When Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade took on the roles of Roy and Moss in The I.T. Crowd they probably hoped for decent ratings, a second series and a move into the top tier of TV comedians in Britain. Ayoade was previously best known for his role in the cult TV comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a bizarre and short-lived horror satire. O’Dowd was even less famous, having only played minor parts in films and on Irish TV.
Six years on, not only were the ratings good and a second series forthcoming, but O’Dowd and Ayoade have moved beyond British TV and into Hollywood. For either of them to have had such success would have been lucky, that both should do so verges on miraculous. O’Dowd recently played the male lead in $300 million grossing hit Bridesmaids and also has a role in Judd Apatow’s upcoming This Is 40 while Ayoade has slotted right amongst the frat pack in The Watch, and is currently directing Jesse Eisenberg in The Double, a comic Dostoyevsky adaptation.
This begs the question, what did the biggest names in US comedy see in a surreal sitcom about two nerds and their inept boss? That Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman should be stars is understandable, The Office was a huge hit across the pond, spawning a highly successful American spin off. Moreover, it was an inventive and original work, unlike any major TV series beforehand. The I.T. Crowd may be good but it is a stereotypical sitcom. Moreover, Ayoade and O’Dowd weren’t involved in the writing, which was the work of Father Ted’s Graham Linehan.
O’Dowd may well have just been lucky. While The I.T. Crowd didn’t make it in America it had a big fan in Paul Feig, the Anglophile director of Bridesmaids. O’Dowd was in the abject Gulliver’s Travels alongside a host of other British sitcom comedians, and while in L.A. he decided to pop along to Bridesmaids auditions. Feig told him not to bother with an American accent and cast him almost immediately. A star was born.
Ayoade’s route is similarly fortuitous, but totally unrelated to The I.T. Crowd. He wrote and directed the acclaimed comedy Submarine in 2010, and an early script somehow ended up at Ben Stiller’s door. Stiller had heard of Ayoade, having seen Darkplace, but little more than that. However he loved the script and ended up as an executive producer with a brief cameo appearance. Suddenly Ayoade was known amongst the frat pack, and took over Chris Tucker’s key role in The Watch.
The success of Submarine, financed by Film4 and produced by its head, Tessa Ross, is also the reason behind Ayoade’s adaptation of The Double. Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska’s involvement is presumably for the same reason, given that both are regular indie actors.
And what of Katherine Parkinson, better known as Jen, head of Reynholm Industries’ I.T. department? The St Hilda’s alumnus can boast a small role in one episode of Sherlock last year. It seems The I.T. Crowd’s Midas touch only goes so far.