“Tramps Like Us” (season three, episode three; originally aired 12/5/2008)
From its very first 30 seconds, “Tramps Like Us” doesn’t look like any other IT Crowd episode. The words “previously on The IT Crowd” are a joke in and of themselves, because as previously discussed, The IT Crowd doesn’t do serialized episodes so much as it does sporadic callbacks, which is exactly what makes up this opening montage explaining Jen’s sexual harassment suit against Douglas. (The most fun is when the narration admits Douglas getting aroused when he roofies himself doesn’t make any kind of sense, since “Rohynpol would really only make you tired.”) Five hundred pounds later, Jen is sorta kinda vindicated, and Douglas is sentenced to wearing a pair of “electric sex pants” that shock him any time he’s aroused.
If the show has one narrative consistency, though, it’s Jen desperately trying to prove she’s better than the I.T. basement. She’ll yell at her coworkers to “look more normal” when she reluctantly has them over for dinner; she’ll own Roy at Rock Band only to wilt when she realizes how much time she’s invested; she’ll take a job as Douglas’ personal assistant because surely even that would make her more successful than if she stayed in I.T. The kicker is that Jen never proves she’s better than the I.T. basement, because she and her neuroses belong there just as much as Moss and Roy do. It’s been well documented that Dan Harmon is a fan of The IT Crowd, and that Moss and Abed come from the same well of deeply passionate nerdery, but also, Jeff Winger’s perpetual “I’m too good for this group until I’m not” sequence is a dead ringer for Jen’s never-ending cycle of leaving and returning to the I.T. department. Both Jeff and Jen fake smarts, insist they’re destined for bigger and better things, and look at their colleagues as adorable little distractions until they realize it’s too late—they are “one of them.” And then we get a deliciously big scene where they’ll stare a perfectly innocuous outsider in the eyes and intone, “Ich. Bin. Ein. Nerd.” The difference is, Jeff is ostensibly growing and learning as people are wont to do; as a live-action cartoon, Jen will never do any of that. (I know, I know—you got a Community notification for this?)
Meanwhile, Moss spends much of the episode concussed. His IT amnesia is never quite as sharp as that premise undoubtedly seemed, but the sequence of screwball mishaps that leads him there is particularly spectacular. I don’t blame O’Dowd for only barely keeping it together as Ayoade looks from Roy’s coffee-soaked shirt, back up again, and then launches himself chest-first into the door. Moss largely stays on the sidelines after this incident, at least until the first interfaith tour of Renholm Industries begins at the I.T. department, where Moss is fixing Douglas’ electric sex pants, right on time and right on the nose.
Roy then takes care of the titular storyline by ditching his stained shirt, losing his blazer to a woman having a heart attack (the jerk), and becoming briefly homeless in record time. Chris O’Dowd plays up Roy’s furious discomfort beautifully, especially when he prances shirtless into the office and flails around to get ahead of the inevitable mockery (“Oh yes, it’s so funny and interesting that I have no shirt on!”). Then he learns he’s interrupted a solemn moment of silence, and it’s a British one, so it lasts approximately forever. “Tramps Like Us” is a scattered episode, but the pieces are so deliciously funny that it’s a small quibble in the grand scheme of electric sex pant things.
“The Speech” (season three, episode four; originally aired 12/12/2008)
And lo, Renholm Industries decides to actually make Jen “Employee of the Month.” (Roy: “I thought you won it once?” Jen: “No no, everyone just thought I was dead.”) Launching straight back into her vicious cycle, Jen yet again feels superior enough to lord it over Moss and Roy. "Something I always knew was there…a greatness?” she muses, staring down at the certificate in awe as Roy contemplates suicide behind her. “No, I’m not saying that. But something.” It’s a little sad but a lot funny, especially as Jen then goes on a power trip blitz around the office. She gets tiny chairs so that even her professionally gangly coworkers end up looking like overgrown kindergarteners in front of her shiny new desk. She commissions a plaque that reads the totally nonsensical, “the biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams” (Oprah Winfrey, apparently). She’s a smug little nightmare, and this time, it proves to be just too much for Roy and Moss to handle. So this time, Moss and Roy decide it’s their responsibility to take Jen down a peg or two instead of waiting for her to accidentally do it to herself.
