Friday, 5 August 2011

In-between the cruel laughs something is missing

Collapsing money markets, global strife and Corrie ruined ...

But never mind, because the British economy and our culture might yet be saved by the mighty export of the movie version of The Inbetweeners.

Then again, perhaps not…

I caught an episode of the larky, smutty schoolboy sitcom on C4 on Wednesday night, and, yes, I found myself tittering over it. But I was also slightly alarmed by the sexual content.

I’m no prude, but I was disturbed to see one of the characters, I think it was Simon (played by Joe Thomas), being given a hand job by a younger girl at a youth disco – while his mates watched! Simon then got beat up by a much younger boy. It was all a bit nasty, frankly.

I know the actors are actually older than the characters they play, but all the same, I felt very uncomfortable watching this.

What makes The Inbetweeners entertaining (for the most part) is that it is resolutely non-PC and it taps into the indolence and casual, piss-taking cruelty of your typical British teenage lad really rather well.

Also, the narrator, Will (played by Simon Bird) is a nerdy type and somewhat pretentious, and we all remember boys like him from our own schooldays. Will’s role really is very funny, particularly the running joke of his mum being thought of as “fit” by the other lads.

But where The Inbetweeners falls down is in its lack of humanity or any redeeming morality.

I’m serious. The very best of sitcoms always show their characters’ good sides, or let them do occasional acts of virtue or kindness, amid all the humour. You needs that because humour is essentially about hurt. We laugh because someone is hurting in a situation or they are embarrassed.

But a really great sitcom will leaven the relentless hurt and cruelty of comedy – and I’m glad to report that another show on Wednesday night did just that.

I refer to the consistently brilliant Not Going Out, and a repeat I saw on BBC1 where a confused old lady wanders into Lucy’s flat, causing all sorts of problems for Lee. But when he has a chance to, Lee does the right thing by the old lady, and invites here to a firework display.

The fact that the fireworks were awful was irrelevant. What mattered at that point – as we were laughing at dementia for God’s sake! – was that the main character did an act of kindness to a confused old person.

The show didn’t dwell on that kindness. It didn’t have to. But it was important to include it.

The Inbetweeners needs such leavening. It needs to be something more than merely nastily funny. As for the coming movie version leading Britain to an export-led recovery, well that was just my own cruel little joke.

Britcoms rarely make good films, and I think that will be the case this time. Sorry lads.

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