David Schwimmer doesn't need you to like his 'Intelligence' agent — and you won't

Kate Feldman, New York Daily News
·3 min read

David Schwimmer’s characters keep getting worse.

First there was Ross on “Friends,” annoying, oblivious and possessive. In “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” Schwimmer played lawyer Robert Kardashian representing an accused killer.

Now he’s crossing the ocean for “Intelligence,” a new workplace comedy about the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters on NBC Universal’s new streaming site Peacock.

“I like that he’s unlikeable. He’s the kind of guy that we see a lot of right now,” Schwimmer told the Daily News about his character, NSA agent Jerry Bernstein, who he joked resembles “a typical American in power right now.”

“He’s an alpha male, he’s arrogant, he’s pompous, he’s unknowingly racist, sexist, homophobic, ultra-patriotic, mostly because he’s never been outside of the country and speaks no other language.

“What he lacks in intelligence, he makes up for in confidence.”

Creator Nick Mohammad, who also costars alongside Schwimmer as the bumbling Joseph Harries, defended his show’s crude comedy, saying the writers room once threw out a joke about transgender people because no one on staff was transgender.

“But in talking about race, I felt that I had good license to talk about race and blur those boundaries a little bit,” said the “Christopher Robin” actor, whose mother was born in Cyprus. His dad is from Trinidad.

“I think the key thing was that if it was a good joke, it would make the cut. Nothing was gratuitous, to a degree, but anyone could find anything offensive. We wanted to deliberately tackle quite sensitive subject matter, not least because this is set in a workforce that deals with really tragic and difficult things.”

“Intelligence” opens as Jerry arrives at GCHQ, bent on taking over the well-established agency that doesn’t seem to need him at all. He thinks it’s a promotion; his new boss (Sylvestra Le Touzel) quickly realizes the NSA just wanted Jerry out of the building. Mohammad described him as “brash and egotistical (with) delusions of grandeur,” a generous description for a man who brazenly assumes a woman couldn’t possibly be in charge of the team and who repeatedly asks his coworkers to take off their clothes as part of a bonding activity.

The surrounding characters of “Intelligence” are all one-note stereotypes: the mysterious hacker who brags about her sex life in the middle of the office (Gana Bayarsaikhan), the messy nerd who flusters with a glance (Jane Stanness) and the boss tasked with wrangling the team (Le Touzel).

Schwimmer insists that the jokes, like one about Joseph going “from man to woman” after dying his hair blond, are the results of trusting “our own guts and our own judgements.”

“We want to push it. We want to take risks,” he told The News. “I think it’s important that comedy does take risks and we can laugh at some of all of these issues that we’re talking about.”

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‘INTELLIGENCE’

Streaming now on Peacock

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