“Bad Boys” (season four, episode five; originally aired 7/23/2010)
There are some liberties a show can take once it’s had a few seasons to establish itself, some shortcuts it can take to get to a laugh without seeming cheap. Sometimes this means continually returning to a piece of dialogue that’s proven effective in the past. While there’s a fine line between tiring out a joke and making it a consistently funny callback, “have you tried turning it off and on again?” falls in the latter category. So Jen betting Roy £100 that he can’t go a full day without giving his catchall I.T. fix is a fun nod to both the burgeoning fan community that adopted the line as its own, and to the fact that this will likely be the line The IT Crowd is remembered for far beyond its shelf life.
Another way creator Graham Linehan knew he could depend on laughs is to put Richard Ayoade’s Moss in unexpectedly “macho” situations, and so we get Moss wearing a bandana around his curly mop of hair and taking part in a prison’s “Scared Straight” program. “What the flip are you looking at?” he growls. “You think this is funny? Motherflippers think everything is a motherflipping joke.” It’s already perfectly incongruous to hear Moss’ delicate swearing in the mouth of a Scared Straight performer, but Ayoade twisting himself into a would-be badass pretzel is what takes this bit to the next level. Then he makes an abrupt turn out of his rumbling “working class” accent and into his high-pitched Moss voice. “It all started when I went to fix a printer on seven…” Floor Seven being “Seven,” we flash back to Moss fixing a printer for an impossibly cute girl, who just as impossibly is super into Moss. He only vaguely knows that something different and potentially neat is happening here, but it’s not until a smirking guy in a suit comes along and pokes fun that he realizes he’s out of place. And so Moss throws a tantrum.
Maurice Moss has always been a child. He’s smarter than just about every Reynholm Industries employee put together, but he approaches the world with the simple openness and bluntness of a 6-year-old. While Moss has always had this trait, it’s especially obvious in this fourth and final season, when everyone has settled into and exaggerated their respective personalities. Last week, he fixated on a shiny iPhone in an arcade game; this week, he skips school.
As Roy and Moss have their lunch in the park and end up playing video games, they’ve never looked younger. “Do you think if I had paid less attention in school I’d be a different person?” Moss asks, and Roy doesn’t think for even a second before he shrugs, “No.” As always, Ayoade’s blinking silence says more than many actors’ loudest shouts ever could. For a second, Moss is so disappointed that he could have never been anyone else but this 30-something guy playing video games on a park bench that all he can do is blink. It only takes about a minute of convincing from Roy for him to “bunk off” work, and once they’re clear of the shadow of Reynholm Industries, Moss is giddy in the way that only children trying something new and dangerous can really be. “We’re bunking off and he’s excited,” Roy explains apologetically to his fellow bus passengers. “We’re bunking off!” Moss squeals, blissfully unaware that he’s causing any sort of real trouble. Ah, Moss. You adorable squeaky little moppet, you.
But bunking off isn’t quite the “taking the blue pill in the Matrix” experience that Moss wants it to be. They go on the bus with a sense of aimlessness, “an element of loitering,” and decide to glare at people who could probably (definitely) beat them up. Roy insists that they loiter at a games shop, but Moss knows that they’re just perusing, which is unacceptable bunking behavior. So he steals some DVDs of a home-makeover show, despite Roy’s protests, and they end up running up the downward escalator to escape capture. Meanwhile, Douglas and Jen are having a strobe-lit work party, which is probably still more fun than bunking off even after Douglas reveals that it was work evaluation all along. It’s all exactly how you’d expect Roy and Moss skipping work to go, and it would have been enough… and then Moss finds the stray bomb-sniffing robot.
“Oh Roy! Can we keep him? If he doesn’t belong to anyone?” Moss the perpetual child blinks up at Roy with all the eagerness of a puppy, unaware as always of his surroundings. In this case, “his surroundings” are composed of caution tape and an assembled crowd of frozen Reynholm employees. It’s not the most subtle way the show has tied its disparate storylines together, but it’s hard not to laugh at a conclusion that’s all yelled misunderstandings. In a span of just a couple minutes, we get Moss realizing that the malfunctioning robot operates on Vista (“We’re going to die”), Roy reluctantly asking the operator if he’s tried turning it off and on again (cue Jen screaming in satisfied delight), and Moss taking off to leave poor, terrified Roy frozen by the mysterious package. By the time Moss punches the obnoxious guy who interrupted his Floor Seven flirt, makes out with the Floor Seven girl herself, and gets dragged away by the police, “Bad Boys” isn’t the series’ most uproarious hour, but it is at the very least efficiently funny.
“Reynholm Vs. Reynholm” (season four, episode six; originally aired 7/30/2010)
As the final season comes to a close, it’s clearer than ever that Douglas simply never fit into the equation, just as his father Denholm always felt out of step with the main thrust of the show. Denholm, though, was saved as emphasis for a scene, as an exclamation point; Douglas wedged his way in as an ellipsis. Sometimes he connected a scene with an extra beat or two, and sometimes he just trailed off, leaving us wondering if there was even a point to him at all. Douglas’ increased role in the series’ proceedings is undoubtedly thanks to Matt Berry, who was more available and ready to be a television regular than Christopher Morris ever was, but you could also feel Linehan’s scripts straining at the seams to get outside the basement, and maybe a more involved upstairs boss was his easier way out. Still, the outside adventures that were most effective were never the ones that involved Douglas, who stayed confined to his office when he wasn’t buying Rohypnol from generically Middle Eastern gurus. Instead, it was excursions like Moss and Roy delving into being football fans, Jen going for another job interview, and Moss discovering a secret Countdown Club that worked because they were rooted in character. They didn’t depend on the mere fact of oh-so-wacky shenanigans to get laughs.
