The word “bullying” gets tossed around a lot these days, but to use this term to describe the kind of light repartee that many members of society indulged in throughout my early life, would be a grave mistake. I won’t deny that what most of my class partook in during their schooldays might be considered “edgy” by today’s standard, however back then it was the norm. This so-called “bullying” was seen as generally acceptable by a lot of people when I was young, back in the ’00s. However, the witty repartee and highly sophisticated putdowns we used to insult one another playfully in those times, I and many others just labelled “banter”. Not so long ago there was a show which encapsulated what life was like for a great proportion of teenagers attending sixth form in this country in the preceding decade to now. It demonstrates how the “it’s just banter” attitude having its heyday during a particular few years, helped produce a final generation who love comedy which dips its toe into controversy Although not intended to be a social artefact, it tells the children of today about yesteryears banter culture, which was hugely present during the period in which we were adolescents. This incredible show was called ‘The Inbetweeners’. For those of us who grew up back in the noughties attending run of the mill schools, we were given a voice for the first time.
The Inbetweeners was truly Channels 4’s finest hour. Public broadcasting executives, many of whom (in my opinion) are detached from the rest of society, could never understand something simple. A show about the “tomfoolery” they got up to in their boarding school dormitories during childhood was of no interest to much of the rest of us, and that a show about a regular sixth form is what was most desired. The Inbetweeners entered new boundaries, creating a show which for many, actually felt like it was about their own life. A great many shows strive to be about an ordinary bunch of people who hang out, but nearly all fail, with the outcome being characters who are ten times more physically attractive than the everyday person and which can afford Manhattan apartments. Amongst the numerous former students I’ve met, there is a general consensus that the Inbetweeners shows a realistic depiction of what their life in sixth form was like …a never-ending series of doomed attempts to get drunk, get laid, public embarrassments and bad house parties. It perfectly captured, how I saw my various classmates either spending their last two years of school getting intoxicated underage and sleeping around or more often than not attempting to and failing drastically. (Scraping some decent A levels was just something on the side in their eyes). To sum up in one word what made this show so great- ‘Relatability’. As a first-hand witness of the British schooling system, I can say with some authority; this is the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen.
The show isn’t centred around some cool kids living the party lifestyle, but rather instead… “inbetweeners”, a group which fit neither the cool nor nerd stereotype, hence ‘in-between’. It transports my friends and me back in time to the real-life experiences we had as teenagers. I believe many other audiences viewing it, will too, be left with a sense of nostalgia. Will McKenzie (Simon Bird) is the programme’s central character, having come from a private school before joining the sixth form, he goes onto befriend the other three central characters. Despite his character being the wittiest of the four, his sarcasm leads to him coming off as outrageous and offensive. Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas) is the cynical one of the gang, whose plotline stems around his one-sided relationship with a classmate called Carli. Jay Cartwright (James Buckley) is the most immature of the characters, often telling lies about his experiences (sexual or otherwise) no matter how unbelievable. Neil Sutherland (Blake Harrison) is known to be the mentally slow, gullible “nice guy” of the group Neil’s simpler mind often means he is the happiest of the group.
Greg Davies, as Mr Gilbert became the living embodiment of a head of sixth. When Will has a bucket placed on his head (merely as a light-hearted joke of course), Mr Gilbert reinforces “if there’s one thing no one likes it’s a grass, so I will ask you, how this happened? And you will reply I tripped”. It’s not that the headteachers of this country don’t care, as if there was anything actually serious they would intervene. However, as insiders to our system, they too believed in the widely held view of the time … that as long as the fine line isn’t crossed, we can just pass it off with a good old, “it was just a bit of banter”.
The adventures that happen throughout the series, will feel for multiple audiences like they are looking into a mirror showing their past. Perhaps because so many episodes are based on the childhood events of the producers. Who can forget when the gang went to Thorpe Park, where Will gets jealous of a child with Down’s Syndrome who is allowed to sit at the front of the rollercoaster and shouts at him – well that was inspired by one of the creator’s real-life actions. Or what about the time when the character Charlotte, whom Will is going out with, goes onto the school’s blind date show saying she was “single and up for fun”. Well, that too was based on a creator’s own life! Take the episode where Will and his gang abandon his own birthday dinner party to crash someone else’s bigger and better house party for example, does this not sound like the pathetic plotline of what we could actually imagine ourselves doing? The characters live out the horrible life experiences that numerous actually have done, like Duke of Edinburgh, and not becoming heroin addicts as ‘Skins’ would suggest is the most common teenage struggle.
I say now, with overwhelming grief, that when this show completed it’s 3 seasons it marked the end of an era. This show now stands as a relic of a bygone age, before television became overloaded with shows for ‘woke people’ (cough cough pretentious snobs). Call me a sentimentalist, but I truly feel the times in which we live now it would be unrepeatable, as this age of excessive sensitivity would not allow its existence. Then again, all a nostalgic has to do to feel better is put on an old episode, and they’ll hark back to the carefree days from an older chapter in history. Maybe I will be left stranded in my golden years without any other shows to help me accurately reminisce my youth …but there will always be “The Inbetweeners”.
So perhaps one day my fellow peers will feel the penance of wasting away two years in the common room, engaging in this nation’s favourite pastime of using rhetoric to mock each other, instead of studying for A-levels. And on that day, they should take a serious moment to reflect, before concluding…Sixth form was well spent!
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