As I’ve now caught up with the first two series of The Inbetweeners, “Will’s Dilemma” brings to light a dilemma of my own.
If there is a single character on this show that I 'relate' to in any way, it would probably have to be Will. I’d like to say this is by process of elimination, but that would be a lie: While it is true that I don’t resemble any of the other characters enough to particularly relate to their plight, the fact remains that I do sort of see parts of myself in Will. This is not to suggest that he and I are identical or anything, but there are moments where I realize that how he responds to situations is not entirely far removed from how I would respond to those situations.
My dilemma, of course, is that Will is often an insufferable twat, especially in “Will’s Dilemma” as he deals with how to let a girl down gently when the girl in question is an abnormally sizable blowjob queen of some repute. I said in my first review that I found Will unlikeable at the start of this series, and that was only compounded by his behavior in this episode. However, my frustration was heightened further by the fact that I sort of liked Will in the first two series, his idiosyncrasies less mean-spirited and more harmlessly pretentious, and so the return of this version of the character was that much more of a disappointment.
I’m not exactly sure what’s happened to Will in the third series, although I think it has a lot to do with the character’s lack of any sort of narrative. Now, this is not a show that is generally driven by narrative, so I am not saying that the absence of narrative is inherently problematic: This is a sitcom, and my expectations on that front are not particularly high. However, the issue is that Simon does have a clear narrative in this series, and it’s drawing attention to the fact that Will doesn’t have something similar. While Simon explores different kinds of storylines — including, as we see here, the degree to which he will sacrifice his dignity for a girlfriend — that are newly possible given this narrative development, Will is just sort of stuck with the generic teen sex comedy stuff that I discussed last week.
There’s value to economy when it comes to sitcom storytelling, and so I understand their desire to avoid piling up on the recurring narrative developments and focusing just on Tara. I actually like a lot of what this episode does with Tara, especially the little moments where Jay and Neil relentlessly hound Simon for mentioning her name so often. That’s the kind of casual yet cruel camaraderie that we’ve all noted as one of the show’s highlights, and I’m glad that the relationship with Tara is being used to facilitate that kind of interaction instead of some sort of breakdown of their friendship. Similarly, I don’t think it’s a huge problem that Jay and Neil end up on a pointless but harmless adventure of embarrassing a figure of authority who dared step outside of the academic context and appear like a normal person (albeit a normal person who purchases plush toys). As a quick little C-Story, it was like a slice of life moment to help establish that this is what teenagers would do if they saw one of their teachers/administrators in a shopping mall.
That 'slice of life' mentality is something the show has usually internalized quite nicely, which is why it is that much more disappointing that the ostensible A-Story (given that it gets the episode title) feels so far removed from that at the end of the day. Now, in theory, the storyline is perfectly logical: People get set up on blind dates with their friends’ partners’ friends all the time, and it is not surprising that there would be some awkwardness surrounding this. Similarly, height differentials are a common issue of compatibility, and a decent source of visual comedy. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the storyline in theory, and I don’t even think that the early parts of the storyline are ineffective.
There is just something about the way that it all plays out which made me uncomfortable in all the wrong ways. Now, for those who have followed my reviews of the U.S. version of The Office, you might remember that I am not a huge fan of cringe humor, although I believe it has its place in sitcoms of this nature. However, the issue I always find myself returning to is why the show is making us cringe, and whether that cringe is earned. I realize that this is one of those moments where many of you will likely feel I’m overthinking simple sitcoms, but I’d argue that “Will’s Dilemma” identifies my concern quite readily.
Early on, we’re cringing because Will is cringing: The more he feels uncomfortable with his date, the more he begins to feel emasculated by the whole affair. What happens eventually, though, is that Will no longer seems awkward, instead resorting to outright contempt. I understand what her size is part of the joke, but there’s a real viciousness to Will’s comments that made me cringe simply because he was being such a dick. I get that he was in an awkward situation, and I get that Will’s personality is such that letting her down easy would be a challenge, but it didn’t feel like the show was interested in the comedy of awkwardness: Instead, it was interested in the comedy of Will humiliating a teen sex comedy stereotype — the less than popular but loose girl whose name (Kerry) barely registers — who was very thinly drawn, something that I cringe at for all the wrong reasons.
There was just something very cheap about the way the storyline plays out, especially the reveal that her father had just died. That was perhaps what frustrated me the most, actually, because it suggests that Will’s rant wasn’t awful before we learned that we were meant to sympathize with her (which I felt it was). The show has given Will conquests in the past, like Charlotte or his former babysitter, but they have allowed those to be disrupted through situation comedy as opposed to being defined by situation comedy. With Will floating without any real sense of direction, and with the other characters mostly off in their own storylines, there was nothing to ground Will’s behavior or to justify this kind of stale storytelling — it was just unpleasant and disappointing, something that the show has avoided through even its cringiest moments in previous series. I really do think there was a more likeable way of playing Will’s “Is it worth it if I get a blowjob?” dilemma, but the episode just never found it for me.
Now, I am not suggesting that the show has lost what has made it work. We get a nice continuation of the trend of Neil getting Will’s leftovers, we get some good bonding moments between the friends, and Tara remains a smart bit of disruption that I’m curious to see play out in the back half of the series. What “Will’s Dilemma” identified to me was not that the show is falling apart at the seams, but rather that the third series seems more willing to indulge in storylines that take the show off the course that I would prefer it to be on. I appreciate the willingness to shift things around, but given that I don’t like the direction and that the direction is all centered on a single character (with Will bearing the burden of it all, and thus being disproportionately damaged), I’m definitely hesitant to applaud them for their changes at this stage in the series.
- Since I watched this episode earlier in the week, I had honestly sort of forgotten that Neil’s birthday was part of the episode. I think more could have been done with that, to be honest, as it ends up feeling just like a convenient reason to have a party, but it’s not as though we expect too much characterization from Neil.
- Having now watched two and a half series in just a few weeks, I must say that the show is definitely changing my diction: writing about the show brings out things like “twat” much easier than when covering other shows, and I find myself subbing “fit” in for “attractive.” None of this is a conscious effort, but rather a subconscious indoctrination of thought patterns — scary stuff.
- Similar to last week, we’re now at the stage where we can discuss Series Two in earnest — any favorite episodes which come to mind? For me, I really enjoyed the finale ("Exam Time"), both for giving Jay a storyline involving real emotions (important for any blowhard character, in my opinion) and for doing some nice work with Simon’s friend zoning vis-à-vis Carli. Nothing in the third series has been nearly as strong, to my mind, although we can maybe trace some Will issues back to his one-dimensional studying/defecating there.
- There is something sort of fun about The A.V. Club featuring a day dominated by reviews of British imports on the 4th of July weekend — happy 4th of July to the Americans, happy belated Canada Day to my fellow canucks, happy weekend to the Brits enjoying our trip to their distant television past, and happy weekend to everyone else as well!