So it’s a shame that the final episode depends so much on Douglas and his oh-so-wacky shenanigans to get laughs. The mystery of his disappearing wife coupled with her almost immediate mysterious reappearance (“I’d give anything to see her walk through that door,” Douglas says, only to stare at a door that doesn’t open for another couple minutes) is fine fodder that devolve into rootless absurdity within minutes. To be fair, “rootless absurdity” is exactly what this episode is striving for, as it does so in as self-aware a fashion as possible. “Victoria!” Douglas exclaims as his wife strides in the door right after he said she absolutely wouldn’t. “But I thought you were deaaaaaaad!” That last “dead” is a ghoulish wail, a parody of the soap operas that would say it without a hint of irony, and the knowing wink that this is all ridiculous helps the scene along. Then we get a scene with Douglas and Victoria sparring over dinner, and Douglas lets out a Borat-esque “my wiiiife” mid-orgasm, and we’re back to the cheesiest of square ones.
Then Douglas recruits Jen to be his legal counsel, at first because he could have sworn she was in his legal department, and then because if she really is Relationships Manager, she might as well help manage his relationship. Fair enough (especially with the ten thousand pound incentive). It’s unfortunate that so many episodes felt like they had no choice but to default to a Douglas and Jen pairing. It’s not that they don’t have decent chemistry or that it doesn’t make technical sense to have CEO Douglas interacting most with a department head, no matter how apparently insignificant. But as with every episode that relies on Douglas and Jen, “Reynholm vs. Reynholm” feels like it should be in an entirely different show than The IT Crowd—one that focuses on bombastic corporate heads and their preferred extreme diets rather than the misfits downstairs. It’s not until seven minutes in that we even see Roy and Moss, and they’re only fleeting presences on the way to the courthouse. Roy poking fun at Jen thinking it’s a “petal stool” instead of “pedestal” is a quick joke, but fun and comfortable enough to make me sad that the final episode of the series focuses on a larger event that leaves little room for basement banter.
As for the Larger Event itself… it’s fine. There are callbacks to previous episodes, with Roy getting a flashback to his last time on the witness stand testifying against the touchy masseur, Douglas hinging his entire defense on the fact that Victoria “used to be a man” (not true), and the glorious return of Richmond (middle name: Felicity). There are video sketches, like Douglas’ Star Trek porn (which makes me wonder why he didn’t bond harder with his standard nerds) and an advertisement for Richmond’s “Goth 2 Boss” program (“Where are you going? Is it to the top? If not, why not?!”). For a second it looks like Richmond is going to blow the entire case wide open with the reveal that Victoria Reynholm is actually a former Goth named Melanie, until he realizes that no, that’s actually not her, sorry about that.
But for all its twists and turns, the trial’s highlight is once again a wordless Richard Ayoade. Moss is nervous to the point of breaking down about being in a courtroom thanks to his mother suing him at age 11—in his kitchen with a jury of cats, but traumatic nonetheless. He sweats all over the stand, spills fizzy water on the microphone, gives himself an electric shock, sinks in his chair, punches his chair, and finally, falls spectacularly out of his chair. As he slithers his way out of the witness stand, Moss stares everyone down, as if prolonged eye contact will hide the fact that he is currently slithering his way out of the witness stand. At this point, it’s safe to say Richard Ayoade has the most nuanced, deeply hilarious stare in television.
After that, the episode is over as quickly as Douglas’ wife appeared in his doorway. And though Victoria interrupts Jen’s potentially inspiring speech about how “we are all Reynholm” to lower her divorce settlement, there is still something touching about it. The final tag of the series is just Roy, Moss, Jen, and Douglas sitting around a table, drinking his fancy milk wine and laughing. It’s not much, and neither is the episode, but it’s easy to see why Jen finally has to admit that these weirdos are her people. Or as she so simply puts it, “Reynholm is the family we have found in each other.”
- Many thanks to you all for reading along with me as I revisited The IT Crowd. This assignment turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated (for reasons I’ll get into in the comments), but it has been an adventure, not to mention extremely educational. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have. I hope to see you all around, i.e. in the fall for the one-off special.
- Love that Moss goes in for a kiss on the escalator when they’re avoiding the police (Roy: “That’s not going to work this time!”).
- Roy’s killer whale shirt—callback to Sea Parks, or definitely a callback to Sea Parks?
- Floor Seven Girl: “I like your glasses.” Moss: “Sorry, but they’re not for sale.”
- Roy, on balloons: “They explode suddenly, and unexpectedly. They are filled with the capacity to give me a little fright, and I find that unbearable.”
- Roy on Douglas: “He’s some piece of work. Like a sexy Hitler.” Is he, though?
- Jen, on incorrect wine orders: “I asked for red. No no, leave it.” Jen and I are one and the same.
- Jen gets Roy back for “petal stool” when he insists the (incredibly British) expression is “damp squid”: “It’s not squid. Squids are already damp.” “Hence the expression.”
- Roy on Jen’s computer: “It’s infected. If it were a human being, I would shoot it in the face.”