What We’re Watching – 2/8/2012
Near the end of 2011 I started perusing top ten lists to see if there was anything that I hadn’t heard of that might be interesting. On a TV list I had I saw Awkward., a show about a young teenage girl named Jenna (Ashley Rickards). Now, my first instinct was that this was simply a slightly more mature teenage show, still in the vein of teen shows on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel. In many ways it is, but a big difference is it actually addresses real issues.
In the first episode, Jenna has sex with her crush, Matty (Beau Mirchoff), at summer camp, and then he doesn’t want to acknowledge what they did. She then comes home to get a letter stating that she could disappear and no one would notice and listing things that she should change. Then literally by a freak accident she injures herself, and the note and the situation of the accident makes everyone think she tried to commit suicide. This new-found attention causes her to have to see a guidance counselor, Valerie (Desi Lydic), as now she is being noticed, but for all the wrong reasons. She does use the circumstances, though, to stand out and break free of the preconceptions that everyone has of her. She ends up attracting the attention of Jake (Brett Davern), class president and all-around nice guy, who develops a friendship with her, and the anger of an overweight but popular cheerleader, Sadie (Molly Tarlov).
While this show has a typical teen dilemma of dealing with popularity, bullying, and crushes, the real interest comes from Jenna’s inner dialogue or when she writes on her blog (one of the best uses of voiceover). She expresses her doubts, her dreams, and her observations about just being a teenager, alone and frustrated at the world. We see her deal with her issues with Matty, who throughout shows interest in her but is reluctant to get into a serious relationship. She also has problems with her mother and how she should see herself that feel authentic yet deep for a teenager.
There are some teen show staples that still haven’t been abandoned, though, like adults that are very cartoon-like, especially Jenna’s mother Lacey (Nikki Deloach), who is much more into being cool and pretty than being a mom. She ignores much of what is going on in her daughter’s life and sometimes seems resentful of her daughter, since she got pregnant in high school and feels her life was put on hold. There are some deeper feelings that are explored at times, but usually she is just there to embarrass Jenna. Then there is Jenna’s guidance counselor, Valerie, who tries to be more of a “friend” and is easily intimidated by some students and is very unprofessional at times. These two are just for comic relief and can get a good laugh when needed, but are usually never the main part of the story. Jenna’s friends, Tamara and Ming, also do not add much to what is going on, except that it would make sense for Jenna to have friends. And, despite the anxiety that Jenna has about Matty and Jake, there isn’t a whole lot we know about them except Matty’s reluctance for a relationship and Jake being more of a nice guy.
Listening to how Jenna tries to deal with Matty is what makes the relationship issues work. We see her work out what she is willing to deal with for a relationship. Can she deal with it being a secret? Does Matty really care? We care because she gives weight to the decisions. Usually in teen stories, when the girl chooses between the “dream guy” and the “friend,” the friend is obviously the right choice. I will admit I was rooting for Jake over Matty, but over the season the show starts to dig at why Matty is reluctant to go public, having to do with issues in his own life over any issue he has with Jenna as a person. They also made it realistic that Jenna would have had a hard time seeing Jake as someone she could have passion for.
There is also a mini arc with Lissa (Greer Grammer). She is Sadie’s easily manipulated best friend who starts out dating Jake. She is simple but really not a bad person. So when she sees Jake take an interest in Jenna, she gets scared and takes bad advice from Sadie, which leads Jake to become more distant from her. She starts to grow, realizing that Sadie is manipulative, and starts to get some independence, and could be a stronger character come the second season.
One of my most anticipated movies of the year didn’t let me down. Michael Fassbender gives a chilling performance full of quiet intensity as Brandon, a man with a sex addiction trying to hide it from the world. In everything we see him do, his addiction is always on display; either he is in the middle of sex or masturbation, or he is on the hunt, or he is desperately trying to break free of it. The addiction defines him even though he doesn’t want it to. Fassbender gets across so much just by the expressions on his face; despite the pain he has at any given moment, he needs his addiction fulfilled even if it is hurting him and people around him. Carey Mulligan gives a smaller but equally haunting performance as Brandon’s sister Sissy, who is damaged as well, but in a different way. Seeing their two screwed up psychoses go against each other brings out the most terrible emotions in each, that leave you reeling.
While the actors are easy to see and praise, equal praise must go to Steve McQueen for his direction, giving the time and shots to get us truly into the mindset of his characters while never spelling it out to us. He takes his time and lets it all unfold. There was a point near the end that I felt he was going to go over the top with showing the full ramifications of the addiction but he pulled back and made it even more troubling about how even confronted with terrible truths can’t help Brandon deal with his addiction.
While I mentioned this in my last What We’re Watching review, I have now finished the whole season and my concerns about how they were going to finish the season were completely unfounded. The writers were able to keep the tension going and have an ending where, while there were some conveniences, nothing felt totally out of place or took away from the gripping story and characters. Bravo on a great first season!