more and more entertaining; we’ll have to see how the series progresses to tell whether it’s set to reach Peep Show heights.
Back premieres at 10pm on Wednesday on Channel 4. There will be six episodes in the first series.