The Inbetweeners: The latest teenage pick

It is the latest series to show that British TV is challenging America in the teen market. And young viewers love it, says Julian Hall

The second series of sixth-form teen comedy The Inbetweeners starts next week on E4, following hot on the heels of the third series of the teen drama Skins that ended this week on the same channel. E4, it seems, is “teen central” and has found itself a focus of a burgeoning interest in the period between childhood and adulthood that is canonised as a whole genre in the US. No longer does the fading memory of Grange Hill and the continuing saga of Hollyoaks appear to stand alone against transatlantic adolescent film and television fare from Breakfast Club to American Pie and Freaks and Geeks to Gossip Girl.

Before a screening of the first two episodes of The Inbetweeners earlier this month, Angela Jain, head of E4, reported that the channel has seen a year-on-year increase of 24 per cent of viewers for the 18-24 age range. Both Skins and The Inbetweeners attract an audience beyond those boundaries, though, as younger people aspire to be the age of the characters and older viewers are, as Skins writer Brian Elsley describes, "buying into a memory" rather than an actual experience, thereby putting these two shows much more in line with the American teen-show experience, ie teen shows not made for teens per se. For the most part, the memory being explored in The Inbetweeners is the shambolic pursuit of women by clueless men and a chorus of one-upmanship in the "post-match" analysis.

"The moments in between being a teen and becoming an adult are pivotal times in most people's lives," says Jain, explaining the fascination with the 16-18 period. "The Skins experience is completely dramatic and aspirational and clearly not how most teenagers lived their lives but how they would dream to live them, it has a drop-dead-gorgeous cast, an amazing soundtrack. The Inbetweeners is almost the antithesis of it ["the anti-Skins", as Heat called it], just as good, just as funny but suburban and more real in some respects in its depiction of four slightly rubbish, hapless boys."

Among the hapless happenings in a show that has been described as "the English Superbad" and "American Pie mixed with Peep Show" are the inevitable misadventure with alcohol leading to comic projectile vomiting of Exorcist proportions, and suffering the ignominy of being driven around in a little yellow car that would make a Lada or a Skoda look like a Rolls-Royce. The four protagonists accept their fates with a due sense of teenage doom as they lurch from one failure to the next.

James Buckley, who plays the Liam Gallagher-esque loud-mouth character Jay in the show (and also appears in Fresh!), feels the show speaks to his own experiences: "Obviously the show is heightened reality, but I did feel like you could relate to it. It was sort of how I spent the early years of my life growing up in Dagenham. I remember I had too much energy that I didn't know what to do with and I didn't know anything about the world, though I thought I did. Being young means finding different ways of wasting time before you can go to a pub, mucking about with friends most of the time and just laughing, things that aren't exciting on their own but become that on a storyboard."

Mucking about and laughing with your mates is a timeless pursuit and one that writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley didn't lose sight of when they mined their 1980s schooldays for inspiration. The Inbetweeners was actually going to be set in the Eighties, as Judd Apatow's series Freaks and Geeks was. However, that idea was deemed too retro and too niche, and the enduring notion of male bonding, or near-bonding, was correctly seen as enough to draw in viewers nostalgic for their schooldays.

"You do terrible things at that age and get away with it, like getting drunk, fighting, worse things than you'll see on American teen shows," says Morris, expanding on the notion of "mucking about", "and you do them just because you really don't know what they are doing. I see this cluelessness physically embodied by kids on street corners not knowing where their limbs are, looking awkward and lanky."

This sense of awkwardness is most evident in The Inbetweeners in terms of ludicrously coarse exchanges about sex - it's one of the few elements that runs counter to the overall innocence of the show, and the quartet are often involved in banter that might make readers of Nuts and ZOO blush. "When you are that age you say the worst possible things for a reaction, and some of the terrible things that our characters say are almost excused by their naivety," maintains Beesley.

