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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have You Tried Turning it Off and On Again?

Ah, the Britcom. You introduced the world to John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson. You spawned dozens of shows that spawned dozens of pale American imitations. I’ve long admired your writers for their sharp wit, dry humor, and complete fearlessness in the face of the PC police.

Only a comedy starring John Cleese could feature an incompetent bell-hop whose incompetence traced directly from his home country of Spain. When John Larroquett tried it here in the States, he had to make the bell-hop of ambiguous origin and it just didn’t work as well, even though he did exactly the same jokes.

The Britcom has long been the refuge of the geek. Monty Python is an old geek standby, and no geek worth his salt can’t spout off at least a dozen in-jokes pertaining to the speed of an unladen swallow, or the doggedness of the black knight.

Later, given the choice between Rowan Atkinson or Bob Saget, the discerning geek took Atkinson whenever possible.

Recently a new British comedy has entered the geek lexicon (or “geexicon” to take a bad meme and run with it). The I.T. Crowd.

I remember how I was first exposed to the I.T. Crowd. It was featured on a Danish blog that linked to funny videos and flash games. I clicked on a link I couldn’t read under a picture of a forlorn looking Irishman sitting under a desk, flanked by women’s legs. I assumed it was one of those amusing “commercials banned in America!” shows, so I gave it a look.

I was greeted by what was possibly the most rocking theme song I’ve ever heard. Following that came one of the funniest TV shows I’d seen in a very long time. For a brief period, all of the episodes from Season 1 were available on Google Video, and I downloaded all six of them. Then, once the DVD was released in region 1, I deleted those and bought a real copy. Thus, I was able to rationalize my pirate-like behavior by clinging to the argument that it’s not stealing if nobody wants to sell you a copy (NOTE: This logic only applies to digital copies. I do not feel justified in stealing a car that is no longer manufactured just because the manufacturer won’t sell it to me. I would, however, feel justified in downloading blueprints to build my own Tucker.) (FOOTNOTE TO NOTE: I bet you thought I was going to say “Delorean” didn’t you?)

The I.T. Crowd is the play-on-words title of a show about a pair of social pariahs that work in the I.T. department of a major corporation. Maurice Moss is the standard bespectacled nerd living with his mother. Roy is the slacker geek. Their world is shaken up when a feisty redhead bluffs her way into getting hired as the I.T. manager by the only person on the planet who knows less about computers than she does.

Together the trio (or quartet, if you count Richmond, the goth who lives in the server room) have standard misadventures pertaining to the foibles of their office and personal lives.

It’s really not very different from a dozen other office comedies, but there is a metric buttload (1 metric buttload = 1.10231 imperial buttloads) of geek humor. I enjoy just looking at the background of the I.T. office and trying to identify the various bits of geek culture sitting around. The first episode of Season 1 features L33T subtitles, although the rest of the episodes appear to have that feature broken. Also, the DVDs themselves are worth the purchase just for the menus.

That may sound weird, but the Menus for the I.T. Crowd DVDs are the best menus ever. Each season references a different era of video gaming. Season 1 is all Atari 2600, Coleco Vision and Vector Traced arcade graphics. Season 2 is all about the 8 and 16 bit console era, with the episode select screen reminiscent of the original Mortal Kombat character selection screen. Season 3, recently released to region 1, is all about flash games. The Special Features menu is a spectacularly well done reference to Grow Cube, which surprised me because I didn’t realize enough people knew about Grow Cube to make that joke work.

The Missus and I got ourselves season 3 on DVD for Valentine’s day, and as someone who was mildly disappointed in season 2 (in particular the unceremonious killing off of the company CEO and his subsequent replacement by his lecherous, idiot son), I have to say it’s come back with a vengeance. The Missus and I have watched the first four episodes, and we haven’t laughed so hard since we saw Knocked Up.

One of the episodes we saw last night involved Jen, the IT manager, being called on to give a speech about technology because she’d won employee of the month. Now, seeing as how she bluffed her way into the job, she doesn’t know anything about computers. So Moss and Roy, fed up with her swelled head at being named employee of the month, offer to write a speech for her. They even provide props: a black box with a blinking red light that they inform Jen is “The Internet.” Then they try to stifle their laughter as she prattles on to the crowd about this wondrous little box that does so much for everyone.

Sure, it’s an old plot device (trick the clueless speech-giver into embarrassing herself in front of an audience), but they throw some new twists in it to keep it fresh. I won’t tell you what twists, because it would ruin the fun.

Unless the series drops off a cliff in the last two episodes of season 3, I can wholeheartedly recommend the entire series to anyone who likes Geek Humor. It will be a worthwhile addition to your own repertoire of in jokes. I’ll get you started: 0 1 1 8 9 9 9…

Plus, after watching the season 1 episode The Haunting of Bill Krause, you’ll never be able to hear “Candle in the Wind” the same way again.