I wanted to call this: Awkward | my guilty TV pleasure, but it’s really not.
If you haven’t seen it and have no desire to then that is fine, but I am here to champion one of the best shows about teenagers since Freaks and Geeks, with a lexicon that is as revolutionary and just funny as Clueless.
Well written, fantastically executed and brilliantly acted, Awkward is just one of those shows that come along every decade that actually portrays a satisfying and honest, depiction of teenage ‘misgivings’ and ‘shortfalls’. This is the first time perhaps since My So Called Life that a female lead in a teenage TV drama is actually written with a strong sense of plausibility. Here are the quintessential ingredients.
The setting: High school; someones car/someones house; Jenna’s bedroom. Check check and check!
A suitable heroine: Introducing Jenna (Ashley Rickards) the outcast* who, after receiving a ‘care-frontation letter’** has an accident and thus believed to be suicidal, is forced to accept many of her self-professed short-comings and re-evaluate her life with the help of her friends, family and a blog diary. She’s not perfect by any stretch, in fact as the title suggests the show plays on many of her insecurities. She’s also self-absorbed, misguided, judgemental and sarcastic, like most teens – but it’s not all bad – 9 times out of 10 she’s able to recognise her mistakes – a prime role model in some ways, but in others a glowing reminder of what you don’t miss about being a teen.
The friends: Tamara and Ming are probably the kind of friends you had back at school. Not quite cool but dear to you in many ways. Tamara brings much of the humour in the show as the chatterbox and Jenna’s primary confidante; Ming’s Chinese heritage plays on many stereotypes and exaggerates them tenfold but with ironic and hilarious results – stories about her versus the Chinese Mafia is a brilliant subplot that also highlights her own awkwardness within the high school Chinese community. Absurd but fantastic.
The boyfriend: The show started with Jenna and high school hotty, Matty Mckibben (Beau Mirchoff) fooling around in secret at camp…A) Parents, yes this shit goes down. B) Don’t cry. What starts off as Matty’s dirty little secret has gone on to become the cutest pairings TV ever told but conventional onscreen-fictional-high-school law is a constant reminder that everyone has their place and that awkward, plain Jane’s like Jenna do not get with the hot jock. Throw that into the blender of teen angst and you’ve got plenty of mileage to squander on the ups and downs of their tryst, but what is nice about this pairing, is that it’s not all drama they’re actually very serious about each other and spend most of the show trying to accept each others idiosyncrasies. Kids. They’re not all bed hopping, pill popping, designer wearing mo-fos.
The boyfriends even nicer and more clued up friend ( and one time love interest potentially second time lover): Ok, wait what? There is always ‘The friend of the boyfriend’, Pacey and Joey guys! who the hell expected that to happen, poor Dawson. It was his name all over the show, it was his window Joey was climbing into all those years but guess who got left out in the rain; Pacey was more caring, albeit destructive, his way of showing he cared was to listen …or to kiss you, not bore you with freakish monologues about films. In Awkward Matty’s main bro Jake (aw the cutest name too) who opens Jenna’s eyes to what she was missing with Matty in season 1; needless to say it didn’t last and Jenna got back with a new assertive and sweet Matty and just like the nonsense and unexplained incest from your school days, they’re all still friends.
The bitch: You’re welcome.
The Counsellor:I feel like recently, kids with all these issues, have counsellors present. Is that just me? Back in the day (like 20 years tops) counsellors on tv shows were only ever brought in when a problem with a teen arose and they’d usually appear like once a season and then that was that. Now they’re very much tertiary characters, sometimes even secondary. Valerie Marks is borderline crazy and harbours a delusion that she is ‘down with the kids’. All done with a loving heart, especially where her increasingly unprofessional relationship with Jenna is concerned, she repeatedly over-steps the teacher/student lines by offering mostly questionable advice and acting inappropriately around students.
The Parents: Jenna’s parents had her when they were in high-school. The show makes no bones that it hasn’t been a walk in the park, with her mother constantly pining for her lost youth and her father acting more like an older brother. Unlike their daughter they were the popular kids, as a result they offer some insights that counterbalance Jenna’s prejudices. It’s all very respectful and endearing, but their inability to know when to be parents and not her friend is fodder for shaping Jenna’s slightly sardonic outlook on life.
The Language: This is one of the shows best features. Props to the writer and props to the cast (especially the Jillian Rose Reid as Tamara) for pulling off an ambitious and successful attempt to define a generations lexicon plausibly since Clueless. it’s not hard to understand either, it’s just pure fun and unpretentious – which in my eyes is a true reflection of the ever-changing teenage vernacular. The writing is tight and the delivery is even better.
The Music: Awkward is an MTV production so music kind of goes hand in hand, but whats even better is that the music used in Awkward is referenced within the show, sounds intrusive but it’s actually a nice way of giving the bands some credit and also allowing the audience to engage and be introduced to new music. It’s never well know tracks, it’s usually cool electronic, poppy tunes that would do well in a modern-day John Hughes movie.
The show: Borrowing from successful formulas like John Hughes slew of teen angst films and Amy Heckerlings equally groundbreaking production, Awkward stays true to portraying teen life without the excess of SKINS or the glamour of 90210. The stories are honest and concise, picking up on social issues but not shoving it down the audiences throats *GLEE*; pregnancy, suicide, sex, drugs and divorce – its nice to have a show that in 20 minutes can draw on a problem and assess it maturely and plausibly.
I feel Awkward will fall into cult status like many great shows before it. Only 5 or more years down the line will people realise just how great this show is, probably when its creator and writer Lauren Iungerich pens the next best indie or MEAN GIRLS come Juno flick will people start to take notice. I just hope it’s not too late ala Judd Apatow’s short-lived – Freeks and Geeks or the wonderful GREEK.
*she’s not really an outcast, in my opinion she’s just as miserable as most kids. Even though she is targeted for much of the 1st season, it’s not exclusively, she’s just flavour of the term. The show highlights this.
*this letter is a bullet pointed list of a persons faults with a suggestion to recognise them and do something about them.