I almost bailed on writing this review several times. Speaking honestly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stomach a weekend-long binge of Pen15 season two. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show and often recommend it to close friends and casual acquaintances. Its only flaw is being too well done, the show’s cringe factor reflecting my own middle school horrors to a painfully accurate extent.
Alas, I pushed through and quickly found that Pen15’s sophomore season is an absolute must -watch. The show’s co-creators and stars, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, step back into their iconic roles, portraying middle school BFFs despite being full-fledged adults IRL. The show first came about as a comedic revisitation of Erskine and Konkle’s own awkward years, further dramatized by the surrounding cast of actual middle schoolers. Despite the show’s comedic take, the plotlines in Pen15 explore societal taboos like sexual urges and racial microaggressions in each episode.
The first seven episodes of season two were released to Hulu this past September, picking up just a few days after the middle school dance that concluded season 1. Maya and Anna are reflecting on the drama that unfolded at the dance, including both girls getting to second base with middle-school heartthrob Brandt at the same time. It’s uncharted territory for the duo, who scheme to handle the situation with maturity and coolness. And what better place to resolve conflict than a pool party thrown for a cohort of awkward seventh graders?
The plan does not go as expected, a theme that defines pretty much every sticky situation for Maya and Anna. As the season continues, the conflicts become more serious. Anna continues to navigate her parents’ divorce, Maya stars in the school play and both experience the highs and lows of young love. The second season’s conflicts are explored to their fullest extents, each decision resulting in sometimes joyous and other times sorrowful consequences that the characters really have to sit in. While season one established a concept, season two builds storylines and solidifies Maya and Anna as living, breathing characters that audiences can truly root for.
The undeniable chemistry shared between Erskine and Konkle is the heart and soul of the show. From witty banter to emotional revelations, the comedians tap into their middle school woes with undeniable convention that transports audiences back into their own adolescent years. The arguments and inside jokes between Maya and Anna mirror the ones I can immediately recall from my childhood. There’s also a wonderful balance to their friendship in season two; a solid and resilient relationship brings the girls together while also allowing both to explore their own paths from time to time.
Pen15 is not for the faint of heart. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing at every turn, highlighting the memories of early teenagerdom we’d rather forget. For those who can stomach it, I definitely recommend binging season two’s first half. And for those like me who are more easily cringed out, I still suggest checking the show out, just at a much slower pace. Either way, you won’t wanna miss out on all the awkwardness and absurdity.