Please note: this episode screens on Friday night on Channel 4. It is available already on 4oD online, but don’t read this if you don’t want the episode spoiled!
When The IT Crowd first hit screens back in 2006, the traditional multi-camera studio-based sitcom was seen as an anachronism. The received wisdom at the time was that people didn’t want light hearted gagfests with pantomime performances and laugh tracks, that instead they preferred the sophisticated single cam film look Gervais-style comedy of awkwardness with ‘ironic’ racism, rape as a one word punchline and some funny dancing.
Received wisdom turned out to be donkey plops when The IT Crowd instantly found its audience of geeks, who could identify with being the outcasts forgotten about in the basement.
The IT Crowd has now carved its own niche and has an international fanbase thanks to speaking the almost universal language of Nerd.
Now in its fourth series, the opening episode sees Roy absolutely heartbroken over a break-up that presumably occurred when everyone’s back was turned. Jen is going for a new position of “Entertainments Manager” and Moss is looking to brush up on his Dungeon Master-ing.
Jen soon finds out that being the entertainments manager is shorthand for ‘taking businessmen to strip clubs’. What else should she expect from the company with an award for being inherently sexist?
As The IT Crowd has gone by, it’s progressed from a cheery Father Ted-esque romp to something more akin to a US-style sitcom. There’s still the excellent handling of plots, weaving deftly in and out of each other, but the four figureheads of Jen, Moss, Roy and Douglas are becoming more and more like a collection of sound bites rather than fully formed characters. The dialogue zips along nicely, but it feels forced, even for a traditional sitcom.
Chris O’Dowd as Roy, like your recently dumped mate, soon irritates with his constant blubbing and is a complete contradiction to his usual sarcastic demeanour. There’s a scene when Jen fully embraces her near pimp status that goes for parody but arrives at uncomfortable instead. It’s all very cleverly structured and paced, but is missing actual gags and punchlines.
What’s really missing, though, are the glorious flights of fancy that characterise Linehan’s work, the role playing game scenes being the closest this episode gets to pure fantasy. It’s all just too depressingly normal for a series that has previously likened the smoking ban to Russian tragedy. For an opening episode, this is certainly no disaster but it’s just not strong enough. Could do better…