Technically speaking, “Camping Trip” marks the end of The Inbetweeners, the television show. Yes, The Inbetweeners Movie comes out next month in the UK, but the weekly episodic Inbetweeners is officially done, with even plans for televised specials failing to materialize.
It seems odd to come to the end so soon after the beginning — it’s only been six weeks since I started watching the show,so there isn’t the sense that this is the end of an era. If I had started watching the show back in 2008, I could have tracked how I discovered the show, and how my relationship with the show changed over time, but you’ve borne witness to that entire process already. You know that I prefer the more subtle character-driven comedy that has become more infrequent this season, you read my thoughts about standout series one/series two episodes, and I don’t think that there’s really anything new to say about my relationship with the show.
However, I think there’s a fair deal to be said about “The Camping Trip,” a finale that is both kind of surprising and highly predictable. On the surprising side of things, the show steers away from the logical conclusion (their last day of college) and introduces an entirely new device with which to create a sense of finality. It’s all a bit sudden, and it really calls attention to the fact that this is the final episode without necessarily seeming as though it was logically constructed. The fact that Simon’s parents are moving him to Swansea is useful, and I like the situation that the episode draws from it, but the show gets less meaning out of it than they would the end of college.
Once I got past my initial surprise, though, it made a lot of sense. Clearly, Morris and Beesley wanted to avoid (or, as it turns out, save) that concern over whether they would still be friends after college. In this case, Simon’s departure does threaten their friendship in a definitive fashion, but it also doesn’t raise deep questions about post-college identities and whether or not we keep our friends. I’d argue that those questions are extremely relevant to this show, and would ideally be the kind of questions they ask in a series finale, but they are very obviously not the questions that Morris and Beesley had in mind. Instead, “The Camping Trip” reveals that their questions were simply “What scenario can we devise that will let the boys have one more adventure that spirals out of control in a hilarious fashion?”
I like the idea of this more than its execution. The episode is smart to pare down its focus to look exclusively at the four friends, and Simon moving away forces the issue with Carli and lets Joe Thomas play more of Simon’s anger management issues. If you were to strip the episode down to a logline, I actually think it sounds quite ideal, as the broad strokes of the episode are well-designed to give us one last episode of these characters hanging out as friends: “To mark Simon’s imminent departure for Wales, Will plans a trip to the countryside that goes awry as soon as one might expect.” It’s maybe a bit forced, rushed by the sudden nature of Simon’s move, but it results in some of what makes the show so charming.
Or, rather, it could have resulted in some of those things. In truth, the episode relies far too heavily on characters doing enormously dumb things that exaggerate their characters flaws to the point of caricature. When Simon accidentally climbs into Carli’s brother’s window and starts feeling him up, it’s embarrassing and cringe-worthy but explainable given his drunken state and given the anxiety created by the move. When they actually go on their camping trip, meanwhile, the stupidity seemed to escalate without any real explanation. Suddenly, Neil is twice as stupid as he normally is, and Jay becomes the kind of person who cares so little about his friend that he’s willing to let his car roll into the lake.
You could argue that Neil has always been stupid (he has), but I don’t understand Jay’s position here. Earlier in the episode, I think they had it right: While Jay’s lies are not particularly helpful, he is using his lies to try to make Simon feel better about the move. He’s trying to sell Wales as a place where “clunge” is plentiful, trying to help his friend in the only way he knows how. By comparison, the whole scenario with the car is Jay being an absolute idiot — it’s one thing to forget to put on the brake, but it’s another to not realize the keys are in your pocket, and quite another to decide to stop trying to keep the car out of the water. It’s clear that the writers wanted the car in the water, and I fully understand and support the impulses behind that — I just wish they had found a way to do it without the other characters becoming quite so bloody imbecilic.
