If high school were reduced to one word, it would be “awkward.”
This goes for popular kids, loners, stoners, straight-edge students, gangbangers and honor roll peer leaders. MTV’s critically acclaimed “Awkward” returning for a second season, Thursday, June 28, perfectly captures teenagers’ angst.
At the center of the dark-edged comedy is Jenna (Ashley Rickards). She’s surprisingly sane considering at the end of last season she realized her mother, Lacey (Nikki DeLoach), wrote the letter that everyone assumes prompted Jenna’s suicide attempt. Jenna, however, didn’t try to kill herself; she slipped in the bathroom, and a blow-dryer fell into the bath.
But it was no freak accident that her mom wrote the note, which, in sanitized language, told Jenna to stand up for herself more. For those who missed last season: Jenna started school in a cast that defined awkward, with her arm in an upward right angle to her body. Her winning personality eventually had her enmeshed in a love triangle with two of the hottest boys in school.
The new season rejoins them two weeks after the last one ended.
In the season opener, Jenna’s dad gives her a box of condoms as a Christmas gift — awkward — and everyone rings in the new year at a party.
“I think we could follow Jenna for a very long time,” Rickards tells Zap2it. “This show is about an examination of life, not just teenage life.”
“I have an internal voice the way Jenna does,” creator Lauren Iungerich says, “Although I don’t censor mine as much as Jenna does. And that is the Tamara in me.”
Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed), one of Jenna’s two best girlfriends, is “a little bit of a freethinker in the way she just takes life for what it is and deals with it in her way,” Reed says. “She has no filter in anything she says. It’s kind of like Tamara’s world.”
All the characters evolve in the second season.
“Tamara becomes less of a sassy best friend, and more of a real character,” Reed says. “Instead of just being a crazy person, she helps Jenna through a lot of things.”
That includes helping her navigate the love triangle with Jake and Matty (Brett Davern, Beau Mirchoff).
“Jake is class president; he knows everyone on campus,” Davern says. “He is the kind of guy you would want in your corner if you are having a bad day or a good day. He is an all-around good guy.”
Despite that they all play sophomores the show appeals to viewers well beyond the demographic.
“When people do recognize me they want to take a picture with me, and if they are with their moms, they want to take a picture as well,” Davern says. “If you’re in high school now, you are going through it now, and this can help steer you through. And if you are a parent, you are laughing about it, and you know how silly it was.”
The third part to the triangle, Matty, “is complicated,” Mirchoff says.
Though a popular jock, his only confidante is Jake, which is awkward because they are both interested in Jenna.
“He had a chance to think things over and admit his mistakes,” Mirchoff says. “It seems too little, too late. She was in love with Matty.”
So is Sadie, the resident mean girl.
“Playing a character I can’t just be mean just for the hell of it,” Molly Tarlov says. “It has to come from a certain place. I see her as much more than a mean girl. She is insecure, funny and smart. She wants to keep everyone at arm’s length, she’s scared to let everyone in.”
As vicious as Sadie is, perhaps the person inflicting the most damage — albeit unintentionally — is Lacey. By trying to relive her glory days of high school through Jenna, DeLoach says her character is “peer-enting instead of parenting.”
That dynamic helps give the show a universal theme as people think, “If my mom doesn’t love me just the way I am, how can I love myself?” DeLoach says.
Lacey and Kevin (Mike Faiola) were in high school when they became parents.
“He is the one person Jenna can go to for good, solid, accurate advice,” Faiola says. “He has very distinct motivations, and Kevin is a guy who is first and foremost concerned with the well-being of his household.”
The other adult, at least chronologically, in Jenna’s life is her unstable guidance counselor Valerie (Desi Lydic).
“I think Valerie has incredibly good intentions and a very good heart, and I believe she loves what she does and loves the students she works with and considers Jenna a very close friend,” Lydic says. “She does not have any sense of boundaries. She probably grew up in a very loving household, and there were no doors on the bathrooms. She doesn’t see anything wrong with her tactics.”
But Jenna knows better, and the only person who truly matches her wits is Ming (Jessica Lu). Ming’s overbearing mother finally allows her to attend the New Year’s Eve party, though she must leave before midnight.
“I would like ‘Awkward’ to go on forever,” Lu says. “I think Ming in a nursing home would be very funny. We have to give people what they want — Ming, Tamara and Jenna walking with walkers — but still talking about boys.”