Catching up with ‘Awkward.’ – “Pilot”: one of the best teen comedies in quite a while

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Awkward., Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by Lauren Iungerich
Directed by Millicent Shelton

In 1994 Winnie Holzman introduced to the world, her critically acclaimed TV series My So-Called Life, a realistic mid-nineties teen drama that takes a look at a 15 year-old girl and her trials and tribulations with being a teenager. The show gave a voice to millions of young women who otherwise had no voice on network television, but unfortunately due to low ratings (and several parental complaints for being too realistic), the series (often considered ahead of it’s time), was cancelled after one season. My So Called Life has since been referred to as one of the ten best “one season” TV shows of all time. Here we are now, almost two decades later and MTV launches Awkward, a show which revolves around the life of 16-year-old Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards), who is struggling with her identity, until an accident misconstrued as a suicide changes all that. Awkward. came with promise of living up to the standards of My So Called Life. Sadly it doesn’t come close – but luckily Awkward. is a lively and upbeat teen comedy with plenty of tang.

The show’s premise is very clichéd: Opening with Jenna Hamilton, a relatively unpopular teen, losing her virginity to her long time crush, Matty McKibbens (Beau Mirchoff) who of course goes on ignoring her at every cost. Like most teenagers, Jenna doesn’t voice most of her concerns socially; but instead turns to the Internet. The majority of the story is told through Jenna’s narration, most of which she writes in her daily blog. One night she receives a mysterious letter from a “friend”, offering advice on how to change her lack of popularity. The advice also comes in form of cold hard facts – a type of bucket list with recommendations of how she should go about changing herself to be more happy. After ending her latest blog post with the phrase, “sometimes being a teenager makes you want to die,” she experiences an unfortunate accident which everyone around her mistakenly interprets as a suicide attempt. When she returns to school, the “attempted suicide” provides her with an unexpected level of notoriety.

Awkward. is not the most aptly-titled show on television, simply because Jenna actually seems pretty comfortable in her own skin. Sure she wants to change in some ways, improve and become noticed, but one can argue that any teenage girl who gets around wearing a half a body cast without letting the taunts and insults of her peers get under her skin, has her head in the right place.

The first episode shows great promise. The hip lingo and references are reminiscent of Mean Girls and Clueless while the overall story seems influenced by Heathers, only with the edges filed down a notch. It’s rather generic and stuffed with starkly defined characters we’ve seen time and time again, and sometimes its humour is prone to exaggeration for comedic effect – but Awkward. offers great promise. The pilot did offer one twist on the stereotype of the head cheerleader Sadie (Molly Tarlov). While she is the most popular girl in school, she is also overweight and extremely insecure and we quickly come to learn that she buys her way to being popular.

The show has great pacing, a charismatic cast and a few tricks up its sleeve. There’s nothing here you won’t have seen a million times before, but despite its shortcomings, it’s still one of the better teen comedies to come along in a while.

More to come.

– Ricky D

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