October 1, 2011

Show Review: AWKWARD.

After watching ABC's Suburgatory, which I thought was decent, I was in the mood to catch-up on MTV's version of teenage hell, so I checked out Awkward. Much like my initial reactions to Suburgatory, I had mixed feelings about the show, but they leaned more towards the positive.

Awkward. is another in a long line of high school based comedies that focuses too much on social hierarchy with a sharp-tongued female as the protagonist. It was hard not to automatically compare it to movies and shows such as Mean Girls, Easy A, Daria, and specifically Juno. Admittedly, my mileage varies with this type of storytelling, and the series felt awfully cliched and gimmicky, but there was also a thread of charm that kept me involved.

The story was pretty straight-forward: an unpopular girl had a summer fling with one of the cool boys which ended up being a catalyst for her excursion up and down the social ladder. Who we were in high school are never the people we end up being, but when we're living it our status was all that mattered, and this show did a decent job of exploring that slice of life, but it also felt too trite.

My biggest issues with Awkward. stemmed from the fact that it didn't try to do anything new, and it felt like a blatant rip-off of those that came before it. For example, all of the teenagers talked like Diablo Cody taught them everything about the English language as they spewed out insufferable slang that made me want to punch my TV. Now, I thought that all of the Juno-speak was clever when I watched the movie four years ago, but my tolerance for the babble has been worn thin. Maybe it's because I don't know of anyone who talks that way, but the dialogue was by far the worst thing about Awkward.

Another major miss in my opinion was the adult characters. Glee gets a lot crap for Sue Sylvester, Mr. Schuester, and Miss Pillsbury because they're so cartoonish, but they're almost subtle compared to the so-called grown-ups living in the Awkward. Universe (OK, maybe not Sue). First you have the annoying guidance counselor who tries to be too hip and would rather be the cool older friend to her students. Say what you will about Miss P, but she would mop the floor with Valerie. Don't even get me started on the main character's mom who was too much of a caricature to be taken seriously. Luckily her father was somewhat normal, but even that's an overused trope.

Speaking of the main character, Jenna (played by Ashley Rickards) was one of the few bright spots of the show. Yes, she tended to succumb to the nonsensical vocabulary, but she was also easy to relate to in spite of the inability to speak recognizable English. Jenna was clearly cut from the same cloth as the main characters from the aforementioned movies and TV shows, but Rickards' was able to bring some freshness to the archetype, which is more than can be said about her classmates.

Just like the adults, some of the students who went to school with Jenna were equally as outlandish and/or stereotypical. Her two best friends, Tamara and Ming, weren't particularly well-drawn and their characters relied on the fact that every high school story needs the hyperactive bestie and the token Asian (which seems to be the only ethnic stereotype that is still socially acceptable). Of course there's also the mean girl cheerleader (Sadie) and the Christian bitch (Lissa), although I gave the show credit that the former did not look like all of the other queen bees. It wouldn't be a high school comedy with out the cute boys, and Jake and Mattie were another highlight for me because they weren't dumb jocks, and their love triangle with Jenna made them sympathetic. So, while Awkward. used the same stock characters that we've seen a million times before, there were instances where the show subverted them as well.

High school will always be one of those settings that'll be ripe for satire because it can feel like such an unreal place, and I'm sure that stories about it will be told until the end of time, but some will always be better than others. Right now, I don't know if I can rank Awkward. at the top of the list (it's not John Hughes-ian enough), but I've seen worse takes on this familiar topic so I'll probably check out Season 2.


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