MTV's 'Awkward': Ashley Rickards on the dark side of teen comedy

awkward-ashley-rickards.jpgMTV recently renewed "Teen Wolf" for a second season -- a good sign for the network's cautious endeavors into scripted television. While "Skins," an Americanized version of the controversial UK show, failed to maintain viewership, "Teen Wolf" has generated considerable increasing buzz. On Tuesday, the reality-heavy network debuts its latest scripted offering, "Awkward," at 11 p.m.

While the later hour does allow for a more frank look at teen sexuality, "Awkward" succeeds in being honest without being gratuitous, which may have been the downfall of "Skins." Within the first few minutes of the show, our lead character, Jenna, loses her virginity in a summer camp supply closet. It's not exactly the Pacey-and-Joey perfect moment, which is instantly refreshing and sets the tone for the show. Yes - it's awkward.

"We're not racy to be racy," Ashley Rickards told Zap2it when she stopped by our offices to discuss the show. "We're trying to be real and to give an honest look at what it's like to be a teenager."

Rickards, who we remember best as Sam Walker, Brooke's foster daughter on "One Tree Hill," doesn't have a lot of comedy on her resume. "It was definitely new for me," she says. "But the way our show approaches comedy veers away from slapstick, sitcom stuff. All of our jokes come from a real and honest place. That's what makes it funny - even if it comes from a darker, more emotional place, nothing is funnier than the truth."

In the pilot episode, Jenna decides to pop a couple of aspirin to cure a well-earned headache after that closet sexual encounter ends in disappointment, but when she nearly chokes on the pills, she flails around the bathroom helplessly, leaving a path of destruction as she stumbles.

Long story short, her parents find her unconscious on the floor, surrounded by pills and razors, with her blow dryer shorting out in the half-full bathtub. It's not a good look, and neither is the contraption that bandages her now-broken arm.

"That was actual plaster," Rickards tells us of the cast that keeps Jenna's arm high in the air for most of the first episode. It draws attention in the school hallways... and not exactly the sort of attention she's been hoping for.

"Jenna is this really sweet smart girl who's very unassuming. One of the best qualities about Jenna that I hope resonates with young people is that she really keeps an open mind toward people and doesn't judge them on first sight. She tries to justify why they hurt her. Jenna isn't even mean to the mean girl."

Said mean girl, Sadie Saxton, isn't exactly the tiny blonde Regina George type who usually plays the high school Queen Bee -- though she does wear a cheerleading uniform when we first meet her, of course. Played by Molly Tarlov, Sadie "Six-ton" is rich and popular -- and a master at manipulating the system. Plus, she's got a thing for Matty, the not-Pacey to Jenna's not-Joey.

"There's a reason why Sadie is the way she is, and that's explored in our show. That's the wonderful part about Lauren Iungerich's writing. You can't stereotype any character. You can't say that our 'hot guy' on the show is 'the hot guy on the show.'" Rickards grins. "We have two, by the way. One of whom is shirtless, quite a bit. Tune in!"

The girl knows her audience.

Yes -- kids, get ready for some romantic geometry. Jenna is crazy about Matty, her deflowerer, but his best friend Jake is so supportive of her as the rumor mill churns that we can't help rooting for him, too. Unfortunately, Jake has a girlfriend of his own... a girlfriend who, prodded by Sadie, will do her best to humiliate Jenna.

MTV may have struck gold with the "Juno"-esque tone of the show, which depicts teenagers without condescending to them. "Teen Wolf" relied on a recognizable brand as a launchpad, while the "Skins" press and marketing revolved around scandal and pissing off the PTC.

"Awkward," however, is free of such gimmicks. Its indie-movie sensibility rings true (if a little on the adorable side) and we appreciate the darker, more relatable humor. After all, most real high school experiences were hardly PG-13 material. We'll be staying up late for this one. 

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Photo/Video credit: MTV