Awkward.: “A Little Less Conversation”
B+

Awkward.: “A Little Less Conversation”

Jenna spends the entirety of “A Little Less Conversation” avoiding talking to Matty. After he learned about her pregnancy scare from Jake, Matty has become distant, and so his suggestion that they needed to have a conversation terrified her. Her solution was to surround herself with other people on a large group date, using Tamara, Ming, and their respective beaus as buffers lest she and Matty end up alone together.

It’s a broad storyline, in that it has Jenna bending over backwards to avoid interacting with him. He offers her a ride home from school; she cycles through a collection of excuses and pretends to be walking home with a random passerby. He suggests they take two vehicles on their group date; she instead insists they all pile into Jake’s car together. This latter scenario turns into an elaborate game of “Chinese Fire Drill”—no offense intended, Ming—in which Jenna continues to find ways to avoid sitting next to Matty. She even resorts to charades as a way to keep the group date from falling apart, so desperate to avoid a conversation that she wants to take words out of the equation entirely.

There were moments in Jenna’s interpersonal gymnastics routine where it all felt a bit too silly, her evasion devolving into seriously erratic behavior that would make any rational human being stop her and tell her she’s being a crazy person. However, “A Little Less Conversation” uses these chaotic group environments to emphasize that we’re still communicating even when we’re not talking. Jenna is trying to avoid one-on-one conversation, but the BFGFBFF—the Boyfriend Girlfriend Best Friends Forever Double Date (the DD’s implied)—puts Jenna and Jake into close proximity with one another and says more than either of them necessarily realize. For Jake and Jenna, conversation is completely natural: They were friends before they were in a relationship, and that isn’t going to suddenly disappear when they’re back in social situations like this one given that their relationship was resolved peacefully. Jenna spends the night avoiding talking to Matty, but—if you’ll excuse the tired turn of phrase—her actions do speak louder than words, only feeding his insecurity over the fact that it was Jake she drunkenly told about her pregnancy scare instead of him.

The show has officially moved past the point of a love triangle: Jake immediately apologizes to Tamara when he realizes how his camaraderie with Jenna could be making her uncomfortable, and at no point is there any suggestion that Jenna and Jake were better off with one another. However, just because the show is no longer structured around a love triangle doesn’t mean that the love triangle never happened. Whether it’s a necklace Jenna got from Jake, or a song they used to share, or a movie they saw together, Jenna and Jake’s relationship isn’t going to suddenly disappear. Tamara might love the idea of a BFGFBFF, but she also wants to block out the awkwardness—hey, that’s the name of the show!—that both BFs were once BF to the same GF, her BFF. When Lacey tells her about her similar conflicts with Aly, it unearths not so much a dramatic revelation but a reminder that the first two seasons of the show happened, and that no new status quo can be established without bringing along that baggage.

When Jenna and Matty finally have that conversation, at first I expected it to be resolved as so many such scenarios are: Matty expresses his concern about the pregnancy scare, Jenna apologizes for not telling him, and they move on. However, it turns out Matty’s issue is not simply that Jenna didn’t involve him in the pregnancy scare—although I would consider that a legitimate complaint, as I discussed last week—but rather that her decision not to tell him reflects something deeper about their relationship: Are they friends? Matty spends parts of the episode on the phone to Sadie, talking her through a difficult point in her life when she has been ostracized and labeled a murderer and abandoned by her family. Matty knows he is the kind of person who can help someone in a difficult situation, someone who is understanding and compassionate. Matty also knows that Jenna doesn’t see him that way, or else she would have confided in him about the pregnancy scare to begin with.

The show doesn’t often let us see the world through Matty’s eyes, given the tight focus of Jenna’s narration, but it’s an effective way of getting us to rethink not just recent events but the series as a whole. It’s stronger still because Jenna is allowed to honestly voice the side of the story we saw, a side of the story where Matty seemed embarrassed to be around her. Ashley Rickards spends a lot of the episode in a broad mode, but she and Beau Mirchoff do some honest, emotional work in that final scene, exploring not just “feelings” in a specific moment but rather their complicated romantic history as a set of mixed signals. What Matty knew was nervousness and insecurity was to Jenna embarrassment and rejection, and when they finally sit down to talk, they don’t solve their problems so much as acknowledge them. After two seasons where their relationship was complicated by external forces, “A Little Less Conversation” piles on a collection of external forces before stripping them back and forcing the characters to realize that they have their own complications to deal with moving forward.

That’s actually part of what makes this episode effective in the end: Although I wasn’t entirely on board with some of the hijinks that led to the conclusion, I did like that both Tamara and Ming were given their own complications to deal with. While Jenna’s relationship may be central, and the reason why the BFGFBFF existed in the first place, Tamara’s insecurity around Jenna and Jake felt like her storyline instead of just Jenna’s; similarly, Ming using a beard to hide her relationship with Fred Wu from the Asian Mafia may have just been a supporting runner to the episode, but it still her storyline intersecting with Jenna’s instead of her part of Jenna’s storyline. The show wasn’t as successful at giving Tamara and Ming their own identities last season, and so I’m hopeful to see the characters staking a claim as the third season begins—Awkward. is never not going to be Jenna’s story, but the third season has laid a foundation for a more robust, diverse set of narrative intersections moving forward.

Stray observations:

  • Jessica Lu isn’t always given a lot to do as Ming, but her fake relationship with Henry was a really fun part of the episode, especially since Henry never speaks or really does anything outside of grab onto her boob. I particularly loved the image of Henry sitting on Ming in the backseat of the car, but her confrontation with Becca was also a highlight.
  • It wasn’t exactly subtle, but Molly Tarlov made the most of her monologue to Matty about her difficulties—the brief mention of “hurting herself” was an interesting note to drop into the conversation, so I remain interested to see where her arc is heading overall (as this was really more of a sidebar for the episode).
  • Not exactly sure where the show is headed with the random private investigator looking into Ricky’s death: Iungerich told me after season two finished filming that she wasn't sure if there would be a “mystery” this season (following up the letter and the mystery commenter), but it seems like she couldn’t resist at least encouraging some speculation. Someone suggested last week that Lissa killed him with frozen yogurt, so perhaps the “sexual evidence” was a clue to a fling or something? If the goal was to get me curious, I’m curious.
  • “When was the last time you had a nut in your mouth?”
  •  “Aw damn, my shirt’s on backwards. Thanks for the tuneup! *High Five*” — Ming, nailing post-coital conversation.
  • “Because Jake was the girl; in our relationship, we’re both girls. That’s why it works!”

More TV Club