A Sad, Pale Imitation

The IT Crowd: U.S. Series Pilot

When it debuted, The IT Crowd wasn’t exactly a hit for Channel 4 in the U.K. Its pilot got a respectable, but not great, 1.8 Mil viewers, and while that audience did grow over time, finally reaching a peak of 2.17 Mil for the final episode of series four, it was still considered a sleeper success. It was enough of a success, though, for other production teams to come sniffing around. One of those was FremantleMedia, working for Universal Media Studios, who had some interest in taking the British version of the series and making a U.S. adaptation. They got the rights, rushed the show into production, and somehow managed to create a pilot in between series one and series two of the U.K. show.

For those of you who have heard of the U.K. version of the series and are thinking, “man, I don’t remember there being a U.S. version,” there’s a reason for that. The resulting pilot was terrible. So bad, in fact, that the series never made it to the air. It’s the stuff of legends, the kind of pilot where a show has already been booked, set on the schedule, ready to air, and then someone in authority actually looks at the thing produced and said, “you made what?!” It was so bad that the entire show was canceled. Not just retooled and reworked, but straight off sent to the bin, never to be seen again.

And if it wasn’t for websites like Archive.org, that would be the end of it. While the series never made its 2007-2008 debut, the pilot was leaked online in 2012 (after the original U.K. show wrapped up its original run) and it’s out there, if you actually want to watch it, in all its… well, glory isn’t the right word. It is a truly wretched piece of television, the kind of piece that is so irredeemably bad that you have to think, “yep, they made the right call here.” No one comes out of this piece looking good, which is impressive considering they even got one of the original actors, Richard Ayoade, to reprise his role for this version. It just doesn’t work, at any level, at all.

The pilot for The IT Crowd is a shot-for-shot remake of the first episode of the U.K. series. It uses the same script written by Graham Linehan (who, as we’ve already discussed, is a terrible human being), as Ayoade back in his role as Maurice Moss, and it goes through all the same lines and motions, doing the exact same thing all over again. Just worse. While it’s not just any one thing that makes this pilot not work – this is a gloriously awful mess in every way – the fact that the show did the same story, the same way, beat-for-beat so you could compare the two and see how it could be done right, and clearly how it was done wrong, is just majestically stupid. They didn’t adapt this work for U.S. television, they just did it all again.

Thing is, if that was the goal for this show, it’s hard to understand why they didn’t just pick up the British series to air in the U.S. If they wanted more than six episodes (which was all that existed of the U.K. show when this pilot was made) they could have struck a deal with Channel 4 and the cast and crew to accelerate development of more episodes of the series. Probably some producers thought, “no one will want to watch this show if everyone has silly British accents.” Except, if that was the thought, why bring back Ayoade? The thought processes involved in the creation of this project simply boggle the mind.

Accepting that they decided to remake the first episode, top to bottom (and, really, top to bottom as just about every set is even recreated for this pilot), the second issue with the pilot is the cast. No one here gives a performance that works, and that includes Ayoade. I want to forgive that actor at least because he was told, “do this thing you already did once before, exactly the same,” and, well, that’s an impossible goal. A performance has a specific nuance to it and once you’ve nailed that it’s hard to do it again and have it be right and good. Ayoade already nailed this story as Moss and while he could do it again, it couldn’t have been the same no matter what the producers wanted.

Plus, honestly, it seems like Ayoade is bored doing the exact same thing he already did again. He’s a great actor, and his version of Moss (in the U.K. version at least) is great, but he just didn’t bring it here, and that’s understandable.

With that said, everyone else in this series is horribly miscast. I like Joel McHale a lot and I think he’s one of the best parts of Community. I’m sure in getting the role of Jeff Winger for that show he didn’t show them any of the scenes he filmed for The IT Crowd as that would have automatically gotten him rejected. His performance as Roy is horrible. He has the wrong timing on every joke, goes way too broad when he should downplay moments, downplays lines that actually needed to be broader, and has the wrong inflection on every single line. I’m not sure if the actors were able to rehearse their lines before they filmed, but if you’d told me that for every scene McHale was given the pages right before he went on and he just had to (no pun intended) wing it, I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s terrible here and I’m sure he regrets ever filming this episode.

Jessica St. Clair is slightly better as this episode’s version of Jen. She’s still not great, mind you, but she does manage to find some moments in her performance that are genuinely funny. Every time she deals directly with Moss, and he accidentally calls her out on something stupid she’s done, she gets this look on her face that is priceless. I think she probably could have built a performance as Jen that would have really worked had the series gotten more than this single botched episode, even if her character isn’t properly developed here. There was potential at the very least, which was, of course, wasted.

Rocky Carroll has to be the worst part of the series, though. He plays Denholm, the head of the company, and his performance is all wrong. The original Denholm, played by Chris Morris, was a huge personality, a big, bombastic guy who could kill every scene with a weirdo, over-the-top look and a shouted line. Carroll has none of that. He underplays everything, underselling the absurdity of the character to the point where he just seems like a shithead. There’s nothing in the performance to make you appreciate his character, and he absolutely doesn’t feel like Denholm at all.

Which gets us right back to the main issue of this episode: why do a shot-for-shot remake of the original first episode of the British series? They had actors that, clearly, weren’t going to play the characters the same way. The script editor for this pilot did make some minor changes to the original Lineham script, so they did know they should make adjustments. It feels like it would have been better to take the idea of this episode, but not the actual script, and write something that could have suited the actors (and the characters they could actually portray) better. Something original, designed for American audiences in a way that would have, you know, actually been funny. But they didn’t, and the resulting mess simply can’t be fixed.

Fixing it would have meant not making it in the first place because they already had a version that worked. In the British series. Which already existed.

Surprisingly this wasn’t the only failed adaptation of the series, though. Twice more an attempt was made to make a U.S. version of The IT Crowd. Once was in 2014 with Bill Lawrence (creator of Scrubs) at the helm. A pilot was even made, although that also didn’t get picked up, and the pilot wasn’t even leaked online for us to ruthlessly mock. Then, in 2018, Lineham himself tried to spearhead a remake. I assume, since we haven’t heard anything about that version since it was announced, the producers saw what Lineham was writing on Twitter and quietly backed away from the crazy monster lest he spread his disgusting filth onto them.

Meanwhile, a German version, Das iTeam – Die Jungs an der Maus, was actually produced and, even more impressive, did make it to the air. Apparently it was another shot-for-shot remake of the British show, taking that series’ scripts and translating them (badly, from all reports) into German. The cast was lambasted as universally terrible, the line deliveries were apparently awful, and the timing was so bad that none of the jokes could land (as per the reviewers that had to sit through the series). The show was canceled after airing two episodes, and the rest of its run was later burned off on Sat.1 Comedy in Germany.

And, hopefully, that’s the last time anyone tries to remake this series. It clearly only ends in ruin.