It’s impossible to cover poker appearing in television and film without covering the comedic nature of the game. When you break it down, poker is a very funny game. Whether it’s seven card stud, no limit hold’em or Chinese Poker, if aliens landed tomorrow and saw us playing cards to influence our lifestyle, it might be seen as highly comedic.
Peep Show embraced this concept fully back in 2005 when they highlighted the game’s lighter moments. The plot centres around two idiots living together. One is uptight and conservative (Mark), while the other (Jeremy) is so liberal as to be dangerous and has more confidence than is merited. A lot more.
In the scene, Mark is trying to become a ‘man’ and therefore that means befriending guys who play poker. Jeremy, his best friend, is clearly just as clueless, but he has a natural ebullience and outgoing nature, and this is displayed brilliantly as he plays a hand strongly purely because all the cards are red.
“I have entered the world of men. All I need is some beef jerky and somewhere to spit. I’m hot like Pol Pot. Squeeze me.”
Both men are playing the game for the first time, but while Mark has been dealt three kings and inexplicably folds, completely lacking in any belief in his hand, Jeremy has a pretty terrible deal and yet goes all-in, not only with his chips, but Mark’s too.
“When the going gets tough, you need to roll out the big potatoes. Let’s eat.”
Despite having no idea what he’s doing, Jeremy forces the fold from his opponent and claims the win, declaring ‘Red Sky at night, Shepherd’s delight.’ By winning the hand, Jeremy gains the respect of Jeff (“Nice bluffing, man!”) and possibly everyone at the table yet has no clue how he even won the hand.
At its heart, poker is a social game, and it is by embracing the bluff and tumble nature of home games that they’re fun. Play too seriously or too anxiously like Mark and you can never enjoy it. By being socially acceptable, Jeremy is happier and he shows this by playing poker as he does.
Peep Show, written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, with additional material by Mitchell and Webb, famously lampoons plenty of social situations with accuracy and élan, never straying far from a belly laugh. It turns out they could do poker very well and for all the failed attempts to integrate poker into movies to lend it credibility (see last week’s example of this in 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).
Sometimes poker can be used in art simply to bring out the natural characteristics of your protagonists. This may never have been done better – and certainly in less than two minutes – than in Peep Show.