Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

With Intelligence, Peacock provides David Schwimmer with an uneven return to TV comedy

Nick Mohammed and David Schwimmer
Nick Mohammed and David Schwimmer
Photo: Peacock/Sky UK Limited
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The last time David Schwimmer had a full-time gig in a TV comedy, George W. Bush still had a full-time gig at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Not that Schwimmer hasn’t kept busy over the course of the past 16 years: Since Friends wrapped its 10-season run in May 2004, he’s done films as a leading man (Duane Hopwood), a voice actor (the Madagascar franchise), and a director (Run Fatboy Run), appeared on the London stage (Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s)) and on Broadway (The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial), scored an Emmy nomination for playing Robert Kardashian in FX’s The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, survived the short-lived, critically maligned AMC drama Feed The Beast, and—most recently—turned up on Will & Grace as one of Grace’s beaus. But a full-fledged full-time TV comedy gig? Nope, nary a one.

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As such, you’d like to think that Intelligence, the new Peacock comedy that marks Schwimmer’s proper return to the genre that made him famous, would immediately make you go, “Ah, yes, I see precisely why, at long last, he decided to have a go at another sitcom!” And it does. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t also sometimes wish it were a bit less... Schwimmer-y.

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Created and written by Nick Mohammed, a very funny gentleman whose profile is decidedly higher in the U.K. (though Americans might possibly recognize him from The Martian, the Ab Fab movie, or Bridget Jones’s Baby), Intelligence takes place within the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters, where agents do battle against international cyber criminals. They’re a socially awkward bunch at best, as one might expect from folks who are rarely required to leave the confines of their computer desks: Tuva (Gana Bayarsaikhan) is tall, intense, and oozes a slightly threatening sexuality; Mary (Jane Stanness) lives with her mom, dresses frumpily, and freely admits that she looks older than she is; and Joseph (played by Mohammed) has a habit of blurting things out before contemplating either their accuracy or appropriateness. Their boss, Christine (Sylvestra Le Touzel), tolerates their eccentricities because they have a history of getting the job done, but when they’re abruptly joined on their team by Jerry Bernstein (Schwimmer), a fiery, arrogant NSA agent, it’s like throwing a grenade into their midst, blowing any sense of order to smithereens.

There’s no doubt as to why Schwimmer saw Intelligence as a prime opportunity to return to comedy. As Jerry, he has a plum part, getting a chance to be the lone American in an office full of Brits and playing that American as uglily as humanly possible. Seeing his unabashedly American comic sensibilities thrust into the middle of a series with an otherwise utterly British tone does provide a lot of amusement, particularly when Jerry is paired in scenes with Christine. It must be said, though, that this is not a role that finds Schwimmer playing against type: A lot of Jerry’s reactions come across as pure Ross, and there are certain moments where it feels like he’s actively leaning into the similarity. Which, of course, is precisely what most Friends fans would want him to do, so it’s hard to begrudge him that choice. It’s just nice to see him shifting into different gears.

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Fortunately, Schwimmer and the rest of the cast get a chance to do just that over the course of the six-episode season of Intelligence, but that brings us to the greatest drawback of the series: Six episodes is just long enough for viewers to get a bit more insight into each of the primary characters, but not much else. In one instance, a potentially significant storyline—Jerry sleeps with someone in the office—is unexpectedly introduced at the beginning of one episode and is seemingly concluded in the same episode. Meanwhile, there’s a tantalizing premise (Christine’s office crush) that’s casually thrown into the mix during a closing-credits scene, only to be left dangling for the duration without another mention. There are also intriguing characters who deserve the opportunity to shine further, most notably Christine’s boss, Rupert Fleming (Colin Salmon), who’s apparently climbed the ladder of success within the organization despite being more than a little bit of an alcoholic.

As TV comebacks go, Intelligence doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact for Schwimmer as American Crime Story did, if only because he’s not really breaking any new ground as an actor. That said, the old ground he’s treading is still pretty damned funny—Schwimmer remains a master of taking a slow burn and turning it into an explosion of annoyance. If you liked it back then, you’ll probably like it now.

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You may remember me from such features as Random Roles, or my oral histories of Battle of the Network Stars and Airplane!

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