“Are You There God? It’s Me, Jenna” S2 / E4
- B Community Grade
While I’ve consistently felt that the execution of Awkward.’s love triangle makes that triangle one of the series' most valuable qualities, allowing the show to work within the realm of the teen comedy genre while simultaneously breaking down that genre’s expectations from within, I’ve seen some responses to the show’s second season that have largely been “over” Jake and Matty. Although I’ve felt the love triangle has been handled well this season, and was at its best in last week’s episode, I do think there’s an element of claustrophobia as the show works out the immediate ramifications of last season’s finale to the point where Jenna’s become used to her new relationship with Jake—and Matty, for that matter—as well as her changed relationship with her mother.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Jenna” is the first episode of the season that comfortably defines itself outside of this triangle, building it into this week’s storyline: Jenna, wanting to escape the prospect of Jake’s proposed double date with Matty, becomes desperate enough to agree to go to church camp with Lissa. Of course, given that Sadie is also along for the ride, Jenna finds herself escaping the triangular frying pan and jumping into the triangular fire as Lissa and Sadie confront their broken friendship while reconnecting with “J.C.”
However, rather than serving exclusively as a last minute escape from an awkward situation, the idea of church camp is introduced as a legitimate way for Jenna to explore her feelings of guilt regarding her father’s departure. True, I think it’s somewhat unreasonable for Jenna to feel like this is all her fault, and I do have some reservations with her argument that she shouldn’t have mentioned the letter (as that is, to my mind, entirely on Lacey). Regardless, though, she judges herself for her behavior, and though the episode shortcuts its way into the subject with the random trip to church at the start of the episode, the idea of faith reflects real turmoil that Jenna faces. While she eventually makes the decision to go based on avoiding the double date, it’s an idea derived from real feelings of personal—and maybe even spiritual—frustration.
Once we get to church camp, the show largely treads carefully on the subject of religion, playing up certain aspects—like the hugging, which would be enough to make me feel like I was in a cult given my general anti-hug policy—without turning it into a biting satire. Part of me wishes the show could have gone a bit further with it, but at the same time I liked that the characters we meet seem fleshed out. Even in the “share circle,” where one-liners are flying left and right and we never really meet any of the people involved, there’s a light undercurrent of fanaticism, but it’s mostly just teenagers being teenagers.
This is perhaps best captured in Clark and Lissa, two characters who have been depicted in a fairly broad capacity in past episodes. Here, the church camp setting gives them a chance to have real conversations with Jenna, free from the confines of love triangles or weekly plots or even just the busy everyday activities of high school. The scene with Clark and Jenna discussing the role of faith in the former’s life is the most development we’ve seen for the character, and Clark’s flamboyancy is contextualized—rather than eliminated—within a more nuanced, fully featured individual. While faith can function as a rote character trait, I thought the conversation with Clark did some nice work explaining how even someone whose homosexuality isn’t respected within all parts of the faith nonetheless finds something of value in the church, helping position Jenna’s own search for a “higher power” less within the scriptures and more within the sense of community.
Lissa’s development is more central to the episode, and Greer Grammer does some nice work exploring a side of the character that we have only seen glimpses of so far. The ditzy drunk from the premiere is not gone (what with her casual conversation about “rub-and-tugs”), but we have a better understanding of what drives her, and her friendship with Jenna is a great way for both characters to gain a sense of closure regarding their past conflict. While Sadie’s presence offers some complications for this, playing the comic foil with her discussions of Jenna’s suicide and her more general antagonism, the fact that she was there at all made a statement regarding her friendship with Lissa, and their reconciliation at episode’s end felt like two characters meeting as opposed to isolating character development to a single half of the friendship. The growth isn’t so far that Lissa will allow for multiple interpretations of the bible, and Sadie certainly hasn’t exactly strayed far from “Satan Saxton” at the end of the day, but in faith, they found a common ground.
There were some anvil-like moments of realization around the subject of faith, and Jenna’s voiceover sometimes laid on the theme a bit too heavily, but the storyline largely worked as a retreat from the plot as we knew it. The rest of the episode seemed to realize that the weight of the plot was lifting, largely throwing together sideplots without much in the way of forward momentum. Pairing Lacey—struggling to be alone in Jenna’s absence and after her separation—with Valerie mostly just provides an excuse for Nikki DeLoach and Desi Lydic to get drunk and “eat alone together,” but that idea speaks to some of the tenets of faith Jenna experiences, which felt like a decent thematic bridge to keep the light comedy from feeling too slight. Tamara believing that Jenna’s stalker Kyle is stalking her instead, meanwhile, was a fairly ludicrously thin storyline given that it just repeated Jenna’s paranoia from last season, but Kyle is highly successful at creeping me out while entertaining me at the same time, making for a fine if frivolous diversion as the episode unfolds.
I suppose if we consider “Are You There God? It’s Me, Jenna” in terms of serial storytelling, this is definitely the show marking time, particularly when we reach its conclusion. Jake and Matty sit on the sidelines long enough to allow Jenna a moment of self-actualization, and then Matty pops up to mark a truce with Jenna and move onto a blonde freshman who has him sniffing his armpits all over again. As Lacey notes, the trials both Hamilton women face are forcing them to evolve, but now Jenna’s going to have to watch the people around her evolve at the same time, and her pang of jealousy is a natural if also hypocritical response to the situation at hand. It’s also a way for the show to move past the initial conflict of the season to explore something new, albeit still within the confines of the love triangle that remains the primary story engine. Just as Jenna starts getting used to the status quo, there’s a new wrinkle to make her question her path all over again, which sounds just like both high school and an ongoing television series.
- I’ve seen countless comments/tweets related to the hotness of Jenna’s Dad ever since the hot tub scene, so I have to presume Valerie’s response to learning he’s single is not exactly uncommon. And while we’re on the subject of objectification, Lacey’s cleavage at church was distracting through my television screen. I stopped being able to take notes effectively.
- “And then on Sunday, Jesus forgives all your sins and there’s a taco party”—can I just say that “taco party” is incapable of not sounding dirty?
- As much as the Kyle story—brought to you by Skype!—didn’t really go anywhere, I appreciated the meta-commentary that “Jenna Lives” broke up because it went too mainstream, referring to the sense that Jenna herself has moved onto hanging with jocks and cool kids.
- In case you were wondering if I’m serious, I am seriously not into hugs. It’s like Awkward. wanted to ruin religion for me.
- “Physically you’re here, but spiritually you’re, like, in Canada”—speaking as an ex-pat, Lissa, this doesn’t sound so bad.
- This week in “Adventures in Getting Past the Censors”: Handjobs becomes “Handsies” and “Rub-and-Tugs.” 47 of them, in fact.