I hate teenagers. I hate them as only someone rapidly metamorphosing into just the same old bores who used to moan at me when I was a teenager about how I was practically a part of the landed gentry because I got a record player for Christmas when they used to get an orange and apple and be grateful for it can.
Teenagers today annoy me because they live in a fantasy land of entitlement, where you can call Social Services if your parents haven’t bought you an iPhone. I want to happy slap them into the real world (the world of mid-70s austerity).
So I rarely make a date to watch programmes about them (even though I used to have a secret passion for As If, which was better than any ‘adult’ drama on TV at the time).
But last night I was chatting online whilst waiting for Reaper to come on E4 and I accidentally caught some of E4’s new teen sitcom The Inbetweeners and, to my surpise and almost intense annoyance, I discovered that it’s really, really good. So good it’s wasted on the young.
This is apparently E4’s first ever commissioned original sitcom, and it’s written by Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, who have experience on Flight of the Conchords, Peep Show and some Jimmy Carr stuff.
It’s about four suburban teenage boys who desperately want to get their ends away but are frustratingly trapped in that not-quite-an-adult-yet limbo land. I remember that land well. It’s hard to forget having a permanent erection between the ages of 13 and 16.
And that’s what makes this show so good (not my three-year erection): it’s about the normal frustrations of growing up that everyone can relate to, not the Daily Mail headline shit about ‘teen pregnancies, drugs, knife fights and guns.’
Where it really hits the ball right out of the park is that it’s so outrageously vulgar it comes off like a UK suburban Superbad. The writing is wickedly funny and the performances surprisingly top notch: Simon Bird, as effete ponce Will, comes across as the new David ‘Peep Show’ Mitchell. and James Buckley, who plays Jay, is so much the fully-formed reincarnation of Bob Grant (cackling skirt-chaser Jack in On The Buses) that it’s spooky.
The problem with pilots is that they is that they have to spend all their time setting up the characters in their universe, so they never give us a real idea of what a regular episode will be like. The challenge from the screenwriter’s point of view is to therefore get the whole thing up and running as quickly as possible.
This is easier to do than most people imagine. Audiences don’t need to be coaxed slowly into a series with over-elaborate exposition, as Channel 4 discovered recently when it cocked up the running order of its C18th cop show City of Vice, and viewers were treated to a painfully slow pilot (featuring characters who’d died in earlier episodes) at the end of the run. And there was me thinking they’d done such a great job of getting the story up and running in no time.
The trick is to write a ‘midcut pilot’ – something that’s as close to a regular episode as possible. The Inbetweeners gets round this problem neatly by devoting its first couple of minutes to an extensive teaser of forthcoming attractions, through the V.O. of main character Will, before then plunging us into his first nightmare day at his new school.
Job done. Although E4 still felt the need to show the second episode straight after, just in case anyone wasn’t feeling it. They needn’t have bothered. The Inbetweeners is class from the get go and already appointment TV.