At the beginning of “Resolutions,” Jenna Hamilton reveals herself to be quite the poet. In a lengthy take on “The Night Before Christmas,” she outlines the major players in her life, the climactic events of the Awkward.’s first season (including the fact that her mother, Lacey, write the “carefrontation” letter that opened the series), and the status of her relationship with Jake Rosati, whom she chose over Matty McKibben during “Fateful.”
The sequence does little to hide the fact that it exists to help new viewers get up to speed, and to remind forgetful viewers where the series left off in September 2011. As someone who has recently rewatched “Fateful” during one of MTV’s marathons of Awkward., I will admit that I was impatient with the sequence initially: “I already know all this,” I complained halfheartedly to my television. But taking the rest of “Resolutions” into account, the poem offers a fitting representation of where Jenna sits in the episode: in that place trapped between the year that was and the year that will be, so afraid of looking forward that it’s impossible not to look back. In that place, it’s only logical—if also convenient for the sake of exposition—that a teenage girl would turn to her journal as she prepares to ring in the holiday season. A lot of things have happened in Jenna’s life recently, and for her to be preoccupied with them is only natural.
It also provides much of the tension in “Resolutions,” a première that largely avoids plot threads beyond those activated by the recent events in Jenna’s life. A typical New Year’s Eve party is its only setting and no new characters are introduced, meaning that creator Lauren Iungerich’s script gives Jenna room to breathe, which quickly becomes room to obsess over an increasingly complicated situation. While the “mystery” of who wrote the letter might have been resolved, the second season begins with Jenna holding onto that information until she decides whether or not she hates her mother for what she did. Meanwhile, while Jenna’s hand might have chosen Jake, it doesn’t change the fact that she had feelings for Matty, or the fact that Matty has feelings for her, or the fact that Jake remains oblivious to all of this. Jenna spends “Resolutions” holding onto those two secrets as both Jake and Matty ask her to resolve to be with them when the clock strikes midnight.
This being the season première, “Resolutions” doesn’t explode everything from the end of last season: Jenna sticks with Jake, leaving Matty alone in the garage to make out with Sadie for a few minutes before passing out drunk. However, it’s commendable that the love triangle is willing to be so unromantic. Jenna has had her romantic moments with each character, and the slow-motion kiss at midnight is likely a momentous occasion for card-carrying Team Jake members. However, a decidedly unromantic sequence follows, in which Jenna is honest: She’s not a virgin, and she was in love with someone else. Jake doesn’t know that it was Matty, but even still he has this moment of uncertainty: This isn’t that pure romance he had imagined it to be, that “boy meets girl” scenario he dreamed up while watching a romantic comedy (or 12) on cable. Jenna thinks that telling him she was in love with Matty will make him feel better, but all that means is that she was in a romantic comedy on cable; it was just with someone else. A meaningless tryst is something he could explain away as the Act One of their story, but realizing he’s potentially the Act Two of someone else’s love story—without even knowing whose story it is—is disarming.
This is refreshing because it’s a reminder that these dudes are human. Matty knows that Jenna wants him to commit, so he refuses to just be friends and promises to tell Jake everything. However, he also makes the argument that the reason she should be with him is basically that “he got there first,” an entitled response that fails to capture the emotional nuance (even love) Jenna felt for him. Similarly, can Jake really judge Jenna—which he does, at least for a moment—for having a relationship with someone else when he’s the one who kissed her while he was in a relationship with Lissa? Jake remains the safer choice, the person who has better control over his feelings, but “Resolutions” continues the show’s good work in terms of never allowing the two characters to devolve into one-dimensional figures in Jenna’s life.
As for Jenna, the episode forces Jenna to confront “Resolutions” as they relate to the year ahead. Does she resolve to be in a relationship with Jake by accepting his friend request? Does she resolve to spend that relationship hiding her relationship with Matty or bringing it out into the open? Does she resolve to confront her mother about the letter, or simply continue to work through her feelings in private? I have my reservations about the introduction of the mysterious blog commenter, which I’ll get to in the stray observations, but it captures her fear of her private struggles becoming public. That was one of the key themes in the first season, something Jenna had to face at various points and that other characters had to contend with (whether it’s Sadie’s concern over her food journal or Matty’s unwillingness to be seen with Jenna in public). Here though, Jenna has newfound agency: She’s the one deciding if she wants all of her Facebook friends to know she and Jake are in a relationship, and she hesitates, not unlike Matty did last season. One of the strongest things about the first season was the show’s willingness to allow Jenna to be culpable, and while I empathize with her hesitation, there are certainly some “pot kettle black” moments to be had.
