Intelligence, series 2 episodes 1 & 2 review: despite David Schwimmer's comedy talent, this GCHQ sitcom fell flat

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·4 min read
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David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed star in Intelligence - Sky
David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed star in Intelligence - Sky

The second series of Intelligence (Sky One), Nick Mohammed’s GCHQ sitcom co-starring David Schwimmer, was commissioned a week before the first began to air, which is probably just as well given the reception it received. The second show out of the gate to feature Friends alumni since the reunion shenanigans, it sits in a rather more traditional, less effective and frankly less funny space than Mae Martin’s excellent Feel Good, co-starring Lisa Kudrow and returning for a second series on Netflix last week.

And while it may be invidious to compare the careers and conditions of the Central Perk half-dozen, it’s also irresistible. For the reunion, Schwimmer seemed somewhere in between the serene contentment of Matt LeBlanc and the melancholy anxiety of Matthew Perry: wry and self-effacing, but occasionally edgy and self-conscious with it. And in career terms, his CV beyond Friends has been as chequered as any, veering from the sublime (Band of Brothers, American Crime Story, being mistaken for a felon shoplifting a crate of beer from a Blackpool corner shop) to, well, Intelligence, in which Schwimmer reprises his turn as NSA blowhard Jerry Berstein, opposite Mohammed’s hapless eager beaver Joseph Harries.

However good the comic actor (and Schwimmer at his best is exceptional), they can only work with the script they’re given – think of Matthew Perry’s dud-strewn film career, or poor LeBlanc with the benighted Joey. Kudrow, meanwhile, has shone in everything from The Comeback to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. Fans of the first series of Intelligence, at least, will be well pleased with the palpable absence of evolution of character or script; this is more of the same, for better or worse (it’s worse).

The plots, such as they were, for this opening double bill saw the Russians bringing the world to the brink of nuclear disaster by using a program developed by Jerry himself to conduct a cyber attack on Hinkley Point. Much of the episode revolved around Jerry’s attempts to remember the password needed to override the weapon: grilling his co-workers for their memories of the year he worked on the device, regressive hypnotherapy, sounding out his nemesis for hints.

David Schwimmer, Jane Stanness, Nick Mohammed and Gana Bayarsaikhan - Sky
David Schwimmer, Jane Stanness, Nick Mohammed and Gana Bayarsaikhan - Sky

The second episode in the double bill replaced the global jeopardy with quotidian office comedy and worked better for it, wringing a few laughs out of a trope of workplace sitcom (which, after all, this is) – the classic Valentine’s Day dilemma of who sent flowers to whom. Following a bout of inept waterboarding, Jerry and Joseph exposed the suspected Russian mole as mousy, bedraggled Mary Needham (Jane Stanness), in fact a triple agent working on behalf of GCHQ boss Christine (Sylvia Le Touzel doing her stern, high-handed thing) to hit back at Putin’s mob.

The frenetic pace couldn’t cover for an absence of jokes that actually landed, while a reliance on swearing became increasingly tiresome and frustrating, especially in the light of the few moments where the silliness gave way to moments of genuine pathos. One sequence where Jerry and Joseph attempted to get to grips with each other’s romantic histories saw Schwimmer and Mohammed demonstrating a chemistry that went beyond the comic. Still, both stars tried their best; Mohammed gave as good socially awkward geek as he always does, while Schwimmer mugged furiously and was game for anything, whether imitating the kissing of a haemorrhoid or miming a nuclear disaster. Other parts remained disappointingly underwritten and character consistency still wasn’t a priority here.

Most frustratingly, given the ingredients it really ought to be better: Mohammed is a fine stand-up and solid performer clearly in need of a more exacting editor, while Schwimmer simply has funny bones, and director Matt Lipsey is a veteran of all sorts of good stuff (Inside No 9, Human Remains). Still, with Nick Helm, Diane Morgan and Morgana Robinson to come later in the series, the sheer weight of comic expertise may ensure this underwhelming affair eventually gets out of second gear.