“The Work Outing” (season two, episode one; originally aired 8/24/2007)
Graham Linehan once told an interviewer that his biggest regret with The IT Crowd was sticking the department in the basement. While fitting as a metaphor for the characters’ stunted growth, the basement’s a tricky place to leave, especially if one of the biggest personality traits your main characters have in common is “socially inept.” So if they left their department in the first season, it was to plug in computers, go on disastrous dates, and/or get a face full of Denholm’s spit. This was a pattern more than a rut by the end of the first season because, well, the first season was only six episodes. But for the second season, Linehan consciously messed with their precious ecosystem and pushed the IT department out into the real world. Sure, there are still IT problems that need complaining about, but most of the action takes place elsewhere. This season will take The IT Crowd to the theater, a reality show, a Bedouin camp, and Soviet Russia (sort of). It’s a risk, and it pays off. Thanks to expanding the universe beyond the dingy walls of Reynholm Industries’ basement and playing to the core cast’s strengths, The IT Crowd’s second season is its strongest.
So it’s fitting that season two kicks off with “The Work Outing,” which sends Roy, Jen, and Moss on a field trip that goes horribly awry. The setup is smart, though, because it’s such a familiar one: Jen has another crush that drops by the IT department under flimsy pretenses (borrowing a copy of the UK tabloid Heat) before he asks her out on an inevitably disappointing date. Except this time, Roy and Moss invite themselves along too, and the entire episode shifts. As Jen says, “That could have been a date, there! But now it’s a [Shudders.] work outing.” And not just any work outing—they’re going to Gay: A Gay Musical. And who doesn’t love “a story of a young man trying to find his sexuality in the uncaring Thatcher years?”(Moss: “Oh no. It’s set in the ’80s!”)
It doesn’t seem as though the series is actively gay panicking with this bizarre show of spandex, at least not entirely. As with the literally monstrous Aunt Irma, Gay: A Gay Musical becomes so much more extreme because of who’s watching it. Roy’s comfortable with his sexuality but doesn’t want to have someone else’s slapping around in his face, and Jen’s paranoid that her date might be a little too into Gay: A Gay Musical because as Roy pointed out, Philip actually did want that copy of Heat. The actual musical and Philip’s incredibly loud support of it aren’t nearly as funny as the littler moments outside of it, like Moss getting roped into an audience participation bit because it would be rude not to, and Roy describing the actress he came to see as the one who plays “that heroin addict who gets stabbed in the face.” (Moss: “Oh, she is lovely”).
The real action, though, happens during the intermission bathroom breaks. I’m grateful it went for a bathroom plot besides “ladies go to the bathroom in groups,” but the smart crux of this episode is that it taps into how all three of the IT workers hate confrontation, but deal with it in incredibly different ways. On the lower end of the scale is Jen, who squints at Philip all night hoping he’ll just let it slip whether he’s gay or not. Moss gets caught using the staff toilet, and decides it’s best to just throw on a uniform and fake his way through some double whiskeys than admit he just couldn’t go in front of the toilet attendant in the regular bathroom.
And then there’s Roy. It makes sense that everyone’s favorite curmudgeon avoids conflicts, but Roy makes it into an art form. He hates confrontation so much that he’d rather fake a disability and risk the scorn of the entire United Kingdom than own up to the fact he’s full of shit. To be fair, though, it’s extremely hard to reverse course once you decide to crumple to the ground and fake paralysis instead of admitting you took advantage of an empty bathroom. There’s this great moment when the theater manager’s dangerously close to not believing that someone broke into a bathroom and stole a handicapped man’s wheelchair (weird, right?) and asks Roy, “but how did he get in?” And Roy, realizing that he could come clean and walk away just embarrassed, decides to double down by sobbing, “I don’t know!”
I was surprised when I re-watched “The Work Outing” to see how slow the build to this is, since I (like everyone in the comments, it seems like) remember this episode as a particularly laugh-packed favorite. But going back, the pacing makes a lot of sense. It starts typically enough, with some basement banter, a Richmond sighting, the aforementioned Jen date situation, etc., but the second Roy realizes he’s in this con for the long haul, the episode really takes off. Stuck in a wheelchair for no reason other than his own warped sense of shame, Roy becomes a lightning rod for pathetic hilarity. His embarrassment deepens with every scene, especially as he sticks to a voice that’s somewhere between a schoolboy and a grandma, so everyone talks at him like he’s both (“come here, my little soldier” is as cringey as it gets). Chris O’Dowd’s deeply uncomfortable half-smile as Roy gets sloowwwwlllyyyy loaded onto a handicapped van is a thing of beauty. By the time Jen sees Moss behind the bar, it’s clear we’re not about to be all that surprised, but it also won’t matter. We knew Moss would be behind the bar the second he stepped into the staff bathroom, but the timing of Jen turning from Roy to order a drink from Moss makes it work. Really, the entirety of “The Work Outing” is so well-plotted that it’s a pleasure to watch all the pieces crash into each other, like an absurd amount of crystal glassware at a seedy theater bar.
