“Friendface” (season three, episode five; originally aired 12/19/2008)
At this point, it’s been well-established that Jen is just as much of a social misfit as Roy and Moss. Her insistence that she’s different—she’s Relationships Manager—is still there, but it’s less desperate than routine at this point. She’d love to be somewhere higher up (literally, seeing as she’s actually stuck in a basement), but for now, she’s in I.T. and I.T. will have to do. For now. But Jen’s rapid descent into madness via Facebook clone “Friendface,” is the most specific showcase for her latent nerdery yet. The second she strides out of her office past her “Relationship Manager” plaque and blithely hands her colleagues new business cards with an updated email address (jennywenny@friendface), it’s clear she has not quite thought this Friendface thing through. All she knows is she’s stuck in a basement, but she joined Friendface last night and she already has thirty friends!
In the world of The IT Crowd, though, Facebook/Friendface has basically zero redeeming qualities. The episode’s cold open is an ad that tells us cheerily that Friendface works along the same lines as a plague, “but it’s not disgusting germs that spreads, it’s friendship!” It’s a one-stop shop for social isolation, stalking, and subliminal messages telling you to stock your office’s mini-fridge exclusively with “Cuke” soda. Roy and Moss are immediately wary, as they are of anything involving contact with people, or worse, contact with technology the masses have approved. Still, it takes approximately .2 seconds for Jen to rope Roy and Moss right in with her, bribing Roy with the Girls on Seven and Moss with word games. Before any of them know what’s happened they’ve moved their usual office banter into a Friendface chat window, and Jen is pulling accidental all-nighters just to keep up with her messages (or Tic Tac Toe games, as the case may be).
The problem with proving that Friendface is a black hole where time and energy goes to die is that once it’s proved, there aren’t many other places to go; it makes for a better sketch than a premise. So it’s smart that the script expands past this aspect, sending Jen out into the world to meet up with an intimidating schoolmate, and Roy to break someone’s heart, but neither plot truly works on their own. A woman coming face to face with her high school friends’ intimidating success and a man trying to stave off a crazy ex are well-trod areas “Friendface” never quite cracks, despite Graham Linehan’s best efforts to exaggerate them into parody. Jen’s high school friends are all architects, doctors, and surgeons, even that girl who used to eat the wood off her desk; Roy’s ex reads him suicidal poetry over dinner as her running mascara makes her the Joker. In fact, neither Jen nor Roy’s Friendface disasters are much fun unless they’re bumping up against each other. Jen’s high school reunion looms nigh, and in line with sitcom rules, she must bring a fake husband to impress everyone. And so Jen wanders into I.T. and interrupts Roy’s frantic game-playing to ask if he has “any attractive, successful-looking friends?” Chris O’Dowd’s immediate, scoffing, “no” is pitch perfect. Roy goes on to decline Jen’s generous offer to bring him to her reunion (“well, I guess you’ll do”) because she guilted him into seeing the aforementioned Joker ex in person to break things off, which brings us to Jen enlisting Moss instead.
To Graham Linehan’s credit, he knows Moss playacting as a version of a “normal” person is a goldmine, but he uses it sparingly. Moss as a gruff football fan worked because it was so unexpected and was used more often as a comedic button on scenes than their driving force. The same goes for Moss as Mr. Jen Barber, who sounds more like Moss but dresses more like a Wimbledon commentator (which makes sense, since Jen’s husband is apparently a “highly seeded” professional tennis player, though that doesn’t mean what Moss thinks it does). Mr. Jen Barber also likes to talk about how his “ginger angel” of a wife pioneered a bionic car, and how he takes the edge off marriage with “regular uninhibited sex with a partner who’s even wilder,” at least four times a day. So when Roy bursts in with the Joker, desperate to prove he’s in love with Jen so she needs to please leave him alone, Moss stands resolutely by his woman. This culminating reunion scene is yet another example of one that wouldn’t work nearly as well without the core trio of O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, and Katherine Parkinson keeping it afloat. Parkinson is especially good as Jen tries to navigate both Moss and Roy fighting for her fictional affections in a way that won’t seem completely crazy to her high school friends. “Yes, it’s true,” Jen stutters, pointing a champagne flute at Roy. “I did want you at one point, but then Moss was there for me in a way…that you…were not. And now we’re together, and that’s all that matters.” It’s already hilarious, and then Moss doubles down on his character, spins into a jealous rage, slaps Roy’s face, and gathers “some” of his coats to take it outside. The night ends as it was always going to: all three running off into the night, far away from the crowd of people, back to the comfort of their basement.
