Tube Talk: MTV’s ‘Awkward.’ captures teen life

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

Sorry, I’m not sorry for loving MTV’s Awkward.

Yes, it’s about high school students. Yes, those students’ lives are quite different from when I was in high school. We didn’t have cell phones, laptops or Twitter. But teen-agers of every era share the same insecurities and polarizing social structures as the kids in the show.

That’s one reason Awkward. (yes, the period is part of the title) appeals to viewers of all ages. Another is because the adult characters are anything but stereotypical, from the unfiltered guidance counselor/vice principal Val (Desi Lydic) to Jenna’s (Ashley Rickards) parents, who were teen-agers when she was born. In many respects, Jenna’s parents (Nikki DeLoach and Mike Faiola) are still growing up themselves, often putting Jenna in the parental role. Jenna and Lacey’s complex mother-daughter relationship is pivotal to the show itself.

In the first season, Jenna spent a lot of time wondering who sent her a harsh, anonymous “care-frontation” letter spelling out why she’s so invisible and suggesting ways to change. By the end of the first season, Jenna learned her mother wrote it. In the second season, Jenna’s parents separate, and when her private blog goes public, everyone in their social circle learns that Lacey wrote the note. She’s vilified. But who helps Lacey pick up the pieces? Jenna (who had intentionally outted her mother’s actions) comforts her mom by singing her a song. Not any song, but one Jenna’s dad sang to her as a child — a song Jenna just learned her mom had taught him to help him bond with their little girl.

Lauren Iungerich, the creator, executive producer and writer of Awkward., recently told me how crucial the mother-daughter relationship is to the show.

When Jenna comes in to sing to her mom, and her mom’s in great pain, that’s what the show is about,” Iungerich said. “It’s saying to teen-agers it’s about embracing family, doing the right thing and being a good person. That’s what my mother always taught me, and I try to do right by my mom when I’m writing these stories. Even though there’s a lot of raunch in the show, heart is what drives it.”

Iungerich might claim Awkward. is not a message-driven show, but there are lessons to be learned. Things like all teen-agers tend to be so self-obsessed they probably won’t notice someone else walking around with a giant zit; the meanest kids are usually struggling with their own insecurities; boys and girls have very different ways of communicating; and friendship is vital.

My mom says I’m the product of Brady Bunch reruns, which is why I’m such a Pollyanna about stuff,” Iungerich said. “Little white lies can become big lies. Don’t be a tattle tale — those are all things I learned from watching Brady Bunch reruns.”

One day, future writers will no doubt be talking about life lessons they learned by watching repeats of Awkward.

Programming note

Awkward. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

By Paula HendricksonContributing WriterSorry, I’m not sorry for loving MTV’s Awkward. Yes, it’s about high school students. Yes, those students’ lives are quite different from when I was in high school. We didn’t have cell phones, laptops or Twitter. But teen-agers of every era share the same insecurities and polarizing social structures as the kids in the show.That’s one reason Awkward. (yes, the period is part of the title) appeals to viewers of all ages. Another is because the adult characters are anything but stereotypical, from the unfiltered guidance counselor/vice principal Val (Desi Lydic) to Jenna’s (Ashley Rickards) parents, who were teen-agers when she was born. In many respects, Jenna’s parents (Nikki DeLoach and Mike Faiola) are still growing up themselves, often putting Jenna in the parental role. Jenna and Lacey’s complex mother-daughter relationship is pivotal to the show itself.In the first season, Jenna spent a lot of time wondering who sent her a harsh, anonymous “care-frontation” letter spelling out why she’s so invisible and suggesting ways to change. By the end of the first season, Jenna learned her mother wrote it. In the second season, Jenna’s parents separate, and when her private blog goes public, everyone in their social circle learns that Lacey wrote the note. She’s vilified. But who helps Lacey pick up the pieces? Jenna (who had intentionally outted her mother’s actions) comforts her mom by singing her a song. Not any song, but one Jenna’s dad sang to her as a child — a song Jenna just learned her mom had taught him to help him bond with their little girl.Lauren Iungerich, the creator, executive producer and writer of Awkward., recently told me how crucial the mother-daughter relationship is to the show. “When Jenna comes in to sing to her mom, and her mom’s in great pain, that’s what the show is about,” Iungerich said. “It’s saying to teen-agers it’s about embracing family, doing the right thing and being a good person. That’s what my mother always taught me, and I try to do right by my mom when I’m writing these stories. Even though there’s a lot of raunch in the show, heart is what drives it.”Iungerich might claim Awkward. is not a message-driven show, but there are lessons to be learned. Things like all teen-agers tend to be so self-obsessed they probably won’t notice someone else walking around with a giant zit; the meanest kids are usually struggling with their own insecurities; boys and girls have very different ways of communicating; and friendship is vital.“My mom says I’m the product of Brady Bunch reruns, which is why I’m such a Pollyanna about stuff,” Iungerich said. “Little white lies can become big lies. Don’t be a tattle tale — those are all things I learned from watching Brady Bunch reruns.”One day, future writers will no doubt be talking about life lessons they learned by watching repeats of Awkward.Programming noteAwkward. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV.Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the April 17-23, 2013 issue

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