Friday, July 29, 2011

Awkward. not a bit so, to its credit

     Awkward. is new to MTV, premiering last week, and continuing every Tuesday. The series centers around Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards, One Tree Hill), a girl who feels like an unnoticed outsider in her typical, popularity-run high school. Her dream nearly comes true when she loses her virginity to her crush, Matty (Beau Mirchoff, Desperate Housewives). But then he says he doesn't want to be with her in public. Upset, she writes a sad blog post, then accidentally trips in the bathroom, knocking several items about. This improbably makes Jenna appear to her parents (Mike Faiola and Nikki Deloach, North Shore) to have attempted suicide. The rumor spreads around school, and suddenly everyone notices Jenna, though not in the way she particularly wants.

     MTV has finally done it. That is, made a great television series that transcends the cliches usually abundant on the once-music video-focused cable network. Jenna is a very interesting character, who decides to be bold after her "scandal," and after receiving a mysterious letter offering her advice on how to have a better reputation. Who the letter comes from is an as of yet unanswered mystery. Jenna is actually pretty open even before this, letting her inner emotions spill onto a public blog. But she is also genuinely nice, even to mean girl Sadie (Molly Tarlov), who is determined not to let Jenna into the circle of "cool" people. This kind of perspective, realistic and brave, yet modest and good, is a rarity in any television character, especially one still in high school. She combines many great traits to make a capable lead.

     The supporting characters are not bad, either. Sure, Matty is a bit of a stereotype thus far. He is willing to be Jenna's hero, as long as no one knows about her. Jake (Brett Davern) is the one who likes Jenna for who she is, and gets upset at the way she is treated. However, Jake is dating Sadie's best friend, Lissa (Greer Grammer), and until Lissa's deviousness is exposed, he won't pursue anything with Jenna. This sets up a rivalry for Jenna's affections, as when her stock rises, and Lissa's falls, both guys will have no problem publicly making their affections known. The truth is, though, while at first Jake appears to be the better catch, he is with a not-so-nice girl, so there must be some negatives to him. And Matty's concern over his own reputation can be forgiven because he is a teenager, as long as he makes right in the end. It is truly unknown who Jenna will eventually choose. Could go either way.

     Even better is Sadie. Jenna's internal monologue provides possible reasoning behind Sadie's wicked streak, and so, like Jenna, viewers will soon feel sorry for Sadie, rather than hate her unconditionally. It is also bold of MTV to go with an overweight, smart brunette as leader of the popular kids and head cheerleader, instead of the usual skinny, dumb blonde. Both types exist in real life, but normally that isn't obvious on television. Sadie gives Awkward. a dose of healthy realism, and is complicated enough to be interesting.

     Sadly, the adults on Awkward. are horribly developed. Jenna's parents don't even consider that she isn't trying to off herself, despite her insistence to the contrary. In the second episode, her mother even suggests a boob job to improve self esteem, though thankfully, her father nixes that idea. Not that Jenna would have gone through with it. Even worse, school counselor Valerie (Desi Lydic) is only concerned with being the students' friend, allowing herself to be easily manipulated by Sadie. Why such flat grown up characters, when the kids come multi-layered?

     Still, there's enough here to be an intriguing drama, separate from the crap that usually inhabits the network. And, to be fair, the teens that the reality fluff is targeted to, and who enjoy it, will likely like Awkward. as much as those with different tastes. It's really a show that should have wide appeal.

     After posting this review on another site I write for,, I got an e-mail from series creator Lauren Iungerich, who couldn't have been nicer. In the e-mail, she addresses my complaints about the adults, I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you, as an extension of my review. I certainly felt I understood the characters better after reading them.

Lauren says:

     "Lacey, the mother, is actually one of the more complicated characters on the show and it will be revealed as the season progresses. Jenna's parents had her as teenagers and where her father sees her as the blessing that guided his life in the right direction, her mother sees her as a bit of curse because Lacey feels like her life was interrupted by having to raise a child. She is still struggling to find her own identity in the same way her daughter is trying to find hers. She loves her daughter but is misguided in her own desire to be a popular adult and make her daughter into the girl she once was and still wants to be-- instead of allowing Jenna to be who Jenna is. This is a common occurrence in the dynamic of mothers and daughters and while my mother was not as self-absorbed as Lacey-- she was always trying to mold me into a person i could never be. And this also gives Jenna an added complication in her life-- she does not have a strong mother to guide her. So she is left to her own inner spirit to guide herself. My goal was to have Jenna teach her mother how to be a good mother. And for Lacey to discover that her journey of self is far more enriched by having Jenna in her life.

     "As for Valerie- the counselor. She is a nut. She was inspired by a woman I worked with for a long time who was in a position of power and had absolutely no clue about anything. I have found it particularly fascinating that there are so many administrators in high schools that are clueless about kids. Valerie is trying to reinvent her own high school experience and in the process revealing that she has no true authority or expertise to be guiding anyone. Including herself. And you will see thru the season that her unprofessionalism does not go unnoticed..."

     I think both of these descriptions really help to understand what is going on, and counteract my reservations, as I hope they will yours.

     Watch Awkward. Tuesday nights at 11 p.m. EST on MTV.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     Click here to catch up with streaming episodes of Awkward.

Article first published as TV Review: Awkward. on Blogcritics.

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