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.
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.
March 21st, 2011
“Is that why I’m here? To tell stories?”
In reviewing last week’s penultimate episode of MTV’s Skins, “Tara,” at The A.V. Club, I sort of offered my general take on the show thus far: while it has not lived up to the British original, it has made enough variations to define itself as largely independent from that series’ successes and failures. While it remained uneven throughout its run, things started to gel towards the end: actors improved, plots became more interesting, and the branching out into Tara’s perspective was a welcome departure from the British model.
Of course, just because the show is now being considered largely based on its own standards does not mean it won’t fail to live up to those standards in “Eura/Everyone.” In some ways, the finale is the ultimate test: as stories reach what more or less resemble conclusions, the strength of the series’ storytelling is challenged. Skins is a show that tells stories by limiting its perspective, as individual episodes are framed by one narrative while intersecting with others. As a result, an episode like “Eura/Everyone” where the frame character is notable in her absence asks the series’ collective cast to fill in the gaps, never quite allowing any one of them to fully take over (as evidenced by the “Everyone” side of the title).
Ideally, the characters will have taken on such a complexity that the ensemble feel should feel like a culmination of a season’s worth of development. More realistically, however, “Eura/Everyone” will reinforce the hierarchy between characters, their “resolutions” revealing which of them became three-dimensional teenagers and which were left to feel like characters in a story.
That hierarchy is strikingly evident in this finale, although I’d argue that “Eura/Everyone” is more successful than not when it counts the most.
January 31st, 2010
Last week, I stressed the need for there to be something approaching textual analysis of the U.S. Skins, given that the hype has threatened to overwhelm the show itself. However, that made a lot of sense for “Tea” – that episode, caught up in questions of how the show was being adapted for American audiences, highlighted intriguing intertextuality between the two series. When it comes to “Chris,” though, I can’t help but struggle to find anything substantial to say: it’s a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original episode, to the point where analyzing it at length feels redundant considering my familiarity with the UK series.
What I will say is that while “Chris” is far from perfect, suffering in much the same way as the rest of the series when direct comparisons to the UK series are made, it still works. It still serves that function of taking a character who had little nuance and giving them nuance, still convinces us that this is a show driven by character despite the sense that it has been defined by controversy. The show is starting with a handicap, but it can honestly only get better from here.
Although, there were a few changes along the way which gave me pause.
January 24th, 2011
In the midst of the growing controversy surrounding Skins’ sexual content and allegations of child pornography, which Matt Zoller Seitz does a tremendous job of breaking down over at Salon, the show itself is being lost. Or, rather, the show itself is becoming irrelevant. It’s not just the controversy that’s obfuscating the text itself, though, as the series’ almost shot-for-shot adherence to the UK original means that those of us who’ve seen that series are being given very little reason to engage with the show. Just as it is easy for the PTC and advertisers to generalize the series’ content based solely on overblown claims, it’s easy for critics with knowledge of the original series to just sort of step back and let the show happen.
And yet it seems prudent to consider “Tea” more carefully – considering the switch from Maxxie to Tea, this is almost entirely new material, although it technically intersects with some of the developments which developed between Maxxie and Tony in the UK series. On that level, “Tea” comfortably fits into concerns over the series having been made less transgressive in its trip across the pond, but I’m not sure that I’m so concerned after seeing the episode. While I lament the loss of the scenes in question, I thought the replacement scenes were more different than they were worse, and the episode as a whole built strongly on the pilot (and in ways which won’t be undone when the show goes back to a note-for-note adaptation next week).
Ch-Ch-Changes: January’s British TV Invasion
January 19th, 2011
While television in general has become inundated with adaptations of British series, or shows about adaptations of British series, or shows which have been imported from Britain, the past few days have been particularly overwhelming for me. Having put off watching Showtime’s Shameless (a British series being adapted for American television) and Episodes (a show about a British series being adapted for American television) the week before, and then pairing them with a marathon of PBS’ Downton Abbey and Monday’s premieres of MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, I gave myself what has to constitute an overdose of transatlantic television.
And, unsurprisingly, I ended up with quite a few things to say about it. The process of adaptation is hardly a consistent one, and its function in these various texts is wide-ranging: It is the subject of satire for Episodes, a topic of debate for Shameless, Skins and Being Human, and a complete non-starter (albeit not without a controversy of sorts, as I’ll get to in a moment) for Downton Abbey.
The response to these various shows has been diverse, but beyond the legitimate concern that the industry has become creatively bankrupt there lies a shifting understanding of change and how we respond to it. Do we want adaptations to be “true” to the original, or do we want them to change in order to find a distinct identity? What, precisely, makes a good adaptation, and does the degree to which a series changes from the original alter our critical focus beyond how we would consider original pilots? And, if it does, should it?
The following is my attempt at answering these questions.