Remember when the only real place to watch British cult TV in America was PBS, where, if you were lucky, you could catch an errant episode of Are You Being Served? Now, thanks in part to BBC America (and The Office and Coupling), Britcoms are everywhere. Case in point: Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, the fourth season of which recently began airing on IFC. Its premise is simple: Computer geeks Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and Moss (Richard Ayoade) man an I.T. office in the dark basement of a massive financial corporation alongside their technologically illiterate manager, Jen (Katherine Parkinson), and put up with the peculiarities of their sex-crazed, idiot boss, Douglas (Matt Berry). Its execution is archaic: The three-camera setup includes laugh tracks and catchphrases (“Are you turning it on and off again?”). Its plotlines are absurd: In this season alone Douglas gets a robotic hand and Roy’s girlfriend is orphaned in a fire at a water park. And it all combines to be easily digestible, reverent yet irreverent, brilliant, and funny as all get out. Cast members O’Dowd, Parkinson, and Berry took time from rehearsal last spring to chat with Slant about making the series, the differences between British and American TV, understanding geek culture, and what the U.S. can expect from The IT Crowd.
You’re filming at Pinewood Studios, correct? Do you get to live out any James Bond fantasies there?
Chris O’Dowd: It’s very strange. Pinewood is an interesting place. It’s a real indictment of the British film industry, ’cause everything is named after a James Bond thing. James Bond is the British film industry. It’s really depressing. So, I don’t live out too many fantasies, but I do get strippers sent to my room. I don’t know if James Bond did that though. That was more John Bond.
You guys have all acted together in other projects.
Katherine Parkinson: It was a coincidence and the coincidences keep happening. Chris and I went to drama school together, so we were friends before The IT Crowd. And—he’s mouthing that he got me the job—we met for a drink and he said, “You know, I’m in this thing and they haven’t cast the girl, you should get seen for it.” So I give him 10 percent of my wages every season.
Matt, your character, Douglas, didn’t enter until later in the series. Was the part written for you?
Matt Berry: It was, yes.
Do you have input into what he says and does?
MB: About as much as everyone has with their characters: You know, if you kind of think of something, then you sort of do it. And if it goes down well, then it’s in.
CO: I write more of it than [creator] Graham [Linehan] does. I’m kidding. We all have a little bit of input, you know. I would say at the start of the week, it’s probably around 90 percent and the rest of us get it up to around 93 and that’s how it goes out. So, we have a little—we have our say, but it’s slightly unfinished.
Do you work differently now, knowing that the series is definitely going to air on American TV?
KP: I didn’t know. We hadn’t been told anything. It wouldn’t have if I’d known that.
CO: I don’t think knowing that has changed the way that we do the show really. I don’t think people in America enjoy it because it caters to them. I think they like British humor and that’s why they watch.
Is British comedy superior to American comedy?
KP: My favorite comedies are American.
CO: Yeah, the best comedies on television at the moment, I think, are American.
CO: Well, 30 Rock.
KP: 30 Rock.
CO: The Sarah Silverman Program. I like the American Office. I mean, it’s brilliant.
KP: I like Two and a Half Men.
KP: Is that not the sophisticated choice?
It’s actually the most popular comedy in America.
KP: I’m pretty mainstream.
Do you prefer comedies with a three-camera setup, like your own?
KP: Well, Graham’s writing goes well with a studio audience. If I could only do one comedy again, I would probably want to do single camera. But I think American shows show how up-to-date studio audiences can be, because there’s no dated quality to them and they really moved it forward, things like Friends and so on. Whereas our studio comedies tend to be within limits with slightly more basic sitcoms, which is a bit of a debate that rages [in the U.K.] about the death of the studio sitcom. It’s definitely not the state that you have in America, but it’s one that we often get asked about.
Matt, you haven’t done many three-camera comedies before. Is this something different for you?
MB: Well, it’s the first thing where I’ve been brought back for something. I usually get either kind of fired or axed after one [season] of anything. So, yeah, personally this is new kind of ground, because this is the fourth season and I don’t usually, to be honest, make it past the first.
Have you guys seen the pilots for the American or German versions of the show?
KP: I think Richard has seen the American pilot because he was in it. I haven’t.
CO: I haven’t seen either of them, unfortunately. I’ve seen posters from both and I found the American one a little perturbing in that there’s a picture of Joel McHale with a giant computer that he’s holding with one arm like some kind of an athlete. I think maybe they missed the point a little bit.
Can you recommend any British shows to Americans?
MB: Adult Swim is a good place for it. Look Around You. That’s on Adult Swim. Really good show.
KP: Peep Show.
KP: Yes, Pulling. Oh, the special is brilliant. That’s really good and that’s very British, although Sharon Horgan is Irish, but whatever. And, they’re sold in the U.S. by the same company [as The IT Crowd], so obviously, the company’s excellent.