What counts as funny is horribly hard to be objective about. As is trying to decide what’s so obscene that it’s beyond the pale. So try this test that involves both – although before you do, be warned that it involves the close consideration of a body part not usually discussed in these pages. Sorry.
Picture the scene: at the climax of a sitcom plot, a sixth-form student who is performing at a school fashion show suffers a wardrobe malfunction. He is wearing swimming trunks for his catwalk turn; trunks that he has donned in some haste. As a result, part of him slips out in full view of the audience. He no longer has all his plums in one basket, as it were.
Some of you will recognise this as The Inbetweeners. If you didn’t see the opening episode, they didn’t just hint at the exposed body part, they showed it in all its glory, not once but several times, like the world’s easiest spot the ball competition. (The show’s co-creator confirmed on Twitter that it was the actor’s actual appendage – he “does all his own stunts”.)
The test for you, dear reader, is this: does the Speedos mishap strike you as (a) outrageously funny or (b) too obscene to be broadcast? Horrid or liberating – you decide. How you answer may have something to do with your age, among other things. The older we get, the more convinced we become that Jonathan Ross or Lady Gaga or E4 sitcoms represent the death of civilisation.
I found the episode slick and funny (if achingly crude, in the way of adolescent boys since time immemorial). But that last part was too much. I winced. I tutted. It felt wrong. By contrast this week’s The Inbetweeners is less graphic, but compensates for that with a storyline involving 15 references to oral sex in each scene. It’s relentless. I wouldn’t watch the show for fun if I wasn’t being paid to.
But I would absolutely defend E4’s right to show it. If a ban-this-filth-style press outcry flared up, I know which side I’d be on. Because for everyone who is scandalised by all the casual references to oral sex or bodily fluids, there will be at least as many who cry, “At last! A programme that reflects how me and my friends talk to each other!” and they’ll laugh out loud in delighted recognition.
And here’s the kicker: the episode in question got the biggest audience E4 has ever had, peaking at three million viewers in that final scene. If that depresses you – and it really shouldn’t, life’s too short – take heart from the fact that the series is submitting to the one sure-fire way to put a stake through the heart of any sitcom: they’re planning to make it into a movie.