Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Awkward.: “Indecent Exposure”

Illustration for article titled Awkward.: “Indecent Exposure”

Last week’s episode of Awkward. ended with Matty McKibben in a fragile emotional state. Kicked out of his house by his parents, he arrives on the Hamilton doorstep with a gym bag in hand, looking for a place to sleep. And yet when “Indecent Exposure” begins, it’s been about a week since that moment, and the situation isn’t nearly as fragile. Jenna and Matty are discovering the close relationship between proximity and promiscuity, and Matty is having the time of his life: lots of sex, lots of sports, and lots of spaghetti. What began last week as an emotional storyline became a comic one, as Jenna struggles with how Matty’s constant presence compromises her personal space.

What separates Awkward. from other shows, however, is that it doesn’t forget about things like Matty standing bag in hand at the Hamilton’s front door. As much as the episode gets to play sitcom with its close living quarters and Matty’s awkward transformation from a live-in boyfriend to a surrogate brother Jenna has sex with, “Indecent Exposure” eventually peels back the comedy in favor of an unabashed and honest glimpse of Matty’s pain. Although the show has yet to let us into Matty’s head as it does with Jenna, still building on early glimpses of his addict brother and his complicated relationship with his family, Awkward.’s willingness to expose Matty elevates a light episode like this one into a meaningful character study.

That it does it with wizard porn, anal sex innuendo, and an ill-timed fart is what makes Awkward. so distinctive. The show takes its punchlines like any comedy would, like in the aforementioned porn sequence that opens with Matty’s “I’m trying to” response to Jenna suggesting he grow a funny bone. The scene begins as a silly way to spice things up, and Jenna’s inability to avoid asking tough questions—and expecting a story from pornography—seemingly complicates the moment romantically. But what Jenna reads as her ruining the mood was Matty projecting himself onto her pity for the young woman in the video, an on-the-nose parallel but one the show sells through Matty’s utter desolation (devastatingly delivered by Beau Mirchoff, who was excellent here). Having set up the lore of masturbation in an earlier conversation between Jenna and her father, we can understand why Jenna would read Matty’s closed bathroom door as illicit rather than emotional; while Matty is right that dudes can sometimes be oblivious, Jenna is just as capable of misreading Matty based on the goofy, fun-loving personality he’s used to cover his pain at being disconnected from his family (and that he’s probably used often in other situations like this one).

Although the episode ends with Matty and Jenna regaining their sense of excitement, Matty’s relationship with his parents isn’t a problem that Jenna is qualified to help solve. As with last week, Lacey is increasingly becoming the series’ MVP, and is perhaps the embodiment of the tonal shift I mentioned above. More than other characters, Lacey can become swallowed up by the comedy, with her elaborate push-up bras and flighty nature. But after her experience with Jenna and the letter, she’s also someone who knows when things are serious, as they are with Matty. She’s capable of losing perspective without losing the ability to gain it back, and Nikki DeLoach is dialed in to the character’s worldview this season. One could perhaps argue the character has become too self-reflexive, too aware of her own faults, but the character has become incredibly useful at helping characters like Jenna and Matty process complicated relationships in ways that other teenagers simply couldn’t. At the heart of Lacey’s speech isn’t knowledge but rather humility, acknowledging that sometimes parents need to learn from their kids while simultaneously reinforcing the value of having parents around in a show like Awkward. when you need to confront something this sensitive.

In focusing so much on establishing and then breaking down Matty’s new living arrangements with the Hamiltons, the rest of the episode feels a bit like a collection of half-measures. We get a brief interaction between Jenna, Mr. Hart, and Nolan Funk’s Colin in creative writing class, but it’s mostly there to remind us Colin exists rather than to add any further dimension to the character. Tamara goes to a sleepover at Sadie’s house to further expand their budding frenemyship, but any storylines being built around their late night Ouija board session will have to wait for another day. There’s a quick drive-by visit from Valerie as well, but none of it really presents itself as a true B-story, which is one of the challenges of trying to let a comic storyline evolve into a dramatic one: That takes time, time that can keep you from pulling off something similar in the ancillary narratives.

Awkward. is off to a good start this season in that it has managed to function successfully without relying on relationship conflict. Yes, “Indecent Exposure” creates conflict within Jenna and Matty’s relationship, but it isn’t about their relationship so much as it’s about them as individuals. As much as “Boyfriend moves in after getting kicked out by his parents” feels like a cheap construct when we put it in such plain terms, none of the storytelling around it felt cheap; instead, it was funny and silly and sad and meaningful all at once. The one challenge is that the rest of the narrative isn’t really filling in around it, leaving a lot of supporting characters either mostly off-screen—Ming—or feeling disconnected from Jenna’s central story. That story remains strong enough to carry the show further, and the supporting storylines remain charming and funny enough to sustain interest, but there’s pathos to be found outside of Jenna and Matty’s relationship that I’m hopeful the show will explore as the first half of the season continues.


Stray observations:

  • Mr. Hart’s previous experiences have been a bit edgier, but something about this one really reminded me of a teacher I had in high school, Mr. Plato. Something about “That’s it, turds, see you later” gave me visceral flashbacks, and I could totally see him drawing a moustache on someone. Anthony Michael Hall is continuing to give the performance a nice weight, and I enjoy the little drop-ins to creative writing that punctuate an episode’s theme (here the importance of humility).
  • Given the period at the end of the show’s title, cutting to the title card with a giant box of tampons onscreen is cheeky.
  • “You could easily pass for 25” is normally the kind of in-joke you’d have for a show where 20-somethings play teenagers, but Ashley Rickards is only 21, so Tamara really was just being cruel.
  • As some of you in the comments have predicted, it appears that Lissa did indeed accidentally kill Ricky Schwartz, or at least slept with him and feels guilty about it; we don’t get to see Lissa’s confession to Jake after she escapes the slumber party, but that definitely seemed to be the direction things were taking.
  • “It might be painful and dirty”—the first of what turned out to be multiple examples of anal sex innuendo in the episode.
  • I appreciated the synergy of Girl Code commercials discussing “The Art of the Fart” in an episode where Jenna farting was an act break. Smart, MTV.
  • Jake picks “Stop” for a safeword, confirming his status as the most boring human being on this show right now. I need something, anything, to convince me he can be interesting again.
  • Matty writing his own version of one of Jenna’s blog posts raises an interesting possibility: Like Scrubs, could Awkward. use this expanded season to expand outside of Jenna’s narrative by exploring Sadie’s food journal or Matty’s diary or something similar? As much as I think the narration can hurt the show at times, it does give the writers an easy way to shift focus for an episode if they so desire.
  • “Bet you wish you would have drawn it on your finger instead. Less commitment.” Wisdom, Valerie. True wisdom.