There are many reasons why I like The Inbetweeners. I like the way it captured and inspired the crap banter of 17-year-old boys with phrases like ‘Bus Wanker’, ‘Bumder’ and ‘Fwend’. I like the fact that it is one of the most consistently brilliant comedies of its time with seemingly every episode housing at least one iconic moment. But the reason this faintly tragic tale of middling teenagers flopping between social and emotional disasters is my favourite show is because it is the only one that really means something to me.
The Inbetweeners defined my own awkward youth (which some would say is still on going) and offered a consoling reminder that I wasn’t as odd as I thought – well not quite as odd anyway.
For those who were already adults when it was first broadcast, The Inbetweeners was merely a nostalgic gateway to their own slightly cringey, but thoroughly funny, awkward sixth form days. The psychotic teacher who definitely had it in for you. The beautiful girl you were hopelessly in love with but whom you knew didn’t feel the same. The first fumbled attempt to lose your virginity. These well observed moments from peoples’ pasts could prompt a wincing chuckle followed by a panged sigh of “those were the best days of my life”.
Which is of course a load of patronizing nonsense, as anyone who first experienced the series as a teenager will know. Schools are horrible, claustrophobic, humiliating places and having to endure this clandestine form of penitentiary as a gawking teen is even worse. It’s almost like the stress of having a mortgage has caused those of a certain age to blank out how the hormonal headspin of puberty elevates the importance of our friendships and relationships.
In school, falling out with your group of friends or finding out the girl you fancy actually likes your best friend are the worst possible things that can happen, and I know because I’ve experienced both, because at that time those relationships are all you have. Iain Morris and Damon Beesley were always keenly aware of this and expunged their own embarrassing memories by therapeutically mining them for comedy gold.
For me, what makes the series great is the way it tackled two exquisitely infuriating situations – suburbia and adolescence – for comic effect. The sheer averageness of its small town setting flew in the face of fashionable US dramas – which still to this day represent TV’s only attempt to relate to a young audience – by replacing glossy, unbelievably well-behaved house parties and actors with supermodel good looks with the banal misadventures of a gang of useless 17-year-old boys. Witness Will braining a wheelchair-bound woman with an aerobie or hiding from a bully in a public toilet, or Simon spewing chunks all over his childhood crush’s little brother. Combine these homogenised experiences with some crap indie music and awful parties and you’ve got a show that perfectly captured British youth culture for the majority of people who didn’t live in trendy urban areas, even if the situations were exaggerated for maximum lolz.
But the real heart of the show – and the reason I treasure it closely – is the friendship of Will, Simon, Jay and Neil. At first glance, it is easy to find the vaguely familiar archetypes of an antiquated nerd, a hormonal schmuck, a compulsive bullshitter and a dense twit annoying and even unlikeable. But their rough edges are softened by moments of pathos that reveal a sweet co-dependency in their relationship, such as Jay’s blubbered reaction to being dumped by his first girlfriend: “She was like frigid… she wouldn’t have this threesome… and… my cock was too big for her.”
It was these moments that resonated with people of my age group, as we were able to recognize the type of characters these boys were: loveable losers using bravado and jokes to mask feelings of inadequacy. Likewise, at the heart of every Inbetweeners fan is an insecure boy worrying about how he is perceived by his peers and whether he is living up to the person he wants to be. It was gross, puerile and painfully cringey, but above all The Inbetweeners was a warm story about teenage despair and the importance of friendship. Not bad for a briefcase wanker and his loser mates.