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Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Redefining" Awkward.

Article first published as "Redefining" Awkward. on TheTVKing.

How does a series such as MTV's Awkward. stay fresh three seasons in? After all, we've seen the lead character, Jenna (Ashley Rickards), date both of her possible guys now, so she can't just keep breaking up with each and bouncing back and forth. It has to figure out a new path that still feels like it's in the same vein, and that Jenna isn't going too far off into left field, but still keeps the plot interesting.

The season three mid-season finale, "Redefining Jenna," solves the problem by refocusing the show on Jenna herself. While it's fun to see her figure things out with Jake (Brett Davern) or Matty (Beau Mirchoff), whom she hooks up with is secondary to who Jenna herself is. Early season one episodes give us a peek into Jenna's psyche, and while this has continued, she, and the viewers, have been distracted by guys as of late.

Now, she has a chance to really determine what she wants out of life. Strong hints are dropped that Matty may not be intellectual enough for her, despite their physical attraction and how kind he is. New guy Collin (Nolan Gerard Funk) offers Jenna a different choice, someone who is not nearly as wholesome, but appeals to a side of her that isn't being served. This causes Jenna to stray.

Yes, many fans will be upset to see Jenna kiss Collin as it makes her a less likeable character. There really is no excuse for cheating, as her mother (Nikki Deloach) tells her, and it will be hard to look past Jenna's actions. But one can see why Jenna might decide to take this step, the thing with Collin not coming out of nowhere.

Unfortunately, Jenna doesn't live in a bubble, and Matty will be hurt when (not if) he finds out. This is the land of high school, were secrets cannot be kept, and once out, they spread rapidly. Someone will learn of Jenna and Collin's kiss, and at that point, it seems likely she will lose Matty, which doesn't seem to be something that Jenna wants.

It's is such a teenage indulgence to try to have it both ways. Jenna likes both Matty and Collin for different reasons, and high on her recent popularity and success in life, she likely feels powerful enough to try to keep both. Obviously, as those of us a little older, and hopefully wiser, can see, this isn't possible. She has to make a choice. No one is perfect, and she isn't likely to find everything she wants in a single man. But she has to figure out what is most important to her happiness and choose to devote herself to that.

Maybe neither Matty nor Collin (nor Jake) is the right person for Jenna. She's still in high school. Her world and the people in it are limited. She has little idea of what will happen when she leaves the safety of those walls. However, this is the time for Jenna to begin the journey towards determining who she is, and despite this kiss being a gigantic misstep, it's also a sign that she's making effort into figuring herself out.

Jake and Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) are doing much better as a pair. They fight, sure, but they also really care about one another. In "Redefining Jenna," we see an example of an up and down in their relationship, and they come out the other side stronger. I don't know that I feel them as a permanent couple, but they are certainly doing fine at this point.

As far as Tamara realizing who she is, that has never really been a problem. Yes, she makes an error when she agrees to co-host the party with the Julies (Tru Collins and Meaghan Martin), but then she recovers from that misstep. To her credit, Tamara goes all out in throwing the shindig, and then quickly realizes what she is doing wrong and fixes it. She may fail, but not from lack of effort, and she is quick to correct mistakes.

Ming (Jessica Lu) finally gets to step up in a serious way these past few episodes, punching out Becca (Jessika Van) and being crowned the new queen of the Asian Mafia. It's great to see someone who previously mostly hangs out in the background take such a central position, and the implications of this subplot should not only push the series further into ensemble territory, usually a welcome development as a show ages, but continue to provide much comic relief.

Similarly, Lissa (Greer Grammer), usually just a sidekick to Sadie (Molly Tarlov), is briefly the focus when she admits that she thinks she killed Ricky Schwartz (Matthew Fahey). She very well could have, but is assured that she isn't responsible, and she's intellectually challenged enough to take such assurances to heart. Thankfully, though, we get to see her a bit more, and Grammer gets to play another side of the character.

This scene allows Sadie to show that she does care about someone else, no matter how poorly she usually treats Lissa. This season has been a major turning point for Sadie, her parents and money gone, and she finally realizing how few friends she has. Sadie feels alone, which will only make her nastier. At least, though, she has a chance to preserve one relationship, and maybe that can be her lifeline to turn things around, as much as Sadie ever will, anyway.

I am very curious as to where things might so with Sadie and Matty, since Matty has also not abandoned Sadie. Their friendship is an unexpected delight, and hopefully they won't spoil it by hooking up. Even if they do, though, it's great that such bonds are developing away from Jenna, and any chance Sadie has to get more complex is always welcome, since Tarlov is one of the best parts of Awkward.

It's gratifying to see Awkward. get more episodes this season than in years past, as it is a thoroughly enjoyable, well written and performed series. However, given this mid-season break, the initial third season run feels really short and I will definitely be missing it until it comes back again, which it most definitely will. You're welcome.

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