It’s been a few months since we last saw Jenna (Ashley Rickards) and the rest of the Awkward. crew. When last we left off our flawed female protagonist had spent the first half of the third season working up to cheat on her boyfriend with a bland, generic Abercrombie model. Clearly I’m still not ready to accept this development…
Let’s bitch it out…
Much like the high school romances it depicts, Awkward. and I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship. It’s been a hit and miss series for me since its inaugural season, which means we’ve been going through a rough patch for over a year. I keep coming back because I genuinely like the characters, the snappy writing and the often dead-on observations of high school life.
My primary issue with the show: Jenna Hamilton.
Like a lot of teenage girls, Jenna is funny, witty and beautiful. She’s also petty, narcissistic and self-absorbed. In short, she’s a fully realized three-dimensional character, prone to making mistakes as often as she comes out on top. What I don’t like about Jenna is how she’s evolved over the last three seasons into a passive, boy-crazy, often very shallow person who more often than not seems to do things simply for the sake of serving the whims of whichever plotline the writers have chosen to pursue. This all came to fruition in the first half of S3 when Jenna decided she would rather cheat with Collin (Nolan Funk), a cardboard cut-out with personality to match, instead of her kind-hearted, occasionally dim-witted boyfriend, Matty (Beau Mirchoff). As a result the show tipped back into the soul-destroying antics of S2 when everything became about Jenna’s love triangle between Matty and Jake (Brett Davern) to the extent that every episode practically screamed “BOYS BOYS BOYS!”
Clearly I’m on the cusp of losing my objectivity. When Awkward. took a breather for a few months, I can honestly say that I was glad for the sabbatical. I needed time to reflect on whether or not I liked the show enough to watch the writers continue to commit character assassination on Jenna. With the show’s return, I’ll admit that I felt a certain amount of reluctance to return, especially after viewing the S3 sizzle reel highlighting Jenna’s continued cheating ways.
With all that said, as much as I abhor Jenna’s behaviour in this mid-season premiere, ‘Surprise!’ is a solid episode. It’s got the snappy word play that we’ve come to expect, as well as over-the-top performances that border on caricature (Jessica Lu is clearly having a ball playing the power mad Ming now that she’s taken the reins of the Asian Mafia). Plus watching Desi Lydic’s Val demonstrate how she used to shake her boobs for tips at the gay bar as she mouths “cha-ching, cha-ching” is worth the price of admission alone.
So what about the whole Jenna dilemma? Well, as expected, she handles things in much the same way she always does: a healthy dose of shame, denial and covert ops to ensure that Matty doesn’t find out she’s sneaking smooches on Collin all over (often in very public places!). Awkward. has never been subtle, so I have to wonder if the title of the episode is meant to be ironic since it’s obvious from early on that Jenna and Collin would be discovered in front of everyone at the not-so-surprise birthday party that mom Lacey (Nikki Deloach) throws Jenna for her seventeenth. We know that it’s coming, so there’s no surprise here. Thankfully it only took one episode and now the cat is out of the bag and the inevitable fall-out can begin. Thankfully it appears that Awkward. still has its sense of humour about it, even if it seems destined to pitch Jenna deeper into the pantheons of “heinous skanks”.
- With the cheating storyline taking center stage, there’s little for boys not named Colin to do other than react. It should be interesting if the point of view shifts to focus on Matty (and Jake) next week
- Side Note: Matty gets Jenna the quietly powerful image from Collin’s party as a birthday gift. A man who provides photographic proof of how beautiful you are is a keeper, Jenna! Alright…rant over
- Sadie (Molly Tarlov) also gets mostly sidelined, but Tarlov makes the most of her brief time to lead the inquisition against Jenna. I love how Mr. Hart (Anthony Michael Hall) gets into the action by riffing on both of them. Bonus points for making them write 500 words about being a “nuanced bitch”
- I’ve also been on the fence about the screentime affored Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) in the first half of S3. Thankfully she gets the “less is more” treatment here as Tamara’s efforts to keep everyone’s secrets nearly kills her. It’s a good use of the character without jamming her down our throats. Instead I can sit back and appreciate Rose Reed’s ability to deliver a tongue-twisting zinger
- Welcome back Fred Wu (Kelly Sry)! After Ming’s ascension, it’s finally safe for her absent lover to return from Idaho. Their entire subplot – about the corrupting power of the Mafia and the gold cell phone – is amusing if only because it’s so insubstantial
- So it’s Jenna’s birthday but her dad Kevin (Mike Faiola) is nowhere to be seen? What’s up with that?
- Finally, there seems to be exponentially more swearing than ever before. MTV gets around the censors by bleeping things out, but it’s still pretty darn obvious what’s being said. With that said, Deloach’s delivery of the final “shit” at the end of the episode as Jenna and Colin are exposed as cheaters in front of the party guests is hilariously dead on
- Tamara (comparing Jenna’s situation to a hypothetical): “Like if I saw five erections pointed in my direction from One Direction”
- Sadie (quietly, when Mr. Hall tells her to write about her inner heinous skank): “I can’t…I can’t do that.” It’s all about the delivery
Your turn: what are your thoughts on the return of Awkward.? Are you looking forward to seeing how the show handles the fall-out of the Collin/Jenna revelation? Are you hoping that the storylines don’t focus too exclusively on Jenna and her boy problems? Who’s best with the one-liners: Val, Mr. Hart, Tamara or Sadie? Join the conversation below
Awkward. airs Tuesdays at 10:30 pm EST on MTV