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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Awkward. "Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes"

Article first published as Awkward. "Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes" on TheTVKing.

As MTV's Awkward. moves into its third season, changes are afoot. Jenna (Ashley Rickards) is now a junior and has been happy for months in her relationship with Matty (Beau Mirchoff). But upon returning to school, she finds herself out of step with both her friends and her new studies. And a death among the student body forces everyone to re-evaluate their priorities and feelings.


Jenna is faced with a pregnancy scare, and confides in her mother, Lacey (Nikki Deloach). I love the scene where the two make the pregnancy seem like a good thing, psyching themselves up in case this is a reality, Lacey being very supportive. They are both relieved when the test comes back negative, but the way that they interact is nice, and I'm glad to see their relationship returning to normal after the strain of last season. Deloach is rocking this role.

There are rumors going around that Sadie (Molly Tarlov) could be knocked up, and Jenna makes friendly overtures. The episode is written in such a way that we don't realize Jena is going through her own scare, painted as a kind act, rather than a plea from a kindred spirit. I really like the way this unfolds, keeping the truth a surprise. Plus, I like Sadie as character, no matter how terrible she is as a person, and am glad she doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Jenna's father, Kevin (Mike Faiola), who has never been really central to the show, is completely absent from both half hours. I do wonder if he will be back in the picture in a large way anytime soon, or if he has been permanently reduced to a recurring role. I also wonder if he is necessary, as his chemistry with Jenna has never been explored as much as her bond with Lacey, and so he hasn't established himself as someone that has to be full-time in Jenna's story. It doesn't seem like it hurts the tale that he's less in the picture right now, as long as he doesn't disappear entirely.

Ming (Jessica Lu) is also pushed to the background quite a bit, but I'm excited to see her get some plot right out of the gate this year, playing a long game against the Asian Mafia. She may still be pushed to the side in some episodes, but hopefully this is a sign that she will be a bigger player, finally taking her place alongside the more central cast members, and promoted to the main cast.

Lissa (Greer Grammer), too, feels a bit more played up in the season premiere. I noticed that her name now also graces the opening credits, and even though she doesn't have much story of her own this week, she's seen more often and has more dialogue. I like her character, and if we're lucky, she'll be someone we see around on a consistently larger basis.

Jenna feels right with Matty. I liked her with Jake (Brett Davern) a lot last season, but she seems more comfortable with this boyfriend. It's great that Awkward. can paint both boys as viable romantic partners, and make their relationships feel so different. I think that Jenna is with the right guy, and hope that she doesn't go back to Jake.

Which is not to say that I am completely on board with the Jake / Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) pairing. It's cool for now, but they don't seem like they'll be long-term. I guess that's something we'll have to wait to see play out.

With Jake and Matty as their guys, Tamara and Jenna have officially and fully moved out of geek status. They definitely seem more involved with the rest of the student body as a whole, especially at Ricky's wake. It's less that they aren't nerdy any more and more that they are opening up and getting out of their shells, and their classmates accept them. I appreciate the changing perspective without ruining the characters. Well done.

The other major challenge that Jenna faces this week is that Valerie (Desi Lydic) signs her up for a creative writing course with the abrasive Mr. Hart (Anthony Michael Hall, Dead Zone, The Breakfast Club). Jenna doesn't want to take the class, despite her love of writing, as we've seen with her blog. Why not? Is it because she hesitates to share herself? Does she just see writing as a hobby, not something to get serious about?

I do think Valerie does the right thing here, even if she might go about it the wrong way, going behind Jenna's back. Jenna is bound to learn some good lessons from Mr. Hart, as much of a jerk as he seems at the start. Maybe Jenna will end up thanking Valerie in the end.

I admit, I did not see the death of Ricky Schwartz (Matthew Fahey) coming. He is a comic relief character, and while he isn't much liked, I didn't think he would be killed off. He's present to stir up trouble, and his unexpected passing actually stirs up less than he did in life, closing a chapter of rockiness for some characters who have plenty of it. Tamara gets some peace, and despite a strong emotional reaction, it doesn't destroy her relationship with Jake, as it look for a moment that it might.

It is surprising that the cause of death is exposure to a peanut, which Ricky is allergic to. Did someone do it on purpose? I don't think so, as that would be much darker than Awkward. has dared to tread. Death is not outside of their tone, but only when it is handled in an irreverent way. That's why suicide couldn't be an actual possibility here. But it seems odd that Ricky would consume something he has had to be on the lookout for his whole life.

The effects of Ricky's death are not sadness, as Awkward. is a comedy. It doesn't change who the series is, nor cross into territory too far outside of its established patterns. I do think, considering that the biggest strength Awkward. possesses is its authenticity, that a little more grief should have crept in. Yet, that would strayed away from the series' mood. So it's really a no-win scenario, meaning I wish this plot had been skipped, as it forces an inconsistency one way or the other.

That being said, I have few complaints about the rest of the two episode premiere. The plots continue along the courses charted, and while some changes have occurred, they feel natural and mostly earned. The characters continue to act like teenagers would act, which means screwing up when we think they should be responsible, especially when it comes to relationships, and the jokes still land. Overall, it's a fitting return for a great show.

Awkward. airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.

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