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A new workplace comedy from across the pond, featuring a familiar face, is coming to Peacock when the NBCUniversal streaming service launches nationally on July 15.
Intelligence, set inside the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), stars David Schwimmer as Jerry Bernstein, an NSA agent who comes over from the U.S. to work with the cybersecurity team. Of course, high jinks ensue amid the culture-clashing “fish-out-of-water” scenario.
Jerry’s an “alpha male” who’s “arrogant and pompous and narcissistic and racist, sexist, homophobic—very patriotic, mostly because he has never been out of the country and speaks no other language,” says Schwimmer, describing the role as a departure for him.
“I think it’s an opportunity to have a laugh at and really examine this kind of person and this kind of power dynamic that exists,” says the actor, who recently spoke to Fortune along with costar and show creator Nick Mohammed (who plays systems analyst Joseph Harries).
“It’s about this sort of group of social misfits, but you’ve got this huge backdrop because of the nature of what they do in national security,” Mohammed says of how he came up with the setting, while also trying to differentiate the show from other workplace sitcoms. “Whilst they’re dealing with some really tragic and difficult things, you’ve also got Linda’s retirement drinks in the next cubicle, or it’s someone’s birthday, or they’re organizing the Christmas party.
“For me, it was a juxtaposition of those two things that made it a really interesting area, and the fact that you’ve got this culture clash with David’s character coming in as an NSA agent into a quintessentially British institution—it just felt like a real recipe to create a ‘pressured’ environment,” he adds.
Because GCHQ’s work is fairly secretive, Mohammed says the writers had room to “play with people’s expectations” of what they may think the organization does. But while what viewers see on TV will include some absurdities heightened for laughs, creating the show involved research that helped root it in reality. Even so, some findings—like the fact that GCHQ has a choir and does bake sales—did get left out, Mohammed says.
“Some of the actual true things that we found, we just didn’t put in because we felt that it would look like we’d overwritten the sitcom,” he explains.
The series came about after Mohammed and Schwimmer entertained the possibility of working together. Schwimmer says he went to London at some point to do some improvisation for a show Mohammed was working on with actress and writer Julia Davis; the pair were toying with adding an “American hotshot producer” as a character.
“I became an instant fan of Nick’s, and I think we both recognized we had real chemistry as actors,” Schwimmer says.
The original concept never took off, but Schwimmer says Mohammed emailed him the idea for Intelligence a year later.
“I was like, ‘I’m in,’” he says, laughing. “I thought the idea was hysterical. I thought the characters were great.”
Intelligence has already aired in the U.K., and Mohammed is in the process of writing the second season.
“We were supposed to be shooting right now, but of course because of COVID, we’ve pushed it to the fall,” Schwimmer says. “It’s fun in that we get to kind of launch season one [in the U.S.] while working on season two scripts.”
“It sort of feels like Groundhog Day,” Mohammed says of promoting the show in the U.S. in recent weeks, while admitting he had initially been a little nervous about the show’s stateside debut on Peacock. “Now we get to relive it again—I’m just hoping that you guys like it as well.”