Monday 7 May 2012

Stages of Life

It may be a surprising to some, but I've only just got round to watching The Inbetweeners. I missed Series 1 when it first came out, and I kept failing to catch-up so I held off watching anything assuming I'd get around to watching it. I did not. Until Saturday. I have now seen the first four episodes of The Inbetweeners.

It's good, isn't it? You all knew this and told me this, but I didn't know this and frankly didn't believe you. But I am won over. It's a good show.

But here on the sitcomgeek blog, we can't just enjoy something and move on. We have to think about it a bit more than that. What can we learn?

The show is not just four teenagers talking about girls and swearing at each other, although there is plenty of that, and well-written swearing it is too. It's not about clever plots, misunderstandings and brilliantly timed reveals. (In fact, in the first four episodes at least, the plotting seems a little ropey). But the show is about something. This is seems obvious, but if you want to create a hit, think long and hard about the premise and the idea behind it. Ask yourself what's it about, because if it's about something, it can lack a few jokes or cope with some dodgy storytelling and be great.

Watch early episodes of Only Fools and Horses. It really isn't all that funny. It's convincing and believable, and it's about something. John Sullivan created a world that he knew. A show can be smart, well-written, riddled with jokes and technically flawless but if it doesn't create a world that is convincing, or that the viewer feels they can't relate to, it's unlikely to be a hit.

Even better, The Inbetweeners isn't just about something, but about a stage of life - in this case, that tricky stage of being in sixth form at school, treated like a child but expected to behave like and adult whilst coping with wildly pulsating hormones. The writers have brilliantly captured that stage of life. Stages of life are worth thinking about for sitcoms. It sounds odd to mention them in an article about The Inbetweeners but Friends and One Foot in the Grave are similar.

In Friends, the creators identified that there were many people living in a hitherto untelevised period of life. They were graduate-type young-ish people no longer with their parents but yet to marry and start their own families. And so they formed close bonds of friendship with their peers. It's there from the opening song 'I'll be there for you'. And millions of people understood that stage of life and wanted to part of that Central Perk crowd. A billion dollars later, the rest is history.

One Foot in the Grave is about another stage of life - the retired man who still feels he has still has something to give. And his constantly being sidelined makes him angry, along with every tiny thing in the world.

So, the question we can ask ourselves about that sitcom script for that show we're creating that doesn't seem to be working - Could it be about a stage of life?

Probably not, but worth asking.


  1. I think there is a different kind of humour being portrayed in the earlier episodes of Horses, it seems darker and more pessimistic. As you suggest, I think the strained scenario of three men living in the confined space of a council flat is relatable; it's easier to empathize with Del the caring older brother than Del the slapstick yuppie who falls through bars.

    I also think the first couple of series capture the angst and frustration of the times. I wasn't alive in 1981 but it's easy to see the recession-blighted landscape of early Thatcherism could have contributed to the show's realism.

    Great read, thanks for posting!

  2. And this leads nicely on to this excellent article on how Friends came about.

  3. Talk about inspration coming at exactly the right time! Thank you very much Mr Cary, message received loud and clear! dxx