MTV’s comedy-drama AWKWARD. (Tuesdays 11:30 pm/10:30 c, right after New Girl on Fox 9/8c) is a hilarious yet emotional romp through suburban high school life. It’s the My So Called Life of this generation, with a sophisticated edge that veers away from the overemphasized sex that defined series such as Skins and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. If you were at all on a quest for love in high school, felt like the nerdy outcast but were unknowingly the smart, beautiful, funny, future catch of your school, you will immediately identify with main character Jenna Hamilton, played by totally un-awkward animal lover, horse trainer, painter and Carl Sagan fanatic, Ashley Rickards. Creator Lauren Iungerich and I talk about how she created the character Jenna, parents, besties, bullies and the importance of self-love. Lauren also offers some important life advice…
QUESTION: AWKWARD. does an amazing job of capturing how lost a girl can feel in high school. In the first episode, Jenna ends up in a neck brace after a simple accident. This is the incident where everything changes for Jenna. Suddenly she is NOTICED by the popular kids because she’s misunderstood as the “suicidal girl.” What was the inspiration behind creating Jenna’s character?
LAUREN: Jenna is me. And yet, not me. While I think I was always a visible person in school, many times I felt invisible and then I just thought about all those really invisible girls in school who don’t have a profile. Yes, they were in your class since third grade, but you don’t remember them after you graduate – and how even those girls have big dreams and fantasize about the gorgeous guy. I just thought how amazing it would be if a gifted girl like that (Jenna) won the affection of Matty McKibben (the hearthrob of her school).
QUESTION: Jenna blogs, like most 21st Century Kids. This is what defines her voice throughout each episode. The title of her blog changes from being “The Invisible Girl” to “That Girl.” What makes her feel confident enough make that switch? And, if you don’t mind saying, who actually writes her blog, invisiblegirldaily.tumblr.com? And, can the Hello Giggles girls write in?
LAUREN: The blog is written by me and I don’t think it’s set up to respond to questions, but that’s a good idea! As for Jenna and why she feels confident enough… I don’t know if it’s confidence… I think it’s self-love. But no one knows that it’s her blog. It’s anonymous… so she is still safe behind it.
QUESTION: Popular high school football star Matty McKibben is Jenna’s major crush (and the guy that changes her womanhood). He never wants to commit to Jenna, despite all the attention he gives her. But on the upside, a new guy seems interested in her. What do you recommend for the Hello Giggles girls that are facing the same thing?
LAUREN: Good question… I say explore both! What I really wanted to do with this show was write a truly honest look at what it is to be a teenager. Jenna (Ashley Rickards) didn’t go into that closet to have sex with Mattie McKibben (Beau Mirchoff). She went into that closet because Matty McKibben wanted to see her and she thought, “I’ll make out with him and maybe he’ll be my boyfriend.” And suddenly, she’s having sex and she hasn’t thought about it. She hasn’t processed it. And then, what happens on the series is that she has time to process what she did. That’s what happens to teenagers so much and it’s so real. It’s seemingly very scary to put that out there, but that’s what’s happening. By no means do I think that we are somehow telling kids to go have sex and do drugs and get pregnant. If you tell the truth, then you can sneak in a really empowering message about self-preservation, and I wanted to do that. I wanted to write a show where I could be like, “We’re going to be bold and we’re going to be brave and, at the end of the day, we’re also going to give girls a fairy tale.” (Lauren Iungerich, Collider.com)
QUESTION: Your show not only embraces the idea of being awkward, but also inspires girls to find strength in the qualities they once thought were weaknesses. What weaknesses do you think Jenna needs to overcome this season? Do you recommend any way for the Hello Giggles girls to overcome their insecurities and weaknesses?
LAUREN: Jenna doesn’t have any weaknesses. Her weaknesses are her strengths – they are what make her unique and define her as a real girl. I would say embrace your weaknesses, they are what make you interesting and give you character. (In other words, ROCK YOUR AWK).
QUESTION: Jenna often battles her insecurities, which are reflected through her interactions with popular girl, Sadie Saxton (played by Molly Tarlov) . What was the inspiration behind Sadie’s character and will Jenna and Sadie’s relationship ever change? Also, what do you recommend to all the Hello Giggles girls out there who have to deal with popular girl bullying?
ANSWER: Sadie is based on a girl I went to high school with. I highly recommend not engaging with bullies. Don’t even respond. They seek a reaction and when you don’t give them one, they have nothing to respond to!
QUESTION: Ming and Tamara are Jenna’s besties. But, Jenna navigates her relationships with each of them differently. Will this change this season?
ANSWER: Oh yes. “The first season is an emotional journey about identity. Jenna’s arc for this season is coming to grips with how she feels about herself, and not letting other people define her, and realizing that that’s a really hard task. She has to get comfortable with who she is and not try to be somebody she’s not. That’s a constant struggle that we all have. I don’t know if we ever graduate to a place where we totally, completely like ourselves. We get better at liking ourselves, but I don’t think we ever get to a point where we’re like, “I like myself.” Even my 93-year-old grandma, before she died, was trying to lose weight. I was like, “Grandma, come on, you can’t even walk. Just enjoy yourself.” The show is really, really funny, but it’s so romantic. We’ve got really good twists and turns. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, you don’t know. We have that mysterious element with who wrote the letter and who Jenna should be with. We get to know who all these characters are, and they seemingly fit a stereotype in some way or another, and then we pull the rug out and we let you know who they are on the other side. Why is Sadie (Molly Tarlov) so mean? You’ll find out. Who is Jake (Brett Davern), as a guy? Who is Matty? Why is Matty hiding his feelings about Jenna? Does he really like her? And, at every turn, just when you think you know what’s good for Jenna, we’ll surprise you again. We tried to keep it as true to life as we could.” (Lauren Iungerich, Collider.com)
QUESTION: Jenna’s parents, including her high school counselor, seem to be less mature than Jenna. What do you recommend for all the Hello Giggles girls that feel like they’re parenting their parents?
ANSWER: Parenting has become peer-enting these days. I’d suggest having empathy for your parents. It’s a hard job and the world has changed so much- forgive them for their mistakes and try to love and accept them, too.
QUESTION: When you first pitched AWKWARD., was the story any different than how it is now? Did MTV modify it at all?
ANSWER: They let me write and produce my vision. Nothing changed. It is my vision head to toe. And, I am grateful to the network for believing and supporting my vision. “When I sold the show, I knew what the first season was going to be in my head. I knew the big bullet points of the show. I knew what I was going to do with the love triangle… And, I had rough arcs for all the characters, in my head. I had an extraordinary group of writers working with me, who were just awesome. Our cliffhanger is really great, and we’ve left some ends to tie up. How we’re going to tie those up will come from really examining relationships and the boundaries that we push in our relationships, in Season 2. This season is really about identity. If we get a second season, we’ll be examining the relationships and the boundaries that we have within those relationships.” (Lauren Iungerich, Collider.com)
QUESTION: MTV is a music based network, so do they ever push you to use specific songs in each episode?
ANSWER: Always. I wanted music to be a character in my show and it is!
QUESTION: You have an amazing handle on teen girl culture. Any new projects underway?
ANSWER: Dumb Girls – starting prep now and shooting in early October. We just landed our four stars and they are exciting! It’s exciting! “The show is another ensemble and a little bit more romp than “Awkward.”. The show explores why the smartest people in life tend to be the dumbest, when it comes to love… The show explores how we can all be our own worst enemies on the path to finding love.” (Lauren Iungerich, Collider.com)