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.