Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anyone Else Feel “Awkward”?

Review, New Television Series on MTV, Tuesdays at 11 pm

Everything about MTV’s new series, Awkward places it recognizably in the world of the high schooler. For starters, it’s on at 11 pm; there’s cursing, bleeped f-bombs, and implied though not explicit sexual activity, all in context without being the main focus of the story. Kids, go to bed. This one’s for your teen sibs.

Ashley Rickards stars as Jenna Hamilton, the beautiful young gal who insists she’s a dweeb. Her character’s voiceover narration is mature, a self-deprecating hipster voice, similar in tone to Ellen Page’s character in the film, Juno. Parents may want to watch Awkward with their teens as television chaperones, but they’ll stay for the laughs.

The characters and situations in Awkward are pushed into a slightly surreal world, but this direction amplifies the themes of the show and makes clear how it FEELS to be a teen who wants some small measure of acceptance; and would certainly appreciate being liked; but finds it hard to imagine being vigorously pursued or experience that emotion that dares not speak its name—love. The creative team takes great pains to keep the tone light despite the serious subjects covered, and at times the tone feels downright goofy. I almost expect to hear novelty sound effects like “boings” and “boo-weeps” as characters enter and exit.

Characters say things that could only seriously be uttered in high school, such as, “Nobody can know that I like you,” but that’s the point. It speaks the language of high school. And the show is very knowing in that it understands that high school does NOT operate by the maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Teens walk that fine line of craving attention, yet dreading receiving the wrong brand of attention. In the real world, “wrong” attention has been blamed for driving teens to the brink of suicide. And Jenna Hamilton finds herself in the very awkward position of being presumed suicidal after an innocent, hapless slip and fall creates an hilariously incriminating tableau. Jenna gets the wrong kind of attention, especially since she has to suffer the indignity of a neck brace and full arm and shoulder cast. And we’re off to the races.

I love the many self-involved characters like Jenna’s mom, played by Nikki Deloach who believes her daughter tried to commit suicide but still makes cracks about her hair. Desi Lydic as school counselor Valerie Marks wears an “I’m rocking my day” t-shirt and exhibits that well-observed brand of phony concern that quickly turns to lost interest. Even Jenna’s best friend, Tamara played by Jillian Rose Reed can’t seem to quell her natural passive/aggression. Again, these choices place this world in the reality of the high schooler. After all, we live in a world where everyone ELSE is self-involved, right?

And I’m really liking the overweight alpha cheerleader Sadie Saxton played by Molly Tarlov. She busts the obvious stereotype of beautiful = mean. She’s a natural leader/bully and the scene where she turns her moment of embarrassment (over her size) into an opportunity to marshal her girls/minions in commiseration was perfect. When Jenna expresses sympathy, Sadie tells her, “I don’t need someone like you to feel sorry for me. It’s not like I’m gonna kill myself.” But that’s what a winner is, after all. She isn’t so much someone who always literally wins, but is someone who can spin every defeat into victory, into a gain of territory, into one for the plus (size) column. She’s got an ego and an army bigger than her dress size. She takes no mess and the enemy of her enemy is her friend. In other words, she’s the perfect tv antagonist.

Viva Jenna. At times, she seems to embody a self-possession and confidence that would cancel out the whole show, but don’t worry; she’s more than awkward enough to carry this series. The feminist movement has been good to young actresses. They can now portray a broader range of misfits, nerds, dweebs, and losers. And if they can be the worst, they can also be the best, which is the hope of the show.

Welcome to sophomore year. Release the hounds.

Link to the show here:


  1. Don't know if I could watch this bad boy. Might hit a little too close to home. You know, the kid who wore a back brace all through middle school only to escalate to the new kid in a New England high school who spent 6 months of her freshman year in a body cast.

    BTW, Mrs. Hames. You are a truly gifted writer! Thanks for reviewing more than just for the toddler set. Although I'd love to hear what you think about Yo Gabba Gabba.

  2. Kimberly--you are the best. Keep in mind--the Jenna character will be out of her brace by episode 2. Yo Gabba Gabba's a great idea for a piece. Maybe I should co-write it with Julia, since I can't really get my head around it yet.