In this second series, the naivety of the four boys is contrasted more sharply with more brazen outside influences, such as obnoxious 12-year-olds who are clearly much harder than the group and add to their growing collective capacity for embarrassment. However, for Morris and Beesley there's no pressure to walk on the wild side as Skins does, or to go out of their way to play to Daily Mail stereotypes of teenage hoodlums. Morris says: "The idea is that there are some people at their school who are having sex and doing drugs or are thinking about doing either or both of them, but the focus of the show is a certain stratum of teenage life."

Of course, the stratum of teenage life that is most publicly apparent is the one that is associated with drugs, sex and crime, but Beesley dismisses the stereotype and argues that when he was at school he remembers similar Clockwork Orange-style scare-mongering stories and dramatic headlines that meant "a stabbing in London became a countrywide epidemic".

It's possibly symbiotic that there's a preoccupation with teen troubles at the same time as there is a larger appetite to see their exploits on television. It's also possible, even, that now is the "School Disco" moment for teen shows, to borrow from the popular retro-clubbing movement. More specifically, a 1980s revival theme is pertinent to the cultural baggage of Morris and Beesley, who cite among their influences John Hughes films such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

A multitude of teen-oriented scripts have circulated in the wake of E4's stable of teen shows and whether good, bad or indifferent, there have been a number of attempts in recent years to get with the teen scene, either on film, from Kidulthood to Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, or on television, where, other than E4's duo, efforts have included BBC3's Coming of Age to BBC Switch's university sitcom, Fresh!, now going from an internet platform to television.

However, Skins creator Bryan Elsley is circumspect about a new dawn for teen drama and comedy, though he knows the potential is there: "When we started Skins there was no interest whatsoever in that kind of show - apart from Hollyoaks - that has stuck in there admirably over the years. When Skins was not the abject failure that everyone predicted it to be, other broadcasters started looking at that area and approaching the audience through the internet. So the demographic exists and the platforms exist but the broadcasting industry always lags a year behind, so you could argue that the moment for teen drama and comedy at the cutting edge has actually passed already and is moving off into other areas to combat falling ad revenue on mainstream channels.

"Whatever happens, Skins and The Inbetweeners have created a crazier kind of teen genre without doing cheerleaders, jocks and high-school proms, and built and retained and audience."

'The Inbetweeners' starts on E4 next Thursday. 'Skins: The Complete Third Series' and 'Skins: The Complete Series 1-3' box sets are available on DVD from 6 April


Greg Davies as Mr Gilbert

A former drama teacher and one-third of sketch troupe We Are Klang (who are to get their own BBC3 show later this year), Greg Davies plays the world-weary Mr Gilbert, the head of sixth form at Rudge Park Comprehensive.

Simon Bird as Will McKenzie

When he received his British Comedy Award for Best Male Newcomer last year, Bird joked that being a bookish teenager wasn't a role he had to dig too deep to find: "I was a bit of a geek, I suppose, being in the orchestra and not doing very well at sports."

Emily Atack as Charlotte Hinchcliffe

The school's resident Jayne Mansfield-style pin-up forges an unexpected friendship with Will that is tested by his inexperience. Atack has appeared in crime drama 'Blue Murder' and 'Heartbeat'.

Blake Harrison as Neil Sutherland

Harrison says he looked to Rodney from 'Only Fools and Horses' for inspiration in playing the slightly away-with-the-fairies Neil. Harrison's credits include roles in theatre productions of 'Market Boy', 'On the Razzle' and 'Richard III'.

James Buckley as Jay Cartwright

James Buckley has notched up work in ''Orrible', 'Skins', and the new BBC Switch sitcom 'Fresh!'. His character is the archetypal 'gobshite' who is hell-bent on bigging up every situation to the maximum and overestimating his own sexual prowess.

Emily Head as Carli D'Amato

One of the daughters of 'Buffy' and 'Little Britain' star Anthony Head, Emily plays the self-assured object of Simon's burning desire. Her television credits include 'The Invisibles', 'Doc Martin' and 'Trial and Retribution'.

Joe Thomas as Simon Cooper

Writing and performing comedy since his days at Cambridge University, Joe Thomas plays Will's closest friend. Simon has an unrequited desire for Carli D'Amato but season two sees him being diverted on to other members of the fairer sex.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own