An Awkward Community
Tuesday 10:00 PM on MTV - Music Television


Sometimes, shows do us favors. Going into the mid-season premiere of MTV's Awkward., I was thinking of writing something about how the show's lead character Jenna had made enough questionable decisions that she'd become borderline unlikable. In my review of the show's summer finale, I wondered about how the show wanted us to view Jenna's behavior, and I expected that Tuesday's return would explore similar themes. Little did I know, however, that "Surprise!" would beat the audience over the head with those themes, with an on-the-nose speech from Anthony Michael Hall's Mr. Hart. Just as I was planning on comparing Jenna to the Don Drapers of the world, Mr. Hart went ahead and ranted about television's favorite character type, the anti-hero.

Is Jenna Hamilton, a high school junior who just turned 17, an anti-hero? She is often self-involved, mostly concerned with how the attention she receives from different boys impacts her life. Although she's far from fully responsible, her actions have pitted two good friends against one another. After choosing Matty, she quickly grew frustrated with their relationship, and found herself enjoying the flirtation with the still-barely-even-a-character Collin and eventually cheating on the former with the latter. Leading up to that choice, Matty didn't mistreat her; he mostly just annoyed her because he was facing problems with his parents. And throughout "Surprise!" Jenna tried and failed to put a stop to the cheating with Collin, while Matty worked to make her birthday as special as possible. 


Don Draper or Walter White Jenna is not. If anything, her actions are representative of most teenagers, girls or boys, who don't know what they want, much less how to react when they get it. Still, Awkward.'s explicit use of that term, one that evokes all sorts of different and recognizable characteristics, is interesting, particularly in light of how the show decided to position Jenna's actions in "Surprise!" Awkward. has always puts its lead character out there for the audience to really understand, considering we get to be inside Jenna's head, at least partially experiencing the high school world how she experiences it. Jenna has constantly made mistakes in Awkward.'s three-year run, but the show has never let her hide behind them. Near the end of this season's summer run, it kind of felt like the show was losing that quality a bit; for the first time ever, Jenna seemed like a real brat who didn't deserve the kind of attention she got from any guy. So basically, I felt like Sadie. 


What made "Surprise!" such a successful episode, both in its own right and with regard to the rest of the season, is that Awkwardreally clamped down on Jenna's behavior and immediately presented the audience with the clear consequences of those actions. Although her cheating was kept a secret at first, she at least told Tamara immediately, which put the best friend in a crappy situation. Similarly, our view inside Jenna's head reinforced that she knew making out with Collin was the wrong thing to do and that's why she kept trying to stop it to begin with. But she couldn't, because Collin's so dreamy, because she likes feeling wanted, and all the other reasons we get tangled up in romantic situations. All told, the first 20 minutes of "Surprise!" reinforced one thing: Jenna is making bad decisions, she's hurting people, and that's frankly not cool. And then the last 20 seconds? Those meant that Jenna isn't going to skate by with the cheating. Everyone knows—worse yet, they've seen the face-sucking in the flesh—and the shoddy behavior isn't going to sit well.

Really, I have to hand it to Awkward.'s (outgoing) series creator Lauren Iungerich for being willing to A.) take her lead character to some unlikable places and B.) openly acknowledge that character's unlikable tendencies. Particularly in a show like this, with primarily teen characters who are going to be making decisions on an emotional whim, emphasizing the consequences of those decisions is pretty cool. It'd be easy for the show to get lost in its own melodramatic narrative full of constantly evolving romantic permutations—and at times during its second season, Awkwarddid just that. It'd be easy for the show to keep Jenna sort of shielded from any tangible blame. But Awkward. isn't taking the easy way out, which can make it challenging to root for Jenna, especially when we're always all up in her head, working through the dumb choices together.  


It's become really, really easy for dramas, particularly cable dramas, to rely on the anti-hero character. Shows like Ray Donovan and Low Winter Sun have their bright spots, but they're also so beholden to the idea that the easiest way to achieve capital-Q quality is to make us feel conflicted about their leading men. That kind of stuff doesn't work as well in 2013 as it did in 2006; Walter White took us about as far as we can go. Jenna Hamilton isn't an anti-hero any more than any high school student is, but her characterization illustrates that it can be just as effective (if not more) to take a likable character down weird, uncomfortable paths. Whereas shows like Low Winter Sun and even Breaking Bad, to a certain extent, want us to celebrate portions of their anti-hero's personality, Awkward. is forcing us to question and/or dislike Jenna. That's not easy to pull off, particularly in a teen romantic comedy.  


