IT Crowd

Been meaning to post this for a while…

There was much hype in the run up to the start of IT Crowd on Channel 4. Being of a geeky persuasion, I like the idea of a sitcom set in the world of IT. There are lots of things in IT that make us laugh. No, I don’t expect a sitcom on a mainstream channel to be written entirely with an audience of geeks in mind, and I certainly don’t expect hilarious stories about unterminated SCSI chains or miswired Cat5 cabled. (Why? Well, they’re simply not funny, for a start.) I guess I was hoping for something like Green Wing; clever, funny and a bit weird. The humour in that show relates relatively little to its hospital setting, but focuses on the bizarre behaviour of the socially awkward and the socially uninhibited.

The first trailer for IT Crowd was very classily produced, but didn’t really tell anything about the show. Featuring a load of overly good-looking office types partying in a music video style, the shot pulled back to reveal the IT technicians fixing a PC and carrying a load of computer kit off, away from the party. I was put off by the second trailer though, which had actual excerpts from the first episode. I immediately took against the canned laughter (or what was badly mixed to sound like canned laughter). The jokes included in the trailer weren’t sparkling either. Given that the best jokes from the entire show are usually in the trailer it didn’t bode well. I still downloaded the first episode to watch when it was made available from the C4 website.

The characters are thin stereotypes – one geek with funny hair, glasses and a croaky voice, the other unkempt in an RTFM t-shirt, a female IT manager who knows nothing about IT and a shouty, buzz-word obssessed boss. I really rate Chris Morris, who is one of the most edgy and subversive talents in British comedy. I love his work on BrassEye, The Day Today and Nathan Barley. His interviews with Peter Cook are hilarious. But the part he plays in this show is unconvincing and jars with the more traditional sitcom acting going on around him.

Many geeks I know seem to love show, although a reassuring number feel much the same as I do. Those that do love it speak of finding hilarity in the “Perl” stickers and the old computer equipment dotted around. The principal set is great, I’ll give you that. But frankly, if the set dressing is the funniest thing about it, it’s a poor show.

Two women I know who work in IT and watched the show both said they were somewhat offended that the only female cast member knows nothing about IT. Neither of them are militant feminists or anything, they just felt that it was an unoriginal direction. Someone pretending to be on the phone when it’s not plugged in is one thing, but the punchline could be seen heading this way from miles off, flagged up by what I can only describe as over-obvious sitcom acting. To do the same joke 5 minutes later with a computer is just lazy. Now, repetition is a source of comedy but only if it is done frequently enough that the frequency itself becomes a joke, or if the repetitiveness builds to some climax. Neither of these things happened in the first episode, leading to what felt like an anti-climax.

There were a couple of nice ideas in the first episode. Methods of procrastination to avoid answering support calls. The dingyness of the subterreanean IT lair. The sometimes difficult relationship between IT support staff and the rest of the organisation. But the majority of the rest were old and not very funny at all. Person shouting at “voice activated” computer. Reboot as the cure for all computer problems. Yawn.

The show seems to be confused as to its audience. Should it appeal to those who work in IT and deal with users and their mistakes on a daily basis? Should it appeal to end-users who deal with IT departments and sometimes get frustrated by them? Can it successfully appeal to both? It doesn’t seem so.

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