Yesterday I suggested that Graham Linehan’s new sitcom would pale next to its C4 neighbour My Name is Earl, the slapstick karma-com that makes you laugh so hard that some wee comes out.
Indeed, no wee came out during either of The IT Crowd‘s first two episodes. But that’s not to say it wasn’t funny, or likeable, or potentially very good indeed.
After the break: Chris Morris in lycra
I even laughed out loud a few times, despite being alone in the house (triggers: Roy’s pratfall, and “get out of the lift, get out of the lift, get out of the lift, get out of the lift”). This either means that I’m soft in the head or that The IT Crowd is funnier than I’d expected. (Forgive me. I saw Hyperdrive. My current expectations of new British comedy are very low.)
The IT Crowd is similar to its Craggy descendant, Father Ted, in many ways. The trapped trio of infuriating but sympathetic characters, the pitch-perfect ensemble performances, the gentle slapstick (kind of My Name is Earl in a safety harness), the “Roy n’ Moss’s big day out” snapshots and, merciful Jayzus, the sharp observational writing from Ted co-writer Graham Linehan.
Both episodes offered a clutch of golden writing nuggets. Maurice Moss, a Klingon in Johnny Mathis form, ordering the child and adult versions of Harry Potter from Amazon “to check that the text is absolutely identical” was priceless in its credibility. He’s a circuit board savant of Father Dougal potential. And “I’m sorry, but are you from the past?” is the best insult I’ve heard all week, though you’d need the social instincts of Brent or Partridge to use it in public.
The casting of Chris Morris as a demented bossman is inspired, utilising the fact that Morris is fucking terrifying. Naming the first episode Yesterday’s Jam was perhaps a little clunky, though I’m sure it made them all very happy in the script meeting.
Chris Morris, by the way, is a fine figure of a man. Who’d have thought it? That lycra scene was like seeing Angela Rippon step out from behind her news desk on Morecambe & Wise.
Despite the Jamfather’s unsettling presence, The IT Crowd represents a step back from the style of vogueish sitcoms like Green Wing (about which I’m agnostic) and The Thick of It (with which I think I am in love). Linehan nudges us back to a gentler, more chuckly sitcom age – and it half works.
As Ricky Gervais pointed out in Alan Yentob’s excellent Imagine… doc on the state of the British sitcom, comedy is at its weakest when it tries to please everyone. “We’re making comedy for us and people who are like-minded,” said Gervais. “If that means leaving behind some people who prefer broad comedy, then so be it, because I really don’t care.”
That’s why The Office worked (see also: The Royle Family, Peep Show). It wasn’t written to order, or for ratings; commissioning eds initially recoiled, but the show remained true to itself and its writers’ sense of humour.
What could be more unlikely – and horrid – than an entire family all sharing the same sense of humour? Try to make everyone laugh, and you end up making nobody laugh, except perhaps the ones who think Bread represented the golden age of British television. You know what I mean, don’t you, Ardal?
The IT Crowd occasionally slips over into family entertainment, and that’s when it risks losing its edginess. Last night’s openers contained a few over-cooked moments that wouldn’t be out of place in panto. (The shoe is too small. Yes, we know the shoe is too small. Move on, please.) This is when you’re suddenly aware of the studio audience, because they’re laughing raucously and you’re wondering if you should put the kettle on.
Those moments aside (Father Ted also had a few), The IT Crowd’s gentle rhythm and tight writing work well. It’s a solid, unpretentious sitcom and thoroughly deserves to get a second series.
* The IT Crowd, C4, Fridays at 9.30pm