Adapting a British TV format for an American audience can be a pretty risky business. Get it right, like the makers of Steptoe adaptation Sanford and Son, and you could end up with a mega-hit on your hands. Get it wrong, though, and the results can be disastrous…
When the news broke in 2010 that E4’s quintessentially British sixth form sitcom The Inbetweeners was to be adapted by MTV in the States, it was met with scepticism. Could a programme that sends-up the realities of adolescent life in suburban England really translate overseas? Would the series’ cast of lovable losers really play in the States?
Well, the US Inbetweeners debuted on TV last night and early reviews have been mixed to say the least. Some critics have called it a refreshing take on high school life, while others claim that’s the show’s just too bland and sanitised to cut the mustard.
The Daily Telegraph noted that the American show follows the British show’s script “almost scene for scene and sometimes word for word,” but differs from the original sitcom's format in one vital respect.
“The first problem comes with the dynamic of the four,” wrote Telegraph critic Mark Hughes. “Part of the charm and amusement of the British version was the lack of loyalty shown by the four towards one another. [But] the US version feels more like an episode of the Wonder Years at times as genuine themes of friendship and bonding are referenced far more explicitly and frequently than was ever the case in the British show.”
As well as noting that the characters’ swearing had been toned down and that the American incarnation of slow-witted Neil Sutherland has been rendered almost too stupid to warrant inclusion in the show, Hughes said: “The only potential positive is that the early episodes of the show suggest that it may be able to pull away from direct comparisons with the UK version and create its own identity…the sooner it does this, the better.”
David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle made many of the same criticisms in his review of the show. Describing the US Inbetweeners as “intolerably bland,” Wiegand also lamented the lack of bad language and opined that “the heart of the British show has been lost in translation.”
Likewise, RedEye Chicago called the show “kinda wimpy” and said: “MTV's take lacks much of what made the original daring, witty and hilarious…overall it's too wimpy to make its own mark.”
However, the Boston Globe was more positive in its assessment of the show. While conceding that “none of the guys in the American version are quite as interesting as their British counterparts,” the Globe praised the US Inbetweeners for its “refreshing sincerity,” saying that “there’s an innocence about these guys, even with their endless sex talk, that is relatable and relatively rare on TV these days.”
The AV Club warned viewers not to be put off by The Inbetweeners' "awful" trailers and said that the show, while nothing remarkable, was still fun. Reviewer Todd VanDerWerff said: "While not as good as its source material, is still a solid little comedy about teenagers who don’t seem to fit in anywhere.
"It takes a little bit to get going, but once it settles in, it’s got plenty of nice moments for anyone who’s curious enough to stick it out.
Similar sentiments were expressed by IGN.com, which praised the jokes that hadn't been recycled from the original Inbetweeners as "laugh-out-loud funny" and said: "MTV’s The Inbetweeners is much better than it has any right to be, never quite hitting the hilarious highs of the original, but delivering just enough laughs to make the Transatlantic journey worthwhile."
Long Island paper Newsday offered the show's more dramatic moments some positive criticism, saying: “The writing, acting and direction mix sharp observations with pinpoint timing” which “nicely captures guys being… awkward.”
And Variety came out with probably the most positive assessment of the show. While admitting that The US Inbetweeners isn't perfect ("it all works - or at least most of it does"), the magazine's reviewer Brian Lowry said: "The title notwithstanding, far from the middle of the pack, The Inbetweeners earns a place near the top of its class."
Though perhaps the last word should go to one of the MTV show’s stars, rather than any critic. Joey Pollari, who plays Will in the Stateside version recently promised TV line that The Inbetweeners will develop its own identity over time.
He said: “Knowing [the UK series] and being skeptical and prone to people’s worries, we all sat down and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do with it to make it its own by season’s end.' And by season's end I really think it's a completely different show.
“Comparing the sensibilities of British and American television is such a crapshoot, really." He's not wrong...