“Awkward” is the rare TV comedy that isn’t afraid to tackle the tough stuff — and in tonight’s back-to-back season premiere episode, it proves that all over again. In the first two episodes, the characters will face not only a pregnancy scare, but the sudden death of one of their classmates: teen Lothario Ricky Schwartz. And somehow, the show still manages to make us laugh.
“Ricky unfortunately had a tragic endeavor. We’re going to deal with it, we’re going to mourn throughout the whole season. He had a lot of lovers and a lot of love to share,” Ashley Rickards tells us, laughing. Then she takes a more serious tone. “Look, ‘Awkward’s’ not a show where people just die. This season, we have 20 episodes. Last season I said in every interview, ‘You guys will be so surprised by where my character goes!’ I feel duped. By Lauren Iungerich’s brain. Honestly, I literally can’t believe where my character goes this year. She goes to such a dark place. The show matures greatly and, my character goes through a really clear growth period. We’ve got 20 episodes. It’s a big story to tell.”
When Jenna returns to school after spending her summer vacation with Matty (Beau Mirchoff), things with her friends are a little complicated. Ming (Jessica Lu) is preoccupied with the Asian mafia (and who wouldn’t be?) and Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) is preoccupied with Jake’s mouth. Jenna’s been so busy hanging out with Matty, she didn’t notice she’d drifted a bit from her girls.
“I think it’s a normal thing for people to do when they fall in love,” says Rickards. “They kind of tend to fall off the radar, since they’re so into their beau. In this case, literally, their Beau. She’s kind of obsessed. Walking back into high school, Jenna’s like ‘Oh, my god, I haven’t talked to any of them.’ Tamara went to Europe, Jake went to Europe… it’s a weird place to pick up junior year.”
Jake, Tamara, Matty, and Jenna make for an odd little foursome. Try as they might to move on from their relationship, Jake and Jenna have history — complete with inside jokes and shared memories. “Jenna tells Tamara to go for it, and Tamara sort of has a right to go for it because Jenna’s moved on. But there’s almost a biological reaction to it, where you’re never okay with it,” Rickards says. “We don’t have a love triangle this year, we have like, a love square-quad-thing. But not really. It gets interesting to see where the characters go.”
One of the central points of this season is Jenna’s new creative writing class, taught by the maniacal Mr. Hart. He’s played by Anthony Michael Hall, so there’s a revenge-of-the-nerds element that’s pretty spectacular. “In the 80s he was like the iconic dork, so it’s pretty fantastic to have a show called ‘Awkward’ and have him be in it. It’s such an honor. [Showrunner Lauren Iungerich] was geeking out over having him on the show, and I was too, honestly,” says Rickards.
Mr. Hart has some unconventional teaching methods that will really push Jenna this season. “Jenna is at an interesting point. My overly-analytical mind is drawn to the moment at the beginning of the season where she’s kind of rubbing her necklace, in the very first scene of the first new episode,” says Rickards. She’s describing one of the first moments of the episode, where Jenna and Matty sit in his car before heading into school on the first day. “Season 1 was about ‘I am somebody.’ Season 2 was about ‘Who do I want to be with?’ and Season 3 is about ‘Is this who I want to be?’ Her teacher plays a very important role in her determining that identity.”
The creative writing class is also where she meets Collin (Nolan Funk), who recently opted to leave his expensive private school in favor of their public school. “He’s a very passionate writer,” Funk tells of his character. “In this creative writing class. He comes from a little bit of money, but he isn’t really pretentious, he just has a lot of life experience. He’s a little bit adventurous, a little dangerous. I would say this character is definitely the absolute contrast to Matty’s character.”
Rickards is less inclined to talk about Collin. “I can’t tell you anything about Collin, but what I can tell you about Nolan — one weekend, in my life, I had a really weird weekend where I was so bored that I watched ‘Total Recall.’ Nolan texted me, and he’s like ‘What are you doing?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m eating an entire bag of cheese sticks and watching ‘Total Recall.’ So, that’s how you know he’s a nice guy. I can’t tell you anything about Collin, but that’s what I’ll tell you about Nolan. I’m just trying to paint you a picture here. We talk about cheese sticks.”
She says Nolan fits right in on set — and he’s definitely Jenna’s type. “He’s a great actor and it’s been a joy to work with him. I think it’s really weird that he looks kind of exactly like Beau and kind of exactly like Brett. It’s like they had a baby. Which — I mean, there’s a true bromance going on. I wouldn’t say them having a baby is out of the question. Nolan might be their baby,” she says.
“Awkward” returns April 16 at 10 p.m. EST on MTV with two back-to-back episodes.