FROM JASON’S CHUFFING PIP-PIP CHEERIO — As a recent convert (or should I say hiree) to the British my-job-sucks sitcom The IT Crowd, I keep waiting for word that industry pressures from the Writers Guild of America strike have finally zapped a long-rumored U.S. version on NBC.
The Peacock announced in December 2006 that it would try to follow the success of The Office with a re-skeining of The IT Crowd, starring Joel McHale as a non-Irish Roy and reprising Richard Ayoade as Moss.
The comedy is about two socially-crippled computer nerds (“Have you tried turning it off and then on again?”) who adopt a clueless but kindhearted manager at a large firm.
If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and watch the original:
Production was allegedly halted on the NBC version in September but the network has never officially said it’s deleted the show. Now it seems that it will be added to the midseason roster, WGA news notwithstanding.
The Office certainly is a success story — with NBC now even trying a Scranton-centric spin-off with an all-new cast. But for every Office, there is a Teachers or a Coupling.
What concerns me is the sheer bubblegum that tends to go along with these trans-Atlantic exchanges. David Brent was a true asshole, and was softened into a misguided outcast as Michael Scott. Tim and Dawn never got together, but Jim and Pam are doing it like rabbits.
There’s also the problem of comedic sensibilities. As I argued on The Definitive Word (an excellent podcast) forum, British humor is based on how uncomfortable it can make the audience, while American humor aims to get the audience in on the protagonists’ jokes.
What makes The IT Crowd so great is a load of over-the-top characters — something that doesn’t appeal to the mass American audience. We like our sitcoms to have one wacky next-door-neighbor to act as a foil for the level-headed and just main characters. The Albions, they like entire casts of Christopher Lloyd from Taxi or Klinger from M*A*S*H.
Frankly, I’m not sure America is ready for Christopher Morris, Noel Fielding, or … well, any incarnation of Matthew Holness.
That’s something that’s often lost in translation (see Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, featuring several IT Crowd faces), appealing all too-often to 15-year-old boys obsessed with Monty Python and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
If you want a preview of what I suspect the NBC version will be like, flip over to CBS and catch The (horrible) Big Bang Theory, which was promoted entirely to geeks eager to see Kaley Cuoco strut around under the pretext that she might be interested in uber-nerd Johnny Galecki — who admittedly is the best thing about the show despite being overly nasal.
What I’m angling at here is that while awesome, British shows don’t necessarily need to get a Hollywood treatment. If it airs, I hope The IT Crowd works. I’m not going to let money ride on it, though.
There are some notable exceptions, which I’m obliged by conscience to share in closing.
I was unaware how many mainstream U.S. shows started life in jolly ol’ England: Trading Spaces, Hell’s Kitchen (which I personally hate), Three’s Company, Cosby (loosely, apparently), American Idol, Welcome Back Kotter, Queer As Folk, Three’s A Crowd, Sanford and Son, Dancing With the Stars, All In the Family, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Whose Line Is It Anyway, and several worthless nanny and family-swapping reality shows that shall go unnamed.