Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Inbetweeners (U.S.): “Spa Time”

Illustration for article titled The Inbetweeners (U.S.): “Spa Time”

I’ve never watched an episode of the Inbetweeners before in my life—I’m subbing for Margaret, who is trapped in a “hurricane apocalypse” that may or may not be battering the East Coast. It’s too bad, because I think Margaret would have written a more interesting episode of television just narrating the events going on outside her kitchen window. (Rain. More rain. Wind. Transformer explosion!!)

Which isn’t to say that I disliked Inbetweeners, exactly. It’s more that it just isn’t that sticky. Nothing about the show manages to sink in in a way that makes me care about anyone or anything in it to continue watching. It’s entertaining, but not much beyond that. However, I totally understand that having not seen the last several episodes, I could be missing some of the emotional impact. I mean, I don’t even know anyone’s name. (So, as far as I can tell, it breaks down to: Guy who drives a car named “Celibacy”; Jonah-Hill lookalike; Stoned guy; Virgin.)

What I did like is how the beats of the episode fall in entirely unexpected places. In “Spa Time,” I was expecting the spa gift certificate to be a minor, one-scene gag (because I didn’t know the episode’s title, clearly), but it stretched into the major plot of the episode. Virgin’s mom gives him the $500 spa gift certificate, and the boys deduce that sexual favors could be found there. So the weekend that starts being about the student council carwash (girls in bikinis!) turns into four teenage guys in fluffy bathrobes, waiting to get facials. (Not that kind.)

The major potential here is for homophobic or misogynistic humor. Most sitcoms, especially sitcoms about teenage boys, would go there pretty quickly. The fun thing about Inbetweeners is that while it happily mines the outside world for humor, it’s just as willing to expose its main characters’ prejudices and naïveté. So the spa is a place for stoned guy to fall asleep in a steam room, wake up next to an old guy, and come to the conclusion that he’s dead and in heaven—and for Jonah-Hill guy to get an erection from a sweet-voiced male masseuse. Teenage boys are both charming and ridiculous, which is exactly true, and “Spa Time” comes back as the essential theme again and again.

And in many ways the strongest element of this show is that self-awareness, exhibited not just by the direction but by the boys themselves. It’s not always clear they do understand how stupid they’re being in the moment, but any group of guys that names the one guy’s car “Celibacy” have to be onto something, right? In “Spa Time” those moments of clarity are sandwiched between very embarrassing escapades. It makes for uneven viewing. But the essential lesson seems to be that even smart guys are really dumb when they're teenagers. That jibes with everything I’ve learned in life, so I’m inclined to let the ruling stand.

In “Spa Time,” virgin guy gets himself into a convoluted sexual Catch-22, in which the girl he likes won’t sleep with him until he loses his virginity (because virgins get “obsessed”). He pitches his situation to an interested girl at the spa, who comes to the same conclusion after about three minutes of talking to him, of course. Jonah-Hill-guy goes in search of a happy ending (of course), and “Celibacy” guy tries to be less of a jerk than his crush’s boyfriend, and ends up being more of a jerk (of course). Some elements of the plot are new and fun, but once they spin out, they are all fairly predictable.


The getting there isn’t quite as fun, though. It’s amusing, but it’s hard to forget that this is a teen comedy on MTV—the tone and the gags are squarely outlined for that audience. I chuckled, for sure, but I never quite laughed out loud. This is a show where points of humor are fart jokes and boob grazes, and no amount of thematic subtlety is going to change that. That being said, for what it is, it’s pretty great, and I’m looking forward to watching it grow up. Much like the girls in “Spa Time,” I could see being really into this show—just as soon as it loses its virginity. I don’t want Inbetweeners to get obsessed, god.

Stray observations:

  • I loved that the conclusion of the episode was the guys doing the same lame crap they were going to do before girls and escapades got in the way—playing drums at the dump. They sound pretty bad, but it looks like they’re having fun.
  • MTV is usually good on this but it bears repeating—great soundtrack.