The IT Crowd: Introducing the Internet
Channel 4 sitcom, The IT Crowd, is a modern, innovative comedy series about the staff of the IT department at Reynholm Industries – a rather mysterious London company. It’s an ongoing joke throughout the series that nobody seems exactly sure what the company does, although it’s hinted at that it’s something to do with communications.
The humour revolves around the everyday situations experienced by the weird and wonderful employees, including the two rather geeky IT experts and their new manager – a ditzy female who knows absolutely nothing about computers or the internet.
The show was written by Irish writer and director Graham Linehan, who is also known for Father Ted and The Fast Show. Spanning 24 episodes and one special, The IT Crowd ran for four series, from 2006 to 2013. Its unique brand of quirky, offbeat humour turned it into a cult series that’s still enjoying re-runs today.
The IT department at Reynholm Industries is hardly what you would expect from a modern communications firm based in the capital. Tucked away in a dingy, cluttered basement, it is staffed by two IT technicians, Roy Trenneman and Maurice Moss – played by Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade respectively.
Roy will go to great lengths to distract his workmates so he doesn’t have to do anything. Described as lazy, laid-back and unlucky, his normal working day consists of playing video games, eating sweets and reading comics.
Maurice is a highly skilled IT genius but is totally lacking in any social skills whatsoever. He’s in his early 30s but is shy and awkward around other people, particularly women. Although he’s very hard-working, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, mainly because he tends to fade into the background.
Roy and Maurice are rubbing along together in the IT department when they meet their new departmental boss, Jen Barber (played by Katherine Parkinson). A new employee at Reynholm Industries, she has lied on her CV, claiming she has lots of experience with computers.
In fact, her employees soon realise she has no experience at all and that she’s totally reliant on them to cover for her. However, a strange phenomenon occurs after her arrival. Despite having no knowledge at all of computers, whenever Jen leaves the department, it descends into chaos, with order not being restored until she returns.
Initially, Roy and Maurice resent Jen as their departmental head, and this leads to one of the most hilarious scenes in the whole series.
In an episode called The Internet, Jen asks the two IT experts for their help. As employee of the month, she’s asked to give a speech about the internet to shareholders, but of course, she knows nothing about it!
As a joke, they give her a small, black, plastic box with a red light on top and tell her this is “the internet”. Being rather mean, they had produced the comical device with the sole reason of making Jen’s speech an unforgettable one, but for all the wrong reasons.
Telling her the ideal place for “the internet” is on top of Big Ben, where there’s the “best reception”, they sit back at the meeting, expecting her to fall flat on her face when the delegates realise she has no idea what she’s talking about.
However, their joke backfires when it becomes apparent that the shareholders have even less knowledge than Jen, and they are actually in awe of the little black box, thinking it genuinely contains “the internet”.
The audience gasps in amazement when Jen tells them that if anything happens to the black box, chaos will descend on the world, with disasters occurring such as planes falling out of the sky! Roy and Maurice are stunned and very disappointed that their gag has backfired.
However, their boss Douglas Reynholm (played by Matt Berry) inadvertently creates chaos when he throws his ex-girlfriend through a window. She lands on the black box, wrecking it.
Suddenly, mayhem descends as Jen and the other delegates believe “the internet” has been destroyed. They all begin running around frantically, thinking planes are going to crash and it’s the end of civilisation as we know it.
Meanwhile, Maurice and Roy celebrate with a fist-bump and sit quietly smiling to themselves, delighted that their prank has turned out better than anticipated.
Lack of understanding
Although the scene is an amazing comedy moment, there’s more than a grain of truth in the plot. When the internet was in its infancy, many people genuinely didn’t understand it.
After personal computers began to take off in the 1980s, and the office revolution began, changing the way we worked forever, many employees rallied against the computer age. People can be resistant to change, so the onslaught of the internet was a step too far.
People’s lack of understanding was touched upon in the American TV series Halt and Catch Fire, which charted the growth of the personal computer and the World Wide Web since the ’80s.
Although the title was based on the initials of a computer machine code instruction, HCF, it was also an in-joke among computer experts that it stood for “Halt and Catch Fire”. If HCF was executed, it was a commonly held myth that the computer’s central processing unit would stop working, causing it to burst into flames!
On a more serious note, although series such as The IT Crowd gently poke fun at the world of IT, thus creating plenty of laughs, in reality, the internet has produced many benefits. People have greater information and knowledge at their fingertips, while connectivity, communication and sharing have been made much easier.
Businesses and individuals can sell goods and services online to make money and the workplace has changed for the better, with collaboration, working from home and access to a global workforce being some of the many benefits.
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