On the one hand, you could argue that “Three’s A Crowd,” particularly given its title, continues the focus on the central love triangle between Jenna, Jake, and Matty in the early episodes of Awkward.’s second season. This does become an episode about Jenna’s belief that Matty is outright trying to sabotage her relationship with Jake, and coins the “Ménage Faux Pas” term that’s been part of the season’s marketing.
However, on the other hand, “Three’s A Crowd” is also interested in what else is at stake beyond the romantic future of these characters. Jenna is concerned about what impact Matty is having on her relationship with Jake, but she never really considers Matty and Jake’s friendship, which also hangs in the balance based on her secret fling with Matty and her spending so much time with Jake. The show has never had a lot of time to focus on Jake and Matty’s friendship, with only a few brief scenes and conversations to really sell their connection, but there’s something meaningful to expanding the stakes of this love triangle to include the show’s central homosocial male relationship. And yes, using the term “homosocial male relationship” is how far I’m willing to go in order to avoid using the term “bromance.”
What I appreciated about “Three’s A Crowd” was how much mileage it got out of Jenna’s uncertainty over what to do in her situation. Her attempts to be passive allow us to see Matty’s behavior as outrageously flirtatious, what with the shirtless Halo and the obnoxious hot tub antics, while her attempt at offense allows us to see exactly why Matty would be uncomfortable with his ex-girlfriend and his best friend making out in his presence. There’s comedy and pathos to be found in both, and there’s also a certain catharsis in Jenna and Matty actually getting a chance to talk about it. Their confrontation in the hallway shows two people nursing separate frustrations, and it allows them to release those frustrations in a way that is healthy, honest (although more on that in a minute), and real. You could see the love triangle graduating from something new to something “lived in,” something that can evolve alongside the characters involved.
Of course, in the end Matty’s little eyebrow raise to Sadie suggests he’s actually playing the game here, which is an interesting development that is once again likely to divide the show’s viewers. This is an episode where Beau Mirchoff is asked to look like a complete jerk, and then the most sadsack third wheel imaginable, and then finally an honest guy who’s also secretly really trying to sabotage his best friend’s relationship. It’s a complex set of motivations, one might argue too many in the span of a single episode, as it asks us whether we can root for someone who is effectively following Sadie’s example and stepping into the role of the villain for those who believe that Jenna and Jake are destined to be together (for at least a few months, anyway, they’re just in high school after all). Mirchoff pulls off “dickish mischievous puppydog” quite well, in the end, and I’m interested to see how the character’s negotiation of heroic and villainous roles will work as the show steps deeper into the lived experience of the love triangle.
Realistically, though, the stakes are much higher in the other “triangle” in the episode, as Kevin and Lacey separate with the former going to live with his parents. We can see the clear parallels between the two storylines, as Kevin and Lacey are so caught up in their own troubles that they fail to see what impact this might have on Jenna (much as Matty’s feelings weren’t entirely taken into account be Jenna at various points in the episode). The difference, of course, is that this has the potential to tear a family apart, and even without a new car or a trip to Disneyland—which Tamara suggests would confirm a divorce—there’s the sense that this could change their lives forever. Part of me wishes we had more time to explore Jenna’s relationship with her father in the past—“My Super Bittersweet Sixteen” is the only episode where I can remember them really sharing a moment—to better capture how Jenna feels betrayed by his absence, but I thought the episode did a nice job weaving the storyline into the overarching narrative to the point where Jenna and Lacey holding hands at the end was a poignant, uncertain moment for the characters. While the fallout from the letter is still taking a backseat to the rest of the show, it also feels like it’s part of the same show as the teen drama/comedy side of things, which is important to the series’ long term stability.
As for the “Bully Week” framework around all of this, it was another example of a functional storyline that never really evolved beyond a convenient way to string ideas together. The idea of the scarlet Bs was similar to Valerie’s grim reaper gimmick back in “Over My Dead Body,” but it did a nice job of identifying aspects of bullying in existing characters and drawing some subtle connections between them. The similarities between Sadie and Tamara got drawn to the surface, letting the show’s two broadest characters duke it out a bit, while Valerie’s own personal bullying tactics were also under the microscope. Yes, things got a bit too cute when things got around to Jenna calling Lacey a bully, and those “A-ha, I’ve discovered the theme of the episode!” moments are to the show’s disadvantage, but I still felt that moment worked even with an anvil attached to it. The storyline also allowed for more subtle moments, like Sadie’s categorical dismantling of Lissa’s insecurities that offered a nice glimpse into their relationship without having to exit the framework of the episode to do so. While Ming was sitting on the bench this week, every other character was fairly comfortably integrated into the hullaballoo surrounding the 5K run that brings the episode to a close, a feat that I will always appreciate as writers grapple with the economy of twenty minute storytelling.
“Three’s A Crowd” ends with a sense of calm but without a sense of closure. Jake and Jenna have come to better understand their relationship and Matty’s place within it, but that doesn’t mean Matty isn’t actively trying to win Jenna back. Similarly, Jenna and Lacey are slowly coming to terms with their new relationship in the post-letter era, but they’re still about to return to an empty house, and they still haven’t solved the problems that led to the letter in the first place. Without exploding the fabric of the series, these opening episodes have nonetheless felt “eventful,” allowing Awkward. to walk—rather than run—into the next stage of its evolution. And yes, I’m willing to write that lame play-on-words but still refuse to use the term “bromance.” I am aware of the double standard, and apologize.
- I appreciate the lack of a message in the episode—demonstrates where Awkward. separates itself from other teen shows on TV.
- My favorite bit in the episode was Matty’s slow-motion butt slap, both for the inherent comedy of the slow motion and because of Beau Mirchoff’s rendering of Matty’s self-consciously horrified reaction. While I don’t know how we reconcile that with Matty “Le Saboteur” McKibbon later in the episode, at that point it seemed like a failure of willpower more than willful sabotage, which the moment captured well.
- Tonight in “Adventures in Getting Past the Censors”: “Ricky Schwartz called us all beautiful so we would cup his balls.”
- Speaking of that line, that’s three straight montages of random student comments so far this season—while I understand their utility, and found this set about Ricky Schwarz enjoyable, I do think the pattern’s becoming a distraction.
- Desi Lydic is always good with Valerie’s physicality, but her constant switching of the nameplates was a nice bit of prop comedy.
- This was a fairly objectified half-hour of television, whether it’s the specific focus on Matty’s abs, Jake and Kevin joining Matty in the hot tub, Tamara’s bright blue leotard, or Lacey’s seductress hot tub attire. Any complaints? Seems like there was something for everyone.
- I am generally critical of the voiceover, and I still want to rip half of it out and let the scenes speak for themselves, but “Bitch had a point” made me chuckle. (Related thought: is this the first episode without Jenna’s blog in a while?)