From the moment Ed Westwick’s Vincent Swan stepped out of his front door to see the word ‘wanker’ keyed into the side of his car, we knew we were in trouble.
White Gold, BBC2’s new 1980s comedy about double glazing, was already being compared to The Inbetweeners long before the first episode aired. It has exactly 50% of the components that went into making the E4 comedy phenomenon that spawned two movies, made millions at the box office and gave us the word bumder.
And White Gold is surely Damon Beesley’s difficult second album. Nearly ten years after we first met Will, Jay, Simon and Neil, Beesley has gone solo, without writing partner Iain Morris. He has, however, teamed up with half of his Inbetweeners actors in Joe Thomas and James Buckley for the first TV show he’s created since.
With 50 per cent of the ingredients, the result is a comedy which is roughly half as good. This actually means that White Gold is still pretty funny, because even all these years later, The Inbetweeners still feels as sharp and neatly observed today as it was in 2008.
White Gold itself is a curious beast and almost seems like a comedy of two halves. On one side you have the more grown-up element, with smarmy bullshitter Vincent and his quest to dominate the sales world of Essex. He’ll lie through his teeth and do anything to get a deal and climb the social strata.
Spending time in his company is actually rather intoxicating. Westwick’s casting is spot-on (Beesley said “Ed was born to play it”) – charismatic, confident, slimy and exuding arrogance. As a double glazing salesman, he’s entirely believable.
There are still ghosts in Vincent, though. Striding into work to announce “good morning, arseholes” is very Mr Gilbert, while his opening monologue – “There are three types of wanker in this world” – is just as Will McKenzie narrated his life.
Instead of a voiceover (that was probably deemed a copy too far), Vincent is breaking the fourth wall – talking to us in the future from the past (eh?) and looking straight down the lens. It’s a technique the show could’ve easily omitted, and arguably actually worked better without.
Then there’s the other half of White Gold. The half where the Rudge Park blazers have been swapped out for grey nylon suits; where James Buckley has just put on a moustache and Joe Thomas has gelled his hair down rather than up. This is the half where everything isn’t new and shiny like the UPVC that Cachet Windows is selling.
There’s constant, and immature, banter, lying and competitiveness between Fitzpatrick (Buckley) and Lavender (Thomas).
Fitzpatrick calls Lavender “lavatory”, while he fires back that Fitzpatrick is “Professor no nuts”. And then Fitzpatrick gets his knob out. Sound familiar?
Insults like that felt funny in the sixth form common room, but it just feels even sadder – and actually less plausible – here. Even the actors’ delivery of the lines is the same – Thomas and Buckley speak exactly how Simon and Jay did. “Ooh, look at me – I drive someone else’s car like a bloody bus driver,” mocks Fitzpatrick in a high-pitched voice. Sound familiar again?
It all acts as a distraction and actually detracts from the comedy of White Gold. It’s understandable why Beesley would want the comfort of Buckley and Thomas, but if White Gold had had the same script with entirely different faces the comparisons wouldn’t be quite so stark. Or even if Buckley were playing the role of Lavender and Thomas as Fitzpatrick, the similarities would’ve been more avoidable.
In the second episode there’s a whole incident where Jay – sorry, Fitzpatrick – has the bright idea to go dogging. The entire scene felt so familiar that it could very easily have been lifted from The Inbetweeners’ script slush pile. In fact, there are so many Inbetweeners moments, we wrote a round-up.
It’s almost as if we’re being goaded into comparing the two, which is a bit like Will squaring up to Donovan. You know who’s going to come out of that fight with their arse kicked.
There are glints of gold in the script, though. As Carol (the excellent Lauren O’Rourke) says to some customers after Vincent gets a punch in the showroom: “Sorry, sometimes working here is like being in a really s*** version of Dallas”.
If you’ve never seen an episode of The Inbetweeners, you will probably find White Gold hilarious, fresh and innovative.
But if you snigger at signs for Caravan Clubs, describe shiny suits as “too jazzy” and can’t walk past a group of people waiting for public transport without muttering “bus wankers” to yourself, then White Gold may well seem something of a pale imitation of its former – and funnier – whole.