MTV has clearly seized on a boundary-pushing strategy in its scripted efforts, from adapting the U.K.’s “Skins” to the pun-informed “Hard Times of RJ Berger.” While more conceptually understated, “Awkward” continues along those lines, as its 15-year-old protagonist/narrator is introduced losing her virginity at camp, then proceeding to deal with her confused crush and general feelings of social ineptitude. As identifiable as all that is, series creator Lauren Iungerich emulates her MTV brethren and falls victim to “Dawson’s Creek” syndrome, where the kids all talk like college professors, and the adults are blathering boobs.
“My lady business was on fire,” Jenna (Ashley Rickards) thinks as she bestows what she later refers to as “the gift of the Vagi” to the dreamy Matty (Beau Mirchoff), a popular type who immediately follows the deed by telling her, “Nobody can know that I like you.”
So Jenna lives with her secret, along with her fellow-outcast friends and over-their-head parents, particularly her mom (Nikki DeLoach), who doesn’t see anything wrong in suggesting her teenage daughter get breast implants.
Invisible to the rest of the school population, Jenna alters that equation through what is misconstrued as a botched suicide attempt, transforming her into “that girl” in the student body’s eyes, and subjecting her to even more abuse at the hands of the mean girls, led by cheerleader Sadie (Molly Tarlov).
Mostly, “Awkward” plays like a PG-13 version of the average Nickelodeon or Disney Channel female-oriented comedy, tailored to an older audience. And while the premise is refreshingly gimmick-free compared with “RJ Berger” or “Teen Wolf,” the situations aren’t compelling enough to make this much more than a latter-day “Doogie Howser, M.D.” with a gender switch.
It’s also telling that Jenna, played well enough by Rickards, is such a doormat vis-a-vis Matty, at least through the first couple of episodes. By contrast, Sadie — a mean girl who, at least Jenna can see, is enormously insecure about being overweight — could be the most interesting character, but since she’s primarily there as Jenna’s foil, any depth remains unplumbed.
Although the content and language are rough in places — particularly given the characters’ ages — the 11 p.m. timeslot should deflect some criticism, and one can argue teens won’t be shocked by a little sex, cursing and cruelty. Still, ABC Family has managed to achieve successes with relatively wholesome youth-oriented dramas, and inasmuch as MTV has such a solid foundation of reality programs, its scripted fare shouldn’t automatically have to tacitly solicit the Parents Television Council’s condemnation as a promotional tool.
“Sometimes being a teenager makes you want to die,” Jenna blogs, basically summarizing the show.
“Awkward’s” semi-serialized approach offers some potential. Nevertheless, it would be better for all concerned if this teenager did more to make you want to watch.