“Calendar Geeks” (season three, episode six; originally aired 12/26/2008)
As far as pop culture parodies go, the nude calendar is a bit of a confusing choice. More specifically, doing a play on the 2003 Helen Mirren vehicle Calendar Girls is very confusing for a 2008 television episode. The back and forth on what the nude calendar should be, then, is by far the least interesting aspect of “Calendar Geeks.” The first half of the script leans heavily on Roy freaking out in front of the Girls on Seven (most notably his erstwhile crush, Kimberly), Roy backpedaling out of mockery and into concern for the “permanently boss-eyed,” and Roy soliciting grannies for posing nude. Why? “For the same reason I do everything,” he tells Jen, on his way out to the streets to hit up some non-gangrenous grannies. “To have sex with a lady.” It’s not that a Roy-centric episode isn’t overdue, but it coasts on O’Dowd turning up the heat on Roy’s already frantic energy, and the basic fact that naked grandmas are funny (the very thing it purports to parody).
“Calendar Geeks” does get some traction by acknowledging the calendar thing has been done a thousand different ways and is rather expected (Moss: “What, has Roy convinced all the Girls on Seven to do a nude calendar?”). But it really takes off in the second half after the grannies have been dropped as a plot point in favor of Jen’s rapidly compromising morals. While she spends the front half of the episode insisting a Girls on Seven nude calendar would be sexist, Douglas intervenes at the halfway point to inform her it’ll be her head on the line if the calendar doesn’t make “a million pounds,” or more importantly, if it’s not “sexy, sexy, sexy.” Suddenly, the Girls of the Seventh Floor calendar is “empowering,” and Jen’s the one trying to convince Roy to make it work (for a woman who supposedly hates her dead-end job so much, Jen works weirdly hard to keep it). But Roy doesn’t want to jeopardize his end goal of sex with a lady by pushing Kimberly, who’s apparently the best thing that’s ever happened to him even if she hasn’t really happened to him yet. They’re both about at the end of their ropes with this whole confusing calendar thing, and then Moss returns from his apparent week-long holiday (“You didn’t know I was on holiday?”) and inspiration strikes. The new calendar theme is “geek chic.” Roy and Jen are so desperate at this point they think it just might be crazy enough to work.
Spoiler alert: It is decidedly much too crazy to work. But the ensuing photo shoot with Roy trying to coax Moss into sexy poses without him realizing what’s happening is such an excellent (and ludicrous) display for O’Dowd and Ayoade that it hardly matters. Moss is so trusting and blasé, and Roy so horrified by what he’s doing, that the entire situation becomes increasingly uncomfortable and ridiculous. That Roy proves a little too good at the Terry Richardson routine is icing on the cake. “You know how you growl when you’re angry?” he tells Moss, who’s on the floor for an ostensibly dropped lab sample. Roy directs another geek wearing a leather jacket in front of a chalkboard to act like he’s “just solved the problem in a way that the ‘stuffed shirts’ don’t like.” A shirtless pair of nerds kneels in a pile of balloons, and they’re only confused for a second before Roy convinces them they’re celebrating the discovery of penicillin. By the time the calendar is finally unveiled, Roy has sold out so thoroughly he’s a shaking, twitchy mess, but as far as Kimberly is concerned, he has gone above and beyond the normal call of flirting duty. But even if Roy could get the images of bewildered grannies and the boss-eyed and Moss on all fours out of his head, it was never going to work out between them. She’s a Girl of the Seventh Floor; he’s an I.T. nerd. They’re about as star-crossed as it gets.
- As for Douglas: he was also in these episodes! He didn’t do much beyond hit on women, though, so nothing very new to report here.
- Am I the only one who thought Jen’s high school friend might have had a crush on Jen? Come on, if she were a Sim, that dancing would be categorized under “flirt” (I’m sorry).
- I want Roy’s 8-bit Bert and Ernie shirt, please.
- Zenith and Quasar Moss have a rough childhood ahead of them.
- Moss, on Friendface: “I have better things to do than catch up with people and flirt, thank you very much.”
- Jen on nude calendars: “If it’s unemployed men or old ladies from Yorkshire, it’s fun! If it’s sexy women, it’s not fun, it’s oppression.”