The cast/crew bit: Written & directed by Iain Morris & Damon Beesley, starring Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Blake Harrisson
The ten-word synopsis: Misadventures of four Sixth Form boys who don’t fit in.
The Americans have spent the past 50 years doing variants on the high school theme. For too long, they’ve been pigeonholing and overexadurating characters that just don’t feel real. So it’s alarming that in what is virtually Britains’ first high-profile shot at an equivalent series, they seem to have fixed the problems that so often linger in similar programs over the pond.
The series is narrated by Will MacKenzie (Played with a fitting awkwardness by Simon Bird), a character who, were he in one of the aforementioned American shows, would be labelled a ‘Nerd’ and then left to rot as comedic fodder. In the opening episode, Will has just started at the fictional Rudge Park Comprehensives’ Sixth Form, after his mother could no longer afford to keep him in private education. In order to avoid ending up with the ‘Weird kids’, where he’d stereotypically belong, he shoehorns himself in with three other mismatches. The four principle leads aren’t ‘jocks’, they’re not ‘nerds’, they’re not popular, but neither are they outcasts. They’re where the majority of us where in school, you can almost guarrentee it.
Joe Thomas’ Simon Cooper is the most believable of the cast. Whereas the other three are hammed up for comic effect to a certain degree, Simon remains a ‘real’ person, albeit one who is hopelessly, pathetically in love with childhood friend Carli. The main issue with this first series is that, despite it being funny in its own right, it takes much of your first viewing to grow to like the characters, meaning that you can only full enjoy it a second time around, when you know the jokes are coming anyway. However, Simon is the exception to this rule, instantly the stand-out likeable one. The pictured ‘Friend’ gag has gone on to become an instantly recognisable reference. It’s arguably the funniest thing in this first series, and has spawned a life outside of the TV series, so well done on creating the ‘Oooh, friend’ legacy, if nothing else, Inbetweeners.
While he gets moments of heart and development in the later series, Jay Cartwright (Played by James Buckley) is played almost entirely as some kind of adolescent sex pest here. Obsessed by ‘Clunge’, Jay takes some time to warm to, but does get some funny lines amongst the perverted. There are definately well-observed moments to be found in his character, none more than is incredibly poor comebacks and OTT reactions, and it’s that kind of thing that’ll get you behind him, despite the obvious. The final member of the Inbetweeners, Neil Sutherland, is your stereotypical stupid character, and actually does little other than be a bit thick but pleasant all the same. However, Blake Harrisson delivers a masterclass in comic timing, presenting one of the most endearing idiot characters since Father Ted brought us the ever-loveable Dougal. He’s also used sparingly, meaning that his ill-thought-out hijinks never become samey or boring. He’s the shows’ real ace in the hole. Stand-up comedian Greg Davis delivers a similarly spot-on performance as the schools’ Head of Sixth Form, used only when it feels right, and when it feels right, Davis makes it work.
There are points in which the series falls down. Personally, I felt the character of Charlotte Hinchcliffe left something to be desired. She seemed a bit irritating and hollow, and I’d rather she was ignored after her first appearance. There are times in which you feel that, perhaps, the boys seem a bit too sex-driven. Yes, the crude humour is a large part of the series appeal, but every now and again doing a story that didn’t revolve around baby-making and cherry-popping would’ve been nice. There’s also a distinct lack of punchlines. Whilst the series does build plenty of laughs through manipulating different situations, occasionally some sharper dialogue would’ve been nice. However, it’s probably fair enough that the kids in question wouldn’t bring out the zingers, so you can’t hold it against the show, which, despite the comedy tag down bellow, is probably as close to a proper Sixth Form drama as you’ll ever get.
It’s this realism that really nails The Inbetweeners as probably the finest 16-18-year-old-centric comedy around. It’s funny, but it’s also true. Most of the jokes aren’t jokes, they’re laughs of recognition. Anyone who is or has recently been through the English further education system shall find far more to enjoy in the program than those some way past there teen years or from a differing culture. However, that’s not to say that this isn’t worth a watch whoever you are, especially as an alternative to the next 50 years of exadurated American high school tosh.
6 Caravan Clubs out of 10