When it was originally on: 2011-2016
Original network: MTV
Where you can stream it now: Hulu or Amazon Prime
Had I seen it before: This was one of my favorite shows for the first couple seasons, but I lost track of it towards the end.
What IMDb says: An unpopular 15-year-old gains immediate, yet unwanted, popularity at her high school when the student body mistakes an accident she has for a suicide attempt.
Why I picked it: If you’ve been keeping up with most of my other pilot reviews, you’ve already heard me bemoan the lack of half-hour scripted originals on basic cable. For some reason, we just don’t look to basic cable for these types of shows, and perhaps that’s part of why MTV doesn’t really do scripted originals anymore.
But when they WERE experimenting with them, I don’t really think they were half bad. Awkward. was a charming mix of high school tropes with the just the right dose of clever twists to feel fresh. I not only put in on the list to try to give a fair chance to basic cable comedies, but I also thought it would be fun to revisit a show I loved when I had significantly different television tastes.
What I liked: Jenna is a damn good protagonist. She’s generic enough that so many teenage girls can relate to her, but yet she’s just different enough from other teenage girl characters that I don’t feel like I’ve seen her before. Her best moment comes after she tries to comfort the mean girl, Sadie. She’s empathetic, she’s sassy, and all of these different qualities exist at reasonable levels so Jenna’s not a caricature unlike most of the supporting cast.
There’s so many subtle tweaks they’ve made to the high school show story. YES, Jenna is crushing on a seemingly unattainable boy, but she actually did have a sloppy one night stand with him and there’s a realistic possibility that he wants more than that. YES, there’s a mean girl, and I actually love how much they’ve committed to Sadie being a mean girl. But they’ve also made her “overweight” (meaning average sized, but looks overweight next to the skinny people that populate cheer squads on these shows). And Matty is the object of Jenna’s affections, but is actually a relatively average looking dude with his own idiosyncrasies. None of these changes feel like desperate attempts to rebel against high school tropes, but they’re enough to make these tropes interesting.
Then we have the biggest twist: Jenna’s perceived attempted suicide. In all my time watching and analyzing television, I’ve come to a conclusion: you show who characters are by giving them choices, but to make a character change, you take those choices away. Awkward. is all about a previously unpopular, “invisible” girl who no longer has the choice to be invisible. Her arm’s in a giant cast, everyone believes she attempted suicide, and she’s the talk of the whole school. This spurs her to make choices she never would’ve made on her own, such as volunteering for a “wheel of pep” game. We can get excited about Jenna’s journey to grab sophomore year by the balls without that journey feeling inorganic.
What I don’t like: I wish there had been at least one adult character that wasn’t just a silly comic relief character. For one, they’re not funny enough to be GOOD comic relief, at least in this episode. Her mom kind of sucks. Her guidance counselor kind of sucks. There’s a chance that MAYBE her dad is the kind of positive figure that would help provide her with the guidance she needs to learn and grow as the show progresses. But her dad is barely in the pilot so it’s hard to say.
Sidenote, does this mean I’m getting old? What does it mean when you start watching media intended for high schoolers and think “wow, I wish there was at least one good role model for this poor girl?”
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I do. It’s a charming, easily digestible comedy that strikes a nice balance between comedy and drama.