If you're looking for something lazy to do on this long, family-laden Thanksgiving weekend, MTV has decided to air a marathon on Friday of the first season of their comedy Awkward., a surprisingly clever series that will, thankfully, be returning for a second season next year. You should watch it!
As others have noted, the high-concept premise of the show, and the fact that it's a scripted series on MTV, are negative indicators that belie the show's many charms -- it's not overly ambitious, but inventive and, yeah, a little original in its own way. The setup is concept-y but basic: A wallflower teen named Jenna (not Riley or Zooley or Finnigan or whatever other ridiculous names they're giving teenage girls on TV and in movies these days) has a series of unfortunate accidents all at once in her bathroom, which everyone mistakes for a botched suicide attempt. News about this gets around at school and, to Jenna's surprise, gives her a new air of mystique. Suddenly people are noticing the wallflower and, rather than roll her eyes and scoff it off as lame like many a sullen, downbeat teen would in another story, Jenna runs with it. She uses her new social cachet to pursue the boy of her dreams (genial jock Matty McKibben -- perfect name) while prodded and tagged along by her unsuccessfully social climbing best friend Tamara. Throw in a dim popular girl, her bitchy best friend (who struggles with a weight problem), and another dopey/affable jock (Jake Rosati -- Rosati! How ethnic!) and you have some fairly typical teen soup.
But what show creator Lauren Iungerich and her writers do well is add some nifty zest to the mixture, in the form of bawdy often-bleeped jokes and some simple and inarticulate, and thus believable, teenage sentimentality. The actors, most notably Ashley Rickards in the lead, are mostly all capable of communicating the particular kind of oscillation between mania and stupor found in many adolescents. Thankfully, there aren't too many lazy archetypes here. The dreamboat jock isn't either the arrogant jerk or the secretly sensitive dreamer he might be in another series. He's, well, just a teenage boy. The Tamara character and the mean girl are aggressively over-the-top to the point that it's highly unlikely that anyone in real life would tolerate their presences for more than five minutes, but they are at least given some pathos to work with beyond their (highly irritating) surface motivations. The show honors the typical teen tale traditions but also sands them down a bit, thus creating something both silly and winningly genuine. Turns out, real people can be a lot of fun too!
The show is by no means brilliant, and it's still got the low-budget desperateness of many a past MTV scripted program, but really it's not aiming all that high. As an entertaining show about Teens Today -- blogs and misunderstood texts and bullying as both art form and sport -- it certainly succeeds. So we say, if you're home on Friday and can't be bothered to do anything beyond put on your favorite old sweatshirt and pop some leftovers in the microwave, you could definitely do a lot worse for filmed entertainment. If nothing else, it'll beat going out sale-hunting. The mild high school hell on display on Awkward. is certainly no match for the existential terror that will be your local mall.