[17 June 2011]
The British gross-out comedy, The Inbetweeners, tracks the disastrous exam performances, romantic failures, and public humiliations of students at Rudge Park Comprehensive School. As the third season comes to BBCA on 18 June, Simon (Joe Thomas) still lusts after girl next door, Carli (Emily Head); Jay (James Buckley) still spumes a torrent of self-aggrandising lies; Neil (Blake Harrison) remains a foul-mouthed but good-hearted holy idiot; and Will (Simon Bird) has made a lateral move along the social dung-heap from “Briefcase Wanker” to “That Guy Who Shit Himself in the Exams.” It’s not subtle stuff, but that’s never been the point of The Inbetweeners.
The season premiere centres around a school fashion show organised by Carli in aid of a kidney disease charity. Such selflessness is striking at Rudge Park, populated as it is by adolescent homunculi with all the generosity of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s occasioned by the return of a critically ill student, Alistair (Steven Webb), now confined to a wheelchair and endowed with an aura of saintly infallibility. Worse, at least from the boys’ perspective, all the girls in school now find Alistair hilarious and charming. Jay pronounces him a “complete bell-end,” noting, “He’s not gonna have got more interesting in a hospital bed attached to drip for a year, is he?”
The only one of the central quartet who is completely uninvolved with the fashion show, and the only one who desperately wants to be, Jay has plenty to be bitter about. Simon, on the other hand, is on cloud nine since Carli has asked him to model in the show. And Will has his own reason to participate, asked to model by his old flame, legendary school hottie Charlotte Hinchcliffe (Emily Atak). Drawing the short straw for this episode, Neil’s romantic connection is with the one-joke character, Paedo-Kennedy (Waen Shepherd). In tribute to the world of high fashion, the show offers plenty of hypocrisy and hurt feelings, familiar territory for Will, who has most of the episode’s best lines.
If there aren’t a lot of surprises in The Inbetweeners’ new season, that in itself is expected by its fans. Conceived as a down-to-earth antidote to the glossy sexcapades of Channel 4’s other teen series, Skins, The Inbetweeners displays kids warts and all (and like Skins, it’s attracted an MTV remake). These warts are everywhere, as the boys exponentially amplify each other’s misogyny, homophobia, egomania, and erotic obsessions. At its worst, The Inbetweeners offers the most pernicious aspects of adolescent behaviour as if they’re lovable. They’re really good boys, struggling to take their first steps into the world, like adorable, vaginally fixated baby deer.
But The Inbetweeners is not always at its worst. It also evokes the tradition of Seinfeld and Sex and the City, smartly playing the four boys’ perspectives off one another en route to an entertainingly amoral climax. The logical glue is provided by Will, also our narrator, whose attempts to apply reason, or even moderation, to his friends’ actions inevitably lead to his own humiliation. These humblings range from the mundane to the extravagant and over the course of the new season, Will is rejected by an ex, chased by an irate neighbour, pissed on, vomited on and forced to tell an entire nightclub full of people that he wants his mummy. None of the other characters fares any better, but being both less articulate and less self-aware, they don’t seem to mind quite as much. All of them are equally confused as to why, time and again, they fail to learn from their experiences, and continue to allow their deranged libidos and fragile pride to direct their actions.
Lack of reason is rampant in The Inbetweeners. It presents adolescence is a carnivalesque time, ungoverned by the rules of propriety or even self-preservation. But even as the boys experience sudden hope and equally sudden disappointment, they do so for a limited time. Unlike a long-running American series, in which Jay would remain forever a misogynist fool or Neil a man-child, this British show suggests we’re looking back on these characters as visions of an embarrassing past. The show draws on this emotional distance to evoke memories, of first infatuations and social failures. And then, as if to tell us not to take it all so seriously, it interrupts things with a dick joke.