It’s a little ironic that the theme of tonight’s episode of Awkward. is timing. That’s because for every little moment that elicited laughter, or every dramatic and romantic beat that made my heart swell, the timing just felt…a little off. Jenna opines late in the episode to Matty that everything in her life is the result of bad timing: her conception, the accident that began the series, Jake’s initial affection towards her. Then Matty adds their relationship to that list, and they both wonder whether it’s time for another go. Add to that a significantly abrupt parental love triangle plot shoehorned into the wedding comedy, and it's a lot to fit into one episode.
Myles has discussed the many perils of fitting enough material into 22-minute episodes for this kind of stuff to work, and as the second half of a two-parter “Time After Time” had more time than usual to spread things out across all the characters, but it still felt hurried. A lot of the comedy landed—Val and Tamara’s arcs both landed nicely—but going from Jenna’s declaration of love and decision to sleep with Jake to getting dumped to making out with Matty all in the span of a few hours stretched the limits.
I’m a little closer to my high school years than most of my AV Club colleagues, so watching Awkward. always feels a little more poignant to me. Blogging, texting, and all the modern invasions to high school romance was very much a part of my experience, and it’s hard to watch the constant love triangle churning without reading in parallels to my own life (however slight they may be, I certainly never went through the extremes of this show). When I was actually in high school I was at the height of my Degrassi obsession, but that’s a primetime after-school special focused on flashy entertainment and didactic messages. Despite Awkward. leaning heavily on the voiceover and blogging crutches to spell out a lesson each week, it’s far more subtle and heart wrenching.
Yeah, I got caught up in some romantic triangles in high school, watched people cover up hookups and keep them from best friends who started to get involved. It’s not the Everest of human drama, but in this little fish bowl it can mean everything. That’s how I can justify Jenna constantly switching the way she views her life based on what happens to her. Every week seems to bring a new philosophy, because that’s how it is in high school, you have to adapt to stay sane. When initially shotgunning the show, I got narrative whiplash constantly as I tried to keep up with Jenna’s constant decision reversals and fretting over the letter. Now that that issue has deepened from a simple mystery into a full-blown marital problem, it’s more substantiated, but Jenna’s voiceovers still try to incorporate whatever happens each week into a life philosophy going forward, only to be undercut by next week’s lesson.
Like I said at the outset, this week it’s all about timing. Jake reacts to Sadie’s poorly-timed perceptive about Jenna’s past with Matty by immediately breaking up with her at the wedding, but also hiding behind a vague, noncommittal explanation. He doesn’t want what he heard to be true, but he wants Jenna or Matty to either confirm or deny the story. Jenna can’t even get a word in to try and talk to Jake, but Matty does something far worse, continuing to hide behind what he believes is Jake’s ignorance even as Jake makes it increasingly obvious that he now knows what happened.
While it’s been in the background for most of the series, I had come to appreciate Jake and Matty’s friendship as something drastically important to the show. Matty has pleaded for Jenna to protect his friendship with Jake and cover up their relationship, but he holds all the cards there. I so desperately wanted Matty to come through and be that great friend, and when he ditches Courtney I was thrilled, but the comforting moment with Jake is sort of a bait-and-switch. He’s throwing the new girl away and using Jake as an excuse to act on selfish impulse. The show has been heading toward this massive powder keg of drama all season long, and it’s hard to watch these characters slowly screw up more than they know at every turn.
The love triangle can only be multiplied so far, and as Myles noted last week, we’re now up to three with the Lacey’s ex Ben showing up. Jenna is perhaps a little too obsessed with conflating her situation caught between Matty and Jake to her parent’s marriage. Her walk back to her house attempts to line Matty and Jake up with Ben and Kevin, but it doesn’t really fit. We don’t know Lacey’s whole high school history, but trying to fit the picture of her parents’ marriage gives Jenna a lot of trouble since she’s trying to us their example as a guide. I know I certainly have used my parents’ relationship history as a reference point in previous relationships, and perhaps more than at any point before in the series, I can relate to what Jenna is trying to do while at the same time being hopelessly confused by her methodology.
I was wary at Jenna’s immediate heartbreak and outpouring of tears, because the show was so quick to undercut her devastation with the fact that Matty is willing to both leave a topless Courtney in his bed to debrief with Jake and then hightail it over to Jenna’s to swoop in for his second chance. They both think it’s timing finally being on their side, but as with Jenna’s cruelly ironic voiceovers at the end of last week and the opening of tonight’s episode, she again details just how wrongheaded she can be about constantly revising her outlook on life. Jake is standing right outside the door to Jenna’s room, and now he has all the proof he needs to turn his hurt into seething immature revenge.
- Yes, I’m not your regularly scheduled commentator, but fear not! Myles will return soon, but he’s graciously given me the chance to sub in to talk about my favorite teen show since my days religiously watching Degrassi. And make no mistake, Awkward. is a significantly better show than the pride of Canadian teen television. (I can already hear Myles trying to backtrack this due to his Canadian roots, how adorable.) I’ll also be here next week, but fear not, as Myles will be back for the home stretch.
- Val had a nice little comedic arc as she slowly tried to take over the wedding. The way her overbearingly chipper attitude sent Lacey and Jenna outside for air was great, as was her last-minute decision to side with Sadie and send Ally into full-on drunken spiral.
- Tamara goes into Valhalla Catering mode at the wedding, complete with a headset. I didn’t really like the pint-sized suitor, but when he steps in at the end to keep Tamara from backsliding with an always conniving Ricky, I laughed it off as useful.
- I’m a bit more of a shipper than Myles, and I have name investment in this fight, so I’m putting my chips down on Kevin over Ben. I mean, look at how much of a smarmy, slimey douchebag Ben is. There’s clearly a lot of parental backstory waiting to get out (or perhaps its just Ally’s constant sour grapes), but I’m rooting for a happy reunion after a small detour for Lacey.