The IT Crowd: Are We Not Men?
The One With…
Moss and Roy stumbling into a Guy Richie movie. Jen dating a magician-alike.
I Love Willies
May as well do this one first, because it had me in pain – actual, agonising pain – when it happened: Moss and Roy’s kiss.
It’s not funny because it’s vaguely inappropriate, actually – the ‘two straight but often asexual guys’ thing is a minor player in the success of the moment. It’s funny because a) it’s the first thing that occurs to Moss as a way of evading police attention because he’s spent his life watching far too many movies; b) further aping little-understood movie-style behaviour, Moss goes for the full 9 ½ Weeks, trying to climb Roy like a Jungle Gym; c) there’s a great reveal of two vast bins which seem ideally suited to hiding behind; d) when the cops come by a second time, Moss goes straight back to the original plan and forgets about the bins; and e) because when they come the second time, the police cars are almost endless in number.
It just builds and builds. All the pieces are there. Honestly, I had to be given oxygen.
This is probably the episode to showcase Linehan’s signature ‘cut to reveal’ move. Cut to reveal Michael, who does indeed look like a magician. Cut to reveal Roy and Moss at a football match. Cut to reveal two enormous, person-hiding bins. The timing on the robbers trying on balaclavas (trying on balaclavas!) and checking their guns while Roy witters on in the foreground is also exquisite.
Elsewhere, Moss is on great form this week. The out-of-nowhere saying of football things in a football voice was simply, effortlessly funny, while classic Moss-ness – “Michael the Magnificent”, sat in a pub with his glass of milk quivering, using an old-fashioned rattle at a footie match, or just sticking his head around the door and calling “hello” – was never far away. He even managed to swipe some of the stolen cash…in order to properly count it.
A nice bit of time is given to the in-office chatter, one of the strengths of the show that often goes unappreciated as people talk about the bigger moments. Musing on how inappropriate looking like a magician is for a driving instructor (“Only a clown would be worse.” “Or a mountie.”) is a rich and lovely moment which speaks to two guys who’ve worked together a long time. More please!
Roy’s wonderfully understated “I just went to the toilet” after being terrified by his phone call (a good spit take there, too) feels like an actor suggestion. No question, O’Dowd has very good instincts, and the gentle toning down of Roy’s hysterics – which has gone unnoticed, more or less, while the same was more obviously happening with Jen – has allowed him to find some lovely moments. The high-pitched return of his footballing phrases was a delight as he quivered in the darkness, and calling it back over the closing credits was even better.
You’ve Got Shit On Your Head
There’s a huge gap where Jen should have had an opinion on Ross and Moy being manly…and didn’t. (See What Graham Says, below)
Moss’s OCD for counting things is nearly spot-on, but the story stumbles when it transfers the obsession from staples to money. It’s only when Moss goes for the table of cash that we realise this is about counting things rather than getting the staple count correct after Roy’s transgression. The difference is important, and needed to be clarified sooner – ideally during the pub scene where, instead, Moss brought out the stapler a second time.
Actually, what are Moss and Roy doing in that pub in the first place? Why aren’t they at home on the Xbox? It feels like we’re short a line of dialogue about their plan to try out their blokeish language in the field.
Moss’s ‘Cockney neck’ goes nowhere. The visual of Moss in a neck-brace is nice, but the joke just sits there, doesn’t escalate, doesn’t attract Jen’s notice, and ultimately the brace is simply removed during other dialogue.
The two attempts to drive up the ramp into the van was slow and, unfortunately, not really funny. Not sure what didn’t work here, but it may be that it’s simply something most people would have struggled with – suddenly being asked to drive bank robbers into the back of a van – so has no ‘extra’ comedic value. Not least because it doesn’t, actually, have a funny outcome – it just takes slightly longer to hide. Things slow down without actually being made any funnier.
Jen’s date seems pretty adamant about the nature of their relationship. “You owe me that much” he says, cribbing from the Eastenders book of dramatic clichés, before begging for more chances. These lines aside, they seem to be at the early dating stage, and Jen doesn’t seem especially committed to what they have, so how is his behaviour anything other than off-puttingly clingy?
The conclusion to the dating story is disappointing, too, with Michael failing to adequately perform a magic trick. Given the wonderful hand movements shown earlier (a great visual joke where he shows off the restaurant’s cruet set as if they’re props for a trick) the poor sap clearly has an aptitude for the job, which is undersold here. Plus it really is a pretty perfunctory conclusion to a very A-B-C story – Elaine from Seinfeld would have run things in much madder, twistier directions.
