Thursday, 24 September 2009
A Review of The Inbetweeners
I recall reading a sociology book some time ago about the English as a people. The main argumentative string was that the English are socially inept. (How insightful). The thing is that I have the impression that all the people, wherever I lived, see themselves as handicapped when communicating with people from other countries. The only ones who tend to think their people are ‘sociable’ are those individuals who then spend their time roaring like sea-lions in pubs and generally getting on everyone’s nerves. Typically, they also fail to get anything like female company unless it’s an out-of-luck transvestite and they’re so drunk they can’t figure it out. The last sentence only applies to the male ‘sociable’ guys, but mistake me not – there’s also the female version, normally expressed in something like a radical Christian girl belonging to the Church of the Presbiterian Schwlopping from the far mountains of Southern Austria or whatever. These girls are extraordinarily proactive and are at their most dangerous when an instantiation of karaoke is taking place. Take a single girl capable of speaking in tongues and you can empty a crowded pub in the space of less than fifteen seconds! (For the record, much like the ‘sociable’ men do not pull for shit, these girls do no-one the favour of offering some love, not even to their own husbands if they have any, which even by Christian standards has to be blasphemous).
Anyway, I was sitting as happy as a pear the other day in the break-room of my ‘office’ (if you can call a restaurant with two floors full of kids screaming louder than the lead singer of Linkin Park an ‘office’), when this friend of mine put on a DVD. It was a TV series which apparently goes very much in Britain, called The Inbetweeners. A brief sample of the stuff can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvTgvEzpSzQ&feature=fvst. I wish to dedicate this post to take a look at this British oeuvre. The story centres around four high-school kids who are, go and guess this, socially inept. One of them is quite the normal guy, but he seems to have all the good judgment of a suicide bomber attacking a mall during a bank holiday; he is in love with The Dumb Blonde of the day, who is not supposed to be The Dumb Blonde but The Cute Blonde, but is in fact so dumb that she either deserves the Oscar prize for Best Actress or she was born with half the natural share of skull-cream and was picked up for her genuine disposition to the role. The second guy is a sexual pervert who constantly claims to have fucked girls more often and in more circumstances than he has warmed up the palm of his hand. The third one is a weirdo whom I can’t really define (the guy dresses like an ape for his job, can’t come to terms with the fact that his father sucks cock, mercy-kills fish with his bare hands and is the only guy who somehow manages to get some sex going).
The fourth and final guy is the protagonist, a character with glasses whom I can’t figure out for the life of me. Leaving aside a couple of deus ex machina slip-ups, this guy is not only very smart but incredibly witty, yet he seems to become instantly ostracised wherever he goes. It’s like the act of wearing glasses makes you a nerd. By that logic wearing a sombrero makes you a Mexican. So the first series follows the misadventures of this gangly group of lobs as they consistently make fools of themselves in all the typical English coming-of-age experiences, from drinking under-aged to getting a driving license to trying to chat up girls to other stuff. By the end of the series, absolutely nothing is resolved or has been changed, yet somehow The Dumb Blonde falls in love with the cretin who is in love with her. If you’re wondering how this is possible, then don’t bother asking – I don’t have the slightest fucking notion. He never does anything other than make a complete idiot of himself (even implausibly vomiting over her little brother in a scene worthy of a Tucker Max tale), yet she finds him irresistibly cute.
The ending is meant to be educational – it is an old trope in coming-of-age narratives which teaches that romance is out of our control and that eventually things will follow their natural course (in the soppiest cases, in fact, it is suggested that this lack of control is precisely the ‘magic’ of romance). But this is an example of how bad execution can turn a timeless trope into nothing more than a cliché. Much like the protagonist is poorly characterised because it doesn’t make sense that someone so smart should meet with such social closure, so there is nothing to tell us why The Dumb Blonde should get attached to this dick, other than her being Dumb (so at least they’ll make a nice couple). This highlights a problem with the series throughout – all of the female characters are incredibly flat, posing as no more than cardboard cut-outs who stand there and offer one of two acts: 1.) Flaunting the power of their sexuality, be it by acting in a way that is seductive (wittingly or unwittingly) or simply by denying social acceptance to the men, and 2.) responding to whatever ‘hilarious’ demonstration of social ineptitude by frowning and going ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘What do you mean?’. The entire frigging show has no more than two facial expressions for its female characters! Where the hell are we, in an episode of Scooby Doo? There’s got to be more than ‘flirtatious’ and ‘frowning’ that can be done with the human face, surely.
I wish to state that I have great respect for British television, more so than for any other television in Europe. But The Inbetweeners is a very poor show. There’s some flashes of wit in the script and some of the situations have some humour, but mostly it is too stretched from plausibility and too predictable in its clichés to ever be truly immersive. Ultimately its juvenile bullshit means that it is a typical case of a work of art standing as an example of that which it wishes to represent (it performs that which it claims to satirise, appeals to the world which it wishes to deconstruct, and so on). This is a very common fallacy in art and learning how to recognise it is an excellent critical tool to possess (for an easy example, EVERY film produced by Zack Snyder displays this fallacy). The Inbetweeners is worth watching to practice this tool, but for almost no other reason at all.