“Return Of The Golden Child” (season two, episode two; originally aired 8/31/2007)
I had been looking forward to re-watching “Work Outing” since pitching The IT Crowd for TV Club Classic reviews, so I was surprised when I laughed even more at “Return Of The Golden Child.” Sure, it doesn’t have Roy feebly croaking, “I’m disabled,” but it does have one of the best television deaths in the history of ever, with Denholm’s casual hop out the skyscraper window. It’s a startling, oddly fitting end to the greatest man on earth, who started an £800 billion billion company with just a dream and £6 million in his pocket. Really, the entire opening scene could be an entirely independent Saturday Night Live sketch about executive assholes, but it’s a testament to how much fun Chris Morris ended up being that you hope someone will run over to the window and say he landed on a pile of garbage. Still, “Return Of The Golden Child” is about as good a sendoff as Morris could have asked for. He even gets to steal the show at his own funeral by starring in video messages, the best of which is just him eating an apple and staring off into the distance, knowing everyone has to watch until the bitter end.
This week’s episodes are also ones I was glad to watch in a pair. As seen with the fluorescent nightmare that was Gay: The Musical! through Roy and Jen’s eyes, perspective gets a lot of play in “Return Of The Golden Child,” specifically at Denholm’s funeral. Roy can’t think of anything but his impending doom, thanks to Moss calculating that his life expectancy is roughly “any minute now.” So when the priest gets up to speak, he opens with, “DEATH!” Meanwhile, Jen just admitted that she used to be a chain-smoker, so when she watches Denholm’s goodbye messages, she sees an ode to cigarettes instead. (For those of you keeping track at home, the first time I heard the studio audience recoil is when Jen considers the half-smoked cigarette in the gutter.). This consistently warped perspective is a nifty trick that The IT Crowd will keep turning to, especially as the gang gets further from the office and deeper into absurd rabbit holes elsewhere.
But “Return Of The Golden Child” is ultimately most notable for swapping Denholm out for his spoiled sleazeball of a son, Douglas. Matt Berry (The Mighty Boosh) fits right into The It Crowd’s caricature of a world, whether he’s getting into slap fights with priests or scream-singing “FATHERRRR!” at no one in particular. His Douglas may have his father’s tendency to yell everything, but he’s absolutely unmotivated to do anything but hit on women (his infatuation with Jen will be an ongoing crisis). And while making the new boss a slacker at heart might not be good news for Reynholm Industries, it does mean he’ll find more excuses to hang around the IT department. As far as Douglas is concerned, any department, person, animal, vegetable, or mineral that can make his pants vibrate like crazy is just fine by him.
- This week, on Everybody Tolerates Richmond: He likes Heat magazine, uses his spare time to paint his face into a skull, and thinks “an ill wind is blowing” because he stepped on a Lego heel-first.
- This really is a sterling pair of episodes for Chris O’Dowd. So lest you think all I heard from him this week was, “I’m disabled!,” I’ll also say that his bleeped-out freakout in the church is basically perfect.
- Gay: A Gay Musical as told by London theater critics: “The audience applauded,” “More than tolerable,” “Not as long as some musicals.”
- Jen confronts Roy: “How long have you been disabled?” “Ten years?” “How did it happen, if that’s not a rude question?” “Acid.” “Wow. What are the chances of that happening?”
- Questions to which Roy answers, “I’m disabled!”: “What’s going on?” “What happened?” “Everything all right here?” “How are you?”
- Moss getting worked up is my favorite thing because he tends to use words like “ruddy” and “motherfudging” more, and we should all be using words like “ruddy” and “motherfudging” more, don’t you think?
- Jen: “Ask me what kind of phone I’ve got.” Roy: “What kind of phone have you got?” Jen, dropping the mic: “It doesn’t matter.”
- Roy, horrified: “Does it say I’m already dead?” Moss: “Oh no, that would be terrible. It’s Thursday.”
- Roy, on his new phone’s vibrate settings: “I’m not putting it up to eight, Moss! It’ll blow my cock off!”
- And finally, the exchange The IT Crowd might best be known for: Jen: “Just say you’re sorry for their loss, then move on.” Roy to Grieving Widow: “I’m sorry for your loss. Move on.”