I have said in the past that Simon is my favorite Inbetweener, but I haven’t spent a great deal of time considering the character’s broader arc in the context of the third series.
In this series, Simon’s storyline has been somewhat new: With his pursuit of Carli derailed by the introduction of Tara, the character is exploring a different set of experiences and emotions that exit the hypothetical and enter into the real. That’s actually a pretty major trend for the show this series, with numerous storylines going further into “reality” than they have in the past; before, talk of doing drugs would have ended with the fake drugs from Donovan instead of escalating to actual drugs, just as Simon’s pursuit of Tara would have ended in absolute embarrassment instead of an embarrassing but nonetheless successful courtship.
Of course, as I discussed last week, this kind of shift has not come with an increased maturity from the show’s characters, which has made for a fairly disappointing series. That trend continues in “Trip to Warwick,” which suffers from hinging its entire storyline on Simon becoming more spineless than ever before.
Now, to be fair, I sort of like some of what this episode does with Simon. I am especially pleased to see that his legitimate anger management issue, and not generic douchebaggery, is what ultimately proves to be his undoing with Tara. I’ve always generally liked Simon, but his temper is honestly a bit out of control, especially with his parents. It is not as though his father is like Jay’s father, actually taunting Simon about failed conquests: While his parents aren’t perfect, and the trial separation certainly created a sense of anxiety, Simon’s lack of appreciation for their efforts has always felt a bit overblown. Even going back to the first series and that little yellow car he hated so much, he was more or less being an ungrateful dick, even if we could understand the emotions of where he was coming from. The presence of this thread within "Trip to Warwick" does a nice job of tying Simon's behavior into larger story arcs, and makes his breakup with Tara somewhat more palatable.
I would normally complain about the relationship with Tara ending so quickly, but given the short series and the show’s track record I can’t exactly say that I am surprised. While there is value in six-episode orders, I do sometimes feel that it means the writers are too willing to throw something away just to get through the rest of the arc. Seeing how the gang reacted to Simon having a girlfriend was probably my favorite part of “Will’s Dilemma,” and to get only a single episode of that seems like a bit of a waste. However, the show has only a few episodes to get through the beginning, middle, and end of the relationship, which means it gets only three episodes; of course, given that three episodes is half the season, it still constitutes the longest arc in the show’s history, so complaining about it does seem a bit moot.
What I will complain about, however, is a lot of other things about this episode. Continuing a trend that we’ve seen in the previous two episodes, Simon has sort of lost his mind over this girlfriend thing, and the notion of finally having sex pushes him that much further into outright stupidity. The anger issue is something that I think we can chart back to the beginning of the show’s run, but the way he actually wants Jay and Neil’s advice seems like a major stretch. I understand he lacks experience, and that any advice might seem better than absolute uncertainty, but is he living in a world without Google or the Internet? The only reason it makes sense to bring Jay and Neil along to provide on-the-scene advice is to justify bringing everyone along on the car trip, a narrative solution that dilutes Simon's intelligence within this scenario beyond any logical anxiety. While “The Gig and the Girlfriend” had a similar story, with Simon doing an about face with Jay as soon as he needed weed in order to impress Tara, this is something far more personal and something that I have to believe Simon would realize shouldn’t involve three of your friends.
It’s also a dangerous storyline, as it really does make me resent the show’s other characters. “Will’s Dilemma” had Will on thin ice to begin with, but Jay and Neil are just becoming more and more reduced with each passing episode. Jay’s conquest of the international student roommate was right out of Teen Sex Comedy 101, and Neil pissing himself (or farting in the car) indulged in the scatological beyond a point where I could really enjoy it. Will’s storyline is at least predicated on learning about university culture, but there is just nothing to be found beyond a realistic depiction of university drinking culture. I like that the university students aren’t too broadly drawn, one-dimensional but in a sort of small-scale fashion (as opposed to an outright rager), but there’s just no meat to the storyline on any level. The episode suffers by trying to turn it into one large embarrassing situation: it would have been more interesting, and to my mind more satisfying, if the characters had had four separate Warwick embarrassments that ended in a similar fashion, rather than forcing Tara’s sister’s house to serve as the epicenter of it all.
As I noted last week, there are obviously some moments where I know The Inbetweeners isn’t going for much in the way of sophisticated comedy, and so there are many moments where I should just stop thinking about it. However, the show has done more than this in the past, and “Trip to Warwick” is another third series episode that lacks both complexity and, frankly, much in the way of satisfying comedy. I think Simon’s dickish behavior is more contextual than Will’s in last week’s episode, and is quite intelligently tied back into long term character development, but I still felt the show was too willing to dilute the character’s intelligence for the sake of justifying a madcap comic scenario that was more convenient than clever.
I don’t mind that the show is ending the relationship with Tara: I understand the show’s motivation for doing so, both in terms of pacing and in terms of keeping the Inbetweeners decidedly inbetween. However, if they are going to end the relationship, I wish they could have found an episode that felt more organic, and that offered something more than a flawed central storyline and a bunch of throwaway, scatological side stories of little to no value.
Simon, Tara, and the show deserve better.
- I sometimes wish that the only time the friends actually interacted as a group was in the students’ lounge. Those scenes always have a great rhythm to them, and Jay’s explanation of female genitalia was absurd in a way that I quite enjoyed. The show has not entirely lost that dynamic, but it has stopped writing broader storylines that can really take advantage of it, meaning that we sort of lose the rhythms once they’re on the road to Warwick.
- Simon’s temper tantrum in which he attacks his penis is one of those setpieces that the show sells quite well: it’s funny, but it also does seem legitimately a bit scary (especially to Tara). In truth, I thought she wilted a bit too quickly in light of the whole affair, but I certainly can’t say that I blame her given Simon’s behavior.
- Similarly, the early scenes with Simon and Tara discussing sex were strong as well, sitting in that nice place where Simon’s lack of knowledge can be used for the purpose of awkwardly terrible dirty talk as opposed to justifying larger storylines. This is a better show when it remains a small show, and I think the third series is losing sight of this.
- I don't think the episode redeemed Will at all, but I think pitching him as lonely in light of Simon's new preoccupation felt very honest, and it's too bad we won't get to explore that further.