The IT Crowd: “From Hell”/“Are We Not Men?” 
-

The IT Crowd: “From Hell”/“Are We Not Men?” 

“From Hell” (season three, episode one; originally aired 11/21/2008)

(Available on Hulu and Netflix.)      

“From Hell” doesn’t really feel like a third season première. Part of this is just the fact that these seasons are minuscule, standing at six episodes a pop, though that’s fairly standard for Britcoms helmed by a single writer. The other part is the show’s lack of serialization, which makes changing hairstyles the only way to tell which season is which. But it’s mostly that after the high precedent the first two season premières (“Yesterday’s Jam” and “The Work Outing”) set, “From Hell” is a pretty basic episode. Okay, so there’s a plumber that goes on a “pee parade,” and yes, Douglas shoots himself and bleeds out in the conference room, but “From Hell” doesn’t go for classic IT Crowd status. Instead, it’s a series of perfectly solid setups that rely, as always, on the talents of the core cast to carry them through.

Leading the titular storyline is Jen, who’s terrified her new handyman may be a “Builder from Hell” as seen in the UK series …From Hell, which chronicles everything from gardeners from Hell to weather from Hell to, naturally, teenagers from Hell. In typical Jen fashion, she accidentally convinces the guy she’s keeping an eye on him in order to seduce him, and her ensuing rejection (“I don’t fancy you, you big ugly builder!”) drives him to become the builder from Hell she so feared. Katherine Parkinson is great as Jen falls down the rabbit hole of paranoia, digs her own verbal grave trying to excuse her baseless accusations, and shuffles away from the handyman on her knees. But the “from Hell” conceit’s never quite as interesting as the show seems to think it is, and the payoff with the camera mixup during the conference reads more like a first-draft idea that never got topped.

Meanwhile, a group of no-good youths are taunting Moss on his way to work, which just about proves the “Moss equals child” theory. That’s really about all there is to this plotline, except for the scenes where Roy tries to toughen him up. “Them glasses is shit, innit?” Roy barks at Moss in his best no-good youth voice, to which Moss responds by bursting into tears. 

On the top floor, Douglas has been instructed to do nothing, as anything Douglas actively does inevitably ends in disaster. This lasts about .2 seconds, since Douglas immediately opens his desk drawer (“I don’t think I’ve ever looked in this drawer”) and finds his father’s handgun. It’s fun to hear Denholm’s voice again, and Matt Berry’s monotone-but-bombastic delivery has never been better than with, “WOW, A GUN!” His woozy, post-gunshot-wound haze is less effective, but it’s still one of Douglas’ better storylines.

In an unlikely turn of events, Roy is the link between everyone’s stories. He’s the one to convince Jen she’s hired a “Builder from hell;” he sporadically advises Moss on how to get past teenage bullies; he lends Douglas ₤20 and obsesses over getting it back. Roy does better when he’s linked to other stories as opposed to spinning off in coiled rage on his own, so it’s not bad structurally to watch him drop in on everyone’s lives. It’s a perfectly fine half hour, but there’s never a truly satisfying moment when they all come crashing together, like with the meticulously plotted “Work Outing.” The same is true of the various payoffs, which aren’t nearly as satisfying as they could be (though Moss yelling, “I’ve got a motherflipping gun!” is always encouraged). Even the end tag of extra plumber footage feels half-hearted, like the script ran out of steam and The IT Crowd team literally just let the camera roll.

Still, there’s a familiarity in “From Hell” that’s incredibly endearing, from the hilarious bully/Moss roleplay to Jen and Roy sharing a cup of tea in front of the dozen monitors he set up in her house to catch a potentially pissing plumber. This third season is also clearly not as interested in convincing us that Jen doesn’t think she belongs in this setting. At this point, it’s impossible to know how long it’s been since Jen joined the I.T. department, nor does it particularly matter. She’s as much a part of the department now as Roy and Moss ever were. She still doesn’t know much of anything about I.T., but that’s beside the point by now. The important thing is that she knows Roy and Moss, they know her, and they all rely on each other like the co-dependent messes they are. In fact, if a new boss came in to oversee I.T., they’d probably be as appalled by Jen as she was of Roy and Moss. She probably wouldn’t even blink at inviting her department to a dinner party at her flat anymore; she’s one of them for real, for good. It’s a welcome development in a show that doesn’t depend on development a whole lot.

