"Are you a pathetic, worthless punk?"
If the answer is "yes", then you're probably single. If you're reading this, I'd imagine you watch a lot of Peep Show. Chances are you've either got references to the sitcom on your dating app profile, or you've used them to break the ice after matching with someone. My own bio, for example, is the above Johnson quote, plus a rainbow flag so people know I'm queer – because, really, the only people I want to rule out are normies who've never seen the show, and homophobes.
Though it began over 15 years ago, Peep Show is still the only show to reveal dating life in British cities in all its awkwardness and banality, set to a soundtrack of every dark intrusive thought you've ever had. In the meme age, relishing in your failures, sadness and embarrassment has become common online – and buddy, Peep Show is essentially one long prolonged murmur of "big mood".
It's not necessarily unique or special to say you like the defining sitcom of the decade. But to be really, really into Peep Show requires dedication. Throwing a niche reference (no "four naans" shit, please) into your profile implies that you're a member of that elite fandom circle. Unlike expressing your passion for "coffee" and "travel" on Tinder, saying you like Peep Show communicates an entire set of personality traits to your future beloved. It says, "My Mark side means I'm deeply repressed and sometimes wonder if it'd be easier to be locked in a secure compound, and the Jez part fantasises about threesomes, but if I ever actually have one I'll probably cry the whole way through."
Giles William, a graphic designer from Manchester, is the owner and meme-maker-in-chief of Dobby Club, a Peep Show fan page that’s reached 76,000 devoted fans on Facebook in two years.
"It's baffling how many times you can bring out the most arbitrary of quotes and it completely fits in with a current affair," he says. "We're in increasingly dystopian waters, so Peep Show fits in with that narrative. But it's strangely comforting at the same time."
Giles is currently exploring the possibility of expanding his hugely successful line of Peep Show quiz events (hosted by Big Mad Andy actor Liam Noble) – and Peep Show bingo nights – to include speed dating events for fans. He's also thinking about creating a Peep Show matchmaking service through the Dobby Club platform.
In some ways, for a television show that so expertly and explicitly explores what not to do in a relationship, it's weird that this sitcom should develop such a cult status for British singletons. There is no glamour or romance in the relationships of Peep Show, which, let's not forget, is the programme that introduced us to "Nazi Love", the grass skirt made of dicks and Super Hans' wedding vows: "I'd put a glass in the face of anyone who tried to stop us joining our souls together."
Perhaps it's the thoughts one has while watching Mark try to navigate literally any romantic scenario – 'I'm bad at dating, but at least I'm not that bad' – that really hooks in devoted single fans of the show; there's something very "dating app-culture" in wanting to wallow in the tragedy of how shit it all is, as I have done at length for this very website.
Equally, Jeremy's shit attempts at free love also entirely capture modern disposable dating culture. His chances with Big Suze are regularly ruined by his desire to have something else sooner, whether that be a threesome, £530 or a shag with Mark's sister. Despite being a bit too old, he embodies the millennial model of always reaching for the opportunity right in front of him, instead of the long-game partner-and-kids path that Mark so clearly craves. Jeremy's actions being relatable doesn’t make them right, of course, but it is comforting to see someone on TV who fucks up everything, regularly, in the name of "humping".
Just occasionally, that inner dialogue of sexual frustration can resonate in a positive way, too. After coming out as bisexual last year, I found Peep Show to be one of the few TV programmes that actually presented the discovery of a fluid sexuality in a way that wasn’t linked to being a murderer, or a twee coming-of-age storyline.
Though Jeremy’s sexuality is never explicitly stated, he sleeps with both men and women, and goes through the same existential crisis many bi people have as he addresses his feelings for season nine's Joe: “Do I love Joe? Do I love Megan? Do I love this guy sitting next to me? Am I a guy who just slept with a guy, which is fine, or am I a guy who is a gay guy, which is also fine, or am I a guy who sometimes sleeps with guys and sometimes doesn’t, which is also fine? It’s all totally fine.”
For people on the queer spectrum who don't understand their place on it, hearing the "what am I?" stream of consciousness in an unglamorous sitcom is somehow a lot more validating than it would be in a glorious LGBT arthouse movie. Though less of a "24/7 blowjob bonanza", Mark's bisexual moment, questioning his love for Johnson, is one of genderqueer Peep Show fan Danny Cash’s favourite moments from the programme.
"I identify with Mark on that – feeling really scared, and not knowing if it was OK to be bisexual. Even as a grown man, Mark is still questioning his sexuality," says Danny. "Sexual insecurity in adult men, about other men, can still be a thing. People often talk about confused queer teenagers experimenting, but Mark is doing that as an adult. Johnson’s reaction also shows the gay panic that a lot of men experience."
Mark and Jeremy never get their happy romantic endings. Even when things are almost going well, they're weighed down by the grey monotony of boxsets, fish pie and missionary sex, or getting so tired from constantly fucking and partying that drinking piss for extra vitamins seems like a legitimate lifestyle option. But that's refreshing: not every programme needs a climactic scene of one character rushing to stop another from taking their fight out of town. And for a generation that's learnt to expect little from relationships, there’s a lot to be said for a show that puts the awkward side of dating up for inspection. Peep Show is both about wanting to be loved for the freak you are, and accepting that that might never happen.
So if your ideal first date is "just us, a pile of Chinese food and a couple of fuck off spreadsheets", please slide into my DMs.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.