The awkward years of life, just worse
Of course if you've had BBC America, you've had the chance to see this new series before, as The Inbetweeners has been running there for a while. This story of four teen guys struggling through their last few school years, which aired in the UK from 2008-2010, is quintessentially British, bringing a self-obsessed, raunchy, profanity-laced mindset to class warfare comedy. This is part of why so many British series fail as American adaptations. While popular American sitcoms are best known mainly for nice guys, like Cliff Huxtable, Doug Heffernan and Ray Barone, the best of Britain's sitcoms feature unlikable schlubs like Edmund Blackadder, David Brent and Basil Fawlty. It's with that second group that you'd slot the Inbetweeners.
Well, at least two of them. The star of the show, Will (Simon Bird) is a high-strung prick, plain and simple. Having been forced to transfer to public school following his parents' divorce, he sees himself as above his new classmates, but he's a genuine schmuck. He's unable to have perspective on anything, and as a result, he tends to screw up good things and makes bad things worse. Even when hot girls at school, like his would-be girlfriend Charlotte (Emily Atack,) show interest in him, he can't help but let his personality get in the way. If it's not him causing himself trouble, it's his friend Jay (James Buckley), a sex-obsessed pathological liar. Claiming to have seen and done everything (especially if it involves sex), Jay is severely lacking in self-esteem, and is secretly highly sensitive, putting up a front that annoys and turns off everyone, including his friends.
Simon (Joe Thomas) and Neil (Blake Harrison) aren't bad people like their other two friends, but they have their own issues that are holding them back. Neurotic Simon is stuck on a girl named Carli (Emily Head), who's known him forever, but doesn't like him that way, while Neil is a naive blockhead. It'd be easy to see him as possibly mentally defective, but it's more that he's sweetly dim, floating through life, without much care or thought. Together, the foursome are stuck in social limbo, neither complete losers, and certainly not popular, but frequently finding themselves in awkward situations thanks to their bad choices and inability to interact well with those around them, especially girls. One would have to think if Simon could break away from the group, he could strike out on his own and do alright, but he's more of a follower than a leader, (especially if he'd following his groin.) Even so, it's easy to root for him.
Through three six-episode seasons, they make their way through the last few years of high school (or sixth form in Britain), trying to keep from getting in trouble with school authority Mr. Gilbert (wonderfully simmering Greg Davies) and trying to get into trouble with girls. Their adventures include the usual stumbling blocks of young adulthood, including prom, getting a car, parties, sex, drinking, drugs, travelling and bad relationships, and their travails are realistic enough to be relatable, but ridiculous enough to be funny, like frequent issues with bathroom functions, Will's unfortunate depilatory run-in or Simon's awful wardrobe malfunction during a charity fashion show. Though Will's terrible behaviors, including throwing a grown-up dinner party for himself and abusing a sweet, if dull tall girl, threaten to kill the show's buzz, they give ample opportunity to laugh at him and his awfulness.
Though the stories of four drifting teens and their path to adulthood are entertaining, the real draw is how those stories are told. The series has the pace of a machine gun, with rapid-fire dialogue, especially when the guys start ripping on each other and their moms (and one particular dad), and quick-cut editing that keeps everything flowing smoothly. Though he's an awful human being, Will makes a fine dry, snarky narrator, and flashback opens and closes give the show a structure that works well for it. Unfortunately, as is the case with most British sitcoms, you've only got 18 episodes to enjoy, and they'll sail by before you know it. Fortunately, there's a post-series movie being released in the US in September, and the DVD content doesn't end with the episodes.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks don't bring a lot to the table. but the center-balanced presentation does a fine job of keeping the dialogue and music clear and cleanly-separated, helping avoid issues for those with accent aversions.
There's a lot more from the set in the Video Diaries (S1- 20:54/S2 - 23:34/S3 - 40:10), where the guys are given a camera and are allowed to do pretty much what they want. The result is a varied mix of clips of their days at work, with the idea catching on in the second season. In the third season, Davies was handed a camera as well, which created the longest entry and one of the most memorable, thanks to his odd sense of humor. The guys' clips start to have a touch of Jackass to them, as they start daring each other and doing stupid stuff, the kind of candid behavior you'd never see or hear from a young American actor (outside of ill-thought-out web videos.)
Deleted scenes (or more correctly extended scenes in many cases) (S1 - 3:19/S2 - 7:19/S3 - 7:41) show some of what didn't make it into the series, which early on included a more surreal tone to the comedy. In the final two seasons, its more cuts for time and pacing it seems. There's more cut (but unusable) footage in the Outtakes (S1 - :26/S2 - 5:52/S3 - 5:07), which tend to be pretty funny, mainly for the angry reactions they cause from the flubbing actors.
There's an assortment of audio commentaries throughout the three seasons, mainly with the guys and the show's creators, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. Through the first two seasons, you get either the guys or the writers, but in the third season, they decide to mix things up and take two guys and one of the writers for some tracks, and even bring in Davies for a track of his own (which is a trip of its own, as he's tired and coffee-fueled, switching from a self-aggrandizing style to pure self-loathing.) The guys' tracks are fun listens, as they joke around a lot and talk about what it was like on the set, while the writers tend to focus on backstory and inspiration for what happened in the show. Combined, they add plenty of enjoyment to the set.
Specific to Season One is a Meet the Cast featurette (6:57), which focuses on the actors on the show, while Season Two throws in a Field Trip featurette (7:23), offering a look at the season's first episode and the trip to Swanage (and all that went with it.) Also on the Season Two DVD is an interview with Davies (3:27), as he talks about his rea-life background as a teacher and his role on the show. Season Three offers its own unique extra in the form of a Series Three Prequel (2:32) a short bit setting up the third season of the show, as the guys meet up and talk about their summers. It's quick and funny, but also proof that the pace of the series is own of its biggest strengths.
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