[06/24/11 - 04:46 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Awkward." (MTV)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Tuesdays at 11:00/10:00c beginning July 19)

The network's description: "MTV today announced the addition of new scripted comedy "Awkward." to its summer lineup, premiering Tuesday, July 19 at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT. This series takes an irreverent look at the conflict, chaos and humor that defines teenage life through the eyes of 15-year-old Jenna Hamilton, played by Ashley Rickards ("Fly Away," "One Tree Hill"), whose life begins to change when a simple accident becomes an epic misunderstanding and is blown way out of proportion. The 12-episode half-hour series will air Tuesday nights at 11 p.m. ET/PT following MTV's hit series "Teen Mom."

Narrated in the first-person voice of Jenna's blog posts, "Awkward." captures the humor within the struggles and experiences everyone can relate to from their formative years. The series picks up in the aftermath of the accident as she must deal with a new not-so-fun stigma, while at the same time managing the other daily drama that comes with being a teenager. From a secret relationship with a popular guy, to being undermined by a mean girl, and parents who just don't get it-Jenna's misfortune will eventually serve as the catalyst for amazing change, but it's not without some missteps and mishaps along the way.

What did they leave out? The show was originally developed under the title "That Girl" (a term frequently touched on in the pilot) and yes the period in "Awkward." is indeed part of the official moniker.

The plot in a nutshell: For 15 years, high school sophomore Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) fantasized about everyone noticing her as she walked down the hall. That day has finally come... unfortunately as the result of the biggest embarrassment of her life. It all began promisingly enough at summer camp when Jenna lost her virginity to fellow counselor Matty (Beau Mirchoff). Handsome and popular, he improbably plucked Jenna from her wallflower status only to tell her after their tryst that nobody can know he likes her. The bad news continues after Jenna receives an anonymous letter proclaiming "as you are now, you could disappear and no one would notice" followed by a list of suggestions beginning with "stop being such a pussy."

The piece de resistance however arrives when, after choking on an aspirin, she knocks herself out in the struggle to dislodge it, leaving behind a scene that looks like she tried to kill herself. And if horrifying her parents (Mike Faiola, Nikki Deloach) and best friends (Jillian Rose Reed, Jessica Lu) wasn't bad enough, she's broke her arm in the process and now must wear a comically large cast that literally points her out in a crowd. "God I wanted to die," she notes in the show's droll narration. "I mean... you know I mean." Her story subsequently spreads like wildfire through the school as there's nary a person who doesn't recognize her anymore - including the resident mean girl, Sadie (Molly Tarlov).

"Everyone is treating me like I'm in a bad Lifetime movie," Jenna quips. "But you can be the one with Kristen Stewart," Ming (Lu) fires back. Rather than fleeing for the hills however, Jenna grows to find her newfound pariah status unexpectedly freeing. After all, if this ridiculousness is what passes for reality in high school, why should she care what anybody thinks? The letter was right: she should stop being such a pussy. Her change in attitude garners the attention of the previously hands off Matty, not to mention fellow cutie Jake (Brett Davern), proving that perhaps her biggest embarrassment may just be the best thing that's happened to her.

What works: If the above sounds like a female version of "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," that's exactly what the end product feels like. Ashley Rickards, much like Paul Iacono, is the quintessential outsider looking in, who's built a sardonic armor over the years to protect herself from the slings and arrows of high school (she even writes a blog with such entries as "Rubbed Raw and Reeling" about her deflowering). It's a world where the adults are well-meaning idiots ("U r gonna kill this year!" her guidance counselor - played by Desi Lydic - texts, followed by "Just not yourself.") and her peers are slightly stylized versions of your standard tropes.

It's a relatively charming repackaging of the usual high school foibles - in this case a "My Name Is Earl"-esque list of things to do in order to survive her teen years. It helps give the show a franchisable element as presumably we'll continue down said list as the weeks progress rather than wandering through the usual teen conventions without a map. So all in all: a winning performance by Rickards, an amusing bouillabaisse of supporting players and a fetching concept.

What doesn't: As is custom with these types of shows, its adventurous talk about and depictions of sex make me feel very, very old. Overall though, other than a few dated references (hasn't "Tyra" been off the air for over a year now?)...

The bottom line: ...it's a cute way to spend a half-hour.

  [june 2011]  


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