Rarely has an episode of a comedy I normally enjoy left me feeling quite so perplexed. To use a lazy, common cliche, this third episode of The IT Crowd was one of two halves – the first filled with the kind of gentle humour we’d expect from the show, the second unexpectedly distasteful.
After a genuinely excellent episode last week – which I’m sure most fans of The IT Crowd would agree was among the finest yet seen – Something Happened opens with a scene that suggests writer Graham Linehan’s winning streak is set to continue.
Fulfilling another lazy-yet-common cliche that a fool and his money are easily parted, rich-yet gullible Reynholm Industries boss Douglas has discovered a new religion. In a brilliantly tacky infomercial put together by Roy, Douglas extols the virtues of Spaceology (“a religion, NOT a cult”), a fictional New Age movement where wishes are fulfilled by scribbling them on pieces of paper. It’s an obvious and pointed reference to the real-world Cosmic ordering movement, and one that would probably make Noel Edmonds cringe.
From there, Something Happened continues with the series’ stock formula, where each character gets into their own uniquely awkward scrapes – a reliably clueless Moss takes a wrong turn and ends up in a strip club, while Jen and Roy’s visit to see alt rock band Sweet Billy Pilgrim results in the former meeting and falling in love with the strikingly dorky-looking keyboard player Norman. Roy, meanwhile, puts his back out during an ill-advised bout of dancing.
Jen and Norman’s meeting of eyes to the blare of Ravel’s Bolero is an episode highlight, and their romance provides the few consistently funny scenes in the remainder of this episode.
It’s Roy’s strand of the story, however, where Linehan’s writing goes uncharacteristically off message. The nagging pain in his back forces Roy, reluctantly, to visit a masseur, who turns out to be an unnervingly macho ex-paramilitary soldier. Already body-conscious and uncomfortable in his birthday suit, Roy is left shaken and disturbed when the masseur kisses him on the backside.
Relating the incident to a sympathetic Moss, Roy decides to press charges for what could be rightly seen as an invasion of his personal space. This leads to a lengthy courtroom scene in which Roy is asked to describe the incident and, in an unpleasant echo of real-life court cases, has to point to a diagram of exactly where on his posterior he was kissed.
The masseur’s transgression is clearly meant to be seen as a harmless peccadillo, and Roy’s trauma an absurd overreaction – “I have nightmares and can’t stop washing”, he says, a line which the audience is supposed to find amusing.
While I’m certain it wasn’t Linehan’s intention to trivialise the very serious subject of physical or sexual assault, the episode is a very rare misstep for a writer with a normally keen nose for situational humour, and only a surreal concluding scene featuring Matt Berry prevents the episode from closing in total ignominy.
As Moss himself puts it, “There is nothing remotely funny about this.”