Although BBC America has found that certain genres travel better than others, the humiliation of teenage adolescence is apparently pretty universal. Enter “The Inbetweeners,” a coming-of-age comedy that’s culturally specific only in its idioms (attractive females are “fit”) about a quartet of randy boys, as seen through the eyes of a new arrival at a public high school. Crude yet breezy, the series has plenty of awkward charm, if precious little to separate itself from the countless yarns of this variety that came before it.
Being a teenage boy is all about unwanted and ill-timed erections, embarrassing parents, trying to get laid (or barring that, lying about it), avoiding bullies and hoping nobody notices that you’re Australian on that fake ID you’ve acquired in order to buy beer.
Bespectacled Will (Simon Bird) is the new kid, and in the premiere he falls in with a group of near-losers: Simon (Joe Thomas), who has a huge crush on long-time friend Carli (Emily Head); Jay (James Buckley), who constantly boasts about his fictional sexual conquests; and Neil (Blake Harrison), a near-moron who, memorably, winds up having his clothes stolen at a theme park.
As if to underscore the timelessness of these situations, some of the gags could have been plucked almost directly out of “The Summer of ’42,” and the half-dozen episodes are uneven — the funniest being the second, when Simon gets drunk to marshal enough courage for what turns out to be a disastrous trip to Carli’s house.
Writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris (whose credits include “Flight of the Conchords”) go for a lot of big, obvious, bodily fluid-oriented jokes, but they also develop the characters as they gradually introduce their parents, from Will’s uncomfortably “fit” mom (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) to Neil’s dad (Alex Macqueen), who everyone assumes to be gay.
If “Skins” was British TV’s dark, “Kids”-like look at the youth experience, “Inbetweeners” is closer to “Freaks and Geeks” territory, with Bird as a sort of latter-day Woody Allen, constantly trying to talk his way out of a beating or into a bedroom. (He has his shots at the latter, but generally botches them miserably.)
The show has already received considerable acclaim in the U.K. (including the 2008 British Comedy Award), a level of praise that seems a bit generous; still, in the long continuum of teen comedies, “Inbetweeners” does qualitatively register toward the high end of the scale.