Great post-mortem on The Inbetweeners USA vs. UK

Originally published at:

Remember, if it isn’t very funny, it isn’t going to be funny.


The first bit he compares is a good example of what often goes wrong with adaptations from Britcoms to American comedies - the characters are unlikeable (or at least do some appalling things), and the American version flinches from the source material, unwilling to fully commit, to let it fully unfold, thereby cutting it short and removing whatever humor existed in the original version.
I was surprised when I read they were remaking the British series Misfits, because I couldn’t imagine they would keep the anti-social heart of it intact, resulting in some pointless, neutered version with all the plot-lines and funniest moments missing.


Like kittens, comedy doesn’t gain much from being methodically dissected. I think it would’ve been enough to say “US sitcoms tend to obsessively reassure the audience that it’s just a joke and it’s OK to laugh, but this doesn’t work well with scripts based on making the audience uncomfortable”.


I’m not going to say that Americans are too thick to understand British comedy, because that’s obviously not true.

I will say that the people who make American TV seem to be too thick to understand it though.


David Lean has described how the oldest of old chestnuts might
be treated.

Imagine two shots :

  1. Laurel and Hardy running along a street in full-figure shot. After
    running for 15 seconds or so, Hardy slips and falls on the pavement.

  2. Close-up of banana skin lying on the pavement. After a few moments
    Hardy* s foot comes into picture, treads on the skin and slips.

Now where would you cut the close-up of the banana skin ? . . . The
answer is nothing to do with a smooth cut . . . Looking at these two shots
from a purely smooth cut point of view, it would seem that the best place to
cut the close up of the banana skin would be the point at which the foot
entered picture, carrying it on until halfway through the skid at which point
one would cut back to the medium shot as Hardy crashes on to the pavement.
Both cuts would be very smooth and the audience would laugh as Hardy
fell, but they would not be getting the biggest laugh possible out of the scene.
The answer lies in a very old comedy maxim : Tell them what you’re going
to do. Do it. Tell them you’ve done it. In other words the scene should be cut
like this :

  1. Medium-shot of Laurel and Hardy running along the street.

  2. Close-up of banana skin lying on pavement. (You have told your
    audience what you are going to do and they will start to laugh.)

  3. Medium-shot of Laurel and Hardy still running. (The audience will
    laugh still more.) Hold the shot on for several seconds of running
    before Hardy finally crashes to the pavement. (The odds are that the
    audience will reward you with a belly laugh. Having told them what
    you are going to do, and having done it, how do you tell them you’ve
    done it ?)

  4. A close-up of Laurel making an inane gesture of despair. (The audience
    will laugh again.) 1

Why is it that the second, edited version will get so much greater
response than the first ?

Pleasure and amusement at other people’s (especially fat
comedians’) discomfort or loss of dignity seems to be a universal
reaction. It is not the only source of humour but it is one potent
one. Realising that the spectator will be amused by Hardy’s
misfortune, the editor deliberately sets out to stress Hardy’s
helplessness. Shot 2 is simply an announcement of what is going to
happen : it puts the spectator, as it were, one jump ahead of the
victim and gives him a feeling of amused superiority. Clearly,
this foreknowledge makes Hardy look even sillier because the
spectator is aware of the banana skin, while Hardy (Poor fool !) is
not. This feeling of superiority sharpens the enjoyment of the
joke and can therefore be further exploited : the few seconds of
anticipation at the beginning of shot 3 give another opportunity to
savour the joke to the full. After this, cutting to Laurel’s inane
gesture (4) evokes a sort of I-could-have-told-you-so reaction
which is just what is needed. The continuity of shots, as David
Lean stresses, is by no means ideal if we are thinking in terms of
smooth cutting. The important thing in the three cuts is that they
each make a separate humorous point in that each shows a new —
and funnier — aspect of the same situation. The fact that the cuts
may be visually slightly objectionable becomes irrelevant.

The editing of this incident can be considered as a working
model of every banana-slipping, custard-pie-throwing joke that
has ever been well made. It demonstrates a simple but highly
effective trick of presentation in its simplest form.

The Technique of Film Editing.
Karel Reisz
Focal Press


I suppose this is a bit self-fulfilling, but I avoid most American comedies because I don’t expect them to be very funny, so there isn’t a lot of incentive for creators to do better because a lot of us just aren’t going to even give their offerings a chance anymore. At the risk of sounding like an elitist jackass, networks have narrowed their target audience to the lowest common denominator, so that’s now their demographic. Why risk being clever and producing quality when you can play it safe with less choosy customers?

Besides, since I always mute commercials and don’t even own a cable box or antenna, the only way they’re going to make money off of someone like me anyway is through subscription services such as Netflix.


I tend to view them as entirely separate beasts. I can’t see the English making shows like Community or Parks & Rec (despite the latter having the same format as The Office), but by the same token, I can’t see Americans making shows like Blackadder, The Mighty Boosh or The IT Crowd (I’ve seen the American IT Crowd pilot, and even with Joel McHale and Richard Ayoade, it was fucking terrible).

I suppose that’s the good thing about the internet & DVD, we can ignore all the shite TV (which is most of it) and just watch the good stuff. It’s a good time to enjoy pop culture! :wink:


I wouldn’t say the original series was very funny either. Not for very long, anyway.


Mind you, I’m not complaining. Even with things a bit worse than Sturgeon’s adage that 90% of everything is crap, there’s still way more good stuff than I have time to get to, particularly given that I have to divide my “leisure” time between reading, viewing, my assorted arts and crafts, and going out once in a while.


Generally true.
But All In The Family and Sanford and Son were improvements over the British originals.


That’s fighting talk.

You can have Three’s Company, if you like. I don’t much care about Man about the House.

I should watch this to see if it’s as bad as I heard:

Oh, thank you, no. That’s alright. You can have it.


Sure? I’ll throw in the British remake of Golden Girls…


Maybe this is why I find The American copy of “Shameless” to be such a rare success. The horribleness is intact and on display, not neutered.

That said, I need to go and find a source for the UK original now, I didn’t catch more than a few episodes when it aired…

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Wait what?

This is new information entering my noggen. To be fair, Red Fox was a comedic genius and the rest of the cast was solid on Sanford. I have no idea why all in the family worked. I really don’t even though I find myself laughing at material if recast and put into modernity I’d be going ‘dude you are a deadbeat motherfucker that’s abusive and small minded because you are weak and afraid and try not to look it so much you reek of desperation. Go fuck yourself.’

That was the point of “Till Death Us Do Part”. Racists tended to miss it though.

Alf Garnett’s socialist son in law was played by Tony Blair’s father in law. I don’t want to think what Alf would have thought about that.


I thought Hollywood was the only one that blatantly stole shit and tried badly to copy it.

No The Inbetweeners was pretty shit in the UK as well.

It was shit when Harry Enfield was doing his Kevin bits, and it is still shit.