There’s a certain realistic charm to parts of the episode, like how Neil potentially getting a woman pregnant is entirely glossed over as the three others ask him what sex was like or how there’s that brief moment in the tent at the end where Neil is worried about what will happen to Will with Simon gone. However, the third series created a sharp divide between these moments and the moments of broad comedy, best encapsulated here by the huge barfing scene that closes the series. It’s meant to be funny, as the comic explosions of barf would indicate, and I can see how the actors would have had a fun time shooting it. It just wasn’t the kind of scene that I saw bringing this series to an end, going too far in the direction that has become so frustrating in this series. We leave on an image that makes sense, the four friends abandoning the trashed campsite, but the way it was trashed overshadowed any more meaningful moments (like Simon’s contentment following Carli’s text).
Now, these are the same issues I’ve had with this entire series, but I had sort of hoped the finale might push them in a different direction, especially given that there’s no way the movie is going to dial down the scatological humor. Beesley and Morris, according to a recent piece in the Guardian, imagine the film as “a British equivalent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or American Pie,” and I just love (read: hate) that those two films are in the same sentence. However, the third series indicates that Beesley and Morris want it both ways, that they want the cleverness of Day Off and the brashness of Pie all rolled into one. The result has been a show that pulled me in just to push me away, and I expect the movie (based on the trailer) to dial up the excess that much more.
I also expect that the movie will be quite funny. The Inbetweeners is a funny show, even when I find myself frustrated with some of their decisions, and I think the movie might be a better outlet for the kind of humor they’ve wanted to write in this series. It’s also a kind of humor that turned characters into caricatures, and which made me question why any of these people are still friends with one another, but I never saw it as valueless. Watching the entire show in such a short span of time, and so long after most of you have seen it, called attention to these shifts perhaps more than if I had been watching for years, but I don’t want to make it seem as though the show lost everything that made it so much fun in earlier series.
It is unfortunate that The Inbetweeners didn’t go out on a high note, with series three as a whole or with this particular episode. However, I think we can look at series three as a transition, a point at which the franchise (as it has now become with the release of the film) made the move from an unassuming sitcom about four friends to a raunchy sex comedy series. I can lament that transition as much as I want, but I am nonetheless curious to see how the show’s characters translate into a new setting. Will it feature the sense of conclusion that “The Camping Trip” evades by focusing on Simon’s departure instead of their final days of college (which are, in fact, the launching pad for the film)? Or will it instead just pitch itself as one more adventure, with the opportunity for future university adventures to follow?
My gut tells me the latter, but I would be pleasantly surprised (and pleased) should Beesley and Morris try to tap into some pathos even as they explore the debauchery of a lads’ holiday. It’s a duality that served the show well as often as it let the show down, and a duality that I hope isn’t lost as The Inbetweeners travel into a new medium.
- I’m curious if anyone following these reviews (all dozen of you) has been watching on the BBC America schedule — anyone? Bueller?
- I was not aware that Morris and Beesley had written “Unnatural Love,” one of my favorite Flight of the Conchords episodes.
- There’s been a lot of talk about Will being a horrible person this series, and while it’s generally true I thought he was fine here in the finale. Yes, he maybe misconstrued what a camping trip should consist of, but he was justifiably upset about the whole “burning his possessions” situation, and the idea behind the holiday was a good gesture to get Simon’s mind off of his move. This would have crystallized better if the episode had featured a scene like the one that closed the second series, a tone the show never seemed to want to return to, but c’est la vie.
- The notion that Will would take Neil to see Gilbert about getting a middle-aged cheese monger pregnant is a bit of a stretch — I get that they wanted one last Gilbert scene, but it seemed forced.
- Speaking of Neil, I’m disappointed with how much of a punch line he turned into over time — with such a small cast, to see one character feel so marginalized was unfortunate.
- Given the huge viewing gap, thanks to all who took the time to watch/read/comment along — I don’t think there are any definitive plans for a US release of the movie, but if the UK folk want to co-opt this discussion thread to discuss their impressions of it when the time comes, feel free to do so.