The Way We Get By: Haley Joel Osment on Peep Show

The Bad Therapy star is getting through lockdown by playing his guitar and returning to the comfortingly bleak humor of Mitchell and Webb.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

This is definitely a weird time for everybody, but fortunately I’m at home and everybody else in my family is in a good location, so I feel lucky for that. It’s just really tough to see everything else that’s happening out there, especially as there’s so little concrete information about how long this is going to last. We’ll see what happens, but it’s hard to see how things could go back to normal until there’s a vaccine.

During quarantine, I’ve been doing puzzles for the first time in a long while. A lot of times when I’m Zooming with people, in the background I see they have puzzles laid out on their dining room tables. There’s something about focusing on a tedious process like completing a puzzle which takes your mind off what’s happening in the world. And there’s definitely something really satisfying about finishing them, too.

There’s an almost unlimited number of TV shows out there I could watch, and there are a lot of shows on my list that I’ve never gotten around to seeing. But for the first couple weeks of quarantine, I’ve been spending a lot of time rewatching some of my favorite shows, particularly the British comedy Peep Show, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, and it’s something I’ll put on for the whole day, just to have it playing. Even if I’m not watching it, it’s nice to have the show’s familiar rhythms in the background.

I think one of my friends first introduced me to Peep Show in about 2011. It was just one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. I think I’d watched some of That Mitchell and Webb Look on YouTube before, like the Numberwang skit, but I’d never seen Peep Show. Its particular style of humor is tough to pin down, and it’s also funny because there are people I’ve showed it to who do not like it and immediately say, “No, this is not for me.” But, to me, there are so many episodes of the show that feel like some of the greatest TV comedy ever.

Peep Show is relentlessly bleak, but that’s what I love about it. In that sense, it’s very different to most American comedies, though that contrast is a little less extreme now than it used to be. In American comedies, people eventually evolve, their lives get better and the show ends on a happy note. But in Peep Show, the two main characters are still in the same apartment after 12 years, and both of them are in a really horrible place in their lives after torching all of their relationships. That feels much more true to life, especially now! For whatever reason, though, Peep Show is not depressing to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve accepted the dark aspects of life, and being able to laugh at them makes it better.

Watching Peep Show right now feels weirdly reassuring, actually. I don’t think I could watch something that is too optimistic or uplifting, because it would just feel false. It’s better to prepare for the worst, so we can be pleasantly surprised when things hopefully don’t go totally down the tubes.

Another show I will definitely be rewatching during quarantine is Succession, which was created by Jesse Armstrong, one of the co-creators of Peep Show. There’s some jokes on Succession where I think, “I recognize that kind of humor. That’s a joke I could have heard on Peep Show!” Jesse Armstrong has such an identifiable comic sensibility, and it was very exciting when he won an Emmy last year.

Now when I see a commercial of people touching each other or a crowd scene in a film or TV show, it feels like I’m watching some weird alien fantasy world. Things have changed so quickly. It hasn’t even been a month that we have all been at home. I think that also means it’ll be a strange, gradual process whenever this is finally over. It’s gonna be frightening for a while, even once we’ve got our shots, and it will take people some time to feel comfortable shaking hands again, or walking into an enclosed space with crowds.

I play guitar recreationally and it’s actually been nice to do that. I don’t usually get to practice for hours, so I’m going to lean pretty hard into that over the next several months or year. In the first week, I said, “All right, I need to set up a schedule to take advantage of this extra time!” But as I’ve got more used to quarantine, things have become a bit more relaxed. It’s good to not put too much pressure on yourself to complete creative projects, because we’ll definitely have the time to do that over the course of the year.

Academy Award-nominated actor Haley Joel Osment has been one of Hollywood’s most versatile performers over the last 25 years. Ranging from dark, dramatic roles to off-the-wall comedic performances across film, television, and the stage, Osment has proven time and again why he is one of show business’ treasures. His latest film is Bad Therapy, also starring Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins, which is now available on VOD. Other recent projects include the Hulu science fiction comedy Future Man, Seth Rogen’s Amazon series The Boys, the true crime thriller Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, and Bridey Elliot’s comedy drama Clara’s Ghost. Osment’s other recent television appearances have included Silicon Valley, for which he received rave reviews as VR entrepreneur Keenan Feldspar, and a special episode of The X-Files in which he played a chilling dual role.