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.
How familiar were you with the ins and outs of geek culture before The IT Crowd?
KP: I would say I’ve been introduced to it and I welcome it. We’ve been rehearsing around the corner from the cartoon museum and they’ve got cartoon shops and stuff. Graham goes on his lunch breaks there. I’ve gone in with him and come out with all sorts of interesting comics in a black bag, you know? So, it’s been interesting—some of the geek bands he’s introduced me to just by talking about them, like Hot Chip and Sweet Billy Pilgrim. I’ve sort of welcomed those introductions into my otherwise pretty naff life.
MB: I think so. I mean, I’m all quite still kind of fairly new to it. I’ve only had an iPhone for a couple of weeks. And I have to get someone else to do those podcast things ‘cause I wouldn’t have a clue what I’m doing, to be honest. It’s all good fun.
CO: I know little bits and pieces. I still have problems with computers, but it’s more spillages really than RAM issues. It’s more of a hand-to-mouth problem I have with computers on a daily basis.
Spillages? As in?
CO: Coffee, tea, saliva. Fluids. Mostly bodily.
Do you find any of Roy’s qualities seeping into your personality?
CO: Yeah. I find that generally while I’m making it, I’m a little grumpier than I normally am. And I’m less techphobic.
Has Jen become more of a geek?
KP: Yes, I think so. I think she began with all the posturing of trying to be like the people upstairs and thinking she was very distinct from Moss and Roy. And I think as the series has gone on, she’s become happier to—well, maybe not happier, but certainly able to appreciate more that she’s as flawed and as much of the basement as they are.
What else can you tell us about season four?
CO: What did we do? What did I do? There’s a parody of a courtroom drama, which is a touch of A Few Good Men thrown in there.
Internet spoilers claim that someone gets married and divorced.
CO: Is there going to be a marriage and a divorce? There is a divorce and there may be…there may…I’m not saying whether there is or is not, but there may be a baby. And there is a death. There is a death and a baby and a divorce. And there is—I don’t want to give too much away, but somebody may become president. Jen joins a band. She turns into a Yoko Ono kind of character in one of the episodes.
What’s ahead for Douglas?
MB: Well, he’s as badly behaved as he always is. He’s still as sexual. There’s not as much bad language in this [season] as in the last. There was a lot of effs and jeffs I remember in the last one that aren’t really in this, which I guess is a good thing for the U.S. audience. You want to put this out around sort of teatime, you know.
You sing on your podcast and you’ve cut an album. Will you ever croon on the show?
MB: Well, [Graham’s] not done any kind of musical on the show, but I know Katherine, for one, is very keen that he does and possibly the Christmas one should actually be sung through. By that, I mean, no spoken dialogue.
Wait, are you guys having a Christmas special?
MB: Maybe, yeah. There’s some talk of it.
Will Noel Fielding’s Richmond be back this year?
CO: Richmond is back this year. I’m not gonna tell you, but he will be making an appearance—with his blond hair.
So, he’ll be in his pre-Goth persona?
CO: Yeah. It’s very, very funny. I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Noel Fielding is a fantastic comedian.
CO: Oh, we’ve got a different actor playing him. I’m kidding.
Will there be other guest stars?
CO: I’d like to think that everybody that comes in is a guest star. We potentially are guest stars. Graham does a cameo this year—as he does every year. There are loads of great support performances this year, but we realize that the strength of the show really is just us [laughs]. So, we try to keep other people out of the picture. I know they were always happy doing that on Friends when they had, whatever, Tom Selleck or someone in. But we have no time for any of that nonsense. I mean, we have got Johnny Rotten. Johnny Rotten’s in this year.
What’s up next for you?
MB: Well, we shoot the last episode tomorrow and then I’ve got something in North Carolina. A film. Katherine’s got—she’s going to do some musicals and Chris is doing a western.
And Chris has Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black, right?
MB: Chris was doing Gulliver’s Travels, yes.
CO: It’s out at Christmas.
Do you prefer acting in movies or TV?
CO: I prefer a mixture of both. Film is great, but it’s very slow and then TV is too fast. So somewhere in between would be great: a TV movie. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life: really low-quality TV movies. I think that’s where I’m set for. I want to do a lot of Afterschool Specials. That’s what I’d like to do. There’s a lot of genital diseases that haven’t really been looked at on an Afterschool Special that I really feel like I can lend my hand to.
What about a Marple or a Poirot?
CO: I’m more Poirot than Marple. I think people would find me weird as Miss Marple now after what they’ve seen for so long, but yeah, sure, Poirot. Bring it on.