I regret to inform you that the Americans are at it again. After rebooting and ruining a slew of beloved British TV shows (I am still traumatised by the way they mangled Skins and The Inbetweeners), they have decided to remake Peep Show. Sam Bain, co-creator of the original Bafta-wining sitcom, broke the news in a recent article he wrote for the Guardian, revealing that the new version will be developed by Portlandia writer Karey Dornetto for the FX network.
This, by the way, isn’t the first attempt at adapting Peep Show for a stateside audience – it’s the fourth. Fox made a (highly embarrassing) pilot in 2005; Spike TV gave it a shot in 2008; Starz tried in 2016. Somehow, the British nihilism always seems to get lost in translation and the remake falls apart. To be fair, however, there is something very different about this latest effort: the leads will be women. “I can’t wait to find out what sick and twisted bullshit goes on inside the minds of a pair of female losers,” Bain enthused in his piece, which was about the importance of diversity in comedy.
Look, I’m all for having more female losers on TV: it is important to see yourself represented on screen. However, I do not understand the need for a US gender-swapped Peep Show. Americans, for all their faults, are perfectly capable of writing original shows with funny, dysfunctional female leads – just look at Broad City. What made that so good was the same thing that made Peep Show good: the comedic chemistry between the two leads. That sort of chemistry is incredibly hard to replicate.
From Ghostbusters to Doctor Who to Ocean’s 8, gender-flipped remakes are all the rage at the moment. Sometimes, as with Doctor Who, gender-swapping is a really effective way of challenging stereotypes and shaking up male-dominated franchises. Sometimes, however, it feels patronising and gimmicky. In the case of Peep Show, which will be unfamiliar to most Americans, it just seems unnecessary. It certainly does not seem like the victory for diversity that Bain is positioning it as. After all, you do not get more diverse television by gender-flipping old scripts: you get it by giving new opportunities to a greater range of people. You get it by letting talented women such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Desiree Akhavan, Issa Rae, and Michaela Coel develop their own stories. While there is still a long way to go before TV is truly diverse, there has been an encouraging increase in new voices and nontraditional female roles on the small screen. In a world where there are shows such as Fleabag, Killing Eve and The Bisexual, creating a Peep Show starring a Jezzica and Markgret feels a little retrograde.
But it is early days yet and there is every chance I will be proved wrong and the Peep Show reboot will be brilliant. I hope that turns out to be case; I hope this article haunts me for ever. For now, I would just like to say it all sounds like a very bad idea. And, not to be dramatic or anything, if they cast Amy Schumer as Jez, I’m going to shoot myself.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist