On the Cringe
By Adam Rathe
Even before the first episode of Awkward aired, creator Lauren Iungerich knew that her series about a teenage girl would be popular outside the walls of high schools. “When I cast Molly Tarlov,” she remembers, “I said, ‘You’re going to be a gay icon.’ ”
It isn’t just Tarlov, who’s deliciously campy as the evil cheerleader Sadie Saxton, that gives the show appeal beyond the teenage demographic. It’s the sharp writing, the rapid-fire dialogue, and the problems that our heroine, Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards), faces each week; as Iungerich puts it, “the things she’s confronting are things you can still be confronting at 25 or 35.”
So while grown-ups might not fret about scoring a date to the prom, trying to figure out whether a hot guy -- like Jenna’s own Romeo, the sweet, wishy-washy Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff) -- is worth pursuing remains relatable long after graduation. Because Jenna is your classic girl next door—scrutinized after what people think was an unsuccessful suicide attempt—her trials aren’t just fun to watch, they’re easy to empathize with.
Rickards pegs the show’s appeal to the way that Iungerich writes her characters.
“Lauren elevated the show with her ability to make social commentary and still throw in snappy words with youthful spice,” the actress says. “There is definitely a John Hughes vibe to it.”
Awkward has one thing that teen-moviemaking legend Hughes never did, though: openly gay characters.
At the end of the show’s first season, Clark, a gay sophomore, wins the title of winter formal princess. And while a gay man winning a woman’s title might not be the most empowering thing, it is supposed to be high school -- and Iungerich says that, for Clark, things, of course, get better.
“He comes back this season, and while I can’t give away too much, I will say he has some good turns,” Iungerich says.
And he might not be the only one.
“I’m writing the season two finale, and there may be another outing of a character,” Iungerich says. “I want to be careful about it. The audience for this show is so smart, everything has to feel real -- otherwise it won’t work.”