She can do no wrong: BAFTA-winning actress Olivia Colman instantly elevates every one of her projects to ‘must watch’ status. With the complete series of the very-bonkers but very touching Flowers available now on demand, we look back at ten times Olivia Colman was indisputably the best thing on telly.
As the matriarch of the Flowers family – a collection of crackpot individuals who would have been rejected as Wes Anderson characters for being ‘too quirky’ – Colman brought a quiet dignity to a woman who was nonetheless slowly unravelling inside. With her husband an increasingly reclusive figure and her kids too self-absorbed to notice her, Ma Flowers couldn’t be blamed for lusting after other men – but her cringeworthy flirtation with the neighbouring builders makes the toes curl. For a show that never settles on comedy or drama, Colman walks the line with perfect balance.
Much like the mustard that bears her name, Colman is best used sparingly. As the stepmother to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s titular loafer, Colman is a picture of composed malcontent: there’s so much simmering beneath her smile. Even though she only appears briefly in four episodes, she’s perfectly grotesque creation, which – no offence to writer Waller-Bridge – was likely not on paper: it’s all down to Colman. The awkwardness with which she discusses sex with Fleabag is exquisite; other actors should watch and learn how to spin a mere cameo into televisual gold.
The Night Manager
Although she got her start in comedy roles, Olivia Colman has proven herself to be an esteemed and talented dramatic actress. As hard-nosed intelligence operative Angela Burr, Colman gives the performance of her live as she entwines star Tom Hiddleston’s humble hotel manager into the deadly world of espionage. If you were thinking a role in a John Le Carrédrama might be a bit of a stretch for Colman, you’d be wrong: she’s terrific as a woman who has to keep her calm at all costs. In fact, she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance.
It’s impossible to discuss Olivia Colman’s contribution to ITV murder mystery Broadchurch without divulging a few key details, so avert your eyes if you’ve yet to become acquainted with its seaside charms. Colman plays Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, who along with David Tennant’s fellow officer Hardy, investigates the murder of a young boy in the fictional town of the title. Her flair for intense emotional acting was brought to the fore, however, upon the reveal that the murderer was her husband all along: Colman absolutely nails two vital scenes, first when she’s informed of the killer, and second when she finally confronts him. Watch this woman in action and tell us she didn’t earn that Best Actress Bafta.
As Sophie, object of Mark Corrigan’s affection, Colman ran the full spectrum: from out-of-reach office crush to reluctant to girlfriend to spurned wife to bitter ex to passive aggressive mother to his child. Sophie once was everything normal that Mark needed in his life, but thanks to a jilting at the altar – and office halfwit Jeff leading her astray – she eventually grew to hate Mark’s cowardly guts. Having given birth to Mark’s baby and spitefully named it ‘Ian’, Sophie hit the bottle; she was last seen being shamefully buried in a ball-pit in a soft play centre. R.I.B. Sophie.
If you thought history was boring, history after a few bottles of wine and a couple of Aperol Spritzes makes it much more tolerable. That’s the concept of this ace Comedy Central show, which sees comedians neck as much booze as possible before retelling famous stories of history, acted out by famous actors. As a sozzled Josie Long narrated the story of infamous American quack Dr Harvey Crippen, Olivia Colman played his lover Ethel Le Neve, who had to disguise herself as a boy when the pair went on the run. Something about her disarming smile and toothy grin makes her the perfect candidate for a murderer’s mistress.
Nestling in between the giant egos tasked with bringing order to the chaos that was the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was Olivia Colman’s wallflower Sally Owen, personal assistant to Hugh Bonneville’s Head of Deliverance and most downtrodden doormat in the office. Most unhelpful is the fact that the Deliverance teams are all idiots, but particularly problematic is the fact that Sally is in love with her boss, and Olivia Colman plays it sweet and subtle, her ‘deer in the headlights’ act falling just the right side of simpering. We never find out if her feelings are reciprocated, but it doesn’t matter – her work is done and her mission is completed. It’s as Ian says: “She’s basically running the Olympics”.
Any British comedic actor worth his or her salt between 2004-2006 appeared in some capacity in Green Wing, the madcap medical comedy that felt like it had overdosed on methadone. Colman played HR staffer Harriet, who along with her colleagues, never really seemed to do much work. An overworked mother of four who is stuck in a romantic rut with her long-suffering husband, Harriet eventually goes all in on an affair with Paterson Jospeh’s doctor Lyndon, giggling as he man-handles her (“I nearly weed!”). Most exciting, however, is the fact that this dalliance saw Peep Show titans Sophie and Johnson come together in an unholy alliance. What would Mark say?
Look Around You
Robert Popper’s Tomorrow’s World parody was a goldmine for early 00s comedy, and Colman played one of the pseudo-science show’s hosts, Pam Bachelor. Permanently decked out in a most unflattering BHS jump-suit and with bouffant hair that’s never seen a straightener, Pam was one of four hosts who introduced amazing new inventions to the general public, like the Memory Helmet (which allows users to memorise large lists instantly, albeit with the side effect of lowering their voice several octaves) and the Petticoat 5, the computer for women (“You can see here, the space bar is an emery board”). Shows don’t come much sillier and Colman was always game for a laugh.
In one of those ‘Oh, I didn’t know she was in this’ cameo roles, Colman had a small part in The Office as Helena the reporter from Inside Paper, doomed to write up a puff piece on David Brent. Remaining professional to the last, she consistently rebuffed Brent’s efforts to annotate his own interview (“Put ‘David Brent is refreshingly laid back for a man with such responsibility’…”). Her highlight, however, is the excruciating wait she suffers between taking photos of Brent, who is wearing exactly the expression you’d expect from a man who’s just been told he’s been let go: “One more for safety,” she says, frantically waiting for the camera to reload or the sweet release of death, whichever comes first.
