A far, far better episode than last week's premiere, "Are We Not Men?" throws geeks Roy (Chris O'Dowd) and Mos (Richard Ayoade) into the "real world" again -- an alien environment for them socially, but also for the show at times. Like Father Ted's Craggy Island before it, Graham Linehan's surreal comedy world tends to work better when it exists in a bubble. However, this storyline gets around that problem by having the comedy derive from the sitcom-y characters interacting with nominally realistic people outside...
Mos has perfected a cockney accent, which he uses to converse with the building's working-class postman Harry (John Willie Hopkins) about "manly" topics like football. Fascinated, Roy also joins a website to learn some stock-phrases about the sport, which they use to ingratiate themselves to a gang of football-loving jack-the-lads down the pub, led by Dan (Pulling's Cavan Clerkin). It's not long before the situation gets out of hand, however, and the two geeks find themselves accepted into Dan's group -- forced to talk about laddish topics, binge drink and attend football matches. Things turn slightly sinister, when it's revealed the gang are actually armed robbers, and Roy unwittingly becomes their trusted getaway driver.
In a minor subplot, Jen (Katherine Parkinson) goes on a date with Michael (Paul Bazely), a man whom she can't take seriously once Roy mentions the fact he looks and acts exactly like a magician. The IT Crowd sometimes struggles to give all its character enough to do, and while Jen's "story" only stretched to a few scenes, the idea is funny and has a neat pay-off. It helps that actor Paul Bazely really does look like a magician, too – angular head, slightly tanned complexion, goatee beard, etc.
Seeing Roy and Mos in over their heads with "real" men is funnier than I expected it to be, perhaps because The IT Crowd works best when it's tackling uncomfortable social embarrassment. I'm sure there are lots of people who identify with their plight; trying to fit into a different social stratum, particularly if it's one society thinks all men should belong to. The darker twist into armed robbery worked very well, giving Chris O'Dowd a delightful moment when Roy notices a robbery while waiting in a car (not realizing the balaclava-clad gang are his friends) and sat in twitchy horror as they raced back to him, got inside his car, and demanded he drive away! Another highlight was an excellent visual gag, with Mos planting a kiss on Roy's up against a wall, as a means to hide from a comically-extended procession of police cars.
Overall, "Are We Not Men?" was definitely one of the better IT Crowd's in a long time. The character all had something to do, it wasn't so focused on the IT side of things (which I don't think the series has ever really managed to make funny, for fear of excluding the non-IT literate audience), and the escalation of the plot kept you watching to see the outcome. Throw in a few memorable gags -- one of which even referenced the "goof" of a lorry's back doors closing by themselves, during the end credits -- and you have a fast, funny, half-hour.
28 November 2008 Channel 4, 10pm
Writer & Director: Graham Linehan Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Roy), Richard Ayoade (Moss), Katherine Parkinson (Jen), Paul Bazely (Michael), Cavan Clerkin (Dan), Derek Ezenagu (Luke), Jon Foster (Barry) & John Willie Hopkins (Harry The Postman)