A few years ago, I watched The Inbetweeners with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised by this raunchy British sitcom where its awkward post-pubescent heroes “bunk off” school to get wasted and desperately, hilariously attempt to get laid. But even that was fun only in short doses, which means that the MTV reboot of The Inbetweeners is absolutely useless. It’s a neutered remake that doesn’t build upon the original at all.
As usual, the problem is that it’s a carbon copy. (See the problem that killed the IT Crowd remake.) The names, quirks, and episode summaries are exactly the same, but that humor doesn’t translate. We’ve got identical twins of the four protagonists, only with American accents: Nerdy Will McKenzie (Joey Pollari), awkward Simon Cooper (Bubba Lewis), sex-crazed Jay Cartwright (Zack Pearlman), and sweetly dumb Neil Sutherland (Mark L. Young). Will even has his sweater vest and briefcase! Though not, I might point out, his glasses. The problem is, those archetypes don’t quite make sense in an American high school. On the UK version, these boys were delightfully over-the-top, especially prissy little Will. Here, they’re caricatures, quickly-sketched characters made up of a jumble of stereotypical traits rather than elements that actually make guys uncool.
I watched the first three episodes, and you couldn’t scrounge up a single laugh. Part of what made the UK Inbetweeners fun was how utterly out of touch these boys were with reality and the absurd lengths to which they’d go for coolness: Impersonating adults to buy alcohol, propositioning high school girls and their friends’ moms alike, and crashing parties. On the other side of the coin, watching these swaggering boys crash and burn was a great source of schadenfreude: They inadvertently honk at a funeral procession, and Will ends up screaming at a bunch of kids with Down syndrome on a roller coaster. When you see these moments recreated beat for beat, all the humor is sapped out. It’s been done, and you know that real teenage boys would be striving for something bigger and better.
There’s also just the cultural barrier. As 21 Jump Street taught us, it’s a whole different jungle in U.S. high schools, where geeks are hot and respected. In an American comedy about the gawky adolescent boys who haven’t quite transitioned to manhood, I would’ve liked to see “inbetweeners” who actually reflected their own culture. You can watch the pilot here, but I think you’ll find it lacking.