Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: a baseline functional workplace full of well-meaning misfits gets a jolt from a hotheaded new guy, hijinks ensue, lather, rinse, repeat. When using such a formula that’s served dozens of sitcoms well over the years, it’s down to a show’s execution to make itself more compelling than the basics of its premise. “Intelligence,” created by British comic actor Nick Mohammed, occasionally finds moments of intrigue, but is more often content to plug along in its lane.
Even the much higher stakes environment in which “Intelligence” takes place — a windowless cybercrime unit in a London suburb — doesn’t especially up the urgency. Joseph (Mohammed) is a B-minus lackey scraping by under the watchful eye of his fearsome boss, Christine (Sylvestra Le Touzel), while nursing a small crush on their extraordinarily cool in-house hacker, Tuva (Gana Bayarsaikhan). Rounding out their cluster of cubicles is Christine’s apathetic assistant Evelyn (Eliot Salt) and mousy Mary (Jane Stanness), who bears the brunt of everyone’s crueler jokes. The wild card comes in the form of Jerry Bernstein (David Schwimmer), an American member of the NSA who bursts into the office with enough bravado and bluster, he hopes, to hide the fact that he doesn’t especially know what he’s doing. Joseph immediately falls into the position of Jerry’s number one fan, Jerry quickly becomes a sticky thorn in Christine’s side, Tuva spends most of her time smirking on the side, and so it goes.
Mohammed’s extensive experience in British TV comedies gives him a good sense of their rhythms, both as the co-lead and sole writer of “Intelligence.” It helps that he has an able supporting cast, most especially with the combined power of Bayarsaikhan and Le Touzel’s deadpan smirks. Jerry’s characterization is more shaky, especially when it becomes obvious that he’s an American written by a Brit with an ear towards Jerry being cocky and loud, and not much else. Still, Schwimmer uses the comic exasperation he’s honed over the decades to make Jerry a believable pillar to oblivious arrogance. More original than the characters is the direction from Matt Lipsey (“Little Britain”), which mixes in shots from the various security cameras positioned around the office to build in some more specific color.
What makes “Intelligence” most interesting, unfortunately, has little to do with the show itself. After airing in its entirety in the UK on Sky TV, the series will makes its U.S. debut on Peacock, NBC Universal’s upcoming streaming service. With Peacock focusing first on its content library, there will only be a few original series available at launch. That Peacock chose to bring over “Intelligence” draws a clear line from it to its spiritual predecessor: “The Office,” which will be an exclusive crown jewel for the platform. And between “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “30 Rock,” “Cheers,” and more, Peacock is, it seems, banking on workplace sitcoms as one of its most solid cornerstones. Absent another stateside original, “Intelligence” fit the bill. (That it also co-stars Schwimmer, a former NBC staple thanks to the perpetual pop culture behemoth that is “Friends,” couldn’t have hurt, either.) And yet, with only six episodes and few original jokes to speak of, the show is unlikely to make as enduring an impression as its Peacock peers.