Mr. Corrigan or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Johnson

Another article from Ben Gallivan, and let’s hope we get a lot more. In hono(u)r of the eighth series of Peep Show which begins tonight, here’s Ben to accomplish something I never could: write about an applicable subject in a timely way. Take it away, Ben!

It all starts quite simply; customer tentatively awaits the decision on a loan under the withering eye of the bank manager. The desperate inner thoughts of said customer for all to hear, despite the role-play scenario in front of a dozen or so colleagues.

So, Mr Corrigan… We’ve examined your loan application and I just have one question for you. Are you a pathetic, worthless punk?

In a normal situation, this would make Mark Corrigan’s heart jump into his mouth but, of course, it’s all fakery. Instead, the endless barrage of insults directed at him leads him into some kind of homoerotic fantasy. The fact that he is called a “turkey fucker” almost sends him into an orgasmic state. This, ladies and gentlemen is the power of “The Johnson.”

Carefully introduced midway through the first series of Peep Show, Alan Johnson is every employee’s worst nightmare; with the possible exception of Mark Corrigan, the Radio 4 listening, weak-tea imbibing sub who graces each episode and manages to have as much of a love/hate relationship with the viewer as his partner in crime, Jeremy Osborne. Less than a minute into Johnson’s first appearance on screen, Corrigan has already declared his love for him and due to his snail-like attempt to climb the greasy pole of personal finance at JLB, the love only grows deeper.

“Mark Makes A Friend” is the fourth episode of the first series of Peep Show — screened back in 2003 and despite notching up almost ten years and 44 episodes since it still remains a milestone, due to Alan Johnson’s introduction. Despite only being a minor character (played by the excellent Patterson Joseph), any episode that has featured him since generally stands out above many others; no mean feat given the quality of the writing throughout.

The genius of Peep Show can mostly be attributed to the minor characters. Where would the show be now if it wasn’t for Jeremy’s part-time wife and nympho Nancy, or, of course, Super Hans, who is just one dimension away from a spin-off series of his own. Over the subsequent 7 series (an eighth begins tonight), Johnson / The Johnson / Alan weaves his way through many of the most important and funniest storylines that writers Jesse Artmstrong and Sam Bain have penned.

This episode however, is one of the finest –not simply for Johnson’s introduction, but also for the sub-plot involving “the bad thing.”

Mark’s relationship with Johnson moves pretty quickly. After being trumped for a lift home from the training day by his arch-nemesis Jeff, he finds himself relishing the opportunity of spending some alone time with his new hero in the obligatory BMW. The “worst thing to happen to anyone ever” suddenly turns into the best. So much so that returning home to realise that he is now friends with the “big, black businessman” sends him once again into revelry of fantasy. There is no doubt good reason in emphasising the fact that Johnson is black –- the first black character in the show and pretty much the only black recurring character right through to the end of season seven.

Mark’s revelation to Jeremy that he has a new friend brings out the worst in the latter.

Friend? But you haven’t got a friend. Who’s your friend?

The mini-dinner party held that evening is where Mark’s obsession (and obvious embarrassment by Jez also being present) comes to the fore. Johnson makes no bones about his disdain for Jeremy — staring down at him like he is the “hippy parasite” mentioned earlier in the show — especially when presented with the fact that he “turns over when the news comes on.” Acting like an excited schoolboy with a crush, Mark shows Johnson –- or at least attempts to  -– his progress with his book Business Secrets of the Pharaohs, but of course this is quashed with the “bad thing” sub-plot, rendering Mark’s laptop redundant after the previous night’s “mega-tsunami” whilst using it in the bath.

Johnson knows how to play Mark; that becomes evident as the episode progresses. A joint love of middle-of-the-road and thankfully long-forgotten dirge of The Lighthouse Family whilst letting him change gear in the “Beemer” is one such example, as is the ludicrous moustache that he attempts to grow as an homage to his new “Dad” (thankfully and quickly changed to “Daddio” when questioned). So much so, that in no time at all, Johnson has him wrapped around his little finger to such an extent that he convinces Mark to up sticks and relocate to Cardiff, leaving Jeremy to fend for himself.

If you love Johnson that much, why don’t you marry him? Why don’t you actually screw him?

And that is where Jeremy –- as Jeremy often does -– blurts out what everyone watching is thinking and then puts Mark on the spot…right in the middle of a sushi bar, naturally. Despite his protestations out loud, Mark’s inner thoughts are exactly that. The joy of Peep Show is that you often find that there are generally two very differing points of view and that they usually come from the same person.

Johnson is an obnoxious man. There’s no denying it. Mark’s apparent love for him only partially makes up for the hatred that most of his fellow workers hold for him. The fact that one of them went home from a seminar in tears brings Sophie to protest that “It’s not a wig, Alan, that’s actually her hair,” casually dismissed by Johnson with a “Yeah, whatever.” (Possibly the first time that phrase was used in the UK and now look what’s happened.) The bar scene ends with Mark quickly ditching the thought of being with the (former) love of his life Sophie after Johnson offers the choice of sticking with “[Sophie’s] fat arse,” or teaming up with him and some “fuck-off spreadsheets,” culminating in an inner-orgasm for Mr. Corrigan.

Mark’s struggle to find out whether or not he is actually, fully completely “gay for Johnson” continues. He is ably assisted by his own Boy Wonder (Jeremy) throughout and it is via that avenue and Jez’s crippling selfishness not to want Mark to relocate that we find the truth.

After crashing Johnson’s prized BMW, the stand-off ensues in a bizarre three-way (so to speak) that begins with Mark declaring his new-found homosexual crush for his boss and ends in a quite unbelievable manner.

Johnson, naturally, rebukes Mark’s advances and departs the episode just as he entered –- the no-holds-barred businessman with no time for women, or, in this case, men. He is seemingly disgusted by the thought of it, which, if true, makes him even less likeable as a character.

Instead, whilst re-watching some of the gay porn that Mark rented from his local shop we find that it is in fact Jeremy who has crossed to the other side; the “bad thing” from the night before being grimly realised as he and Super Hans performing fellatio on each other whilst completely high on whatever they could lay their hands on.

Johnson continues this role throughout the remaining series, forming a love/hate relationship with almost everyone that he meets and even more so with the audience. The one thing that remains constant however, is that the show would be so much weaker without him.