A new sitcom starring David Schwimmer is new on Sky, hailed by one Radio Times reviewer as a “funny, refreshing take on a workplace comedy”.
GCHQ-based Intelligence was created by Nick Mohammed, who also stars alongside Schwimmer, and tells the story of two mismatched workers at the intelligence and security organisation.
Mohammed plays bumbling computer analyst Joseph, while Schwimmer takes on the role of a power-hungry NSA agent who has just arrived from the USA. The show follows the pair as they are forced to work together as part of a newly-formed team combating cybercrime.
In the Q&A below, Mohammed speaks about his story inspiration, getting starstruck by Schwimmer, and acquiring permission from GCHQ…
How did Intelligence come about?
I’ve always liked the idea of writing a workplace sitcom that was set somewhere where the stakes were really huge and yet you would still have those normal, everyday office moments that everyone can associate with. And I’ve always been fascinated by GCHQ. It’s somewhere quite clandestine, obviously, in terms of what they do, so it’s always felt like quite a rich area for comedy.
At the heart of it, there are a hell of a lot of quite eccentric and brilliant individuals who come together.
How did David Schwimmer get involved both starring in the show as Jerry and also serving as executive producer?
I had worked with David on a pilot that Julia Davis and I wrote called Morning Has Broken. It was for Channel 4 and we played rivalling TV presenters, but it never got broadcast. To be fair, is wasn’t too dissimilar from The Morning Show, which is on Apple TV now.
Anyway, we had a pilot made, and David got wind of it, came over and did some workshops and improvising with us which was brilliant and really really fun. Sadly for various reasons the show didn’t get made – hopefully Julia and I will get to revisit it – but David and I stayed in touch off the back of that. I always wanted to do something with David, and likewise David with myself.
Joseph is star-struck when he meets Jerry – did you have a similar experience when it came to meeting David?
I do have a distinct memory of the first time I spoke to him, because I remember the producer of The Morning Show said, “Oh, by the way, David Schwimmer’s going to call you because he really likes the show. He wants to talk to you about it.” I think I was filming Fresh Meat at the time in Manchester and I was like, “Oh, golly.”
I remember him calling, and he was just this very nice and normal person with no ego, despite everything he’s achieved, but I was starstruck. He made it very easy for me to just be quite pally with him, and I would joke around and, I guess, be a bit cheeky around him. Maybe that was a defence mechanism? I don’t know! But he was so sweet and we’ve hung out a lot since then so now I don’t bat an eyelid. I don’t give a shit [laughs].
Did you and David instantly click, comedy-wise?
I guess we did, which is sort of crazy to say because obviously I’m by no means as prominent a figure in the comedy world as David is. But, you know, it would be an understatement to say that I thought he was fantastic, and I obviously grew up watching Friends. So it was a thrill, and quite daunting to get to meet him and work with him.
But now, because we’ve worked together so solidly and consistently with Intelligence, we are just mates now, which is quite a strange thing.
Did you have to ask permission from GCHQ to feature them in the show?
Not really, but they did get in contact with us because they’d heard about the show when it was announced. And to be honest, they probably knew about it way before then – if they were doing their homework…
So they did send a couple of people down to chat with us. We were hoping to do a visit, which we sadly couldn’t do for security reasons. But they were amazingly forthcoming, actually. I think once they knew that the show was effectively a silly comedy with a double act at the heart of it, and that we weren’t needlessly poking fun at them or their staff then they actually were able to give us an amazing insight into some of the minutiae of working there. Those were the things I was most concerned about – literally, what do they serve in the canteen on a Tuesday?
Your character Joseph isn’t the best at his job. Did you draw on much personal experience for him?
After I finished university, I was gigging as a comedian in London as well as temping for Morgan Stanley during the day. It wasn’t quite on the scale of GCHQ, but there were some systems that I was in charge of that were making some big trades and if I made a mistake, it would cause lots of problems. I wasn’t really qualified to do any of it, so it always made me laugh – the idea of trying to stumble my way through something which had quite big stakes. It was ripe for comedy.
And a second series of Intelligence has now been confirmed…
I’ve already started working on series two. After finding out where the strengths are through that first filming process, going into writing a second series feels like a bit of a gift because you know the rhythms of the show and who everyone is a little bit more. Plus you learn so much through the edit – what you get rid of, what you keep, what works and so on. But the show has been a real delight – I feel very lucky and I can’t wait for people to see it.
All episodes of Intelligence will be available on Sky One and NOW TV from Friday 21st February