What Graham Says
From Mr. Linehan’s very own blog: “Bit short tonight so apologies for that…sometimes when you edit all the fat out, the show comes in short. Need to address that next series. A bit more character stuff is what it needs, I think – don’t need to be quite so paranoid about moving the plot along…”
Spot on. The running time was approximately 21:45 which isn’t quite the shortest ever, but runs a close second to The Dinner Party (21:38), both well over a minute shorter than would be typical. (The longest episode so far, fact fans, is Aunt Irma Visits at 25:04.) ‘Character’ stuff’ is what I felt was missing last week, it was a pretty breakneck episode, and a little character time this week might have allowed Jen to feel a greater part of the main story…or allowed her own tale to develop a little further.
Also: “My aim with this series is to make everyone stop talking about the theatre episode.” A worthy goal to be sure – there’s no question that, despite being quite an atypical episode (in that it was mainly set over one evening, and predominantly pre-recorded on location) The Work Outing has become The One To Beat. While Are We Not Men? doesn’t steal the title, it’s certainly in the upper half of IT Crowd episodes to date.
Interestingly, the strengths of the two shows come from a similar place: both take a relatively simple premise and allow it to escalate. Where the earlier story does better, though, is in keeping Jen in the mix. She’s intrinsic to the way The Work Outing begins, and her story is in many ways the spine. Moss and Roy find their own chaos spreading out from there. In Are We Not Men?, sadly, Jen’s story is almost totally unrelated to the boys’ adventure, and so feels a little tacked-on.
Still, it’s closer to the show at its best than last week’s From Hell, where the four main stories barely related to one another and had to be awkwardly fused together. That’s the trick, it seems: IT Crowd stories need to spread outwards from a central premise, rather than starting disparate and being woven together.
Bodie, Doyle, Tiger, The Jewellery Man
John Willie Hopkins returns as the Postman – now named Harry – having appeared in the very first episode, Yesterday’s Jam
After his appearance here Paul Bazely is unlikely to find any work outside of the Magic Circle.
Some bloke named Matt Berry is credited at the start of the show, yet never makes an appearance.
Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?
The catchphrase is nowhere to be seen. But then, nobody this week does any work anyway.
The website Moss has discovered is called bluffball.co.uk. Unsurprisingly, in the real world Fremantle Media have bought it.
Don’t Google The Question
“Will you watch your language? My ears are not a toilet.”
Graham Linehan finds the button marked ‘story’ and presses it. A big improvement on last week, which pressed the ‘moments’ button repeatedly but rarely made the elements cohere, Are We Not Men? also sticks to what The IT Crowd does best – the tales of nerds getting into trouble. Not perfect, but tonally spot-on and often fist-poundingly funny.
The structure of the Moss/Roy story is clear, simple and well-executed. Their desire to be more accepted as ‘men’, and the net-based way they go about it, comes directly from the characters as we know them to be. The clumsy way they go from chatting in a pub to attending a match to Roy owing money in poker feels totally organic. And the switch to a Guy Richie movie in the last act is an eye-rolling ‘well, it would have to be with those guys’ turn that, in fact, is so appropriate that it’s fairly predictable. Which isn’t always a bad thing.
In fact it’s all very Seinfeld this week. The main story takes pretty humble George/Jerry/Kramer-type concerns (“Are we manly enough? If not, what can we do about that?”) and sees things spiral into self-created chaos. Once again Roy ruins a perfectly good man for Jen in what is, as mentioned above, a very prototypical ‘that guy you’re dating is nice except for…’ story. And there’s a nice line in repeated phrases, divorced almost totally from their meaning. (A relative of both things like “master of my domain” and Father Ted’s own “That would be an ecumenical matter…”.) It’s all Larry David-mongous.
But The IT Crowd isn’t the same show, and spinning Jen into her own tale seems like a mistake. Aside from a few nice moments, the B-story plods a very basic path. Somehow the disparate nature of Seinfeld isn’t appropriate here.
I’m torn on the naughty language – generally I think the show, with it’s oddly innocent tone, suits expletive-covering beeps better, but there’s no denying that it allows the final “Fuck off Harry” gag to work a treat. (This is, of course, a reversal on the face-slap that concluded Moss and the German, a not-quite-successful moment intended to conclude Roy’s ‘feminine’ role in that episode. That it works perfectly here, showing Roy as conclusively masculine, is reason enough to concede on the naughty words.)
Overall, an improvement on last week, a return to some core IT Crowd themes, a tidy story and…Christ, I’m still giggling at that kiss.