I’m back to reviewing my favourite TV shows after quite a long time. My intention with many of my reviews is to offer readers a nostalgic trip or an alternative to current mainstream shows, as well as to focus on specific productions concerning genres and themes.
Today I’m writing about The IT Crowd, a British production from the 2000s created by Graham Linehan, the mastermind behind other cult sitcoms such as Father Ted and Black Books (read my review). It’s one of Matt’s all-time favourites and, after he had introduced me to it, I became a big fan. I recently finished watching it for the third time.
As you should have deduced from the title, the central theme and setting are the IT industry, and it’s also about geeks.
The story is set in Reynholm Industries, a business based in central London. Jen Barber (played by Katherine Parkinson) is a new employee ready to engage in the vibrant, sexy atmosphere of these offices. Denholm Reynholm (Chris Morris), the self-assured and intimidating boss, decides to send her to the IT department based on the credentials she listed on her CV. There are only two problems. First: Jen lied, she has no clue about IT; she even doesn’t know what the acronym stands for! Second: the IT department is located in the dingy basement of the business tower and is populated by “standard nerds”. Jen’s dreams of fantastic city views and social life are shattered from the start.
Roy (Chris O’Dowd) is an Irish chap, funny but a little grumpy. He’d rather play games or read comics than assisting his upstairs colleagues with their computer troubles. His relationships with girls don’t last long, and he’s the unlucky guy who gets injured or humiliated in every situation. On the other hand, Moss (Richard Ayoade) is the tech genius whose convoluted answers bewilder everyone. He’s naive and clueless when it comes to social and practical situations and this often lands him in trouble. He’s like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory but much more loveable. A third employee, the goth Richmond (Noel Fielding), is confined to the server room and sometimes makes a vampire-like appearance (unfortunately not enough, I wished to see more of him).
Roy and Moss react badly to Jen’s arrival, especially when they learn about her lack of knowledge in IT. Jen, a compulsive liar and a social climber, appoints herself as a Relationship Manager and tries to improve the lads’ relationship with their colleagues. However, all her attempts fail and she’s further pushed down to the guys’ level. Despite their differences though, the three bond and stick together, both as a department and as friends.
The show makes fun of the office environment. No one knows what Reynholm Industries does, despite references to meetings, financial transactions and visits from foreign businessmen. Denholm represents the kind of strict boss, bordering on sociopathy, who thinks highly of himself and his firm’s appearance. For instance, he insists on teamwork and wages a battle against stress. In Season 2, he’s replaced by his son Douglas (Denholm’s exit is shocking and hilarious as is his son’s entry). Douglas (played by Matt Berry) represents the sleazy boss who only cares about how to use his power and his money to get women and save himself from damaging allegations. Chris Morris is awesome but so is Matt Berry; in fact, he became one of the principal characters.
Of course, the sitcom both represents and makes fun of IT people and geeks. IT is disregarded at Reynholm Industries, which is ironic because all their work depends on computers. Our protagonists are relegated to the basement, and they’re often forgotten by their bosses, even when they deserve credit. On the other hand, Roy and Moss are stereotypical IT guys. One is lazy and would rather avoid going upstairs to fix problems (they’re often not problems at all, the workers are just clueless about technology); the other is too technical and incomprehensible.
The set, i.e. their office, reflects their personality as it is adorned with all things geeky, from games to gadgets to LOLcat posters. Actually, half of the fun of watching this show is noticing these jewels in the background, especially the retro computer bits and bobs. Some of these nerdy aspects, such as roleplaying and board games, feature in episodes with the aim of making fun of the geek’s stereotype. What’s also great is that the other side of the spectrum is parodied as well, that is, the technical ineptitude of regular, non-geeky people such as Jen and the bosses. Both factions come together during other moments, such as when social media and dating profiles are parodied.
Small digression: the DVDs for this series are simply awesome. Each one has a different gaming theme for the menu animation and design. There are lots of hidden extras such as commentaries and interviews which are fun to search for. Thanks to such extras, I learned a lot about the idea and the production behind The IT Crowd.
For example, it was interesting to know that Graham Linehan wanted to create a traditional sitcom complete with a live audience, as opposed to the current trend of filming in an empty studio and adding a laugh track. It was a risky choice which in the end turned out to be rewarding. The live audience allows for an immediate response, and the response was positive. The sitcom’s aim is to make laugh and, indeed, it makes us laugh all the time with its surreal comedy. The episodes aren’t tied together (except for a couple of them) which allows for easy viewing. There are some running gags, but they’re updated over time (like when Roy develops his typical “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” catchphrase into an automated message via reel-to-reel tape registration), so they don’t become boring to watch.
Another aspect of Linehan that I appreciate is that he dislikes repeating gags and once he feels that the characters have nothing new to offer, he prefers to conclude his project. The IT Crowd lasted 4 seasons from 2006 to 2010, with a one-hour special in 2013. To the very end, it remained as funny and fresh as its first episode. I can’t help but compare it to another popular geeky sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. TBBT has run for too long, and it has now turned stale.
READ: Why The Big Bang Theory Should End (Scrabbled Rambles)
The IT Crowd is one of my all-time favourites and one of the best British sitcoms. I suggest to any comedy lover to give it a try. If you’re an office worker, you’ll recognise a lot of the situations and have a laugh. If you’re a geek or into IT, you’ll laugh at the stereotypes without finding them ridiculous or insulting. If you’re not a geek, don’t worry, all the jokes and references are accessible, and you don’t need any particular knowledge to understand them. But most of all, you should watch it because it’s well-written and well-produced, all the actors are great, and it’s full of good-natured laughs.