In its first season, Awkward. was—like all sitcoms—a show about a character navigating a situation, with Jenna Hamilton working to overcome the social stigma from her non-suicide. In its second season, Awkward. has maintained the same basic structure, but the situation in question has narrowed: Where once the show was focused on Jenna’s entire life, this season saw a shift toward Jenna’s romantic entanglements. This is not to say that her relationship with her parents was not an important part of the season, or that her friendship with Tamara and Ming was entirely absent, but the larger arc of the season was in the end isolated to Jenna’s relationship with Matty and Jake.
This is a criticism of the season, although not one that has proved overly debilitative to the series’ charms or the quality of its finale. “The Other Shoe” is an effective and entertaining finale, offering a quick resolution to the relationship drama and transitioning into a new situation that offers more material for the show’s other characters. It captures the depth in the show’s ensemble, bringing supporting characters back into focus and using the oncoming summer vacation as a rally point for a collection of storylines featured during the season. While it lacks the same emotional gut-punch of last season’s finale, it nonetheless serves as an engaging and solid conclusion to the season.
However, at times, it feels like the finale does so in spite of the season rather than because of it. Lauren Iungerich’s script does some deft work reminding us of Sadie’s relationship with Ricky, and Ming’s cursed romance with Freddy, and Tamara’s struggles with being alone, but the fact is these storylines were not consistently deployed throughout the season. As successful as the episode is in integrating these characters into Jenna’s potential journey to Europe, the fact is they spent much of the season playing third or fourth or fifth fiddle, as there wasn’t as much room for them in Jenna’s love triangle as there was during her situation last season. One of the disadvantages of last week’s “What if?” episode is that it further narrowed the focus to the love triangle, and considering the break for the VMAs it’s been three weeks since the supporting cast played more than an imaginary role (and even then things were pretty heavily stacked toward the love triangle). That “The Other Shoe” is able to reintegrate the characters into the narrative after Jenna chooses Matty reflects the strength of this finale, but it doesn’t necessarily change the fact that the season felt like it was—purposefully—missing part of the story.
I do not want to suggest that Jenna’s love triangle was a complete bust, particularly when it spilled over into the public record: I enjoyed the playfulness of the school-wide awareness of the situation, and Jake and Matty’s confrontation lived up to the hype. However, at a certain point, it proved a case of diminishing returns. While Jake and Matty’s equal standing worked in the show’s favor last season, it proved almost exhausting over time, as it forced the show and Jenna to waffle for most of the season. It’s fitting that the choice ends up happening offscreen, as the love triangle did become something of an anti-climax as time wore on. By the end, I was simply glad that Jenna made a choice, and was happy to see her interacting with Matty in a natural, casual way that I wish we could have seen earlier in the season, so as to leave more time for the ensemble storylines to develop heading into this finale. I never entirely turned against the storyline, but I did feel like I became too tired with the characters and the situation to be emotionally invested in it, which did somewhat damage my enthusiasm for the season as a whole.
However, “The Other Shoe” offers more interesting developments in other relationships that have been building throughout the season. The moment where Jenna turns to her mother for advice suggests the evolution of their relationship since the discovery of the letter, and that Lacey actually offers some cogent advice signals a shift in her parenting strategies after a season filled with regret. It was a moment like this that I found missing in Jenna’s relationship drama. Although the episode ends with Jenna wondering whether she really needs to be with Matty (and stay home from Europe to spend time with him), that’s not the same kind of personal evolution that we see in her relationship with Lacey. While I suggest above that the show’s focus narrowed to the love triangle, the mother-daughter relationship was the one element that felt like it persisted beyond that point, and it was easily the highlight of the season.
