The first half of Awkward.'s extended third season has been an interesting exercise in dealing with the aftermath of a big choice. After two seasons and 23 episodes' worth of indecision with regard to Jenna's relationship with Matty (and her other relationships, like the one with Jake), the Season 3 smartly decided to let Jenna and Matty just be, and to explore what it means for the two of them to be a couple. Many people seem to insist that TV shows built around dramatic romantic tension don't work as well once the couple gets together, but for much of this 10-episode run, Awkward. did a fine-enough job of proving that assumption to be false. In the process, the show slowed down a bit, exchanging its previously rapid pacing and story burn for little stories involving brief Jenna-Matty fights, almost all of which ended with them kissing all of their problems away.
And yet, Awkward. couldn't really help itself. Although the show can't really return to the possibility of Jake being Jenna's romantic partner (at least for the time being), it almost immediately pointed toward a probable romantic encounter with Jenna's creative writing classmate, Collin (Nolan Funk). Like many of the season's other stories, it took some time for Jenna's relationship with Collin to get going, and then it ramped up quite heavily over the last few episodes. But whereas this half-season's slower pace allowed Jenna and Matty's minor issues to simmer, the lack of real characterization for Collin hampered the impact of his prominence in the last few episodes, and that was especially true for this week's mid-season finale, "Redefining Jenna."
Funk is an appealing actor, but the writers have yet to give him much to do other than espouse and embody one cliche after another. I could almost give Awkward. the benefit of the doubt in this regard, because it feels purposeful that Collin is so underdeveloped; the scenes in creative writing class have emphasized how hard he tries to be dark and mysterious, and even his own girlfriend made fun of him for it a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, whenever Collin and Jenna share a more intimate moment, the show's attempts to mock the character fade away, only to be replaced by smoldering looks, relatively aggressive touching, and generally empty monologues ("You're classic"). If Awkward. wanted us to recognize that Jenna, who's never, ever satisfied with anything, is stupidly valorizing a creative-type tool we all remember from high school, I could get on board with that. But by the end of "Redefining Jenna," I don't get that impression. Jenna is certainly conflicted about her feelings (again), but it feels like we're supposed to find Collin appealing and mostly sympathize with her predicament.
While the Collin portion of the story makes it difficult for me to reach a sufficient level of sympathy, it's Jenna who's currently the most challenging character to feel for, because frankly, Jenna kind of sucks right now. It's her nature to get lost in her own head and over-analyze things to a frustrating degree, but in that great scene with her and Matty outside Collin's party, I was way more on Matty's side than Jenna's. Jenna hasn't been particularly interested in Matty's problems at home, just like she's never particularly interested in anything that doesn't directly involve her. She's pretty selfish, and it's telling that while Matty could list tangible reasons why reasons he liked her in "That Girl Strikes Again," Jenna couldn't muster up anything beyond hair and abs. This is Jenna's story and the show doesn't typically absolve her from all responsibility, but it feels like she's getting off pretty easy right now. So, by the time Collin lustily convinced her to be selfish and choose herself, all I could do was throw my hands in the air and wish Matty didn't have to put up with this crap. Only time will tell whether that's how I'm supposed to be feeling right now, but no matter where that story goes, Awkward. should either do a better job of making Collin a character, or knowingly embrace his vapid, archetypal nature.
Despite some frustrating moments in the main story, "Redefining Jenna" gave us some fun moments for the show's supporting characters. It feels like it's been a long time since the whole cast has been so involved in a single episode, and a few of lower-rung stories (Ming's rise to the top of the Mafia, Lissa's guilt over Ricky's death) reached very satisfying conclusions. The increased episode order has permitted the show to give Ming just enough more to do to justify Jessica Lu's bump to series regular, but she's done fun stuff with it. The Mafia story is totally ridiculous, so it was nice that the reveal of the Accountant's identity reached such a ridiculous level—the key, the gold phone, it just worked. And Lissa feeling responsible for Ricky's peanut allergy-related death because they kissed after her Thai dinner walked right up to stupid but didn't run into it, even if I totally believe that we'll see Ricky's resurrection at some point. Tamara and Jake's relationship and Sadie's declining social status have been on the back burner for much of the season, and they were given short story bursts here that were fine. For the show to improve in the second half of Season 3, those three characters need more to do other than "be annoyingly happy" and "be Sadie."
It seems like Awkward. is trying some interesting things and looking to push Jenna into a space where her constant waffling is going to get her real trouble. I'm all for that, and honestly, I'm also all for the show convincing me that she temporarily sucks; she's a high school student, I can buy it. But I hope the second portion of Awkward. Season 3 makes its intentions clearer, and redefines its character activity accordingly.
BLACK FRIDAY PRICE CUTS
– There's no way that Lissa's Thai dinner actually could have killed Ricky, right?
– Another weird casualty of the half-season: Not a whole lot for Lacey to do, particularly in these last few episodes. She and Val shared that silly scene with Jenna, but that's about it. Need more of her.
– Bouncy castles are awesome.
– Tamara couldn't turn back on her explanation of how people confused Tessa for Rehab Julie, so she just went with it. Becoming the second Julie of The Julies fame was one of her best outrageous explanations of the season.
What did you think of the finale? Do you feel sympathy for Jenna?