The Inbetweeners: TV Review

2012-29 REV The Inbetweeners H

Boner and boobies talk abounds in the American version of the Brit hit.

Coming-of-age comedy suffers in comparison to Brit original.

MTV's remake of the beloved -- and super-crass -- British series has big shoes to fill.

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.

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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, or that simply swapping out actors and trying to get the feel right will make it all turn out all right, even if in the early going they’re acting off of the original script. 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 still 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.

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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. And let’s not kid ourselves: The coming-of-age conceit for American teenagers is well-worn, and having it spun with wiry and foul-mouthed Brits instantly made it less typical, polishing over the parts where the familiar themes were played out or the behavior never seemed to deviate. It was all just too funny from their perspective.

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. No matter how boundary-pushing this new Inbetweeners is, fans of the original (and the 2011 movie) will find it lacking. Of course, many said the same about The Office, an even more hallowed British comedy that was able to shake off the copycat comparisons and carve out a completely different world for itself. And that very well might happen with Inbetweeners. More important, there might be very little crossover for fans of the original and MTV’s core audience.

If most audiences haven’t seen the original, then this Inbetweeners certainly could 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 (Will) and Bubba Lewis (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).

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The key to it all is that Simon isn’t exactly popular, but in his gaggle of friends he’s the best looking and possibly the sweetest, so elevation in the social pecking order isn’t entirely out of the question -- though it is so long as Will is around. The other two characters in the main foursome of adolescent boys in the American version, Jay (Zack Pearlman) and Neil (Mark L. Young), are more of a diversion from their British counterparts (and that might be troubling for fans of the original). Jay’s cocky swagger about his fantasy life of getting laid and being cool comes off as more confident and less desperate than his Brit counterpart, just as Young’s version of Neil is more airheaded and less cluelessly bemused than the original.

Yes, that’s nitpicking and only relates to those who saw and loved the original, which -- as mentioned above -- might only be a tiny fraction of the viewers. 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.