Other elements in “The Other Shoe” work fairly well but could have used more development. Various commenters called Jake and Tamara being compatible back when he stood up to Sadie for her at Ally’s wedding, but it still felt like a relationship of narrative convenience rather than character motivation. At the same time, though, it was nice to see Tamara vulnerable for a change, with Jillian Rose Reed giving a really charming performance as she catches her breath following their makeout session. However, whatever chemistry the two characters have feels like a promise for the future rather than any kind of resolution, which keeps it from taking on the kind of meaning that would elevate the season as a whole. The same goes for Sadie’s betrayal at the hands of horndog Ricky, or even Sadie’s tenuous friendnship with Lissa (to whom she turns for advice in her time of crisis over Ricky’s disinterest in her). Tamara and Sadie remain characters rife with potential, certainly, but they spent too much time on the bench this season for that potential to be realized.
We often associate that kind of language for a bad show, but I think it simply reflects mild disappointment in this case. “The Other Shoe” demonstrates that this show can still be resonant, and charming, and funny, and those same attributes were present at various points throughout the season (as the previous reviews would reflect). However, they ultimately added up to less this year than last, with the narrow focus proving damaging to the end result of the narrative arcs—or narrative arc—involved. Whereas we often equate serialized storytelling with deeper meaning and higher quality, the fact is that the more aggressive serialization of the love triangle kept the show from supporting its entire ensemble, limiting the show in ways that kept it from reaching the same heights as last year.
Iungerich has said in the past that this will be the end of the love triangle, and the developments late in “The Other Shoe” support this. As Clark reveals himself as the mystery commenter—another successful prediction from the comments—and convinces Jenna she’s ridiculous for being angry with Tamara for making out with Jake, it’s like the last gasp of the love triangle’s power: When Jenna reveals that she feels she may not have made the right choice as she plans a summer with Matty, it’s less about what guy she picked and what path she chose as a person. She made the same choice her mother would have made, to stay with the boy she’s infatuated with as opposed to exploring herself on a trip that could change her life.
The episode doesn’t end up with much time to explore this question, left with a final moment of self-doubt to foreshadow future developments, but it’s the kind of question that I feel needed to be raised at some point earlier this season and one I’m therefore excited to explore next year. While Jenna and the show bought into Team Matty and Team Jake, life isn’t that simple, and “The Other Shoe” suggests the show will explore this complexity in the future. Awkward.’s second season failed to live up to its first, and had its disappointments, but it hasn’t greatly damaged my overall impression of the series or its potential. The season may have spent too much time on one storyline, exhausting every possible development in its love triangle over the course of the season as opposed to moving on more quickly, but it was still easily funny, charming, and resonant enough to maintain my interest. While I’m happy to have spent more time with these characters, I’m ultimately happier to move on, and so I look forward to a new—and hopefully more expansive—situation for Jenna and the show’s ensemble to explore in 2013.
Episode Grade: B+
Season Grade: B+
- In terms of parallels to the end of last season, Matty’s disinterest in dancing was a nice callback to Jake’s love for it. I didn’t read that as “Maybe I should have picked Jake!” so much as Jenna realizing that “because” is a weird reason to be with someone. We never really got her reasoning for picking Matty, and I don’t know if she really knows what it was, which has definite potential for next season.
- I was kind of shocked to see that MTV’s promo for this episode completely spoiled Jenna’s choice provided you freeze-framed the shot of Jenna’s bedroom friend being thrown onto the floor. And yes, I freeze-framed it earlier in the week. That’s a perfectly normal thing to do.
- Ming, drunk and intent on exploring new territory: “I am breaking all the rules—and my hymen!”
- Speaking of Ming, one of the challenges the season faced was the recurring status of both Ming and Lissa, which limited their involvement and often arbitrarily narrowed the show’s world. I’ll be interested to see how the cast balance is handled in season three, and whether we see the introduction of any new main characters (something the series avoided this season).
- One thing I thought the season handled better than last year was Valerie, who never really got a storyline of her own but was more consistently deployed as a comic yet grounded force within Jenna’s life. Her scene here with Jenna’s parents wasn’t particularly groundbreaking for the character, but I almost enjoyed it more because it was so comparatively subtle when compared to some of the character’s involvement last season.
- Thanks for hanging around this season, everyone: While I think the VMA hiatus damaged the show’s momentum, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the finale and the season, and look forward to discussing season three with you next year.