I had one of those spring breaks that consisted of never leaving the house and watching Netflix until my eyes burned. So it was purely by chance or divine intervention when my Netflix suggested “series with strong teenage female leads” that I discovered MTV’s Awkward. Skeptical as I was of what appeared to be just another mediocre “gee, high school is hard!” series – produced by the network responsible for 16 and Pregnant and The Pauly D Project, no less – I really had nothing better to do than watch. Fast-forward to 20 hours later: I had marathoned all 24 episodes of Awkward., pausing only to eat, use the bathroom and reassure my parents (and, around hour 18, myself) that I was still alive. And I was totally prepared to do it all again. Awkward. was surprisingly awesome.
The show follows 15-year-old everygirl Jenna Hamilton as she finds herself suddenly thrust in the spotlight thanks to a hilariously unfortunate accident misconstrued as a suicide attempt. As Jenna deals with her newfound notoriety, she also, like in any high school sitcom trope, must navigate the murky, drinking-fountain waters of friendship, sex and love triangles. What had me hooked though is that unlike most other shows about teens, Awkward. has an IQ above 90 and a sharp sense of humor. The show is consistently witty and cheekily skewers mindless teen dramas from The Secret Life of the American Teenager to Twilight that I shall no longer dare compare it to. Awkward. instead finds its rank with the revered Mean Girls, Easy A and perhaps even Freaks and Geeks.
The best part about Awkward. though, and why it’s so delightfully 20-hour-binge good, is that even at its most ridiculous, the show stays grounded in its quirky sense of reality. Sex in the show isn’t non-existent, but it’s also not sensationalized for dramatic effect. Hell, a lot of the time the sex is funny—almost like in real life! The characters are neither too beautiful nor too perfect. We all recognize characters like Jenna’s best friend Tamara, a wannabe social climber who devoutly believes “a person’s popularity is directly related to the number of red cup pics they have posted online.” Or Jenna’s mom, who sees herself as more of a BFF than an authority figure and traded in her college tuition for perky new breasts. Even though Jenna’s nemesis Sadie Saxton is, stereotypically, a mean cheerleader, she is a lot, uh, girth-ier, than one might expect of a high school’s queen bee. But the realest of them all is Jenna, who through her acerbic blog posts maintains a levelheaded sense of humor about even the most disastrous high school debacles (which is saying something for a girl whose tits are text messaged to the entire school). Girl had me rooting for her.
To the critics who say Awkward. isn’t groundbreaking television, I say, whatever, go back to your HBO historical miniseries. In those 20 hours, I laughed, I cried, I eagerly stuffed my face with food as Jenna picked between hunky but aloof love interest Matty or sweet, sweet Jake. Awkward. is fun and funny, and I have no shame in watching it ad nauseum. Season 3 of Awkward. starts April 16.