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Is ‘Peep Show’ the next ‘Office’?

British sitcom could appeal to American auds

LONDON — The commended British sitcom “Peep Show” has already jetted from Britain to America — if only among the seat-screen choices on a Heathrow-to-LAX Virgin Atlantic flight. Passenger Robert B. Weide chose six episodes on a recommendation from Ricky Gervais.

“Loved it right away,” says Weide, the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” executive producer and principal director, and he sought the rights to remake it right away — well, after landing.

Whether “Peep” will follow “The Office” as a British invention in American perpetuity or whether it’ll just keep flying back to London … an answer remains a long way away.

Weide, now in New York directing the feature “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” plans to retain the “Peep Show” title, “assuming, of course, that it ever gets done and on the air.”

On the U.K.’s Channel 4, the yarn of two floundering thirtyish single men sharing a flat in Croydon, South London, will burrow into a fifth season after nearly getting ditched before its fourth. Its singular exploration of sexually frustrated maleness has squeezed by on light ratings, heavy DVD sales and bushels of critical praise.

“I rate it very highly,” says Andrew Billen, TV critic of the Times of London.

In so doing, Billen doesn’t dwell on the show’s notable gadget — its use of cameras strapped to actors’ heads to convey the story through the characters’ eyes (thus the title) — even if he does love the thought-bubble voiceovers that convey characters’ real thoughts. He talks more of Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain’s writing and the show’s “very good soap-opera side” that stirs raptness even during humor lulls.

“It’s cynicism played with a lot of charm,” he says, later adding, “It’s about losers, really.”

It somewhat suggests Laurel & Hardy, says Weide, a Marx Brothers aficionado; it features two guys hopeless but hopeful. “There’s something very human about it,” he says.

Ratings might’ve suffered from a general feminine sensibility of TV, Billen says, and from discomfort caused by such base male bubble thoughts as a fiance saying of his fiancee, “She must never know I don’t love her.”

That said, “I think the writers get it absolutely right,” Billen comments. “Men obsess on small things. Many men are completely distracted by sex and have no idea how to have a relationship at all.”

“It’s very cleverly written,” Weide adds. “My feeling about my attempt to do an American version is it’s utterly all about casting” — finding two leads to rival English actors David Mitchell and Robert Webb, a radio-and-TV comedy team of friends from Cambridge U.

Given well-greased Britain-to-America tracks, it would figure that somebody tried “Peep Show” before, and so Fox did in 2005, making a pilot but not more. Weide deems that “a lost opportunity,” and placement on the much-smaller Spike TV might help cull a cult aud. Spike announced its development deal in May.

“A lot of British comedy feels foreign rather than feeling universal,” he says. “I think you can put these guys in England, you can put them in New York, you can put them anywhere and the stories are the same.”

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