Awkward. has been successful with MTV’s key market, drawing significant fan response for its relatable teen characters among young female demographics. It’s a show that fits comfortably into expectations for a show in the age of social media, eminently hashtaggable, and it’s become a key cornerstone in the channel’s original programming efforts.
However, it would be wrong to reduce Awkward. to its hashtags. In a diverse first season, creator/showrunner Lauren Iungerich explored a wide range of storylines, balanced characters from different age groups, and successfully managed to keep a love triangle from becoming either a foregone conclusion or a waste of time.
In this second part of my conversation with Iungerich—you can find Part One here—we explore what worked in Awkward.’s first season, how that’s changing in the second season, and a slight digression into the show’s southern California setting.
Is there a story in Awkward.’s first season that you felt best captured the show you were trying to make? The moment where it all clicked for you?
LI: The moment in “Queen Bee-atches” with Sadie, where we really sort of humanize her, where we understand her powerlessness to her weight, was something I was really proud of. The moment in “Fateful” where Lacey gives her daughter that dress, that sort of recognition of acceptance of her kid, and realizing she had made a lot of mistakes. The journey of Lacey in the first season was about going through the five stages of grief, and that was her coming to that phase of acceptance, of realizing how much she loved her daughter, and how precious she was. In “My Super Bittersweet Sixteen” when Matty shows up at the back door on her birthday, on this terrible birthday, and wants to be more than her friend. That is such a romantic tenet. And Dead Stacy [in “Over My Dead Body”], being able to take something and not make a particular TV trope, to do something that hadn’t been done before. That’s a real tenet of our show: we try not to do anything that’s super tropey.
When Awkward.—which I cover for The A.V. Club, and which returns on Thursday at 10:30/9:30c on MTV—made its debut on MTV last year, creator Lauren Iungerich was transformed from a television writer into a television showrunner. While recent events have led many publications to shine a light on the rise of female showrunners and/or creators within television, Iungerich has unfairly flown under the radar in those conversations. Working outside of the network system with a cable channel still searching for its identity in original scripted programming, Iungerich was given something that some other creators aren’t given: the opportunity, and the challenge, of playing the role of showrunner for her first series.
I had a chance to chat with Iungerich last week, and I’ll be sharing that interview in two parts. The first part, found below, details her experience as a first-time showrunner, her approach to Awkward.’s development, and her plans for its evolution—accordingly, it may be of interest even to those who haven’t watched the MTV series. Meanwhile, part two of the conversation—which is now up—will focus more specifically on the series itself as it heads into its second season, with topics including the show’s central love triangle and its Palos Verdes setting in California.
Given that this was your first time as a “showrunner,” how did it compare to your expectations?
Lauren Iungerich: It was way harder. [Laughs] What’s hard about being a showrunner—to break it down, there are two things that are really tough. First, you can’t just be the artist: you also have to be the producer, so it’s like art and commerce get mixed together so you have to be fiscally responsible; you have to really work with your network to make sure you can really produce the show and yet at the same time maintain the artistic integrity of your vision. And those are two things that sometimes don’t work in concert with each other.
Cultural Checkup: MTV’s Awkward.
August 17th, 2011
In my head, MTV’s Awkward. has become this season’s equivalent of ABC Family’s Huge (which I covered last summer), although the two shows aren’t really that similar.
I mean, both are shows on teen-oriented networks that transcend their base demographics through strong execution and great casting, and both are shows that take potentially rote situations (summer camp and high school) and delve beneath the surface to show a different side of life as a teenager, and both find ways to involve an older generation without it seeming forced, but…well, when I put it that way, they sound pretty similar after all. Huh.
I think my resistance to my brain’s correlation between the two series is that while Huge subverted teen television stereotypes by embracing narrative complexity and featuring the kind of people (not characters) that you don’t normally see in these types of shows, Awkward. is more or less that type of show at the end of the day. While Huge was, at least in my mind, transcendent of its genre, Awkward. isn’t trying to be so bold: instead, it’s focusing on telling the kind of stories you expect to see, featuring characters you’ve likely seen before, just in a way that feels fresher than one might expect.
It’s a stealthier enterprise: while I felt pretty confident that people who gave Huge a chance would immediately see that it was going to defy their expectations (and encourage anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it to go buy the DVD – only 5 left in stock at Amazon, so they better be gone by the end of the day – and thank me later), I’m less convinced that Awkward. will be able to win over the skeptics. As much as I like the show, and as much as I appreciate what Lauren Iungerich is aiming for, and as happy as I am that the show is getting a second season, at the end of the day it’s a pretty basic sitcom about a teenage girl with teenage girl problems.
It’s also a helluva lot of fun, and probably the most enjoyable new show of the summer.