This review contains spoilers, read our spoiler-free review, here.
It’s always hard saying goodbye, and for the longest time it seemed like we’d had the opportunity taken away from us with The IT Crowd; when the fourth series ended in 2010, there was already talk of a fifth. But talk then turned to maybe doing a special instead – or even a movie. And the months turned into years, and we watched as Richard Ayoade and Chris O’Dowd went off and became the sort of actors whose faces end up on the sides of buses to promote their latest Hollywood smash. It seemed as if The IT Crowd was consigned to the basement forever.
All of which makes it so much more surprising that not only is The IT Crowd back for a last hurrah, but – as I noted in my spoiler-free review of the special a few weeks back – it feels as if it’s never been away; that is, aside from the welcome addition of a pixellated Matt Berry in the opening credits, one of many fan-pleasing elements in the show’s extended running time. After that, we’re immediately down in the basement, and we’re no longer watching two Hollywood celebrities slumming it on a Channel 4 sitcom; we’re back with Moss and Roy, being nerdy and hilarious in equal measure. The only concession to this being anything other than a regular episode is Roy’s ‘Game over, old sport’ T-shirt.
It would perhaps be a waste of column inches to discuss whether or not The Internet Is Coming is a funny episode of The IT Crowd. Partly because humour is an incredibly subjective thing, but mostly because it just is. This is both the cast and writer Graham Linehan’s return to this world after over three years away, and from the word go it’s as if everything they’ve been holding in for that entire time can no longer be contained and is spilling out onto the screen in a glorious explosion of geekiness.
In fact, watching the episode you gain a fascinating insight into just some of the things that have amused, annoyed or fascinated Mr Linehan over the last three years. Most obvious in the episode’s ‘A-plot’ is the phenomenon of members of the public going viral, such as the Cat Bin Lady or Racist Tram Lady, spoofed here with what have to be the most unfortunate and bizarre three minutes of Jen and Roy’s lives. But there’s also Twitter, Anonymous, those strange Taiwanese news animations, Secret Millionaire and coffee shop chains, to name but five. Each one is tackled with an insight and a wit sorely lacking from, say, Mrs Brown’s Boys, proving yet again what an asset Linehan is to the comedy world.
And of course, there’s the phenomenon of Youtube video reviews, a genre popularised by the likes of The Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd, and more recently extended to cover board games by (most notably) Star Trek’s Wil Wheaton. Linehan’s take on these is a pitch perfect rendition of how bad they can be, from the awkward editing to the stilted performances and length issues. They’re a fantastic reflection of Moss throughout the episode, and even the ‘good’ version contains enough common faux pas that clearly a lot of such videos have been watched as research.
There’s also a healthy dose of fanservice throughout; it never threatens to overwhelm the story, but the fan moments, such as a reference to Chris Morris’s character, and the strange and fabulous appearance of Noel Fielding, are the icing on the cake. And of course, who didn’t cheer when the internet was brought out for one of TV’s most uproarious callbacks?
It’s not all parodies, callbacks and social commentary, though; there’s a lot of character work threaded throughout the story, perhaps the most interesting of which involves Roy. An offhand comment about Roy’s place on the autistic spectrum creates a thread which weaves through the hour, and although they never go so far as to have him visiting a GP to discuss it, it’s delving into an area that not many sitcoms dare to take their characters. Because let’s face it – the over-the-top nature of a lot of sitcoms dictates that, if their characters were placed in a real world setting, the reaction of those around them wouldn’t be hilarity and a gentle rebuke; in so many cases it would be concern for the character’s mental well-being.
But we suspend our disbelief, because the idea that we might be laughing at someone with developmental issues, psychotic episodes, clinical depression or the like is uncomfortable to consider for too long. Roy’s storyline is reality knocking on the door of the basement for the briefest of moments.
At first his callousness does seem to be overplayed here, when you remember moments such as his over-the-top reaction to being dumped at the start of series four, but then you think back to his fateful dinner party with a car accident victim, or his obsession with the death of his girlfriend’s family in a fire at Seaworld, and you realise it’s always been there. Of course it’s played for laughs, and won’t ever be followed up again, but it’s still an interesting prompt to examine the character’s psychology in more depth that most sitcoms never give.
Moss and Jen, meanwhile, tread slightly more familiar, but no less amusing, ground. Moss’s quest for the confidence seen briefly in The Final Countdown but discarded thereafter is filled with realised comedic potential, such as the scene with the phone booth; and the fact that the confidence comes from a garment means the show hasn’t changed Moss forever – just given him the ability to be a ‘better’ person from time to time. It’s also nice to see him sharing some quality time with Douglas at the top of the episode; it’s a classic chalk-and-cheese pairing, and both actors clearly bounce off one another in a way I wish we could’ve seen more of.
Matt Berry, of course, spends most of the hour being Matt Berry, and gloriously so. He’s the most over-the-top character in a sitcom full of them, and as such is served fleetingly – but his stint on The Secret Millionaire will automatically sit up there with some of the series’ finest moments.
It’s Jen’s quest, her continued desire to be both liked and respected by her colleagues and the world around her, that feels the most ‘traditional’ of the storylines, and it’s also the one that brings about any sense of closure here. From the very first episode, The IT Crowd has always been Jen’s story; in the pilot, she is unceremoniously dumped in the basement as the audience identification figure in the geeks’ lair, and from that moment she’s been struggling to gain the respect of her peers and escape the IT department. This story has Katherine Parkinson running the full gamut of emotions, from enamoured to defeated to victorious, and it’s a testament to this sometimes sidelined third member of the team that she delivers in spades.
That said, it’s hard to feel too satisfied with the closing five minutes and the way it seemingly moves the trio from the basement to the boardroom; not only is it a sudden and arbitrary move (Although Douglas has always been prone to those), but it feels like the wrong move for at least one of the characters. For Jen, it’s what she’s always wanted and has dreamed of for years. For Roy, it could be argued as a chance to redeem himself with his girlfriend and get people to show him some respect too. But slacks or no slacks, taking Moss out of the basement feels somehow wrong, like taking Father Dougal out of the priesthood or having Baldrick leave the company of Blackadder. It doesn’t feel like a happy ending for Moss, who’s never shown any interest in management and has always shown quite a lot of interest in computers and being surrounded by nerdy things. Of course, the whims of Douglas Reynholm are legendary, and there’s every chance that a week later he came out of hiding and decided to run the business himself anyway. Let’s assume that happened, because there was something too sad about Moss’s hesitant flipping of the light switch on sitcom’s nerdiest set.
It’s the one major complaint in an otherwise superb final outing. There are a few smaller niggles, such as the fact that Moss and Roy don’t get nearly enough screen time together, or that Roy has several lines flagging up the bizarre situations they get themselves into that never actually goes anywhere, but they don’t spoil an otherwise fantastic episode. There’s every chance that this will indeed be the final ever episode of The IT Crowd – it was hard enough to get the cast together for this one! – but we live in hope. It’s fitting that Graham Linehan speaks the final words, “Let’s just stop” – but let’s hope that one day he changes his mind.
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