Enter The Internet. Moss’ plan to tell Jen the Internet lives in a box is a rather brilliant test of just how deep Jen’s ignorance goes. If she buys it, she’ll successfully humiliate herself. If she doesn’t, she’s operating on what they would consider to be a barely acceptable level of basic knowledge. Next thing you know, they’ve presented her with a plain black box with a red button with the reverence they usually reserve for Guided by Voices, saying in panicked tones that it “needs to go straight back to Big Ben” and “the elders of the internet would never stand for it.” For a second it looks like Jen might not buy it, but Roy and Moss know not to underestimate her ballooning ego: “Wait a minute…the elders of the internet…know who I am?!” And we’re off to the races. That Roy’s ghostwritten speech for Jen actually impresses the higher-ups is just a bonus. Roy and Moss may have correctly sized up Jen’s capacity to take herself too seriously, but they greatly underestimated the willful technological ineptitude of the masses. Haven’t they learned anything from years of going upstairs to turn laptops off and on again?
And then there’s Douglas and his ladylove, April. Now, this entire storyline is a bit of a mess, as one could expect when April admits she was born male and the response is a huge laugh. It’s not like The IT Crowd is alone in finding transsexuals inherently hilarious—far from it. Just off the top of my head, there’s the Sex and the City episode where Samantha moves to the meatpacking district (get it?), and the How I Met Your Mother episode where Ted imagines the worst possible thing his date could reveal, and it’s that she “used to be a dude.” There’s also the undeniable fact that trans issues have made a great, visible leap forward in recent years. So while it’s conceivable that a similar “ha ha you used to be a man” storyline could happen on sitcoms today, I have a feeling there would be more blowback than there would have been even in 2008, when “The Speech” first aired. But taken on its own, “The Speech” is problematic. It takes April, a fully-transitioned transwoman, and makes her only work for Douglas because she’s still “manly” in all her main interests: food, sports, and sex. (Which all sounds pretty awesome to me, but I’m a lady, so that can’t be right.) But it also makes a leap that Douglas would be too freaked out by April’s past to be with her, and judging by what we’ve seen of Douglas so far, that doesn’t line up with his character. Frankly, he’s a freewheeling sexual addict who doesn’t really care who he sleeps with, as long as it’s fun and groovy. The same man who was comfortable enough to copy Roy’s hot pink lipstick for a night on the town wouldn’t blink twice at a woman telling him she was born with a penis, especially since it’s been well established that he and April have some mind-blowing sex marathons.
It’s a shame, too, that this Douglas storyline boils down to some shady politics, because “The Speech” is Douglas’ best character showcase to date. Being in a temporary relationship where he can “get shitfaced and watch the telly” means Douglas can take a break from chasing skirts and reveal some actual personality beyond his libido, like when he tries to answer what he is to Renholm Industries and ends up with a list of movie titles. (“I forgot the question quite a while back.”) We learn that his favorite historical figure is Sherlock Holmes the Great Mouse Detective, his favorite fictional character is the Elephant Man, and that he most admires Churchill because of the way he said, “ahhh, yes.” Don’t get me wrong; if Douglas were an object personified, he’d be his electric sex pants. But he could stand to wear them a little less often if it means mining comedy from more unexpected places.
- First and foremost: I apologize for how long this review took to get to your computers. You would not believe how many times I had turn my computer off and on again to get this thing together (fourteen).
- Watch Jen’s silhouette as she goes back into the job interview without knowing what “I.T.” stands for.
- Jen, on Guided by Voices: “I’m quite a fan…I shouldn’t even know who they are.”
- Roy playing Wii looks like a spider trying to get out of a web.
- Roy and Moss squabbling is a particularly roundabout situation: “Do you trust me?” “No.” “DO. YOU. TRUST. ME.” “No!” “If you trust me you’ll say I’ll write that speech!” “I. Don’t. Trust. You.”
- Roy and Moss on the best way to fool Jen: “We could say that Bill Gates is called Bill Gates because he owns a lot of gates.” “I bet that’s true now. He probably owns a lot of gates.”
- Moss, with an idea: “You best put seatbelts on your ears Roy, because I’m about to take them for the ride of their lives.”
- “Whatever happened to Richmond?” “He got scurvy.”
- “God damn these electric sex pants.”