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‘Intelligence’ an Uncommonly Witless Sitcom

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Intelligence Peacock series review

Intelligence Review

HBO Max may have won the bidding war to stream the entire run of Friends, but Peacock managed to land an original sitcom starring one of the original Friends cast members.

Call this one a win for HBO Max. 

The David Schwimmer-starring Intelligence, which debuted its entire first season along with the new streaming service Peacock on Wednesday is a show that strengthens the growing hypothesis that Peacock Originals are shows that weren’t good enough for spots on NBC or any of the Comcast/NBC Universal-owned cable channels. All six episodes are streaming on Peacock

The show, which is Schwimmer’s first starring role in a sitcom since Friends went off the air 15 years ago, is equal parts witless and unpleasant. And while some people re-watching Friends in recent years have come to the belated conclusion that Ross wasn’t nearly the nice guy he at first appeared to be, no one’s likely to make that mistake with Intelligence, because from moment one, Schwimmer plays his character as an arrogant, smarmy asshole- and he doesn’t do it in a way that’s funny. 

The premise of the show, created by British comedian  Nick Mohammed, is that an American NSA agent named Jerry Bernstein (Schwimmer) comes to the U.K. to work with a cyber crimes unit in the British government’s Government Communications Headquarters, where he clashes with just about everyone, including the female boss (Sylvestra Le Touzel) and another employee (Mohammad.) 

The basic plot of this six-episode series- a workplace comedy with American and British officials, in a national security setting, in which there’s a clash of cultures, and the protagonist is an obnoxious prick – was also the premise of Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop, which is one of the funniest movies of the last 20 years. 

The difference here is, nothing funny happens, there’s not an ounce of political satire, and Schwimmer’s character is over-the-top repugnant without ever delivering any laughs. 

Schwimmer’s character is less a Ross Geller than a Michael Scott- except he’s Michael Scott in the first season of The Office, before the writers had a handle on him and he was just a one-dimensional jerk with a weakness for racist comments and casual sexual harassment. Quality-wise, it’s about on the level of one of those subpar sitcoms that would get the time slot after Friends and then get cancelled after a few weeks. 

The comedy is based, almost entirely, on Schwimmer always saying the wrong thing, and stumbling into awkward, cringe-filled situations. If the writing were sharper, some of this stuff might find a way to work, but as it is, it just doesn’t- and this sort of boorishness doesn’t play nearly as well in the #MeToo era as it did, say when we first met Michael Scott. 

Intelligence calls to mind Netflix’s recent Space Force, another recent streaming show, set in the government, which had a premise with potential and assembled a first-rate cast, but squandered it all due to unbelievably terrible writing. Intelligence makes Space Force look like Seinfeld. 

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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