Shamelessly immature but irresistibly funny, the Channel 4 sitcom reminds us all that youth is wasted on the young
Why binge watch The Inbetweeners?
Coming of age stories are eternally popular, reminding us to nostalgically relive the many firsts throughout our lives, from learning to drive to falling in love. With The Inbetweeners, though, it’s a bit more shites than rites of passage.
Exploring the well-worn path of awkward teenage years, but this E4 sitcom is about as far away from the likes of My So-Called Life and The Wonder Years as it can be. The storyline follows four teenage boys, whose friendship, at least at the outset, is forged out of the fact that nobody else in their school, student or teacher, seems to like any of them, so they might as well stick together to navigate the corridors together.
Simon (Joe Thomas) is the stroppy love-sick one with wet-look gelled tips, pining lustily for Carli, far beyond his league. Fantasist Jay (James Buckley), a somehow both foul and mealy-mouthed, spends his time adding layer and layer upon the increasingly impossible lies he’s fabricated, usually relating to the number of times he’s had sex – despite everyone knowing he’s a virgin. Neil (Blake Harrison) is the sweet-natured idiot, trailing lankily behind the rest, and Will (Simon Bird), who also narrates their misadventures, is the would-be sophisticate, transferred out of public school, in the British sense, to a state one where his penchant for accessories see him immediately dubbed “briefcase wanker.”
The beauty of The Inbetweeners is its ability to find profundity in exposing testicles. As an expletive-laden show that regularly resorts to scatological humour, it somehow also presents four teenage boys who act like teenage boys. Their masculinity isn’t toxic, just malformed and finding its way. The show revels in awkwardness, from the first attempts at sex right through to the immediate panic when the Frisbee you toss smacks a wheelchair user in the face. The show embraces the awkwardness of that in between stage we all have to endure on the path to maturity, and it’s that that road is strewn with immaturity that makes it so much fun.
How long will it take to binge?
If you avoid the two spin-off movies, there are only 18 episodes of the show, split evenly across three seasons of six apiece. In total, it clocks in at nine hours and 30 minutes, which is possible to do in one sitting, should you find yourself incapacitated with illness and fading in and out of consciousness. Far more realistic would be to split the seasons over a long weekend, but it shouldn’t take more than a week at most.
Where can you binge it?
Like all of Channel 4’s output, a binge can be easily done on the All4 website or app, with all of the episodes freely available to anyone with a decent Internet connection and a tolerance for the (admittedly free) streaming service playing the same adverts over and over again. A new version of the boxset, if archiving is your thing, will set you back €10, while second-hand copies can be gotten for a low as €3.50.
Any hurdles to overcome?
Proust this isn’t. If you’re looking for more than cheap laughs, albeit well-crafted ones, there’s little to be found here. And if you’re put off my farts, excrement, or vomit, maybe give this a miss.
Who steals the show?
James Buckley’s Jay has arguably the most to work without of any of the actors on screen, with Jay’s flights of fanciful confessions becoming wilder and more x-rated as the show progresses. His capacity to turn anything into an insult leads to some of the show’s most ridiculous but irrepressibly funny jokes. But the episode that allows Jay to really stand out is the one in which he makes a friend independent of the group, even though the other three refuse to believe that Jay’s new friend exists. With mounting pressure, he succumbs to his peers, falling back in line in painfully awkward ways.
A scene to sample:
As mentioned in the introduction, perhaps no scene best sums up everything The Inbetweeners is about as much as the ‘Larks at the Park’. Revealing their own fragile egos, buoyed up by hormone-fuelled boyhood, throwing a Frisbee and reacting to it smacking a wheelchair-bound woman showcases just how much of a tosser Will is.
What to follow up your binge with?
Thomas and Bird teamed up once again in 2013 for the singular series of Chickens, a sitcom about three British men who avoid going to the Front during the First World War, and suffer the consequences back home. Channel 4 passed on the pilot, which was picked up by Sky. They’ve all fared better by themselves, with Bird appearing in the series Friday Night Dinners with Black Books’ Tamsin Greig, and Thomas moving into a more dramedy role in Fresh Meat, a comedy about students at a university that could be a spiritual follow-up to The Inbetweeners. Blake Harrison has co-starred in The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret with Sharon Horgan and David Cross, but has joined Tenneson, the prequel to Prime Suspect. Buckley has mostly focussed on roles in TV movies and cinema, including a small part in the recent mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.