The sexual politics of The Inbetweeners are deceptively nuanced and really quite moral ? it should be a set text in gender studies
OK, so it's the oldest plot in the book. Boy meets boy meets boy meets boy meets not enough girls, they get together into a hit sitcom then go off on holiday together in a disappointing big screen spin-off. It's enough to make you nostalgic for Are You Being Served?
Is The Inbetweeners Movie any different? No, not really. It is understandably targeting a Farrelly-weaned, young adult, summer holiday audience. It is predictably heavy on the puerile, gross-out gags and teen holiday set-pieces, light on the clever one-liners and unfolding pathos that gave the series such an edge.
It's not a great film, but it has its laughs and it puts a feel-good full stop on a modern comedy masterpiece. As with any successful sitcom, audiences will be attracted by the abundant and raucous jokes, but there is so much more to The Inbetweeners than that. Writers Damon Beesley and Iain Morris are well through their 30s now, but obviously have good memories. You have to go back to Gregory's Girl to find such an astute, convincing and warm representation of how it feels to be a teenage boy, with all the innocence and ignorance, neurosis and confusion that entails.
Bill Forsyth's schooldays classic was released in 1981, when I was 15 and attending an almost identical comprehensive just a few miles up the M8. I felt like I was watching my own life on screen. Judging by the delighted yelps from the 18-year-olds who packed out my preview night screening, The Inbetweeners touches a similar chord with a new generation. They are growing up in less innocent times, yet identifying with characters who are, in their own way, no less innocent.
I've long believed that The Inbetweeners should be a set text in gender studies courses. That might seem a strange honour for the series that gave the word "clunge" to the unfortunate masses, but bear with me. The sexual politics of the series is deceptively nuanced and really quite moral. Yes, there is gross misogyny in some of the language, but it is never indulged, it never goes without challenge, and it is never, ever rewarded. If the boys learn a lesson, it is that the key to success in love and loins is to view women with respect. Meanwhile, everything you ever wanted to know about male sexuality, you can learn from this series. How do young men see women? Look at the female characters ? beautiful, remote, usually unattainable and invariably baffling. A woman is a mystical, magical creature that can look you in the eye and ask questions like "why do I never meet guys like you?" ? and with a single compliment she can reach down your throat, pull out your heart, mince it, fry it and offer it back to you with the sweetest smile this side of Candy Mountain. Not that I'm scarred or anything, oh no.
Do you want to know why men behave like total idiots? Well, because we are, sometimes. We're sorry, really, we can't help it. On the other hand, we're not the only ones. Doing my best to avoid spoilers, the main dramatic narrative in the movie features a boy behaving like a total idiot over a girl who behaves like a total idiot. We're human and we're rubbish, equal opportunities style.
Perhaps the key to this is in the distinct characteristics of our four heroes. You could see them representing different archetypes ? if every teenage girls' mag hasn't already done a "which Inbetweener is your boyfriend?" quiz then I'd be astonished. Or is it more that they represent different poles of male sexuality? A psychometrician could map them into a dual-axis, compass graph, with Simon to the north, handsome and desired, but riven with self-doubt and desperate insecurity. Neil would be to the south ? gormless, clueless and entirely unfazed by anything. Then there is Will, clever, clumsy, prissy and politically correct; and finally there is Jay, a young man who appears to have downloaded all the porn on the internet straight into his neocortex, to burp out every time he opens his mouth. They are in many ways flawed, frauds and failures but we can always see where their failings come from, and it is precisely this that makes them ultimately lovable ? and perhaps that is why they seem to have achieved the rare cultural feat of engaging young men and women alike.
While the traits might be amplified by teenage hormones, you could place any straight man somewhere on this graph. We all have a bit of an Inbetweener in us, and if that's not a cue for a Jay punchline, I don't know what is.