“Jen The Fredo” (season four, episode one; originally aired 6/25/2010)
After almost two years off the air, The IT Crowd launched its fourth and final (!) season with a very strong and surprisingly emotional episode. “Jen The Fredo” is different from the very onset, as Moss and Jen worry about whether Roy will be able to get over an apparently wrenching heartbreak. Giving Roy a long-term girlfriend we never get to see is a cheeky way to acknowledge the show’s hiatus, but it’s also a sneaky way to make Roy and Moss’ friendship the center of attention in an otherwise crowded episode. Jen finds yet another opportunity to expand her horizons beyond the basement and lands herself an exciting but compromising position as Reynholm Industries’ new “Entertainment Manager.” Unfortunately, this means juggling visiting businessmen and their various 8th grade field trip fantasies (translation: hiring various sex workers). Jen’s determined to strike the perfect balance between entertainment and debauchery, especially after hearing everyone tell her with a wince that this job isn’t for her, but it only takes one failed trip to The Vagina Monologues until she’s desperate enough to let Moss take the reins. From there, this episode is all about Roy and Moss, and the emotional roller coaster that is Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s obvious the suits will end up loving the roleplay the second Moss holds up the 20-sided die. It is not obvious, however, that Moss will use his sacred duty as Gamemaster to help Roy feel like he has closure with his ex-girlfriend. Roy’s heartbreak is played for laughs from the moment it’s introduced, with Jen flipping through the pictures of coupled bliss that Roy’s Photoshopped into the world’s saddest series of solo shots. Roy spends much of the episode clutching his wine, holding back tears, and begging Moss to please stop trying to sympathize with him because wow, does he suck at that. (“Women, eh? Can’t live with ’em, can’t find ’em sometimes…”) But when Moss interrupts a successful game of Dungeons & Dragons with his ruddy mysterious music to roleplay a goodbye scene for his friend, it’s… well, sweet. As funny as it is to hear Moss’ impression of a woman (“the usual boring pageantry. You know how the people of Pipsy Hollow love a parade”), it’s such a great moment because it capitalizes on seasons of Roy and Moss’ friendship, and for that matter, seasons of great chemistry between O’Dowd and Ayoade. The scene’s punchline involves the fratty suits in tears, but it’s hard not to sympathize with them when Moss/Elvin Queen Eliza says “goodbye,” and Roy immediately lets out a sob. This is the only way Moss knows how to help, and it’s ridiculous and hilarious, but it’s also undeniably touching.
Even beyond their friendship, though, this episode is an interesting showcase for Roy and Moss because it confirms a suspicion I had while re-watching “Calendar Geeks”: Moss and Roy no longer belong to the same brand of nerd. It’s not that they haven’t always had distinct personalities, since it was clear from the beginning that Moss will happily fix your computer for the fun of figuring out what went wrong while Roy will get it over with so he can get back to hating everything. But it’s also true that Roy and Moss were initially, in Denholm Reynholm’s words, standard nerds. They played the same games, made the same technology jokes, and had the same gripes about the incompetent people upstairs. They liked computers better than people, and neither could get two words out to a woman without passing out in a fit of panic. But as the series went on, their nerd ways started to diverge. Moss took on more of the standard nerd characteristics, shouldering the burden of crippling social anxiety and sporadic bursts of genius. He bypassed Standard Nerd and settled into his new role as Über Nerd. Roy, on the other hand, doubled down on his misanthropic tendencies. He became less of an I.T. geek and more of that guy who hates popular things (especially if he liked them first), as well as the kind of guy who could sleep with a woman out of pity. The distinction was clear in “Calendar Geeks” when Roy faced Moss and his pale, bespectacled, borderline robotic friends like they were of a different species, and the distinction continues into this fourth season. In “Jen The Fredo,” Moss takes charge with his extensive Dungeons & Dragons knowledge while Roy nurses a broken heart and a glass of white wine. But even as Roy and Moss’ priorities have diverged, their friendship has remained blissfully intact.
