Friday, August 24, 2012

Pick a side for The Inbetweeners

MTV premiered The Inbetweeners this week. It used to be anything on this network could be written off. The fact that The Inbetweeners is a remake of a British series, a la Skins, would count even further against it. However, surprise surprise, The Inbetweeners is good. Very good.

There are a lot of shows you can compare The Inbetweeners to. Some have said The Wonder Years, but I prefer the more modern references, like calling it a series version of Superbad or the guy (and loser-class) bend on Awkward. I might even see it as an American Pie prequel. All of these are excellent projects, and The Inbetweeners does not quite deserve to be in a league with them. Yet. But it does come a lot closer than one might expect it to.

I cannot speak as to whether it is like the original version or not. Like most Americans, I have not seen the popular foreign show, though I'd like to, so this review takes the episode purely on its own merits.

As the "Pilot" of The Inbetweeners begins, Will (Joey Pollari, Profile of a Killer) moves to town. He has recently transferred from a private school, and doesn't quite fit in with the less-civilized peons in the public educational system. Not that he's snobby about it. The Vice Principal (Brett Gelman, Eagleheart, Go On) thrusts Will into an already existing clique of boys who aren't very popular, but like most young men, talk a big game, think about sex constantly, sneak alcohol, and get into trouble when they aren't kept occupied. It isn't long before they begin to rub off on Will, welcoming him into their group.

Jay (Zack Pearlman, The Virginity Hit) is the polarizing character, the Jonah Hill-type who acts like he has had a lot of sexual conquests. His friends likely don't believe him, and viewers definitely won't, but there is still something charming about him. Everyone knows someone like Jay. We understand that his outsize personality is meant to cover up insecurities, and he is genuinely funny, so we forgive him, even when, as he does in the "Pilot," he exposes his friend's boner in the cafeteria.

Simon (Bubba Lewis, Flags of Our Fathers) is the more romantic type, stuck on one girl, Carly (Alex Frnka, Unanswered Prayers), a close friend since they were young. In the "Pilot," Simon drinks a bit too much and makes a play for her. This ends horribly, and provides the only scene in which the "Pilot" goes too far into gross out territory. Hopefully, this type of sequence will not be repeated.

And then there's Neil (Mark L. Young, Big Love, Sex Drive). He is the least featured in the first episode, so we'll have to wait to find out who he is.

The reason The Inbetweeners works is, like Awkward., it is highly relatable and realistic. These characters are still young enough that they don't have to have it all together. Those teens going through the same things will be able to identify with someone in the cast, while TV viewers who are well past that age may like the show for nostalgia's sake. These boys have not been Hollywood-ized, made unrecognizable from the average teen. Instead, The Inbetweeners lets them be themselves, pimples and all.

Plus, the show is funny. The writing is tight, the dialogue is smart, but not so much so that it takes viewers out of the moment. The setting is perfect, and the pacing is great. A bunch of positive elements all combine to make it a series well worth watching.

Catch The Inbetweeners Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV.

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