They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, those people have never seen the American attempt at The IT Crowd. Now, it's not terrible or unwatchable by any means. It is just strange. For those people who have watched the original British series, it's kind of like watching the same show from an alternate dimension.
But hold on a second, before we get to the never-aired American pilot, let us first take a look at the original British comedy series to get a better overall vision of the series as a whole.
The Nerd Renaissance
The IT Crowd was an acclaimed British sitcom created by Graham Linehan (Father Ted) that ran for 25 episodes from 2006–2013, including a one-hour finale. The Wikipedia synopsis is as follows:
Set in the London offices of the fictional Reynholm Industries, the show revolves around the three staff members of its IT department: a geeky genius named Maurice Moss (Ayoade), the work-shy Roy Trenneman (O'Dowd), and Jen Barber (Parkinson), the department head/relationship manager, who knows nothing about IT. The show also focuses on the bosses of Reynholm Industries: Denholm Reynholm (Chris Morris) and later, his son Douglas (Matt Berry).
The show was extremely popular and was one of the first programs in what became known as the nerd renaissance, this being the time period from 2006 until 2012, when nerd culture leaked into the mainstream. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Big Bang Theory, the Harry Potter franchise, and the rise of J.J. Abrams were all a part of bringing the nerd culture into the public consciousness.
Presently we live in a fully integrated society. Comic books are cool, Pokémon is a national craze, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossed $2 billion at the box office. So The IT Crowd is very important and relevant to our present popular culture and the harmonious chaos that is our society, as it did play its part in ushering in this great time for the geekdom.
So Let's Get To The British Version
The show is beautifully simple and is propelled forward by its wonderful cast of characters. Roy (Chris O'Dowd) is a cheeky Irishman who, despite his intelligence, can't seem to get out of his own way. He is overall pretty lazy, but whenever he does put effort into anything, it ends up biting him in the ass.
Richard Ayoade plays Maurice Moss, a hyper-intelligent man with an overwhelming lack of social skills. Where Roy gets a lot of the physical comedy, Moss gets more of the cerebral. He is also the only cast member to appear on the American pilot episode. This character predates The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, who is a similar archetype.
Jen (Katherine Parkinson) is the interloper in the basement. She fumbled her way into her managerial position of the IT department by lying on her résumé. She is often used as a proxy for the audience as she helps navigate this finely honed ecosystem. She can be a bit of a chore for our two main gentlemen, but as with most sitcoms, they always seem to work it out.
Through the course of the program, our IT professionals at Reynholm Industries went through two different bosses. The first was Denholm Reynholm, founder and CEO of the company. He ruled with an iron fist and was as arrogant as he was intelligent. He doesn't make it long in the series. After the authorities come to speak with him regarding errors in the company's pensions fund, he promptly jumps out of the window to his own death.
Denholm's son Douglas Reynholm arrives at his funeral in what is one of the greatest entrances of a character in TV history. The spoilt man-child is a great addition to the cast and brings a new flavor to the show. He is an arrogant womanizer who doesn't have a single mature bone in his body. He is a foil for Jen, constantly hitting on her, in their Pepé Le Pew-style relationship.
The cast melds into one cohesive whole in this absurd world that Linehan created. As always, with success comes imitation. A winning formula was created, and if it can be replicated? Et voilà, more success. This of course, is almost never the case, but it doesn't stop the powers that be from trying. And so it was with the Americanization of The IT Crowd.
The American Version
As a special treat, you can watch the entire pilot (above) before you read on!
After the first season of The IT Crowd proved such a resounding success, NBC Universal ordered a pilot for a US version. And it is a shot-for-shot remake of the original British pilot. Sure, there are subtle tweaks made to shift the viewership to a more American-friendly vibe. The best example of this are slight alterations to a story that Roy tells a group of coworkers at a party. In the original pilot, he recalls a vacation to Amsterdam, while in the US version, the location is switched to Florida. Oh yeah, they are going absolutely bonkers with these changes!
Check out a side-by-side comparison of the pilots below:
You can see the great lengths the US showrunners went to, to really make this their own. It is extremely bizarre seeing both versions together, kind of like looking into a quantum mirror (Yes, this is a Stargate SG-1 reference). To their credit, the producers did change up the cast a bit. Albeit not to their overall benefit.
The American show brought back Maurice Moss, played by Ayoade. He certainly carries over the familiar charisma that he brought to the original show. His jokes seem to hit with the most frequency, but that could be because he seems the most sincere. His character is unchanged, and the best part is, if the show would have run a full season, he would have been on both series simultaneously. That is one helluva morning commute!
Joel McHale plays Roy and has to be the most unbelievable computer nerd ever to grace our screens. On second thought, he is not. That award goes to Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat. Still, McHale is a a giant, good-looking man who does not fit the mold. In the US, however, we have to have extremely attractive people in film and TV roles. That's just the way it is. Moving on, McHale does a decent job, given the circumstances. He just wasn't meant for The IT Crowd. Which is great, because he would go on to star in Community. Six seasons and a movie!
Jen is portrayed by Jessica St. Clair and she really gives it the old college try. She is a fine choice, but just doesn't seem the right pick for the role. Her character is an extremely confident woman, which is awesome, but that is not who Jen is. She is an insecure mess, just like the rest of the basement crew. That is what makes them so enjoyable to watch. They are their very own land of misfit toys.
We only briefly get to see Rocky Carroll playing Denholm. The character is handled pretty well, despite not having the same level of intensity that Chris Morris brought to the original. Carroll's version would have undoubtedly evolved if the show went to series. Instead, we got an underdeveloped photocopy of the same character. When all is said and done, Carroll needed to go off and be on CBS's flagship show NCIS.
While the US pilot was far better than several other series that have been ordered around that time, it appears NBC chairman Ben Silverman gave it the ax for his own personal reasons, with The Hollywood Reporter writing that the show "didn't quite spark" for him. The truth is that it couldn't have survived merely by copying the original. Much like other US remakes of most British shows, it would have to take on its own persona in order to survive and thrive.
While it's unlikely the US version of The IT Crowd will be revived, for now we have the entire original series to rewatch to our heart's desire. Are you a fan? Did you see the US pilot? Let it be known in the comments below!