Pen15 Season 2 Part 2 (Hulu)
Written by Maya Erskine, Gabe Liedman, Rachele Lynn, Diana Tay, Alyssa DiMari, Josh Levine, Anna Konkle, and Vera Santamaria
Directed by Dan Longino, Maya Erskine, Andy DeYoung, and Anna Konkle
As Pen15 has wrapped up its last season, it’s bittersweet to acknowledge no new episodes will grace our screens. There have been comparisons to it, Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks, but Pen15 stands on its own considering its presentation.
The other two are almost male-focused. Although Freaks and Geeks has its cult following and Lindsey Weir (Linda Cardellini) is the so-called lead, most of the cast is male. There is barely any mention of female friendships, the drama of being a teenager, and having someone on your side before and during those changes. Lindsey was breaking away from her friends, lingering and then becoming part of the ‘stoner’/freak crowd.
The thing that stands out the most at watching Pen15 is that the two leads are played by their adult versions. We’re transported back to the early 2000s. It’s low-risers, boy bands, chokers, and glittery eyeshadow. The exception from most coming-of-age shows is that we don’t see timid teens going into high school after being regaled with stories that fascinate and horrify them. There is no morning breakfast where one parent asks a child if they’re ready to be a high schooler- they are still in middle school.
Maya and Anna move through their lives with enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams that are dashed. They think that they might finally become popular this year, get boyfriends, and become the prettiest girls in school. Deep down inside, they’re still little kids. Except things change.
To quote Britney Spears:
I am not a girl, not yet a woman.
Pen15 is described as a cringe comedy. Cringe is such a perfect and somehow imperfect word for it. There were times that it felt as if I had out-of-body experiences during some of the storylines. That, someone, had somehow accurately described how it felt being a teenager during that time. Sequences of your life set on display. Maya comes to terms with her sexuality, discovering masturbation, to the rejection Anna gets from her crush.
You laugh because it hurts, and it’s ridiculous. The tantrums, the doors slammed shut, the yelling until spit droplets are on your chin, and you’re shaking. They do not display anger as this beautiful, righteous thing. In Pen15, they’re not afraid to show the characters as immature or wrong. The emotion is real and raw. They do go through feelings. Sometimes, they are jealous of each other or are dismissed by their parents and peers.
Maya and Anna, who play against actual teenagers, make it feel like they are that age themselves. The postures curved into a question mark since they were so unsure. The awkward laugh between words to try and seem relatable. The smile that might fade is the response isn’t the one they had hoped.
Don’t worry. Body doubles do any makeout scenes with them. (People online really do be thinking the worst)
Pen15 is funny and uncomfortably relatable at times.
The thing that stands out is Maya and Anna’s love for each other.
Top episodes for me:
AIM (S1. E7)- Transported back to when AOL was it. Hear the noise of when you got a message or that feeling when someone was on ‘away.’
Vendy Wiccany (S2 E3) – If you did not have a witch phase as a teenager, I do not want to befriend you. That’s a fact.
Three (S2 E4)- As Maya and Anna try to fix their friendship, they add another person into the mix. Threeway calling. Does anyone remember that? Does anyone recall talking to someone only to find out a third was on the line listening? This was hurt me.
Yuki (S2 E11)- This is a solo episode focused on Yuki, Maya’s mom, who is played by her real-life mother. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful. She displays Yuki as a mother and as a person giving her a dimension that her family often forgets. As children, we tend to ignore the idea that our parents exist outside of taking care of us if we’re lucky enough to have them as good caretakers.
Home (S2 E15)- The last one was beautifully done, showing the love these two have for each other.
There are more. However, it would get long, and I want to encourage people to watch it. Sit down, get comfortable, and get ready to cringe in the best way possible.