The Inbetweeners: Series 3

The Inbetweeners: Series 3

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

The boys are now in their final year at Rudge Park and even though Simon (Joe Thomas) finally lands himself a girlfriend, things haven’t progressed much. Will (Simon Bird) is still frustrated with life at a normal school, Neil (Blake Harrison) is still an easy-going dimwit and Jay (James Buckley) still a sex-obsessed bullshitter. Over the course of the term, the lads take part in a charity fashion show, their first gig, a trip to Warwick, a free house and a camping trip.

The brilliant first season of The Inbetweeners flew under the pop culture radar, before enthusiastic word-of-mouth, hotcake-like DVD sales and a Bafta nomination (!) ensured it found an audience. But while everyone starting talking about it during the just-as-good second season, it wasn’t until this much-anticipated third that its popularity exploded and the fanbase escalated like one of Jay’s clunge-based fibs. With viewing figures rocketing (rising from 200,000 when it first aired to a record-breaking 2.3 million for this year’s opener), it confirmed what some of us already knew – that the teen-defining sitcom had graduated from cult favourite to mainstream runaway…

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Despite the new-found expectation on co-creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris though, the show is largely the same endearingly accurate rendering of suburban teenage life that it’s always been. Okay, so if we’re being really honest, the sharper and less easily-pleased viewers will notice that the comedy lapses into broader, easy-laugh territory more often, but it’s hardly a critical, series-ruining blow. Arguably, it results in a slightly lesser season than the fresher previous instalments (which, to be fair, had the surprise factor), but it remains a sharply-written, superbly-observed rendering of those years where you grasped for an elusive coolness that never materialised.

Again the banter between the boys is the highlight, flowing with common room rhythm, a huge amount of quick-fire one-liners, inspired put-downs and quotable stupidity (such as Jay likening Simon’s hair to the Statue Of Liberty or dimwit Neil thinking Will went to Hogwarts). Again the observations are hilariously spot-on and easy to relate to, such as the weird excitement of seeing your teacher outside school, the horror of your parents being on Facebook or the way girls always think their friends are gorgeous (“Girls always think their mates are really fit, and then when you meet them they look like a pork scratching.”). Again, watching will transport many right back to their embarrassing-yet-cherished formative years.

Once more, stuffy critics will like complain that all our gang conversations revolve around girls, masturbation and sex (sometimes all in the same sentence) – but that is just what young boys talk about. Contrary to what American high school dramas would have us believe, teenage guys don’t sit about having sentimental chats about how proud they are of each other. Here the murmur of heartfelt vulnerability only surfaces infrequently from underneath the nob jokes and juvenile bravado – like in real life – and it’s all the more poignant for it. The Inbetweeners is a clever comedy peppered with toilet humour, not a toilet-humour comedy with some clever – and this is important.

But as stated earlier, the broad and cringe-worthy antics do feel more obvious this season. Thinking about it, the cynical side of you can’t help but reason that this is a reaction to the increase in popularity, with the co-creators perhaps unable to resist cranking up these over-the-top focal points to ensure that people keep talking about the show. Maybe so, maybe not. But while some are hilarious in a There’s Something About Mary sort of way (such as a certain fashion show wardrobe mishap), the more the gross-out moments and bodily-fluid gags are exaggerated for comic effect, the harder they are to swallow. Simon, in particular, is tasked with too many larger-than-life freak-outs (mostly aimed at his parents), which aren’t nearly as funny as his don’t-know-what-to-say “hmmm”’ reactions.

But while Jay is landed with increasingly unbelievable, credibility straining lies (getting calls from Ralph Lauren, sleeping with Playboy bunnies, poker with Danny Dyer and the Krays), he’s picked up on them more this season and still gets all the best lines. His relentless teasing of Simon every time new girlfriend Tara is mentioned is priceless, while the aforementioned flashes of a usually-buried vulnerable side enables a wonderfully human facet to his character.

By now it goes without saying that the cast is mostly flawless in their roles, and Hannah Tointon (the younger sister of Eastenders’ Dawn) is a great addition as said girlfriend, assured and self-confident in a way our lads aren’t. As always, Greg Davies’ hateful head of sixth form Mr Gilbert is a sadistic delight, as are the often-overlooked but always entertaining parents; from Simon’s over-sharing dad (Martin Trenaman) to Neil’s closeted father (Alex MacQueen), from Will’s hot mum (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) to Jay’s bullying patriarch (David Schaal).

With a movie on the horizon, the finale subsequently doesn’t offer any definitive closure, but yet still touches on the unspoken sadness of the gang unavoidably disbanding after sixth form. As for inevitable questions as to whether the show could theoretically continue past high school (despite the stumbling block of Neil being accepted to university), stand-out episode A Trip To Warwick provides evidence that there’s scope for hilarity yet.

Slightly more broad and over-the-top than before, but still well observed and one of the sharpest, funniest comedies on the box. Now, let’s see what the movie brings us…

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2011
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The Inbetweeners: Series 3 packshot
The exploits of four friends, who are socially only marginally above what one of them calls "the freaks", are presented as they grow from their late teen years into adults and as they go on their quest, usually unsuccessfully, for such grown up things as beer and sex.
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