“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of 21st century sitcoms that rely on studio laughter (or worse, canned laughter) to punch up the jokes. More often than not, it’s an indicator that the show A) doesn’t trust its audience and B) will be relying on formulaic storytelling techniques. The latter may technically be true in the case of The IT Crowd – this is very much a standard-format office-based sitcom – but the characters are so rich and the jokes are so good that it doesn’t take long to forget about (or at least forgive) the presence of the studio audience.
The show centers on the humble IT Department at Reynholm Industries, a large company run by the wealthy, self-absorbed Denholm Reynholm (Chris Morris, The Double). The department consists of only three employees: Irish slacker Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids), socially stunted nerd Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade, The Watch) and perpetually exasperated department head Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson, Doc Martin), who knows nothing about IT but has been tasked with managing the department.
To say that the IT Department is undervalued by everyone else at Reynholm would be an understatement: the existence of the department is barely acknowledged. In fairness, Roy and Moss haven’t exactly done much to earn praise and adoration: they spend the vast majority of their time doing almost anything other than work, and go out of their way to avoid being efficient (lest someone expect them to be efficient again in the future). Jen occasionally makes an effort to get them to focus on their work, but has a tendency to get distracted by her own personal dramas and her lack of understanding about what Roy and Moss do, exactly.
There’s a bit of Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in the fundamental selfishness of the characters – none of them could honestly be described as “good people” – but the cast members of The IT Crowd still manage to be pretty lovable, partially because the actors bring such specific charm to the roles and partially because they are so low on the corporate totem pole that you can’t really blame them for taking advantage of the system. Alas, as in those aforementioned shows, their assorted selfish pursuits (and even their nobler ones) have a tendency to lead to a wide variety of undeniably hilarious consequences.
While a handful of the episodes are fueled by hacky, outdated sitcom premises (there’s one episode that’s basically a half-hour of gay panic jokes, one that devotes much of its time to underlining how crazy women get when Aunt Flo is visiting, etc.), the show is consistently tight on a structural level (often subtly planting seeds early on that pay off in surprising ways later) and offers consistently snappy, entertaining dialogue.
The performances are a lot of fun, too. O’Dowd and Parkinson give us enjoyable variations on familiar types (the charmingly apathetic slacker and the underqualified but determined professional trying to fake her way through life, respectively), but the show’s greatest asset is undoubtedly Richard Ayoade’s Moss. A marvelously unique comic invention that benefits hugely from Ayoade’s knack for delivering lines from unexpected angles, the character is consistently a delight to watch. Special mention should also go out to Matt Berry’s Douglas Reynholm (who turns up midway through season two), a boisterous, idiotic womanizer who essentially functions as this show’s version of Zapp Brannigan.
The standard-def transfer is okay, though nothing to write home about. Detail is a little lacking at times, and there are a few instances of slight color bleeding. It looks more or less the same as the version you can stream on Netflix. The audio is simple but effective: clean dialogue, well-integrated audience laughter and some light sound design blend nicely. Supplements include commentaries with creator Graham Lineman on all but the first six episodes, a handful of featurettes (“Behind The IT Crowd,” “Recording The IT Crowd,” “An Interview with Graham,” “Set Tour,” “The IT Crowd On Location” and an unnamed featurette on the series finale), Lineman’s 2003 short “Hello Friend,” deleted scenes and outtakes, an alternate main title animatic and a music video.
The IT Crowd veers into formulaic territory at times, but at least it knows how to do formula well. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of something like the British version of The Office, but it’s a solid workplace sitcom.