Arts, Television, Review

‘PEN15’ Season 2 Depicts Nuances of Middle School

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PEN15 is back for Season 2, once again delivering raunchy, embarrassing episodes that will make you feel like you’re in middle school all over again. 

PEN15, created and starred in by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, follows two middle school girls. In Season 1, Maya Ishii-Peters  (Erskine) and Anna Kone (Konkle) start their first day of seventh grade in the early 2000s. What makes this show stand out from other school-based comedies is that the two main characters are played by adult women, while the rest of the characters are played by actual school-aged children.

Seeing full-grown adults act like middle schoolers adds an extra layer of comedy to the show. Season 1 explored topics like drinking, smoking, masturbation, and first kisses. Though most of the episodes are laugh-out-loud funny and cringey, there is also a level of seriousness throughout the show. The audience is grounded by the racism that Maya experiences and the constant fighting between Anna’s parents. Some scenes in the show are truly devastating, and the trauma that each character faces contrasts with their more lighthearted daily experiences. 

Season 1 of PEN15 expertly balanced the humorous aspects of adolescence with its darker side. The show’s top-notch writing led to an Emmy nomination last year, as well as a Gotham Award in 2019.

After a long wait, all of Season 2 became available to stream on Hulu on Friday, and it did not disappoint. The story picks up two days after the school dance where Season 1 left off. Once again, viewers will be so sucked in by the story that they’ll hardly register the age of the actors. Spot-on set and costume design gives the show an authentic 2000s feel. The low-waisted jeans and tiny tank tops really set the mood. 

This season covers topics like slut shaming, crushes, and fake friends. The show continues to explore gender stereotypes—girls are “sluts” and boys are “players”—as well as new themes, like the disconnect that teenage girls feel from their bodies. These issues are covered in new and creative ways in Season 2. The show also continues to explore the struggles that Maya and Anna face growing up in middle school.

Maya continues to grapple with her identity after being crowned the “ugliest girl in school” and being ostracized for being half Japanese in Season 1. The audience can truly feel for Maya as she tries to navigate middle school after being humiliated.

Meanwhile, Anna faces her parents’ constant fighting and rejection from her crush. Some of the most heartbreaking and truly powerful scenes come from Konkle’s performance as Anna during scenes with her parents. They remind viewers that despite being a comedy, PEN15 has a genuine message under it all. 

This season, we also got to know some of the secondary characters a little bit better, such as Sam (Taj Cross), who is trying to fit in with his new, cooler friends while leaving his old ones behind. There is a new character, Maura (Ashlee Grubbs), who causes chaos and arguments. Her aggravating character and rudeness truly embody the worst of what puberty can do. Everything about her character is horrible and reminiscent of your average middle school bullies.With its second season, PEN15 is better than ever thanks to more ridiculous humor and a nostalgic feel. Season 2 kept the funny while throwing new challenges at Maya and Anna.

Photo Courtesy of Hulu

September 21, 2020