Film and Television Features

The inbetweeners - Is America Ready?

How is it that such a funny show only ends up depressing me?  Perhaps it’s the liberal, questioning Jew in me that manages to find the dark cloud inside every silver lining.  As Paul Simon said, maybe I think too much.  I can’t help it, but as I make my way through this hilarious UK TV series on Netflix, all I can think about is how impossible it would be to air any random 2 minutes of the show on US network television.  And then I start to dwell on how here in the States, our old Puritanism coupled with our new Child Fetish (as George Carlin called it) makes us worry about all the wrong things.  Now, the creators of the series, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, have been asked by Paramount to helm a US version of the popular film adaptation they made in the UK last year.  God forbid the studio would get behind a release of the original film here, but as we know, all that cockney repartee is not gonna play in Peoria.  More shit to get down about.

For those who have never seen the show, let’s get a couple things out of the way, and I’ll translate into American because I’m assuming everyone in the UK has already seen it.  It revolves around a teenager who has been moved from a private to a public high school after his parents divorce.  Arrogant and prissy, he nevertheless manages to make friends with three other boys who share a common interest – getting laid, or at the very least a handjob.  Like all sixteen-ish boys, they think with their newfound dicks and hence hilarity ensues.  Actually, anyone familiar with the teen exploitation genre will realize that making a smart, witty comedy out of guys looking to ejaculate in the presence of a woman is no easy feat.  Why does it work?  It seems to me that it treats the boys in the show as boys.  In other words, they are awkward, earnest, occasionally sweet, occasionally stupid and always real.  The situations are of course absurd, but the characters ring true; not as thirty something screenwriters trying to relive their teen years by nailing the cheerleader that got away, but as actual teenage boys who are bound to fuck things up with girls before they figure out how to handle themselves, which in my case took an additional twenty years.

Yet all I can think about is how almost everything this show does makes it unsuitable for US network viewing.  There are scenes of male nudity, teens talking about “spunk”, the aforementioned handjobs, attempted sex, pedophilia jokes, homophobia played for laughs, and much more.  It’s like the writers sat down with the express intention of breaking every taboo in modern American television.  I don’t know how shocking all this seems in Britain, and I don’t even know if shocking is the right word, since who is shocked at anything anymore, but here the only reaction you can have is a sense of awe that Morris and Beesley got away with it.  But the fact they did makes this Yank wonder what is wrong with us.  While we are sitting around watching high schoolers bust into a production number of a Queen song, the Brits are seeing a kid get unexpectedly jerked off by a girl at a dance.  Which was more likely to happen at your school?  One boy is teased for having “gay hair” while another is relentlessly mocked because his dad displays homosexual tendencies.  In America that kind of homophobia never happens – on TV.  We’ve learned that young, adolescent boys just discovering and trying to understand and assert their sexuality shouldn’t talk like this and so network television doesn’t let them get away with it.  And most surprising there is a sequence where a pedophile attempts to seduce one of the boys on his bed while the others watch and the whole thing is played for laughs.  Here, in the land of Honey BooBoo, Toddlers and Tiaras and Jon-Benet Ramsey, we don’t joke about such serious matters.   I was not exaggerating when I suggested that virtually every scene in the series would be verboten in the States.

It seems to me that we need to get comfortable with laughing at the parts of reality that make us blush.  What I detect is an increasing tendency for us to merely excise from the world those things we don’t want to deal with.  Global warming gonna cost us a bunch to prevent?  Must not exist.  Evolution too much of a challenge to your faith?  Darwin was an atheist huckster.  A black Democrat is in the White House?  Must be a Muslim socialist.   I dread the upcoming US film because I fear what the studio is going to whitewash out of existence, like some kind of Orwellian bureaucrat altering history.  Yet putting the film in the original creator’s hands gives one hope, recalling how the American Office series was overseen by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and they wound up creating a show that related to US audiences without losing the irreverent spirit of the original.  Is it possible?  Films definitely have more leeway here than TV, but all one needs to recall is the American Pie series to know how a funny film with funny people can still end up making you feel sick to your stomach.  The inbetweeners is lewd, crude and wildly frank, but also manages to be clever, funny, and ultimately heartwarming.  I’d love to see us pull off a trick like that.