Someone is always watching what you do. Smartphones beam data back to satellites, mobile providers, and tech manufacturers at a startling pace. It’s hard to go a day without unknowingly popping up on at least one CCTV camera. And most frighteningly – someone is probably looking through your Google search history RIGHT NOW! Delete the cookies! Throw your phone in the ocean!
At the center of the web of all this surveillance are governmental intelligence agencies like the NSA in the U.S. or GCHQ in the U.K. What goes on behind the scenes at these shadowy, powerful enterprises? Intelligence, a series from Nick Mohammed, posits that it’s pretty much all the usual inane nonsense you’d expect from any office.
Intelligence premiered in the U.K. on Sky in February. The workplace comedy follows an NSA agent Jerry Bernstein (Friends’ David Schwimmer) arriving in England to act as a liaison with the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). In true David Brent-ian style, however, Jerry is focused a little more on the personal politics of the workplace rather than national security.
Now Intelligence is set to make its U.S. debut when it arrives on NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock at launch on July 15. Though Stateside viewers may not be familiar with GCHQ, they’ll certainly recognize Intelligence’s depiction of a workforce more preoccupied with analyzing celebrity’s search engine queries than they are with actually doing their jobs. Den of Geek spoke with Mohammed and Schwimmer about making the jump to the U.S. and the art of establishing a believable bromance.
DEN OF GEEK: By my count, this appears to be the third English-language TV show called Intelligence. What was the inspiration for the title and did you have to go through any sort of clearance process to make sure it would stick?
DAVID SCHWIMMER: We wanted to make it as confusing as possible.
NICK MOHAMMED: We just want them to not be able to find it really. The show was originally called “GCHQ.” But that’s trademarked because GCHQ have released a puzzle book, which is brilliant – I’ve got it. Because of that we couldn’t really use GCHQ as the title. I think also in the States people wouldn’t really know GCHQ is or what the acronym stood for. We felt “Intelligence” was quite good because pretty much everyone in the cast lacks a particular type of intelligence – whether it be emotional intelligence or common sense.
Oftentimes in comedies, it seems like characters are fleshed out over a season’s run or a series run. What did you know about your characters going in and what did you discover while filming?
DS: To be honest, a lot of our characters’ backstory was worked out before we shot. We didn’t make a pilot like they usually do in the States. Luckily, we were commissioned for the entire first series. So the preparation was really thorough from the outset. We were working hard to figure out the arc of series one and how much to reveal, particularly about my character Jerry – his backstory, his terrible, brutal divorce, and his nefarious activities at the NSA. All of that kind of had to be worked out ahead of time so we really had an idea of who I was playing. And that really everything you were seeing was masking deep insecurity and pain. So that and the bromance between my character and Nick’s character, that was all, I think, carefully conceived ahead of time.
What did we discover in filming as we went along was more about the specific dynamics among the ensemble. At least from my speaking personally, the real surprise came when we started shooting and being on our feet with all the other actors, who frankly, we didn’t know. Nick and I knew each other and we had improvised a great deal together, and we had done a lot of table reads and figured out our dynamic as characters. The real fun was that energy that you suddenly get by filming with the rest of the cast for the first time. Suddenly you discover new things every scene. You’re discovering something about your dynamic with that other actor, and I think that was a great deal of fun.
What is it like to go through two release dates with this? Because this is already out in the U.K. and is now getting the Peacock experience.
NM: Obviously it’s still quite new to me, so I’m just enjoying it. I think it’s quite nice to get a second go at it. It’s come out over here (in the U.K.) and it’s done well. The feedback’s been lovely. So I’m just hoping, sort of nervously excited, that the same is true for when it comes out in the States. I’m delighted it’s going out on Peacock and will have such a big reach. Hopefully lots of people are going to watch it and enjoy it.
One of the good things is that I’m in the thick of writing in season two at the moment, so it’s just been quite nice to do publicity for season one, which is its own thing, and then during the day I’m diving into scripts. And we’re sending emails back and forth with David and the other producers and so on, about breaking the story and tackling scripts and stuff. Well, we’re actually meant to be filming season two right now, but obviously it’s been delayed until autumn. But yeah, it doesn’t feel too strange, it feels quite nice.
DS: It’s definitely a first for me. I’ve never been in this situation before, but I’m still equally excited as Nick. I mean, listen, I’m American. I want my friends and family and American audiences to see this show. I’ve been champing at the bit for them to see this for quite a while now, so I’m super-excited that it’s going to be on Peacock and that people will finally be able to see it. Even my castmates on Friends have asked me about it. They’re like, “When do we get to see this thing?” I’m like, “In a minute. It’s coming.” Because they know I’ve been off shooting.
Cool. I hope the Friends cast gets free Peacock subscriptions.
I didn’t! So I don’t know why they would.