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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells