In the past couple of years, MTV's scripted development has made impressive leaps in quality, with both the acclaimed Awkward and the underappreciated and now-canceled I Just Want My Pants Back. Next up is a remake of British series The Inbetweeners, which must have seemed like a no-brainer given how great and audacious that series was at taking the staid coming-of-age theme of teenagers and giving it a newer, filthier vibe.
Imagine Freaks and Geeks, only with less naivete and a relentless enthusiasm for graphic sexual references and truly inspired swearing -- then add a British accent. But it's always dubious to think that what passes for funny in England is going to work here. Even though original series creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris are on board as executive producers and MTV got Brad Copeland (Arrested Development, Grounded for Life) to be the showrunner, the series can't get liftoff because it seems like a limp copy. There was considerably less gloss and sheen to the original (meaning it never felt like a manufactured sitcom), and there was something about the British cast that just worked perfectly, a collection of awkward teens trying to navigate high school with only one thing on their minds: getting laid.
It's one thing to cast a bunch of teenage misfits and let them flounder in a sea of cheerleaders, but the Brit version was able to give them charm and vulnerability under the crassness. MTV will be hard-pressed to repeat the swearing onslaught of the original, but part of the kids' redemption comes from being vile on the surface and just young boys underneath.
It's unlikely MTV will give its version that long a leash, contentwise, but it could. There's plenty of boner and boobies talk already in the pilot, of course, and it is cable. If most audiences haven't seen the original, then this Inbetweeners could certainly work because without direct comparisons to Brit actors Simon Bird (as Will) and Joe Thomas (as Simon), who were phenomenal in their roles, American actors Joey Pollari (as Will) and Bubba Lewis (as Simon) could be allowed to blossom and round out their dynamic (prep-schooler Will has moved to the daily nightmare of embarrassments that is public school, where Simon is paired with him so he won't get bullied). But hey, a copy is a copy, and it will always be held by critics to the standards of the original -- an unenviable burden in this case.
Of course, many said the same about The Office, an even more hallowed British comedy that was able to shake off the copy-cat comparisons and carve out a completely different world for itself.
Airdate: 10:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20 (MTV)