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/24/2016

Season 5 : Episode 24

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I have never enjoyed a sit-com primarily set in high school more. Why was Iungerich fired? I no like that.
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I like where they're taking her. She's 17; what 17 year old isn't a (bleep)?
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I gave up on this show, I am glad that the show seemed to recognize itself, but there is something that got lost along the way. Like this might have been a live action Daria and then she went all actual boy crazy. Or a lot of girls like that don't actually end up with their dream guy because they are so in their own heads all the time. I was like suddenly watching a girl every guy wanted and it was like...huh? Anyway, I hope it gets better for everyone continuing to watch it. Teen Wolf will be the only thing I am watching on MTV.
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Yeah, I think it would have been a better track for the show to go for the lead character Jenna to not get "everything she ever wanted" and explore being completely single and not having anything...something a lot of high school kids can experience (that was including me).
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Oh, and a future prediction: Jake's going to find out Tamara knew Jenna was cheating on Matty, and he'll be none too pleased.
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I love that they're doing this cos you know it's not going to last forever and junior year I went through a "I hate everyone but really I'm the only one making myself miserable" phase. I feel like a lot of teens go through that.
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Jenna is clearly not a anti-hero. Like you said, she's just a typical teenager and we can, whatever our age, relate to her easily. That's why I cannot hate her, even if what she did is wrong. It almost feel like a catharsis to see this cheating story unfold and crash down at her feet. I really like this season, it's bold and the funniest it has ever been.
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Couldn't have said it better myself, Cory, and I'm glad Awkward is still getting some attention on here.

Like you said, Jenna's not an anti-hero, she's a seventeen year-old girl who's 'self-involved [and] mostly concerned with how the attention she receives from different boys impacts her life.' And yes, she definitely doesn't know what she wants, or how to react when she gets it. Is Jenna likable? That's hard to say at this point in the series, but we know she's at least trying to be a good person on some level (she feels guilt, which is more than I can say for most anti-heroes on television), but more importantly, she's relatable. I love Jenna as a character because the writers unashamedly write her as a realistic teenage girl, which means she's not always going to make the best decisions or be the nicest person, but its refreshing to have such a young protagonist being presented this way on a show aimed at teenagers.

I honestly think Jenna wanted to be caught, otherise why would she make-out with Colin in such public spaces? Fear of being caught and ruining her relationship with Matty would have stopped her from doing that. I believe her cheating with Colin was also possibly an unconscious attempt on her part to end her relationship with Matty without having to actually end it.

Awkward's going extremely well with its main character and her storylines, all I ask for in addition to this for the rest of the season is more Sadie (she's character development waiting to happen) and Mr. Hart, and a lot less Ming (I really can't stand the Asian Mafia part of the show, it brings everything down for me).

Also, I'd totally dump Matty for Colin, just sayin'
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Thank goodness! Was hoping this season hit the ground running and it did! Now it just needs to keep the momentum and I can say that I'll understand if the first half of season 3 was so slow paced because it was building up to some sort of Jenna mental breakdown (maybe MTV dubbing season 3.5 as "Jenna's Epic Fall" was for more than just random title purposes) in this half! I'm also glad that it's already locked in for a 4th season because 3A lost quite a few viewers and there are tons of "Jenna's a cheater so I'm done" people dropping the show now. Although with the new show runners for season 4, will the show lose its magic? May want to have an endgame/series finale planned for next year IMO.
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Jenna's kind of the Ted Mosby of her world, how needy she is. It's hard to sympathize with her after she spent two whole years fawning over Matty, then to just blow him off. Hopefully, if they make Jenna unlikeable, they can make some of the other ultra-annoying characters (Tamara, Sadie) more likeable just to balance it out.
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Loved this episode, can't wait for the gang to unravel the shitstorm.
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I'm not liking how they're making Jenna unlikable, I used to identify with her but now she's just acting selfish and has through her selfish and thoughtless actions hurt those she professes to care about. She better get her shit together soon.
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But people do that, right? Not like it's an unrealistic representation of young people.
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True but I don´t like these kind of people and I´m not one of them so..
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I'm sorry but this isn't an autobiography of YOUR life but the revolution and evolution of a 17 year old girl who is named Jenna Hamilton.
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I quite liked this episode actually, which surprised me since I didn't really care for last season...or season 3A...or whatever they're doing with television seasons these days...so confusing.

However, really annoyed with all the cursing. Not the cursing itself, but the bleep that the network insists on putting over every swearword. Could they not just cut the audio like other shows do, at least then it's not as distracting. Or maybe just don't write so much profanity into a single episode to begin with.
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Cutting audio is far worse in my opinion. At least with bleeping you get a bit of comedy. That said, dubbing over is always the best.
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eh, I'd rather have no sound than a replacement sound. But I think my problem with the bleeping was primarily the amount of curse words MTV had to bleep. In one episode, there was probably 10+ bleeps. And while it wasn't that bad to begin with, by the end of the 30 minutes, I felt like saying what No1Slayerette said below, lol
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That bleeping bleeping was un-bleeping-beivable.
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I like the path that the writers have sent Jenna down. It makes for a far more interesting character while at the same time being inside Jenna's head means that she (hopefully) won't be a character that everyone will eventually abhor. Also, unrelated, but I absolutely love Jenna's mom Lacey.
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