Whether it’s the continuing growth and rise of new media and computers increasingly becoming a part of people’s everyday lives I’m not sure, but in the last decade or so geeks and geek culture have had more mainstream presence than they had previously. It’s notable that the 2000s saw two fairly mainstream sitcoms on each side of the Atlantic with nerds and geeks as the protagonists starting within a year of one another. One was The Big Bang Theory in the US, which premiered in 2007, and is currently one of the highest rated shows there. It became popular here in the UK too, but we also had our own mainstream sitcom, The IT Crowd with computer nerds as the main characters, premiering in 2006. (And yes, like most successful UK sitcoms, there was the obligatory failed US remake).
The IT Crowd, written by Graham Lineham who also co-wrote Father Ted and Black Books, ran for four series and was last seen in 2010. It returned for an hour long one-off special The Internet Is Coming. Many of these sort of specials that take place after the series has been away for a while have some changes made during that time, but that was not the case here, the characters and situation are just as we left them. Moss (Richard Ayoade) is still highly intelligent but lacks social skills, Roy (Chris O’Dowd) is still a slacker, Jen (Katherine Parkinson) still is hoping for career progression despite barely managing in her current role, and their boss Douglas Reynholm (Matt Berry) is still lecherous and incompetent. But the fact that nothing has changed is to its credit, it is like they were never away.
Moss is arguably the most popular character, so it’s perhaps fitting that he gets a storyline to himself. He shows his work colleagues his extremely boring and badly edited board game web series Game Board, which neither Roy or Jen like. He goes to Douglas’ office thinking it’s the gents toilet. To be fair, Douglas admits he moved his office there to be closer to the ladies toilets, and he forgot to take the gents sign down. There, Moss mentions his lack of confidence. Lack of confidence isn’t a problem for Douglas, quite the opposite – he has far too much confidence. Moss inadvertently points out that Douglas only owns the business because he inherited it from his father, and the business is less successful since he took over, and by Douglas’ own admission, he can’t even read. The secret to his confidence is wearing “women’s slacks”. It appears to work for Moss too when he tries it. He sees an old lady getting mugged and in one of the best scenes in the episode, goes into a telephone box to change clothes like Superman, and is able to save her. He also manages to make Game Board more interesting and it becomes a hit.
Roy and Jen’s storylines are intertwined with each other, and take a bit longer to develop and get going. The episode starts feeling slow and flat because of the time taken to build both of them up to be honest. Basically it involves a barista at a coffee shop fancying Jen, and Roy having relationship problems, but the way the threads are pulled together in one scene is great, and it ends up as the central plot of the episode.
Jen accidentally throws some coffee over a homeless woman who she’d already upset when she accidentally put a coin in the woman’s coffee cup. Then immediately after, Roy argues with a small man who works at the coffee shop as a barista because Roy had left a note complaining about the barista’s height hampering his ability to do his job after he’d served him a bad coffee. The small man walks away and ends up getting run over by a van with tits on it (this had also been referenced earlier in the episode as a business investment by Reynholm Industries). What makes it a big plot point is the fact that it was all caught on camera and becomes “the viral video of the year”, with Jen being called “Coffee Tramp Toss Bitch” and Roy being called “Small Person Racist” by commenters. They aren’t indentified at first, during which time Roy attends the funeral of his girlfriend’s grandpa, who it turns out was a small person, as is all of one side of her family. But new high definition footage comes out and they become hate figures and internet memes.
The episode becomes similar to a more comical version of Black Mirror, satirising new media. We see computer animated cartoon versions of Jen and Roy, and Jen tries to explain herself via
As it is the final episode, there are a lot of self-references, breaking the fourth wall jokes and lampshade hanging on the quirks of the series. One scene in particular is packed with them. Roy comments on how strange the events of previous episodes were. When Moss asks what they do when they usually get into scrapes Jen replies “We normally make things worse and worse, and then it ends”. Then Moss says how convenient it is that he made so much home-made pepper spray. We also get call-backs to previous episodes, such as Roy and Moss telling Jen “the internet” was just a black box and never correcting her, as well as a cameo from fan favourite Richmond the goth, played by Noel Fielding. At the very end we get a reappearance of the catchphrase telling people with a computer problem “Have you tried turning it off and on?”
Despite a slow-ish start, the episode was well plotted, with plenty of Chekhov’s Guns set up to become relevant later, and the various narratives came together well. The satire of new media hits the target better in some ways than Black Mirror did, as it seems closer to the truth, possibly because The IT Crowd was aiming for contemporary comedy while Black Mirror was aiming for near-future horror. I also think it was a good idea to save all the self-parody and fan service to the last third of the episode, as it was nice to end on a warm nostalgic feeling, and it might have got tired it they had spent the whole episode doing that. Let’s face it, there are sitcoms which spend their last few series being little more than throwing around the popular catchphrases, memes and guest characters for the fans like throwing fish at clapping sealions. The happy ending was tacked on, and, while a lot of viewers seemed to like it, Moss turning the lights out at the end was a bit clichéd for me, but those are just nitpicks. Two quotes I liked from this episode were another Jen malapropism (“a social piranha”) and Douglas claiming the last party he went to was “when Elton John’s dog had a baby”. The Internet Is Coming is the sort of episode I at one time hoped they’d do with Spaced. If a new series isn’t on the cards, it’s nice to get a one-off special to conclude it, and The Internet Is Coming was a very good send-off to The IT Crowd.