Anyone out there watching Awkward? Season 3 returns after its mid-season break and Awkward remains one of the funniest shows on TV for me, and pretty much the best thing MTV has had to offer since they stopped playing actual music. Centered around unpopular teenage high school student Jenna, who is launched into unexpected popularity following a little “accident”, and her circle of quirky yet likable friends, Awkward provides unexpected laughs and moments of cringe comedy gold in every twenty-three minute episode from start to finish.
But I’m not writing this blog post just to recommend a surprising treat of Young Adult chuckle-fests. Despite the excellent casting and the fact that none of the characters annoy me to the extreme of intense dislike (how rare for me), this is not a review as such, rather an opinion piece on some of the issues it has raised. So, if you plan on taking me up on this suggestion, or aren’t up to date with Awkward, do not read on, because SPOILERS AHOY as I address the problems inherent. And I don’t mean the problems with the show, I mean the problems with the viewership.
Every post or article I’ve read, every review of Awkward I’ve seen, they all have one thing in common. The vilification of the lead character, the female protagonist, Jenna. Heralded as a “bitch” by the more politically correct (READ: nicer) reviewers, and a right little C U Next Tuesday by the less inclined to forgive, Jenna as a character has been the target of much vitriol this season. Here’s why.
Jenna cheated on her boyfriend, Matty, with new guy, intellectual-type Colin. Over the space of a couple of days Jenna played tonsil tennis with Colin on several occasions behind boyfriend Matty’s back, and her little secret was outed when she mistakenly made out with her little bit on the side in front of an entire room of friends and family, who were, unbeknownst to her, planning a surprise party for her seventeenth birthday. A shockingly painful and horrific way to find out that your girl is cheating on you, to be sure. Not only that, but following a weekend of tears and uncertainty, and despite Jenna having claimed that Colin meant absolutely nothing to her, she spurned Matty’s efforts at reconciliation and effectively dumped him. Three weeks later she’s moved on with her not so one-time fling Colin, much to everyone’s amazement and distaste.
Yes, this was a horrible thing to do. Yes, Jenna should feel guilty. No, Jenna doesn’t deserve the Bitch of the Century moniker. And again, here’s why.
She has outgrown Matty. Matty, her first love, the popular boy at school she had crushed on for years. Matty, the boy who took her virginity and kept her in a closet, hidden away from his own friends and secret from the world, but visited said closet when he felt the itch for a bit of how’s your father with the young girl who was fine to shag, but not good enough to be seen with in public. The dynamic of this relationship changed over time of course, coinciding with a freight train of new-found popularity (sometimes as a result of unfortunate infamy) that Jenna happened to be riding aboard. You will remember that directly preceding Jenna’s first instance of infidelity with Colin, Matty had admitted that he had been embarrassed of her. What a crushing thing to have said to a young woman.
Sure, Jenna had allowed Matty to behave the way he had when they first gained a more carnal knowledge of each other back in the janitor’s closet at summer camp, and afterward she had even encouraged it. Jenna, however, was a young, impressionable and eager to please fifteen year old girl, and Matty was the more experienced, cool and emotionally aloof young boy who took advantage of her naivety. Now, Jenna has matured through the trials and tribulations of her family and personal life, and she has found that Matty is no longer her perfect fit. If we’ve learned anything from this season it is that they have very little in common and Matty doesn’t share Jenna’s burgeoning intellectual discovery or needs.
This alone, of course, isn’t an acceptable excuse for her cheating. I’ll tell you what is, though.
She’s SEVENTEEN, for crying out loud.
Actually, she’s just turned seventeen. Give her a break. I do believe that Jenna should have ended her relationship with Matty before she pursued an alternative with Colin. She made a mistake. She’s a teenager you know, they do that from time to time. One of the things that drew me in for repeated viewing of Awkward (apart from the initial hilarity of these so very awkward teens) was the delight I took in watching this young woman develop, in watching her begin to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. I related to her inner struggles instantly as I remembered just how awkward I was at that age, remembered the things that mattered to me less and less as I grew passed that stage and just how hard it was to reconcile my own idea of who I was with the who I appeared to be to my peers.
Awkward is less about angsty teens and those ridiculous Young Adult love triangles that everyone seems to think are a staple of any girl’s fantasy (Twilight, City of Bones) and more about Jenna’s journey of self-discovery, of pushing her own boundaries and testing her limits, of exploring all sides to her personality, most especially her flaws. And that, my friends, is what makes an interesting, realistic character. Flaws.
If you find yourself hating on Jenna because she’s not doing what you think she should do, or because you think Matty is like, OMG, the most PERFECT bf 4eva, or even if you’re entertaining some weird little self-insertion fantasy and are angry that this young woman is shucking the Young Adult genre norm, then you’re completely missing the point of this show.
And so with that I declare that I am not Team Jake, Team Matty or Team Colin. I’m Team Jenna.