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TV Review: The Inbetweeners

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Every so often, the funniest show you watch is the one you least expect to be funny. BBC America's newest series, The Inbetweeners, is just such a show. The comedy focuses on the new kid in school, and the friends he forces himself upon. Awkward teenage comedies being a dime a dozen, one might not expect too much from the show. They would be wrong. The Inbetweeners is, from start to finish, hysterical.

The show is centered on Will (Simon Bird), who has just entered a new – and public – school following his parents' divorce. The poor every-teen instantly starts off on the wrong foot. From having the wrong clothes to carrying a briefcase, to saying the wrong thing in front of the principal, to having to beg others to show him around, the humiliations Will suffers on the first day are the exact sort of thing we would all fear in a similar situation. In order to be truly funny, the series, written and created by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, takes Will's very average misfortunes and amplifies them.

Will does, very quickly, manage to meet people at the school willing to tolerate him – and initially they are not friends, but truly only those who tolerate him – Simon (Joe Thomas), Neil (Blake Harrison), and Jay (James Buckley). They, as with Will, perfectly represent the typical sort of teenage archetypes. That is not to say that all the characters are the same – they most certainly are not – just that they are the typical characters one would expect to find in a school. They are less stock characters than true to life ones.

In fact, the series presents – almost – what one imagines a typical high school to be. The jokes come from the slight twist away from the normal; one moment everything taking place seems absolutely real, and then the next things spiral insanely out of control. As an example, in the second episode, the boys decide to cut classes in order to get some alcohol and spend the day drinking. Not only is the comedy derived from the actual attempts to procure the alcohol, but also the results of the binge drinking, which go well beyond the usual excessive vomiting and headache.

The comedy in The Inbetweeners relies heavily on I-can't-believe-they-said-that humor, and indeed, after watching the U.K. cut of the show one wonders how many of the jokes will disappear into bleep-dom before the series airs in the States. The jokes are crude and crass, and as the show centers on teens, those crude and crass jokes focus heavily on sex, alcohol, and the problems with parents. While that may make it sound as though the series is solely geared towards teenagers, Beesley and Morris have managed to craft a show that appeals to a far wider segment of the population.

That doesn't mean that parents and children will feel comfortable watching the show in the same room. In fact, it seems difficult to imagine sitting there with one's parent or child as a drunk Simon makes some pretty rude suggestions to the girl he's had a crush on for years. However, if both generations are watching in different rooms at the same time, both will laugh and laugh mightily.

It seems that the reason for the show's potentially broad appeal is that these characters the series follows are ones we can all relate to. Even if we have never told off a friend's parent in quite the way Will does, we have all been in situations where we have (most likely) wisely kept our mouths shut in front of someone when we desperately wanted to tell them exactly what we thought. Beyond that, even if we are passed our teenage years and the awkwardness that accompanies them, the memories from those bygone days linger, and not always for the best. Watching the four teens here make a complete hash of their lives can only serve to lessen the anguish we all still sometimes feel about our actions back in the day.

The Inbetweeners premieres with back-to-back episodes January 25 at 9:00pm on BBC America before moving to its regular timeslot of Wednesday at 9:30.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.