“The Final Countdown” (season four, episode two; originally aired 7/2/2010)
Since Moss going on television has proven to be a reliable formula for hilarity (see: the burning Abracadabra on Dragon’s Den, wandering into a BBC report on Iraq), it makes sense to throw him into the ring one last time. This time, though, Graham Linehan’s script gets the actual television appearance bit out of the way almost immediately, with Moss winning Countdown once he casually points out that the word jumble actually spells an eight-letter word. (The Internet defines “Tnetennba” as “a word whose function is purely to attract traffic to a website,” so…go figure.) This coup guarantees him entry into an exclusive club for Countdown champions who make it through eight rounds. The 8+ VIP lounge has as many velvet ropes and beautiful women as you’d expect, though as Roy finds out the hard way, the lounge will shut down at the mere mention of alcohol. The casting department must have had a field day with this place; it’s entirely populated with aggressively nerdy men in sweater vests and, naturally, the aforementioned beautiful women. Ayoade is typically on his game as Moss dons a red beret to shift from his mousy I.T. self into 8+’s most revered customer. But O’Dowd steals this scene with Roy’s unbridled glee at just how weird the club is. The 8+’ers may feel safe and important in their VIP sections—who wouldn’t?—but from the outside in, the whole thing is completely bizarre. It’s yet another example of how Roy and Moss are at odds in their respective nerdoms, but in the grand scheme of their friendship, it really doesn’t matter. “Can I just say,” Roy declares with a giant, shit-eating grin while holding his Coke aloft, “I am having a great time.”
The stakes get even higher when a tough-talking Countdown competitor named “Negative One” (David Crow) challenges Moss to a game of “Street Countdown,” and Moss accepts with a line that’s since blown up in such a massive way that it’s almost eclipsed the line that inspired it. “I came here to drink milk and kick ass,” he breathes in an ominous whisper. “And I’ve just finished my milk.” They then proceed to battle it out for the longest word in a Fight Club-style brawl, with flaming garbage cans and a man named “Prime” (Benedict Wong) encouraging the crowd to please tell as many people as possible about Street Countdown, because it really is quite fun. And it is! Moss and Negative One picking consonants, a pretty vowel, and some regular vowels in clipped tones is a nicely understated take on the strange brand of manners that comes with game-show protocol. But for all the hype, Street Countdown ends up feeling slightly anticlimactic when it’s all over in a matter of seconds.
Roy, Jen, and Douglas are meanwhile stuck in middling plots that feel like extras culled from a pile of half-ideas just to give the characters something to do while Moss delves deeper into the Countdown subculture. When he’s not making fun of 8+, Roy is desperately trying to convince an old schoolmate he’s not a window cleaner. It feels like a rehash of his brief stop into homelessness from last season, and his final line is a straight-up clunker (see, he doesn’t work with Macs, he mostly just works with Windows). Jen may as well have taken the week off. Her paranoia on why she’s getting shut out of the department head meetings is a short-lived misfire, especially when the big reveal is that Douglas is using the meeting time to teach a sexy-ish aerobics class. It’s easy to tell that Linehan was concentrating on Moss’ plotline too much to flesh out the others, which is a shame. Maybe it would have been an easy out to throw Roy and Jen into the Street Countdown mix, but at the very least, it would have been a hell of a lot of fun.
- In our very own Community walkthrough, Dan Harmon mentioned “Jen The Fredo” as a reassuring predecessor to Community’s own hard-won Dungeons & Dragons episode. He also said that both The IT Crowd’s D&D episode and Freaks And Geeks’ “Discos And Dragons” jump between game play and the other stories, which isn’t quite true—once Moss has started the game, we’re fully in the game. But Community spent the most time actually playing the game by far, so that point stands.
- Cameo Alert: The Mindy Project’s Ed Weeks as John 2! Has he done anything on The Mindy Project to rival his reading of the line, “I can’t read when I’m also trying to see things”? (Seriously, I’m asking.)
- Real talk: Douglas’ quest to not be The Feminists’ “Shithead of the Year” did nothing for me. His quotes were nothing particularly shocking—we get that he’s an incorrigible misogynist at this point—and the grim feminists were barely even developed enough to be caricatures (not that I’d be thrilled with that, either). A little bit of Douglas goes a long way; quite frankly, episodes suffer more when he has too much of a storyline over none at all.
- Still, my biggest gripe about “Jen The Fredo” is that Moss mistook Fredo for Frodo. In what world would he get that wrong?!
- There is a very good possibility that Roy got better with women when Chris O’Dowd got control of his whole hair situation.
- Moss’ unblinking calm in the face of a ticking clock on Countdown is a thing of beauty. Kudos to Ayoade for making 30 seconds of silence so hilarious.
- You know what? We may only have four episodes to go, but Jen’s red button-down and vest combo is really starting to grow on me.
- Jen on how to end a conversation: “I want to stop listening to this.” (Moss: “I completely understand.”)
- Words of wisdom from Moss’ mum: “An unopened door is a happy door.”
- “But enough about our balls…”