The Inbetweeners debuts tonight on MTV at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
Adapting a British teen-comedy to U.S. television is a tricky business. The issues faced by high schoolers are the same on both sides of the Atlantic—getting laid, finding cheap booze, trying to navigate parents and cafeterias while retaining a modicum of cool—but a lot is lost in the translation. Skins, last year’s most prominent UK-to-MTV import, mostly received attention for its scandalous advertising. The Inbetweeners, meanwhile, was in the Americanization queue previously: In 2008, ABC attempted and scrapped a version of the series. When MTV picked it back up last year, the most-promising name attached was Brad Copeland, former Arrested Development writer. The result is a show that’s funny and refreshing, though not groundbreaking. There are shades of Awkward., another great, scripted MTV show, and even some lingering hints of Freaks And Geeks.
Like the British version, MTV’s The Inbetweeners focuses on new kid Will McKenzie and his band of high-school-misfit friends. The actors all do a great job of perfecting that slightly defiant, slightly defeated look of out-of-the-loop high schoolers. Will traipses up to his new school in a blazer, sweater, and preppy messenger bag, only to get relentlessly mocked by Neil, Jay, and Simon, who soon become his best friends. “Is it delivering the message that ‘Mommy dressed me?’” Jay cracks. In the British version, McKenzie is always the one struggling to break into the quartet, a dynamic that didn’t always make sense. In MTV’s version, the group half-heartedly accepts McKenzie—but believably. Teenaged friend groups, like Twinkies, just sort of congeal.
Zack Pearlman does an admirable job as Jay, whose advice on sex is so hilariously detailed that it can come from a virgin. “I like to go in past the balls,” he advises at one point. At another he asks to tag along with Simon to visit a girl Simon likes “in case she wants double penetration.” When Simon asks to see some sexts he allegedly got from girls, Jay claims that he wouldn’t recognize them “because they take it from the inside.”
MTV is a particularly good network for The Inbetweeners because the show is so in tune to the clichés of teenhood in America. Within hours of meeting each other, the gang agrees to skip school in order to impress the ladies. But unlike Ferris Bueller, they can’t really figure out what to do with that freedom. After all, at 10 a.m. on a weekday, almost everyone is working or too young to be of much help. Neil, the simple one of the group, suggests a game of Red Rover. But Simon and Jay recognize that the overdressed McKenzie might be able to score some liquor. After a few Dixie cups full of rotgut vodka, Simon decides to do something about his crush on childhood friend—and total hottie—Carly. “Just be direct and spray-paint it on an overpass,” Neil suggests. Cut to the group watching Simon paint a red heart on Carly’s driveway.
Grand gestures like that rarely work in real life. They usually just stick you with a weirded-out crush and a hefty asphalt-cleaning bill. To her credit, Carly sees the embarrassment mixed with bravado on Simon’s face, and doesn’t dismiss him as cruelly as she could have. (She doesn’t love you, man!” Neil exclaims. “You wasted all that paint.”) She instead invites Simon over while she’s babysitting her younger brother in order to have a chat. Using true adolescent logic, the boys decide that what worked for Simon wasn’t the heartfelt sentiment—it was the booze. “It’s because you’re so drunk. You’re like Kurt Cobain,” Neil says, sagely.
To recreate the magic, Simon chugs a horrible-looking mixture of liqueurs from Simon’s home liquor cabinet and shows up to Carly’s reeking of Windex. “Sex me,” he tells Carly, who looks horrified. Then he vomits, explosively, all over her kitchen. McKenzie frightens Carly’s little brother with the details of chemical warfare, only to have the little boy run into the kitchen, plop on Carly’s lap, and get thrown up on by Simon. Could a date go worse? Not outside a Farrelly brothers movie.
The Inbetweeners does a deft job of staying true to the original series without slavishly copying it. It’s more like the directors have absorbed it and are making an homage than a straight copy, which is exactly what’s needed. With tonight’s episode, it’s off to an interesting and strong start.
- “We were the golden flakes floating in the pool of vomit.” Words to live by.
- I found the voiceover in this version to be much less obtrusive—and therefore more in accordance to American sitcoms—than the British one. Anyone else?
- McKenzie in the liquor store, eying the cheap vodka: “Is it a good year?”