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February 17th, 2006


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12:45 pm - Whoever Says "Brit-Com" Gets A Sock In The Snoot From Yours Truly Dept.
000. Stephen King's Cell is a perfect conceptual book in that I don't need to progress any further beyond the concept to appreciate it. Cell phone virus turns people into crazed brainless ultraviolents? Yeah, that's pretty cool. So cool, in fact, I completely don't feel the need to actually read the book. I know that the execution, no matter how well done, won't ever compare to the concept as I think about it. I do hear King gets positively Romero very early on, and that's awesome, but I don't need any unnecessary details such as "a story" or "plot" burdening down the concept of "cell phones turn people into mad crazy zombies."

001. I watched the first two episodes of The IT Crowd, the new UK sitcom about the wacky world of geeky geeks last night and I've got very mixed feelings about it. I laughed quite a bit, make no mistake, but then I felt bad about some of it afterwards. The laughs I felt good about were due to good old-fashioned comic timing, though, and the show is chock-full of it. I expected that since it's written by one of the guys behind Father Ted.

The premise is simple. First theme is Upstairs, Downstairs: The show takes place in a high-gloss, polished corporate office. Beautiful People in the gleaming glass tower. Makeouts in the Ally McBeal-esque coed bathrooms. But who runs IT? The two Geeks With Poor Social Skills in the dungeon-like basement, which they have completely taken over. Their domain is strewn with ancient computer equipment, toys right off the shelves of Newbury Comics, and EFF bumper stickers everywhere. Oh, and a Flying Spaghetti Monster logo tacked on a wall somewhere to make Cory Doctorow feel all smug. The contrasts between the settings are, yes, quite extreme, but it makes things just absurd enough to work. (I even think the upstairs segments are shot on film, while the downstairs are shot on video, just to subtly accentuate the differences between the two. I'll have to recheck.)

Add to this your textbook Fish Out Of Water theme: One of the Beautiful People, newly-hired, is given the dubious honor of managing the IT department. Only she lied on her CV; she knows nothing about computers. You can pretty much guess what'll happen, and you'd be right. Can the social networker help the socially inept? Will they in return teach her enough computer skills to keep the maniacal boss happy? Will they get into wacky scrapes, week after week? I'm ordering pizza, anybody want some?

The saving graces are there, though: The IT guys work very well off each other, and the new IT manager is charming, even if she's as dotty as the geeks. She serves well as a bridge to the crazy corporate side of things. The maniacal boss, too, can be amusing; a firing-crazy bastard who, in the first episode, fires the entire fourth floor because they're not working as a team. When he instructs security to escort the floor out of the building, he makes sure to let them know they have to work as a team, too, or they're out. Then he calls HR and asks for a second security squad (who know how to work as a team) hired on standby to escort the first security squad out if they can't work as a team. The repetition piles on just right, and I enjoyed it.

The problem with the show, though, is that it tries waaaaaay too hard. Characters are taken to extremes, and while that happened with Father Ted, The IT Crowd seems to have it worse. The first episode was a mishmosh. The last third of the episode fell completely flat because it was not only rushed, but paced wrong: in an effort to integrate IT with the rest of the office, Jen the manager decides to throw a party in the basement. This segment lasts under five minutes, when it could have just as easily been expanded into an entire episode and done well, instead of shoehorned into the first episode.

On the other hand, the comic timing can be good and the character interactions well-done. I have to admit I enjoyed the absurdist segment wherein fire breaks out in the office and, after a little bit of fire extinguisher-related slapstick and busy bit with a too-complicated Emergency Services phone number, the socially-awkward Morris sits down and sends an email to the fire department as the flames continue ("Hope to hear from you soon...") Later, when the other characters enter and react to the fire, Morris says "Settle down! It's been taken care of. I've sent an email!" while the flames continue. Well-meaning but completely unable to pick up social cues, Morris will probably be the breakout character of the series.

I've gotten used to the bleak realism of both versions of The Office, so it's still a little disconcerting for me to see an office sitcom with such blatant leaps into the absurd. The second episode, while an improvement over the first in terms of shrugging off the Typical Sitcom Storyline shackles, still made me feel bad for laughing at it. I've got two more eps to see to be fully caught up, so I hope the show overcomes its growing pains and settles into a good Father Ted-like groove.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:hemlock_martini
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
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Actually, the entire premise of "Cell" can be boiled down to "Stephen King doesn't like cell phones." Add that to a boilerplate "OH NOES EVERYDAY TECHNOLOGY GONE MAD" scenario and that's pretty much it.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
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A LUDDITE WILL SURVIVE.
[User Picture]
From:hemlock_martini
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:07 pm (UTC)
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When he made a point of saying that the main character didn't have a cell phone, I figured out pretty quickly that this was a cranky-old-technophobe rant in the form of a horror novel.
[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:17 pm (UTC)
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It took me until the fifth time he said it in the first ten pages to figure it out...
From:lno
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:36 pm (UTC)
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But I'm a cranky young technophile who happens to hate cell phones. This book will be my manifesto.
[User Picture]
From:hemlock_martini
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Then be prepared for Cell 2: Something Really Nasty Happens To Those Punk Kids With Their Damned iPods, They Explode Or Something
From:lno
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
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No, no! iPods are awesome. I've had a PC of one flavor or another for twenty years, I make my living in software quality assurance, one of the bedrooms in my townhome has been devoted to half a dozen computers in various stages of disassembly. I just hate cell phones.
[User Picture]
From:minkrose
Date:February 17th, 2006 11:31 pm (UTC)
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that would be MY book. I hate iPods.
[User Picture]
From:cursethedark
Date:February 18th, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
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How I long for the subtle commentary of "Maximum Overdrive."
[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
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I've read the first section of The Cell, and I wouldn't characterize it as a Brit-Com at all.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Don't the closing credits of the book scroll sideways instead of up the page?
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
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Did that even make sense?!
[User Picture]
From:weds
Date:February 17th, 2006 10:28 pm (UTC)
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Yeah.
[User Picture]
From:fancycwabs
Date:February 20th, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
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It did once I watched an episode of "The IT Crowd."
[User Picture]
From:markm
Date:February 18th, 2006 02:43 am (UTC)
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A møøse once bit my sister.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 19th, 2006 06:34 am (UTC)
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Brit-Com will be tabloid-ese for when Britney Spears starts dating Rivers Como from Weezer.

Noah


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