Why women don’t need an all-female Peep Show

An American, gender-swapped Peep Show remake is officially in the works. But what women need is new stories, not bastardised versions of their beloved ones. 

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The cult Channel 4 series Peep Show is likely one of the most meme-d television series of all time. Over the course of nine series, Peep Show was beloved for the relatability of its two protagonists Jeremy and Mark – both decidedly average, self-sabotaging, middle-class white men with consistently tragic lives. Part of what made the show so interesting was their snide inner monologues, giving us a “peep show” inside their brains, contrasting what they were saying out loud with what they were really thinking.

Over the weekend, news broke that there a Peep Show remake is currently in the works. Created by FX, the new version is aimed at an American audience and will feature American actors. Its two protagonists are female: two best friends living on the outskirts of a major city, whose internal monologues we’ll doubtlessly witness. Sam Bain, one of the original creators of Peep Show, is supporting the new series. It will be written by Karey Dornetto, of Arrested DevelopmentCommunity, and Portlandia fame. And despite everything it has going for it, it is, in fact, a terrible idea.

"People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can't trust people, Jeremy."

Many of the publications that reported on the story highlighted that this is not the first, or the second, or even the third time that they’ve attempted to make an American Peep Show. No, it’s the fourth attempt at a US remake – something you think would raise enough alarm bells for television executives wondering why this hasn’t worked out before. What has likely prevented it from coming to be for so long is what has kept so many British television series from taking off in America: namely, that British humour often fails to translate for American viewers.

There is of course an enormous exception to that rule: The Office, arguably even better in its US form than its Ricky Gervais original (don’t @ me). But most other attempts to an American remake have been unsuccessful – and have often been so embarrasingly bad that they never made it out of production. There was the infamously dreadful Inbetweeners remake, which directly copied the script. It fell flat with cringey phrases like “wankers” and “shags” that were painful to hear from American teenaged mouths. There was also an attempt at a US version of the IT Crowd, which inexplicably kept Richard Ayoade in his role as Moss alongside Community’s Joel McHale. For the most part, the message is clear: British television shows struggle to translate across the Atlantic. It’s likely that Peep Show will be no different.

Yet while the American factor is a problem, it's not the biggest issue at hand – with better writers (ie Dornetto) and with one of the actual creators on board (Bain) it has a far better shot than other attempts at Americanisation. No, the biggest problem is not the fact that they're trying to make Peep Show American. The biggest problem is attempting to remake Peep Show with women.

The problem is not in having two female protagonists – in fact, it’s a refreshing trend we’re seeing in modern media. Whether it’s Broad City, Killing Eve, or Tuca and Bertie, double-female lead programmes have often made for near-flawless stories and insanely high viewer numbers, giving women the plotlines they've been craving to see for, essentially, ever. The difference between these brilliant stories and an all-female Peep Show remake is that shows like Broad City are new and written originally for female characters – not a deeply male show shoe-horned into female bodies.

This is something we’ve been seeing a lot lately – from the all-female Ghostbusters to Oceans 8. You can see why it happens: an all-female remake feels like a feminist move in an attempt to reclaim plotlines glorified for their all-male cast. However, the results of these reboots tend to have the opposite effect; instead of getting “girl power” and empowering stories, viewers get jokes and plotlines crafted for men, funnelled by a marketing department through female actors. Even good actors can’t save these reboots from their ultimate fate, as Peter Bradshaw wrote for the Guardian earlier this month about the all-female reboot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. When the writing is bad, as it so often is in reboots, the actors are often those ultimately blamed for the remake’s failing. 

What women need is entirely original, new stories of their own. The relatability and comedy of Mark and Jeremy is in large part due to them being male. They are white, they are middle-class, and they have everything possibly going for them, so when things go so consistently wrong, it’s easy to see the tragedy of their lives as funny and not oppressing. Watching things go just as wrong for a marginalised group – ie women, especially if either of the women aren’t cisgendered, straight, white, or able-bodied – will struggle to have the same level of knowing poignancy that Peep Show pulled off. And what will inevitably come with that failure to match the original series’ will be an onslaught of veiled misogyny, predicated on the idea that female leads will always fail to be as good as male ones.

In the final ever scene of the series, Jeremy and Mark are sitting in their living room after a disastrous party where both men alienated and lost their romantic partners and friends. In the last moments of the two minute clip, there’s a line that we can only hope that the Peep Show writers can remember – and remember why they put it in.

Jeremy turns to Mark and says “If I was going to kill you, I’d have a great sign-off.”

“Yeah?” Mark replies.

“You always loved history, Mark, well now you can be part of it. Bang.”

Write female leads into their own original stories. And leave Peep Show to be as it is – an unscathed part of TV history.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.