Horny high school students are universally adaptable. They exist all over the world, ready for their fictional counterparts to be molded into any context necessary. After the teenage-focused British sitcom The Inbetweeners became a smash, MTV saw an opportunity to bring the show to America. Translating a Brit property with its essence intact, while still making it palatable to U.S. audiences, though, requires a light touch with a whole range of cultural peculiarities.
The Inbetweeners is a show about four boys who aren’t exactly winning any popularity contests, but aren’t getting stuffed inside gym lockers either. Considering the fact that this is just about how most adults tend to describe their high school selves, the potential audience was huge. The actual audience was huge too, enough to have merited a movie that opened to the biggest ever first-week box office take in U.K. history. The task then fell to show runner Brad Copeland to try and duplicate that success in the U.S. First, there would have to be some changes.
Copeland is a TV vet, having written and produced for shows such as Arrested Development, NewsRadio, and My Name Is Earl. With The Inbetweeners, though, he had the new challenge of working off a successful template and Americanizing it. There’s a long history of attempts to adapt British shows domestically, with varying success (the U.S. version of Coupling is a famous flop, for example). Below, Copeland offers five ways that he changed the U.S. version of The Inbetweeners, which began airing on August 20th, to ensure the show would travel well.
The biggest challenge was the language. With the British sensibility, you can get away with much more vulgar language—just because that’s how they talk and it sounds a little more classy, ironically, coming from them. They use the F-word pretty much once per sentence on the show. It’s just part of their vernacular, or at least the kids they portrayed. Then there are a lot of old English words like "clunge" and "gash," euphemisms for vagina. Those are so popular over there that they’re on T-shirts for The Inbetweeners and they get away with it.
The first scripts that I wrote, we echoed some of that same language and coming out of American mouths, with American accents, it just sounded really crude and purposefully crass and it didn’t work. It was really quite offensive. We basically started making words up instead. Especially with MTV standards, the best thing to do was make up words like "snizz" that the kids would make up because they thought it sounded funny. You’ll hear a lot of that. We also occasionally let the F-word drop out every now and then and just bleep it.
The writing staff and I looked at all 18 episodes that the British show did in total, and broke them all down. We put every story line on a bulletin board, talked about them, and figured out which ones we could make work. We found six episodes that we could use this season, and then we’re done and we’re on our own. The remainders were, they didn’t fit because they were too much about drinking—drinking’s different in Europe because kids there are allowed to drink earlier and it’s not illegal, so just different concepts. A lot of plotlines were also too sexual.
They only did six episodes per season, so by the time they were on the third season, of course some of the kids were having sex. We’re not gonna go there for a long time, though. They get to move a lot faster because they’re only doing six a year so their progression is much quicker than ours. So all of those kinds of plotlines were thrown out because we’re gonna take a little more time in telling our stories. We did 12 episodes this season, but if the show does well—who knows?—we could do 20 a year. So we really have to kind of pace ourselves and tell more self-contained stories and less giant transitions into the next level of adolescence.
We have just different takes on things. We’re doing a Facebook episode. We’re doing one where all the guys go to a spa with their mother’s gift certificate because they think there’s gonna be a masseuse there who isn’t playing by the rules. There are things like that that I think are a little more American, based on the American sensibility of… not gluttony, but it’s just a different world that I don’t think would work within the London setting.
We have one coming up where the guys go to a camp on a field trip for a day, which they did do on the British version, but ours is for a Civil War reenactment camp and David Koechner is kind of running the camp. So the idea is about public schools not being able to afford to take them to a proper field trip and that’s something we really explore in our series: public schools and how they’re struggling for funding. Especially how things like art and music get clipped out of the budget. I want to do a season where literally the entire school is just trailers because they’ve had to relocate. The British version is about private school, though, so they don’t really tap into that American feeling of public schools.
After [British show] Skins came on MTV, they got a lot of pushback for vulgarity and drug use. They had the actual British creator of the show bring it over here. We wanted to make sure that we kept ours a little more Americanized and a little less specific on bringing over the more vulgar parts of it.
The Office was really our inspiration. It took the essence of the show, and what made it special, and made it American, made it a little more broad, and succeeded because of it. Their Michael Scott was just different from David Brent [Ricky Gervais’ character on the UK Office]. In a good way. They weren’t trying to cast from the same mold. Even though the first year it struggled a little bit, it finally caught on.