The Inbetweeners (USA) episode 1: First Day review

Review Frances Roberts 21 Aug 2012 - 17:05

Were the psychic powers of those predicting an epic fail for the US remake of The Inbetweeners correct? Here’s Frances’ review…

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 First Day

I can pinpoint the exact moment my shoulders – previously tense from anticipating an embarrassing cultural mistranslation – relaxed when watching The Inbetweeners (USA) season opener. It was at the phrase “up to my nuts in guts”. Phew, I thought, they’ve left in some of the glorious filth of the original. Perhaps it’s not going to be so bad, this American travesty.

In fact, the US version has left in more than just the odd disgusting line. Its first episode – an amalgam of the first two instalments of the original – has imported its script almost wholesale, sliding the sarcasm and gross-out sex slang of four horny home counties sixth formers into the mouths of four horny Florida teens. 

The effect, for those familiar with the original, isn’t unlike those pictures you get of dogs wearing sets of human false teeth. Funny, yes, but also a bit unsettling.

(Similarly unsettling is MTV’s decision to provide viewers with details of what’s playing on the soundtrack at any given time, helpfully popping the info up in a text box at the bottom of the screen. Who voted that in, the association for the promotion of attention deficit disorder? Between that and the sporadic expletive bleeping, it makes you long for good old sweary, distraction-free UK telly).

As announced by the title, episode one covers the events of Will’s arrival at Grove High, his introduction to lovesick Simon, Neil the dolt, and pathological bullshitter Jay (played by Zack Pearlman and reimagined as a Jonah Hill/Jack Black type over here).

The season opener meshes together the events of the original’s First Day with those of Bunk Off, in which the boys have a decidedly un-Ferris Bueller experience cutting school, a drunk Simon (Bubba Lewis) spray paints Carli's driveway with a declaration of love, and then spray paints her little brother with something much ickier.

Will may not be greeted by shouts of “briefcase wanker” in the school halls, but he stumbles into the same ‘inbetweener’ caste – not the lowest of the low, but a long, long way from the top – as his new-found friends, then manages to turn himself into a social pariah just as efficiently as his UK counterpart. It’s not grassing up underage drinkers that makes the new boy as popular as a fart in a spacesuit this time, but a false accusation of bullying. 

Granted, he’s only had 22 minutes to prove himself, but Joey Pollari’s character isn’t yet as smug, sardonic, or funny as Simon Bird’s Will, and - as many noted when the first cast picture was released -  his having been prettied up to quite-attractive-if-you-fancy-Norman-Bates status fundamentally changes the character. Similarly, the magic of Neil (now an inconsequential, vaguely airhead-ish hippy played by Mark L. Young) has so far been lost in translation.

Change, though, can be a good thing. A good few of the Superbad-style episode’s non-imported moments were genuinely funny (Neil’s still a paedophile magnet even on this side of the pond, it seems), and while none of the four leads stood out in episode one, it’s still early days.

Accusations of the remake's sentimentality are somewhat misfounded. Yes, it took the UK series six episodes of piss-taking, selfishness, and ball-breaking to allow itself a bit of warmth between the four friends in the trampoline fight at the end of season one, and the US version has the gang playfully frolicking about hosing each other down at the close of the first episode, but look closer, and that scene’s nothing like as saccharine as some are painting it to be. From the broken windows to the presence of a grinning child molester, it’s more a spoof of feel-good US teen drama than an example of it proper.

The audience for the remake is clearly the uninitiated viewer. Coming to The Inbetweeners (USA) with no knowledge of the original, it’s easy to find things to enjoy. Know the original so well you tease your mates by lisping “Friieeeeend” with a double thumbs up anytime they mention someone from outside your social circle? Then move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Not yet, at any rate. The Office: An American Workplace (the spectre of which looms large over any UK-to-US sitcom translation) only really got into its stride when it stopped being a ‘spot-which-original-episode-this-bit’s-from’ game, and became a series in its own right. If MTV’s The Inbetweeners finds enough of an audience to grow beyond this initial 12-episode commission, then you never know.

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