The Inbetweeners (2008 - 2010) premiered on the UK's Channel 4 in a post-Superbad (2007) world ripe for stories about the awkward, crude, and cringe-worthy universe of teenage boys. The Inbetweeners continues in the tradition of sex-fueled (or lackthereof) coming-of-age tales. It follows Will (Simon Bird), the new kid at school, as he struggles to make friends and eventually hooks up with three other "inbetweeners": kids who fall somewhere in between the popular group and the nerds at school. Will and his three mates, Simon (Joe Thomas), Jay (James Buckley), and Neil (Blake Harrison), are concerned about the things that many 17-year-old boys are worried about: school, girls and getting alcohol.
James Buckley, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison and Simon Bird in The Inbetweeners
What makes The Inbetweeners different isn’t the subject matter, but the sustained authenticity of the voice. That voice comes straight from series creators and writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, who mined their own experiences for the show's three-year run. (There are also two Inbetweeners movies.)
“You might say Damon and I have never really grown up, and we still love that world we portrayed in The Inbetweeners,” Morris wrote in 2013 for UKTV’s Leading Lights, Imagination and Creativity in Televsion and Beyond. “When I was that age – 18 or so – I made a decision that I’d pretty much say yes to any kind of social event or offer, and most of the time it’s been disastrous, but it’s always been a defining factor in my life, and I’m now grateful for it as it’s led to enough anecdotes to fill the three Inbetweeners series.”
The third episode of the first season is a good example of just how disastrous the results can be for Will and his mates. The episode, in typical Inbetweeners fashion, is essentially a quest narrative. In “Thorpe Park,” Simon wants his driver’s license, Jay (as always) wants to find girls, and Will wants to ride the Nemesis Inferno, “one of only two pully-launch coasters outside of North America.” The comedy lies in the pain and suffering along the way. Simon does pass his driver’s test, but the car isn’t the cool ride he was hoping for; instead, it’s a bright yellow Fiat that his father tells him “can’t get up to speed so you won’t kill yourself.” They do, finally, make it to Thorpe Park, but not completely intact. Then, after an hour of waiting specifically for the front seat of the Nemesis Inferno, Will loses it when three other Thorpe Park attendees “push in.”
The series calls itself on its own nonsense and perfectly captures the teenage struggle for the boys, as well as for the girls they so desperately want to impress. When Jay inelegantly suggests that Simon’s new car will represent a whole new universe of girls, Will says, “He’s right, although he expressed it like a terrible misogynist.”
“We wanted the show to be almost a survival guide, a kind of self-help manual for teenage boys, so that they could look at it and say, 'My life sucks but it’s not actually as bad as it is for Will and Simon and Jay and Neil,'” Morris writes.
Capturing and maintaining the teenage voice is not a simple task. For writers, it would be easy to slip into cliché and simple raunchiness. Morris and Beesley nail the dirty, smelly parts of teenage life, but also the anxiety, the emotion, and the fear of always being caught in between.