Fans of wanking gags rejoice – schooldays comedy The Inbetweeners is back on TV for a third series, and a feature film is in the works.
This is excellent news for those who think yoof television has been dominated for too long by the buff, skateboard-toting try-hards of Skins. After all, you can tell a lot about a person from whether they prefer Skins or The Inbetweeners.
That’s because Skins is a 30-something media executive’s fantasy of what teenage life is like. Whereas The Inbetweeners captures the clammy, anticlimactic reality.
Maybe your formative years are/were a whirligig of boundary-pushing sex and emotional drama. Mine weren’t. They were mostly spent memorising Manic Street Preachers lyrics and doing geography coursework. MDMA? Wouldn’t know where to get it, couldn’t have afforded it even if I did.
The Inbetweeners – which centres on four sexually clueless friends – recognizes that being young isn’t glamorous. It’s boring, and confusing.
The writers grasp the fact that one’s schooldays are essentially a string of humiliations – a toxic cloud of hormones, Lynx Africa, Deep Heat and shame. You talk about sex incessantly, but never have it. Girls are a distant mirage, terrifying and unknowable.
A lot of people have the wrong idea about the show. They think it’s nothing but puerile insults, featuring heavy use of the word ‘clunge’. Actually, it’s cleverer than that. The filth is always in the service of character.
There’s a rattling momentum to the dialogue. It’s one of the few shows on TV to accurately capture one of life’s simple joys: banter. Sure, it’s hardly Mad Men. There are loads of ‘yer mother’ gags. But they’re good ones.
Meanwhile, the casting is perfect. Simon Cooper, played by Joseph Thomas (actually 26, believe it or not) just is your specky mate from lower sixth, his hair carved into sticky spikes by a combination of sebum and Tesco Value styling gel.
Jay, on the other hand, is a livewire comic foil in the tradition of Kramer, or Joey, or Super Hans. Unencumbered by morals, he can say what he likes. You know it’s always an outrageous lie, but you still want to hear it.
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And the whole thing’s so profoundly British. American TV shows – Glee, especially – project a creepily conformist vision of school: even the supposed ‘outcasts’ look like members of N’Sync.
But The Inbetweeners offers up an utterly authentic vision of the British school experience: endless grey tedium made bearable only by friendship, humour, and occasionally pouring scorn on “bus wankers”.
Plus, the show has introduced the term ‘cock wig’ to the English language. You can’t say that about The West Wing, can you?
This article appears in the new issue of NME, on sale Wednesday 15 September.