peepshowtvdinner.JPG
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

The Night-In: Fish and Chips with White Clam Chowder from Ivar's to be eaten in front of Channel 4's Peep Show

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Ivar's and Peep Show Find Joy in Vinegar

peepshowtvdinner.JPG
Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.

The Night-In: Fish and Chips with White Clam Chowder from Ivar's to be eaten in front of Channel 4's Peep Show (although us Americans will most likely be watching it on Hulu.)

The Restaurant: Although the story of Ivar's may be flush with folksy exaggerations and playful hoaxes, many locals already have a rough history of Seattle's prized fast-seafood franchise through sheer cultural osmosis. Folk singer Ivar Haglund opened a high-class restaurant alongside his aquarium that would act as a venue for fine dining and grueling clam-eating competitions alike. The aquarium shut down but the restaurants kept coming, propelled by quirky advertising and delicious chowder.

That clam chowder is a triumph among mass-produced soups, its creamy broth holding a judicious amount of potato chunks and bits of clam. As much as I wanted to focus on Ivar's Fish and Chips for this article, I've yet to leave an Ivar's of my own volition without at least a cup of soup.

Ivar's batter has a well-earned reputation for being minimalistic, but no less essential to the fried cod. While you can certainly do much worse than Ivar's Tartar Sauce, I had to stick with malt vinegar for that added edge. The healthy kick of a good vinegar can bring out a much more balanced, flavorful bite of fish than a thick glob of sauce.

The Entertainment: Unless you're really into reruns or shows that judge peoples' worth on how well they can sing, dance, or cook, a wave of crowd-pleasing season finales has left this month's pick of new shows pretty slim. Usually this would be the point where, I don't know, every single cliche-ridden blog in the world would tell you to go out enjoy the sunshine, but seeing as how Seattle weather treats seasons with about as much consideration as a junked-out deadbeat dad, this column will remain firmly TV-centric for any rainy Wednesday needs.

So, until what is sure to be a brain-meltingly awesome season finale to HBO's Game of Thrones, TV Dinner will look at a show criminally underappreciated in the US, despite being readily available to anyone with a solid broadband Internet connection: the BAFTA award-winning British sitcom Peep Show.

The encroaching dawn of streaming TV websites has allowed many amazing British shows to trickle into American geeks' collective unconscious: Cult hits like Spaced, Black Books and even the original UK version of The Office are now available to Americans who don't particularly want to drop unreasonable amounts of money on imported DVDs or region-free players--just so they can likely miss out on a lot of the shows' culturally specific humo(u)r. While I would fully recommend any one of those series, Peep Show is both the only show that's still producing new episodes and probably the one that suffers the least from any cultural barriers.

The show is centered around two former collegemates teetering dangerously into their 30s together in a London flat. Mark Corrigan and Jeremy "Jez" Usbourne serve as almost polar opposites, except for their near-cataclysmic ability to get in the most awkward situations imaginable. Mark is the intelligent yet highly neurotic bureaucrat whose impossibly high standards and crippling social anxiety seem to doom him to a constant underling status in both his professional and personal life. Jez is a thoroughly unambitious musician whose lack of any definite goals both damn him to living off a series of parasitic relationships and reward him with decidedly more social success and casual sex than his eager roommate.

If there's one thing you'll notice right off the bat, it's Peep Show's distinctive look reflecting its positively jarring moments of social awkwardness, accelerated by limiting the viewer mostly to the first-person perspective of Mark or Jez while piping in their innermost dialogues. If you find yourself wincing and having to look away from the socially unacceptible antics of Michael Scott on America's iteration of The Office, being front and center for the breathtakingly debasing antics of Mark and Jez will probably send you into a coma.

As you can imagine, cameras often get uncomfortably close to their subjects, giving viewers no room in the frame to distract them from the nuclear-grade embarrassment doled out to their protagonists in nearly every episode. A friend of mine still swears one scene had them on the brink of an anxiety attack, where series tightwad Mark is crammed into a supply closet with his office crush for a quick and dirty groping session that ends a little . . . prematurely. It's the kind of scene setting so perfectly claustrophobic and humiliating you'd think the premise would have been pummeled into the ground by one of America's numerous teen sex comedies by now, but Peep Show's tight focus really doesn't let any moment of soul-crushing agony go to waste, and the amount of sheer empathy it can dredge up is downright cinematic.

Even some of the show's more lighthearted, hilarious asides are pretty well coated in cynicism. Jez's perennial bandmate Super Hans provides some of the series' more entertaining subplots, including one of the most endearing, adorable crack addictions ever put on film. Episodes where the two go on vacation together usually add up to some of the show's most traumatic experiences, including the accidental killing of a random lady friend's dog, exacerbated by failed attempts to hide that fact by burning and eventually eating the corpse.

If this all sounds like the most miserable experience you could ever ask for in a half-hour television show, I'd say you're only half right. While Peep Show can be downright merciless in pushing you along elaborate chains of failure, the show has also given a lot of genuine, albeit fleeting moments of warmth in its first seven seasons on air. Marriage, divorce, childbirth, and death have all been filtered through Mark's outstandingly bleak outlook on life and Jez's decadent stream of consciousness, chipping away at their regular defense mechanisms and revealing truths about themselves that resonate much more intensely than if you hadn't just spent the past 20 or so minutes sitting right in the center of their own personal hell.

The Pairing: Although it might've been more appropriate to hit up a more obviously British-influenced eatery like Downtown's Elephant & Castle, Fremont's George & Dragon, or Roosevelt's Pies & Pints (what is it with these people and ampersands?), it seemed like the more authentically English the food got, the more preposterous it felt to take out of a pub.

While I could've packed up all the bangers, mash, and Branston Pickle my hot little hands would've allowed, I have a feeling it would've just felt like a meager plate of sausages, potatoes, and relish by the time I got it home.

Fish and chips just seemed to fit Peep Show perfectly: a conventionally British duo with an universal appeal. Ivar's flaky, delicious, unhealthy breading around a bland yet substantial chunk of fish and doused with a liberal amount of vinegar made for a perfect supplement to Mark and Jez's warm, if begrudging friendship in a world constantly out to shit on the both of them.

(If that pairing isn't literal enough for you, here's the two leads as failed vaudevillians Fish & Chip!)

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