As a film student, I spend a large portion of my summer discovering new shows on Netflix (shows that are new to me anyway). A recent gem I stumbled upon is The Inbetweeners, which aired on the UK’s E4 channel from 2008 until 2010, and was followed up by a feature film in 2011. The program follows four teenage males living on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, and focuses on their struggles with family life, friendship, and sexual frustration. On first viewing, the series can come off as particularly crude and brazen, but after watching all three series and the film, I surprisingly found the show to have a lot of heart. By the end, I felt very invested in the characters and was touched by how real their lives all seemed.
The series was nominated twice for ‘Best Situation Comedy’ at the annual BAFTA awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), and for good reason. Along with finding a large audience for itself, the series was well-received by critics during its run. It has often been compared to the American Pie film series, but I take exception this loose comparison. The themes and situations may be similar, but I’ve never seen an American Pie film where I actually cared about the characters as much as I do with this program. Personally, the series reminds me more of MTV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger. Both shows feature the nerdy central protagonist narrating each episode, but The Inbetweeners relies less on it as a crutch and the actors’ performances make it much more enjoyable and addicting than Berger.
The series starts with the affluent Will McKenzie transferring from a private school to a public school where he finds himself prone to much more bullying due to his small size and unrestrained snobbishness. Eventually, he becomes friends with three other boys: Simon, Jay, and Neil, who on the surface appear to be very sexually-active players with the knowledge to help Will become cooler. But it is soon revealed that in reality they are all virgins and considered “losers” in the school hierarchy just like Will.
All four characters are compelling and written with enough contrast to make each one unique. In particular, I really like the characterization of Jay. Of the four guys, he boasts the most about his sexual encounters and is by far the most misogynistic as evidenced by the disparaging remarks he makes towards women on the show including Will’s mom and female classmates. Therefore, Jay starts off as the most unlikable guy in the group, but as the series progresses we learn that he has a really abusive father who constantly reminds him that he never has been with a girl and frequently mocks him for his small penis. In front of his friends, Jay takes it all in stride and pretends his father’s behavior is just a joke, but both the audience and his friends gain a better understanding for why Jay acts the way he does. Many shows feature womanizing players, but this series offers a new take on the stereotype which I found very refreshing.
My other favorite character is Simon, who is viewed as the best-looking member of the group and should therefore have the most luck with women, but is handicapped by his long-standing crush on his childhood friend, Carli. Throughout the series we see him get very close to “pulling” girls as the British say, but never find success since he always gets distracted by an opportunity to talk to or just see Carli, who clearly has no interest in him as anything more than a friend. As a common theme many can surely relate to, this arc offers another reason to find the characters very believable, but also wraps up in a very rewarding fashion.
It’s challenging to write a review for an entire series without giving too much away, but basically it comes down to this: if you enjoy witty shows about groups of well-characterized friends, shows about high school life, British shows, or living vicariously through characters more interesting than yourself, I think you’ll enjoy this show. The first two series (12 episodes total) and the movie are streaming now on Netflix and the third series (6 episodes) can be found online on other sites such as Dailymotion.