Representing the latest U.S. adaptation of a British series (and MTV’s second, on the heels of “Skins”), coming-of-age comedy “The Inbetweeners” has, for once, clearly gained something in translation. Although thematically similar to most of the channel’s scripted endeavors — indeed, a virtual gender-switch companion to “Awkward” — the show features a well-cast quartet of hapless losers, whose efforts to get laid and/or simply be cool keep backfiring in spectacular fashion. Clever and relatable, the show should connect with a youthful audience that never saw “Dazed and Confused” but, often feeling that way, deserves a version of its own.
Drawing heavily on situations from the original series but distinct in its rhythms as redeveloped by writer Brad Copeland (“Arrested Development”), the series centers on 16-year-old Will (Joey Pollari), who must forgo an Ivy League-bound private education because his parents have split.
Forced to attend a public high school, he’s quickly foisted upon the oddball trio of Simon (Bubba Lewis), whose obsession with Carly (Alex Frnka), a childhood friend, consistently clouds his judgment; Jay (Zack Pearlman), a doughy horn-dog who talks constantly about sex, even if it’s obvious he’s a complete novice; and Neil (Mark L. Young), a half-baked airhead.
The premiere replicates a memorable sight gag from its predecessor — a nervous Simon goes to Carly’s house drunk, which ends disastrously — while Will chafes at the indignities of his new environs, and seeks to outsmart his concerned mom (Christine Scott Bennett), with equally ill-conceived results. Brett Gelman (featured in NBC’s “Go On”) is also a riot as the classic harried administrator, who aspires to little more than getting through the day without any fatalities.
Like most MTV fare, “Inbetweeners” won’t win many plaudits from cultural scolds, depicting as it does teens completely preoccupied with sex, masturbation and saying impolite things about each other’s families — including Will’s “hot mom.”
Still, it all works — or at least most of it does — in no small part because everyone has known (or God forbid, has been) one of these kids, stupidly initiating school clubs to impress a girl (as Will does in a later episode) or being embarrassed by that horrible-looking starter car cheerfully purchased by dad.
For all its success with reality, MTV’s expansion into scripted fare has yielded mixed results, but with enough promising concepts to indicate the channel at least knows what it’s after. And the title notwithstanding, far from the middle of the pack, “The Inbetweeners” earns a place near the top of its class.