Awkward.: “Rubbed Raw And Reeling”
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Awkward.: “Rubbed Raw And Reeling”

I like to imagine that the “Previously On Awkward.”sequences are Jenna’s memory of events as opposed to our own. Otherwise, the way the sequence at the beginning of “Rubbed Raw And Reeling” was edited gave a false impression of how Matty and Jenna’s scene in his car went two episodes ago. As I remember that scene, Matty offered a heartfelt list of reasons why he cares about Jenna, and Jenna failed to come up with any non-physical reasons why she was attracted to Matty; as the “Previously On” sequence here told the story, Jenna asked what Matty loved about her and Matty sat there slack-jawed, unable to answer. If you’re telling me that’s what actually happened, it’s wrong; if you’re telling me that’s how Jenna remembers it, meanwhile, that seems about right for a character who is growing less and less likeable with each passing episode.

Contributing to this phenomenon, “Rubbed Raw And Reeling” fully commits to the albatross that is Collin, the attractive classmate and recent transfer student whose exotic private school friend circle proved so tempting to Jenna in “That Girl Strikes Again.” From the point of his introduction, it’s easy to read the character as a potential love interest for Jenna, and so it wasn’t exactly surprising that he showed up at her open mic performance at the coffee house, and that he wanted to get coffee with her afterwards, and that he compared her to Jane Austen, and that she leaves the episode reeling from her close encounter with a hot new relationship while her relationship with Matty enters a period of stagnation at the six-month mark. It feels like the role Collin was born to play, which is exactly why “Rubbed Raw And Reeling” feels like it violates the writing lesson that Mr. Hart emphasizes: Safety is often the enemy of the good.

I suppose one could argue that it would be safer to leave Matty and Jenna together and happy, but personally I don’t buy that. The show is smart to explore what it means to actually be in a relationship, and what happens when the spark starts to leave and you’re left with whatever human connection was beneath the hormones. What frustrates me—similar to how it frustrated me when The Office added complications to Jim and Pam’s relationship or when Hart of Dixie broke up Zoe and Wade—is that it has to involve one of the characters cheating either physically or emotionally with another potential partner. Why does Collin need to be a conventionally attractive dude who doesn’t respect Jenna’s personal space and puts his hand on her arm? Why couldn’t Collin be a non-romantic figure in her life who awakens Jenna ideologically as opposed to sexually, similar to how the character and his friends functioned back in “That Girl Strikes Again?” Why must this trigger in Matty and Jenna’s relationship smolder in the way that Nolan Funk does in this role?

I continue to appreciate the show’s willingness to let us judge Jenna for her behavior, here to the point where even Lacey is throwing up warning flags when she quizzes her daughter on staying behind with Collin. But the idea of romantic indiscretion doesn’t feel necessary to establish the ways in which Jenna is sabotaging this relationship. “Rubbed Raw And Reeling” bends over backwards to reach its conclusion, creating a silly B-story for Matty and Jake that justifies them having their phones off and creating the moment where Jenna doesn’t have a text from her boyfriend and goes ahead with the quasi-date anyway. The season as a whole has done some nice, subtle work in emphasizing the different ways these characters approach relationships, but this episode went out of its way to make that difference (too) explicit. While this creates a clearer set of stakes for their conflict, I’d also argue it risks glossing over the more nuanced drifting apart the two characters are experiencing in favor of a safe, traditional attraction to another guy.

There were silly moments in “Guilt Trippin’” involving Matty and Jake dancing, but it felt like those were working toward specific character goals. Here, Jake’s lack of any personal agency within the narrative made their escalating duel into a random collection of dares that weren’t unfunny so much as they were unmoored from any specific purpose beyond creating necessary circumstances for the episode to unfold (and some logical jump-cuts—which the season is really committing to, no?—between storylines with the sizzling steak and the cinnamon spit take). While Matty and Jenna dancing outside of the dance was this great moment of catharsis where the weight of Homecoming lifted off their shoulders, here something like Valerie’s interpretive dance was really just Valerie’s interpretive dance, playing out the broadest and for me the weakest notes of that character. Even Sadie playing Statler and Waldorf to Jenna’s Fozzie felt rote, the character being used as a vehicle for jokes and doing nothing to connect with her own character arc.

The show is always interested in playing with the broad alongside more nuanced storylines, and so I would never indict the show for embracing the former on occasion. However, this particular occasion was an episode that was clearly being used to transition Jenna and Matty’s stagnation from a percolating development into a full-fledged plot point, and suffered from an overly thin setup and a predictable result. When the show developed Jake into a love interest in the first season, it worked because he was just an average guy who had a genuine connection with Jenna and who gradually evolved into a love interest by nature of his continued presence in Jenna’s world. By comparison, no one was ever going to look at Collin and his place in the show and believe he was something other than a love interest for Jenna the moment he was introduced. That makes an episode like “Rubbed Raw And Reeling” feel contrived, primarily focused on delivering something we’ve seen coming and in the process giving the impression that the show is unfortunately drifting into well-charted waters.

It seems probable to me that this doesn’t become an outright love triangle. Rather, I would suggest—going back to my point about the “Previously On” sequence—that this connection exists solely within Jenna, and that her fantasies about Collin will manifest not as an actual relationship but rather as a seed which leads her to push Matty away. However, as much as that result would pay off the character’s insecurities that have been present throughout the series, that it’s all being inspired by another dude feels regressive for a season that was to this point moving beyond that particular trope.

Stray observations:

  • So what’s more misleading: this week’s “Previously On,” or last week’s “Next time on” which blatantly let “Who was the guy you stayed with?” push Jenna and Collin’s relationship to a whole other level prematurely?
  • I enjoyed the continuity from the Homecoming dance with the “50 Shades of Cray” McKibbonites, although I have questions about why Matty would take off his shirt, kick a penalty shot while holding that shirt, and then immediately put his shirt back on. Which means I’m probably not a McKibbonite, right? They wouldn’t question that logic, would they?
  • Kevin walking out as soon as Jenna announces her story is about how she lost her virginity was a great bit.
  • So where do we stand on Jenna’s decision to leave Matty’s name intact in her story? Was the public exposure of her blog enough to justify continuing to disclose those details in a public setting of people who may or may not have read her blog? I’m not so convinced of that, but maybe that’s just me.
  • The banter between Matty and Jake was sort of all over the place in regards to whether that’s actually how bros hang out in this day and age (Matty’s “Don’t you ever powerwash your patio?” stood out to me as being a weird thing for a teenage boy to say), but I did enjoy Matty’s “Because love don’t cost a thing” recovery.

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