When US networks remake British TV series, especially cult comedy shows, we can always expect steady stream of outrage and anger from .co.uk domains. It was no different with “The Inbetweeners”. After MTV revealed first trailer promoting the US remake, the official YouTube channel was flooded with “thumbs down” ratings that would put Rebecca Black’s musical productions to shame. But in all honesty – transplanting good British scripts with good cast across the ocean more often than not – actually does work. During first season Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” replanted onto US soil was nearly word for word copy of the British original. Although American version at first visibly lacked Mackenzie Crook’s caricature Gareth and Martin Freeman’s heart warming Tim, thanks to brilliant cast it quickly outgrew the old script and found its own direction by simply focusing on character building. In matter of weeks we stopped comparing it to old show and seamlessly accepted the crew of Scranton office led by Michael Scott (arguably much easier to relate to and funnier to watch than Ricky’s own David Brent). The same can be said about Shameless. Where British original was held together by top cast for the first two short seasons and then quickly and abruptly plunged downhill, the moment writers across Atlantic took over from the imported story line in American version, Shameless US continued to grow and entertain for all the right reasons.
MTV had no such luck however. Their attempt to americanize “Skins” failed miserably, despite word for word and scene for scene transposition of the UK script. The casting choices were questionable, tweaked characters did not work together, delivery was set to shock rather than interest and eventually after 10 slow episodes the show hit the can. It felt like show runners did not understand the idea at all.
US take on “The Inbetweeners” is unfortunately closer to the latter example. It is rough. And unfortunately – misunderstood. The Inbetweeners were the British equivalent of “American Pie” outrageous comedy style on professional grade heavy weight class steroids. Straight hitting, shameless, voyeristic, with humor and laughs stemming as often from dirty teenage jokes as they did from complete and utter cringeworthy guilt felt by the viewer on behalf of the main characters for their onscreen endeavors. MTV’s US version, sadly, offers none of that. It is safe, clean and careful. It understands very little of what made E4’s quartet of horny, socially challenged teens so watchable. It punches like a girl. And it misses the point by a nautical mile.
The first problem is the galore of casting and character simplification problems. “Vice Principal/Mr. Gilbert” is no longer scary. “Will” is no longer a kid who could not get a girlfriend even if he was the last man on earth. “Simon” is no longer deep below “Carli’s” league. “Jay” is no longer hormone driven sleazy mythomaniac but just a regular fat liar. “Neil” is no longer gullible simpleton with no self-awareness but a dim-witted lamer instead. They do not look anywhere near as hopeless and do not fit together as well as the original four. Second issue is with the way script is handled. With care. Characters do not randomly burst into hysterical swearing or graphical sexual innuendos delivered with incoherent teenage slang. You will not hear any ear crushing name calling, no crude allusions to self pleasuring issued against certain briefcase owners or over the top references to bowel movements from any of the characters. Nothing to make you overly uncomfortable. Nothing to make your ears bleed. No American newspeak versions of “mongs”, “spunks”, “spastics”, “bumlogs”, “lezzers”, “bumders” or “vaj” are uttered at any point. And yes – no “clunge”. It’s not exactly PG, but it barely reaches certificate “12”. So, essentially, The Inbetweeners without the inbetweeners.
It’s not that The Inbetweeners US is awful. No. It is almost exactly the same script, just cleaned up and with added safety precautions. It’s only awful to those of us who know the original British series. Those who know what American version could have and should have been. The show will most likely survive its twelve episode first season and with a good showrunner and decent script hand over maybe even outlive the eighteen episode + motion picture UK show. But unless it stops playing safe, it will never match up to the the show it is supposed to imitate.
The Inbetweeners (US) starring Joey Pollari, Bubba Lewis, Mark L. Young, Zack Pearlman, Alex Frnka, Brett Gelman available from August 20, 2012, on MTV Monday 10:30/09:30c