I’m not sure I’ve ever so eagerly anticipated a new series of a programme as I have the third series of The Inbetweeners. Revving myself up for the six new installments this autumn, I watched the first two series so much that I half expected the images of Jay, Neil, Will and Simon to be burned indelibly onto my laptop screen.
For those who don’t know, The Inbetweeners is essentially like Skins but with the four lads trying but failing to have sex, rather than the whole show being one long wet dream.
Herein lies the enormous appeal of the show: there is a stark, brutal honesty and a realism to it that will chime with the majority of its viewers who spent their teenage years cooped up in a stifling commuter (I originally typed that as “communter”. Yes, I’ve been watching it far too much) town, waiting to go off to university and filling their time planning futile sexual conquests.
Unfortunately, it is the authenticity that is missing from the first few episodes of the current series. It is as if the writers, now aware that the spotlight is on them far more than when they created the previous episodes, have become more hesitant about pushing the boundaries. Gone are Jay’s spectacularly crude insults (Simon: “No one brings a bag of shit to a pub”. Jay: “Your dad does – your mum”) and the brilliant exchanges between the four (Jay: “All you’ve had to do over the holidays is wank 10 times a day”. Simon: “Yeah, that’s right, I’ve had 210 wanks and my cock’s like a pepperami!”).
Episode three, thankfully, gets off to a much better start and stays on the ball throughout. Jay is back to his usual form (“Girls always say their mates are fit, but when you meet them, they end up looking like a pork scratching”), as is the banter (Jay: “A school cleaner noshed me off when I was 12”. Will: “Who was he? Garry Glitter?”). There are, though, a few more unwelcome changes.
The whole point of Will as a character is that although he’s a bit of a dick, he always comes through in the end, and you can’t help liking him. In the new episodes he never gives you much reason to like him again – insulting his essentially nice-but-dull, clingy love interest from start to finish. His apocalyptic rants about the injustice of his situation are, though, thankfully back by the third episode. Mr Gilbert, the brilliantly caustic Deputy Headmaster of the lads’ school is – to the show’s detriment – sidelined save for a few brief and tame appearances.
What really sealed the deal in the first two series was the brilliantly-crafted soundtrack. The songs were incredibly evocative of the mid-noughties teenage years (Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend, Belle & Sebastian) and ensured that no matter how dated some of the references might get, it will still have a vitality for years to come. Not only has a proper soundtrack been largely scrapped, what is left is nondescript indie pop, with none of the power or resonance of the songs in the first few series.
The Inbetweeners is still frequently hilarious and cringeworthy – the qualities that made it a hit – but there is something missing from the new series that is immediately obvious but difficult to pin down. The writers should stop playing to what they think their new and enormous fanbase want and go back to the much more basic and natural – and as a result, funnier and more realistic – way they wrote the first two series.