The single-camera, laugh-track-and-studio-audience-free aesthetic has become so synonymous with smart, offbeat television comedies in the post-Office landscape that sitcoms featuring the Pavlovian braying of canned laughter risk looking like anachronisms. Being taped in front of a live studio audience isn’t the only throwback element of the cult British comedy The IT Crowd. Boiled down to its bare essentials, it looks like a pretty standard workplace sitcom filled with stock types like The Geek (Richard Ayoade), The Slacker (Chris O’Dowd), and The Daffy Single Gal On The Prowl (Katherine Parkinson). Thanks to snappy writing and great performances, however, these characters all transcend stereotypes just as The IT Crowd transcends its creaky genre.
Created by Graham Linehan of Father Ted and Black Books fame, the show casts Parkinson as an ambitious young woman who bluffs her way into a job managing the IT department at a kooky corporation. Her office is in a dank, dungeon-like basement where her primary responsibility involves babysitting affable poindexter Ayoade and perpetually irritated would-be womanizer O’Dowd. The cast is rounded out by Chris Morris as Parkinson’s genially insane boss, a dandy with the sharp mustache and sartorial flair of a ’70s movie gangster, and Noel Fielding, a goth with a long, tortured company history.
The IT Crowd takes a while to get going, but it steadily builds comic momentum: By the final two episodes, it’s evolved from solidly amusing to downright hilarious. The actors together have a gift for the manic miscommunication and mistaken identities of farce. In “The Haunting Of Bill Crouse,” for example, Ayoade tries to protect Parkinson from an unwanted suitor by telling him she’s dead, a lie that snowballs until the company is throwing an elaborate memorial for her (complete with a performance from a guy who kind of looks like Elton John), and the cad in question thinks Parkinson is haunting him as punishment for lying about having slept with her. Discriminating comedy fans ultimately aren’t liable to find The IT Crowd’s studio audience distracting, because they’ll be laughing right along with it.
Key features: A clever, very meta, tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes featurette; funny deleted scenes; and a nifty short film from Linehan.