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Social Suicide: An Advance Review of BBC America's "The Inbetweeners"

Imagine if you will the cult British teen series Skins with less melodrama, more acne, and a hell of a lot more laughs and you might come close to describing BBC America's latest comedy import The Inbetweeners, which airs in the UK on E4.

Created by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, The Inbetweeners tells the story of four sixth form college students--nerdy Will (Simon Bird), lovelorn Simon (Joe Thomas), sex-obsessed Jay (James Buckey), and gawky Neil (Blake Harrison)--as they attempt to navigate the perilous mine field that his high school, laced as it is with the lure of girls, cheap booze, and mischief.

Thanks to the good folks at BBC America, I had the opportunity to watch the first three episodes of The Inbetweeners' two-season run (so far, anyway), which the digital cabler plans to air back-to-back beginning later this year. As a former teenage boy myself (fortunately since recovered), I found this series boisterous and painfully funny, often at the same time. But one needn't has to be a teenager to enjoy this series which takes a look back at the awkward, illogical, and frustrating time in everyone's lives.

The Inbetweeners begins with the arrival of Will McKenzie (Simon Bird), whose parents have split, arriving at the local comprehensive school after his mother is unable to continue paying his fees at a posh private school. There Will immediately falls in with the losers, thanks to his suit and tie, his "actual briefcase," uptight hairstyle, and his general lack of social skills.

But Will is looking to be upwardly mobile, at least to move beyond the four-eyed geeks and into the painfully average crowd populated by Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas), Jay Cartwright (James Buckley), and Neil Sutherland (Blake Harrison)... all of whom immediately shun him, knowing that even being seen with a kid with a "Hello, My Name is Will!" badge is pure and utter social suicide on the first day of term. And so an unwitting friendship is formed between the three friends and Will, who manages to wear the trio down far enough that they will at least tolerate his presence... which immediately leads them into all sorts of trouble. (The second episode, in which the gang play hooky from school is especially painful to watch, especially when Will launches into a tirade against Neil's sexually ambiguous father.)

Complicating things is the fact that none of these lads have an actual girlfriend, though all they talk about--in graphic and hilarious detail--is sex itself, though none of them will admit that they are virgins. Jay in particular refuses to acknowledge his inexperience, talking about his alleged sexual adventures as part of the, ahem, caravan club, while Simon waxes romantic for his true love, the beautiful and unattainable Carli (Emily Head), who is Simon's first love and a family friend since they were both eight. (Unfortunately for Simon, she has an older boyfriend with a car, a situation not helped when he drunkenly spray paints "I love Carli D'Amato on her driveway.)

The dialogue on The Inbetweeners is raw, realistic, and beyond risque, unlike anything on US television today, save maybe on pay cable. It's also completely over the top hilarious and I wonder just how much of the individual episodes airing on BBC America will be comprised of bleeped out swear words. Sexual situations and nudity also play a large role, as you would expect from such a hormonally-charged series and I can't help but hope that BBC America leaves some of this intact. Besides for the fact that it's handled in a hilarious fashion, it also creates a truthful and naturalistic portrayal of teen life in Britain today.

Assisting the creators in this end are the talented actors here, all of whom embody their roles with a vividness that makes it hard to separate the actors from the roles they're playing. All four of the leads seem like such genuine artifacts and that's shocking to learn that all four of the actors aren't actually teens themselves but in their twenties. Simon Bird's Will is so deliciously awkward, so unaware of his social ineptness, that it's hard not to root for him even as he tosses out bon mots without realizing just how hard they'll explode on contact. Joe Thomas' Simon tries to go through life without being ostracized by his peers but his romantic feelings for Carli place him in trouble time and time again (look for his, uh, new nickname in the first episode after an encounter with Carli leaves him aroused) and his efforts to land a girl by getting car backfire with hilarious results. James Buckley's Jay is a whirling dervish of unfulfilled sexuality, his hormones crackling in the air like roman candles. Blake Harrison's Neil is the sloth-like member of the group, his affable nature shining out just as much as his inherent slowness. All of them seem completely and at times shockingly real.

Any teen series worth its salt (or at least lager) has to have a fantastic soundtrack of the latest hot bands and The Inbetweeners features music from such acts as The Fratellis, Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, The Feeling, Kate Nash, The Wombats, The Cure, and Feist, among others in its few episodes alone.

All in all, The Inbetweeners is the perfect antidote to nostalgia for your teen years, reminding you just how lucky you are to have outgrown that traumatic time in your life, even as you roar with laughter at just how much things never really change.

The Inbetweeners will launch on BBC America later this year.


Anonymous said…
This show is extremely funny, and the second season has been as good if not better than the first
V. Salt said…
I wish this show success & all, but there's a gaping hole in the "clique of awkward teenage girls coming of age" show department. Most of the ones w/ female protagonists depict them as super-desirable outcasts, loners, boy-crazed, shallow, back-stabbers, or some combination of all of the above. I guess it's no surprise given that the overwhelming majority of showrunners are male that genuine friendship has a "no girls allowed" sign hanging on it, but since the majority of the television viewing audience is female, couldn't the development folks at least take a crack at this more than once in a blue moon? "Gilmore Girls" shouldn't be the only show I can think of when I'm trying to list decent ones that kind of fall into this category.
Jace Lacob said…

What about "My So-Called Life"?

Though I do agree with you that there is a decided inequality in portrayals of realistic and genuinely awkward female teenagedom on television.
Anonymous said…
I love this show and so far the second season has been even funnier. I hope it stays around for a while.
Hadley said…
This show is hilarious. I love that Will is not just a nerd but kind of an ass as well. He reminds me of Sam from Freaks and Geeks! I can't believe that the actors are in their twenties as they are are completely (and painfully) believable in their awkward teen roles!

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