Teenage themed TV shows are a risky business for production companies, a theory further confirmed by the US version of Skins which was slated and condemned by critics and TV watchers alike. We seem to know how to do it in the UK, with triumphant offerings that include the original Skins series, The Inbetweeners, which we’ll be forever thankful for, and the most recent success story My Mad Fat Diary. But teenage shows exported from the US are hit and miss, with producers either getting it high-five right as Ryan Murphy’s Glee can attest to, or hit-your-head-against-the-wall wrong (The Hard Times of R J Berger). Keeping this firmly in mind I decided to brave the high-school infested waters with the latest American teen comedy series to cross the pond called Awkward. I prayed for a series that wouldn’t be completely terrible, though I wasn’t holding out much hope. So imagine my surprise when my prayers were miraculously answered. Awkward is a fresh, candid and realistic portrayal of how embarrassingly awkward being a teenager is. Even better, it’s not just for teenagers either. This is one that we adults can enjoy relatively guilt free because it’s so hilariously applicable to most of our adolescent experiences. So hold on to your metal braces people and get ready to travel back to your teenage years – it promises to be as bumpy as the first time around.
Jenna Hamilton is a social outcast who, after receiving an anonymous ‘carefrontation’ letter serving her some harsh home truths, has a legitimate accident that everyone including her parents believe to be a suicide attempt. Jenna becomes famous within her high-school bubble as being the misfit suicide girl, securing her status at the loners table for eternity. As she documents her thoughts in a blog, Jenna navigates her way through a secret relationship with the popular Matty McKibben and a developing relationship with Matty’s best friend Jake, all the while being tormented by her nemesis and all round mean-girl, Sadie. With best friends Tamara and Ming in tow, the formerly invisible Miss Awkward USA dodges inappropriate kisses, green-eyed rivals, meddlesome counsellors and embarrassing parents…ahh the good old days.
Jenna is played by Ashley Rickards and what an agreeable lead she is. With such a storyline it would be easy to make Jenna desperately weak and pitiable, but Rickards gives Jenna a tough and plucky edge making you empathise with the character rather than feel sorry for her. With a witty, intelligent and self-mocking performance, Rickards isn’t afraid to look unattractive or foolish, allowing female viewers the opportunity to identify with the humiliating situations she’s constantly thrown into. The ensemble cast have great chemistry and bounce off each other with ease, which makes the intended humour funny rather than forced, resulting in some genuine laugh out loud moments.
The intelligent and quick-witted script is imperative to Awkward’s appeal and the dialogue takes full advantage of all the current urban-dictionary sourced words, text speak and trendy catch-phrases that fill contemporary culture. After all our modern use of the word ‘awkward’ is how the series title was conceived. Irony and sarcasm are key elements of each episode, as is the occasional bleeped out swear word which makes it feel a bit like a reality show – but it is created by MTV so what do you expect?!
Now onto its third season in America, Awkward has that universal comedy appeal that so many comparable shows lack. Producers take note: this is how high-school comedy should be done.