“Are We Not Men?” (season three, episode two; originally aired 11/28/2008)

(available on Hulu and Netflix)      

"Did you see that ludicrous display last night?" - Bluffball.co.uk, men.

Now this is a classic episode of The IT Crowd.

Roy’s preoccupation with what it means to be a man has been a constant thread throughout The IT Crowd. He baited online dates with the promise of being a bastard to prove that women want bastards (with mixed results). He organized a “big girls’ night” for Jen, only to spend the entire time obsessing over what it meant that he was watching Beaches. He realized he had pink lipstick on his face all day and his horror was tantamount to if discovering he had a cockroach on his face all day. Roy is constantly running into his masculinity with all the scattered confusion of a moth stuck in a bath. So when Roy hears Moss “saying football things in a football voice,” all his alarm bells go off. Chris O’Dowd’s widespread arms and baffled expression sell Roy’s panic perfectly. The football voice is a man thing, for men! Why isn’t he doing it, too?

Enter Bluffball.co.uk, the web’s premier guide to “football parliance” and Moss’ guide to communicating with the postman. But as Roy sees it, Bluffball is his way in with what Moss calls “proper men.” Football-obsessing, beer-swigging men who greet each other with “oi oi!” And so Roy sidles up to the nearest football fan at the pub and strikes up a friendship based on nothing more than, “did you see that ludicrous display last night?”

It’s a given that this is all going to fall spectacularly to pieces, but the shot of a terrified Moss, sandwiched in between these proper men with his shaking glass of milk, is excellent as a precursor anyway. Moss just wanted to talk to the postman without feeling weird, and now he’s stuck with these guys, who bring him to football matches he openly loathes. “This is the worst thing in the world,” he spits at Roy, shaking his whirligig noisemaker with disdain. Roy’s barely faring better, but he’s far more invested in feeling like he’s one of the lads so he grins and bears it, straight through the football match neither of them can stand and a night of poker that leaves him reeling. “When did the English start drinking like that?” Roy sputters to the office the next day. “You people drink like you don’t want to live!”

This being The IT Crowd, though, it just doesn’t end at Roy and Moss sitting in utter misery at the football match. Oh, no. It ends with Roy driving the lads to rob a bank and back again, straight onto their getaway truck where he manages to choke out through a sob, “…did you see that ludicrous display last night?”

But this being The IT Crowd, it takes another beat to wrap up Moss and Roy’s attempt to be proper men—and yes, it’s a gay beat. When the police come to bust the burglars, Moss panics and kisses Roy against a garage door to distract them. Apparently, Moss thinks kissing people means trying to climb up them like a spider. “Couldn’t we have just hidden behind those bins?” Roy asks in exasperation, and just when it seems like the scene’s over, more police cars come and more kissing against garage doors happens and the dream of being a lad is officially dead. As Moss says, weird’s all they’ve got. Well, that and their sweet style.

Stray observations:

  • Wherefore art thou, Richmond?
  • Douglas, getting it wrong: “Japan has expressed concern.” “What, the whole country?”
  • Continuity watch: When Douglas tells Moss to call 999, Moss has to inform him that the number’s changed through glorious song.
  • Denholm, trying to get Douglas into heaven (or something like it): “We’re having a heaven party, and that was a Hitler-gram.”
  • Not much to say about Jen’s subplot in “Are We Not Men?”, because there’s not much else beyond her episodic squeeze and his magician-esque looks. But a) it’s wonderful that it progresses into Michael the Magnificent actually trying to become a magician to fit his look and please her, and b) it’s exactly the kind of observation that would stop me from dating someone (and yes, it’s totally unfair).
  • The football jargon is perfectly, hilariously vague, but Richard Ayoade could be saying anything in that voice and it would be hard not to laugh.
  • Moss hates football: “Maybe he’ll kick the ball. Indeed he has! That deserves a round of applause.”
  • The best part of Roy’s breakdown in the truck is definitely when he squeals, “Take two!” as he eases the car back up the ramp.
  • Roy, killing time in the truck: “I think my dentist lives near here. Do you know him? That’s stupid, why would you know him, you don’t live in the truck… who closed the door?”

More TV Club