While I’m not sure the episode has enough time to keep Valerie’s breach of Jenna’s personal life from seeming like an excuse to get the character into an episode entirely removed from the school environment, the idea of a little drive-thru guidance has its charms. It helps that the lesson Jenna takes from Valerie doesn’t “solve” the episode in any way. It helps her choose Jake, to keep her past disappointments from defining her future decisions, but that happens well before the end of the episode, which gives her time to make a more personal decision to confront her mother about the letter (albeit with a letter of her own as opposed to asking her directly). Valerie doesn’t lay out the moral of the episode so much as she enables Jenna to interpret it for herself, stepping out with Jake and stepping up to her mother. It’s a triumphant moment for Jenna, but it doesn’t resolve her situation so much as set her out on that path to be surprised: One relationship might be official, and another might be in shambles, but the path for both remains complicated, and it makes for a satisfying end to the première and a beginning to the rest of the season.
“Resolutions” works well as a première because it feels like familiar territory, despite heading into uncharted waters. There are the one-liners we’ve come to expect and the characters we know, but this doesn’t feel like the status quo. The show could have easily had Jenna sit on her knowledge of the letter for an entire season, but it’s out of the bag at the end of the première, forcing the characters to confront reality instead of pushing it off to the side and letting the show carry on as though things are basically the same. Resolution has two meanings: one implies closure, and the other involves a plan for the future. With its second season première, Awkward. succeeds in providing both, offering an epilogue to season one and a prologue to season two without losing any momentum in the process.
- I had a chance to talk with creator/showrunner Lauren Iungerich about a whole host of topics related to the show and her experience in the first season, along with some looks ahead to season two (and beyond)—you can find that interview in two parts, here and here. The conversation connected nicely with a lot of things we discussed this past season (including the voiceover, the show's treatment of its adult characters, and the central love triangle), and I’m looking forward to discussing these subjects and more with all of you in the weeks ahead.
- There was some chatter in the comments this past season about Sadie having a crush on Matty, and so it was nice to see that affirmed here (and for her to get rightfully upset with Matty for being ignorant to it, although she shouldn’t be surprised that Matty can be a bit daft). We’ll wait and see where Sadie’s arc goes from here, but I liked her girlish excitement about being with Matty followed by the insecurity (and eventual reclamation of confidence with Ricky Schwartz) related to him passing out. A strong little collection of scenes for Molly Tarlov.
- In terms of supporting characters, they definitely took a back seat here, although the party allowed them to weave in and out of Jenna’s storyline in a fun way (Lissa’s desire for a slap, Tamara’s battle with Ricky, etc.) Also, Ming’s blackmailing of her father enables her to take a more active role in these settings, which will be nice going forward.
- Regarding the mysterious commenter, I have always had questions about what exactly Jenna’s blog is in the context of the story-world—the voiceover seemed too character specific to be anonymous, which made me presume the blog was more of a private journal, and yet this mystery throws a wrench into that. I don’t buy she wouldn’t realize it was public (especially when the “Public/Private” setting is so prominent on the page), and I do have concerns about another mystery, but I’m just going to see how it evolves from here. It seems fairly unobtrusive, though, which is good.
- “This year, I’m gonna be on top—unless I’m in a monogamous relationship.” Glad to see Clark recur—recurring players are key in a show like this one.
- “You’re welcome” is the closest thing to a catchphrase the show has, so I was glad to see it deployed so effectively and purposefully here. We don’t need another “Bazinga!” on our hands.
- Out of curiosity, who is joining us having caught up on the show between seasons? It’s anecdotal, but I'm interested to see how successful MTV’s marathons have been in bringing in new viewers.