The final series of Peep Show is almost upon us, with the final miserable misadventures of the El Dude Brothers’ set to begin on 11 November, 2015.
Episode 1 will air at 10pm, and has the following synopsis (as per the British Comedy Guide):
‘Last time we saw Mark and Jeremy they had just been mildly electrocuted in a field, abandoned by Dobby despite their declarations of love.
It looked like the end of the El Dude Brothers. But now time has passed, and while Jez has some rather constrictive new living quarters, and Mark has a new flatmate and has landed a bank job, it seems that the wounds have not yet healed. Jeremy is reluctant to apologise, at least until the time is right. Mark on the other hand – content thanks to Napoleon’s correspondence – is determined not to show any emotional scars.
The pair have to put their differences aside however in order to celebrate with a newly clean and healthy Super Hans. But despite his best efforts a good detox can only last so long. When Jeremy goes cap in hand to ask for a loan it appears Mark might have his chance for revenge…’
Filming on the six final episodes wrapped in September, with David Mitchell admitting it got a bit “emotional”.
Olivia Colman is set to return as Sophie, while Matt King will also be back as Super Hans.
Don’t expect a happy ending for the ne’er-do-wells though.
“They will be in horrible pain as usual,” Webb previously told the Daily Mirror of Jez and Mark’s fate. “They will not win the lottery, they will not have a happy ending.”
Birthdays are a bit awkward on Peep Show. One of the sitcom’s finest episodes was in series four, when Mark (David Mitchell) and girlfriend Sophie (Olivia Colman) stayed with her parents to celebrate her birthday. As always, it didn’t go as per Mark’s plan. He suddenly decided to propose when he saw her inheritance, but let his future father-in-law overhear him admitting he didn’t love her. There was some unsavoury business involving guns, dead animals and arson. Jez (Robert Webb) slept with Sophie’s mother. The final humiliation was a weird birthday ritual involving a pointy hat and the whole family singing Happy Birthday by Altered Images, while Mark half-heartedly joined in, clutching a glass of Liebfraumilch like his life depended on it. Which, with all those guns around, it might well have done.
Still, we shouldn’t let past history put us off marking the show’s own milestones. So happy birthday, Peep Show. First broadcast on 19 September 2003, it turns the grand old age of 10 today. By stealth, Peep Show has become the longest-running sitcom in Channel 4 history. Indeed, it’s arguably the longest-running sitcom currently on British TV (unless you count Rab C Nesbitt, which returns only sporadically and took almost a decade off).
The secret of Peep Show’s longevity and consistently high quality is really rather simple: superb scripts delivered by a cracking cast. Writing team Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong cut their teeth on sketch show Smack The Pony before creating the dysfunctional flatmate comedy, partly based on their own experience especially Bain’s. He once apprehended a burglar by sitting on him, as Mark does in series five (“I’m wrestling with the white working class! Morse never did this! I’m better than Morse!”).
The show doesn’t rely on catchphrases or pratfalls for laughs but is completely character-driven and the duo’s dialogue is sharp as a tack (“If text kisses were real kisses, the world would be an orgy”). Bain and Armstrong since turned their talents to coruscating political comedy The Thick Of It, its spin-offs In The Loop and Veep, student-com Fresh Meat, ecclesiastical sitcom Rev, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and jihad satire Four Lions.
They found the perfect people to bring their creations to life in Footlights alumni Mitchell and Webb, who provide additional gags. As uptight history buff Mark Corrigan and workshy wannabe musician Jeremy “Jez” Usborne (together, the tragically self-styled “El Dude brothers”), the pair became so synonymous with their characters that they starred in a series of Apple computer ads, with Mitchell representing the “square” PC and Webb as the “creative” Mac.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Colman has gone onto become one of our most-loved, best-regarded TV actresses. Paterson Joseph (who plays smarmy boss Alan Johnson), Matt King (hedonistic cult hero Super Hans) and Isy Suttie (geeky love interest Dobby) are all gifted enough to carry their own star vehicles. The show has even been graced by minor royalty in Sophie Winkleman, who’s now married to Freddie Windsor but played Jez’s ex Big Suze for five series.
Peep Show’s working title was “POV”, in reference to its unconventional filming style. The cringe-inducing events of Mark and Jez’s lives are seen predominantly from their own points of view, with their unedifying thoughts audible as voiceovers – techniques which film buffs Bain and Armstrong borrowed from Being John Malkovich and Annie Hall. Although these stylistic quirks mark Peep Show out as unique on TV, Armstrong and Bain believe the POV method prevents it from having true mass appeal. Ratings have never topped 2m, although the show has a strong afterlife on DVD, each series shifting around 400,000 copies.
However, fans like it that way – a cult gem rather than a mainstream hit, yet arguably the best Brit-com of the past decade. It’s pulled off the rare trick of getting stronger with each series, en route winning two Baftas and a Rose D’Or. Ricky Gervais, who knows a thing or two about comedy, has hailed Peep Show as “the best sitcom since Father Ted”.
Writing and shooting each run of six episodes takes nine months. With Peep Show’s creators and stars in huge demand, that’s becoming increasingly tricky to squeeze into their schedules. However, rest assured that a ninth series is in the pipeline.
“I’m amazed and grateful the programme’s lasted this long,” said Armstrong recently. “Provided we can find new humiliating things – be it physically, emotionally or relationship-wise – to subject the characters to, then we’ll do it.” There’s even been mention of a possible movie spin-off. That really would make them better than Morse.