Released in the U.K. last September and on Hulu just yesterday, “The Internet Is Coming” reunites the IT department for a final bow more than three years after airing a new episode. Roy, Moss, and Jen are exactly the same ragtag group of socially incompetent misfits they always were, but in the time between The IT Crowd’s fourth season and this one-off, the actors have gotten much closer to an actual It Crowd than their counterparts. Katherine Parkinson is prolific in the U.K., turning up frequently onstage and even on Sherlock. Richard Ayoade dipped into directing with a standout episode of Community (thus cementing its status as The IT Crowd’s equally nerdy American cousin) and became a fixture on the UK’s wildly popular, wildly funny quiz show Big Fat Quiz Show. Chris O’Dowd has perhaps been the busiest, going from a standout role in Bridesmaids’ already stellar cast to releasing pent-up dude rage on Girls, anchoring his own series (Moone Boy, Family Tree), and currently, starring in a Broadway play (Of Mice and Men with James Franco and Leighton Meester). Drawing them all back together could have made the “The Internet Is Coming” bonafide bells and whistles Dream Team Television Event. But when all’s said and done, “The Internet Is Coming” is just a super-sized IT Crowd episode that only betrays that it’s a series finale in the last act, when they all wonder why their lives are so weird, and Douglas hands them the keys to Renholm Industries.
Despite being billed as the one and only episode of a fifth season, “The Internet Is Coming” plays more like the British television tradition of the one-off Christmas special, except that there’s no big cultural event like Christmas driving the action. Roy and Jen become unwitting viral video phenoms. Douglas calls Peep Show’s Matt King a “perfumed porno vampire” and royally fucks up his stint on the U.K. reality show Secret Millionaire. Moss gains confidence through the cunning use of women’s trousers. In other words, it’s business as usual as far as The IT Crowd is concerned. It’s as down-the-line IT Crowd as it comes, and you know what? It’s fine. Just… fine.
On the one hand, it’s kind of refreshing to watch a series finale that doesn’t make too much of a fuss over having to end things. Television’s track record has proved that the only thing harder than starting a series is ending one, and too many finales fall into the trap of serving up improbably happy twists that placate the audience, or throwing out improbably weird twists to make this finale more interesting than all those finales. By contrast, “The Internet Is Coming” feels very much like it could have aired at any point during The IT Crowd’s run. In fact, the only real discernible differences in “The Internet Is Coming” versus past seasons are the pop culture references. Moss now quizzes Roy’s new girlfriend on the Marvel universe, Jen gets in trouble for trying sarcasm on “Chitter,” and Roy argues that little people aren’t a race because come on, “this isn’t Game Of Thrones.” Otherwise, “The Internet Is Coming” follows The IT Crowd’s tried and true joke structures so that it feels like we’re just dropping in on the IT basement for a quick visit before we leave them for good.
On the other hand, this episode makes it clear that The IT Crowd’s controlled chaos really does depend on tighter editing. With twice the runtime of a normal episode, “The Internet Is Coming” has more room to linger, and it rarely works once the plot gets going. Roy and Jen’s spiral into Internet infamy plays up familiar beats that don’t hold up when given more space. Roy’s accidental “little people racism” is mostly funny because Chris O’Dowd is such an impossibly tall man (which is undoubtedly where this plotline came from). But it feels like a shadow of The IT Crowd’s snappier runners, which becomes clearer when Roy muses about how strange it was when he pretended to be disabled. That episode, the series standout “Work Outing,” did the snappier version of what “The Internet Is Coming” tries to do again with Roy—put him in a compromising and unflattering position that comes out of what Roy insists is accidental prejudice, but still clearly comes from a real place of discomfort. In fact, O’Dowd is so good at conveying physical panic that it feels like a cheat when we don’t get to see Roy carrying the coffin with men a third his size. It quite possibly could have rivaled that great moment in “Work Outing” when Roy very slowly ascended a wheelchair ramp with a terrified smile. The closest we get to that in “The Internet Is Coming” is that hilarious moment when Roy pepper sprays himself and O’Dowd puckers his entire face up like he swallowed it whole. The closest this episode comes to feeling fresh is Jen’s surreal flirtation with the Italian barista (which comes to a swift end when she goes back looking fairly friendly with Roy), and Moss’ quest for confidence, because they don’t play on previous, better versions of themselves.
But for all its strikeouts, “The Internet Is Coming” shines when it just lets Roy, Moss, and Jen hang out together in the bowels of Renholm Industries. The chemistry between O’Dowd, Ayoade, and Parkinson is as easy as ever. They’re having so much fun being back together in that dingy basement that they sell most of the jokes just through their reactions to each other. On paper, Roy realizing that Moss showed him his painful internet show—sorry, webisode—and exclaiming, “my God” doesn’t even register as a joke, but O’Dowd’s delivery is pitch perfect. Parkinson relishes the opportunity to let Jen’s nastier side out as she tells Moss that “Game Board” is, “slow, it’s so slow… and the other thing is that it’s terrible.” And while Moss’ storyline largely keeps him separated from Roy and Jen (this episode is seriously lacking in Roy/Moss scenes), Ayoade makes the most of what he’s got, punctuating the otherwise whatever line, “if you have to have anything it is confidence” with a ridiculous, serpentine head bob. Their reunion at the end when they recount just how weird their time together has been is the only time “The Internet Is Coming” feels like a series finale. We even get to watch Jen’s world crumble to pieces as Roy and Moss finally tell her that no, that papier mache box in her office is not, in fact, the Internet. I’ve always loved The IT Crowd’s willingness to go big, but after the wacky mishaps of coffee in a homeless woman’s face and a shorter-than-average person catapulting into a truck with boobs, all I wanted was more time in the basement. As Richmond says with exactly as much sadness as any IT Crowd fan feels when saying goodbye, it’s just not the same when those three aren’t together.