Pen15 Season Two Finally Wraps
No Season Three For Cult Favorite
When Pen15 originally premiered on Hulu in February 2019, it was an unusual take on "middle school like it really was." Viewers were required to suspend disbelief to watch Anna Konkel and Maya Erskine, both 30-something-year-olds, portray themselves as two socially awkward 7th graders.
While initially, it may be impossible to forget that you're watching adults pretend to be children, plenty of fans seemed willing to look past it. It quickly developed a strong fanbase, renewed for a second season by Hulu only months later in May.
Unfortunately, between COVID-related delays and the pregnancy of both leads, it's been a long wait for the final 7 episodes that conclude the series. Finally dropping on December 3, 2021, viewers finally get a finale of the events they've been watching unfold over the last (nearly) three years.
If you've never watched the show, or haven't kept up with the events leading up to the recent episode drop, let's review. Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine play somewhat-fictionalized versions of themselves, as 7th graders preparing for the first day of middle school.
It's a bit odd, in the first couple of episodes, as they're clearly around 32 years old. If you enjoy the story, however, you find yourself able to look past it. And once you look past it long enough, you actually forget all about it. The women give a really honest and heartfelt performance that allows you to become part of this 7th-grade world without thinking too hard about it.
The rest of the cast is actually young kids. Originally, again, this may be a bit off-putting. The women look older than the rest, and it seems to draw attention to it. But in the end, you realize how appropriate it is. Maya and Anna will never fit in among these kids, which is more or less the theme of the show. Making it so painfully obvious with an obvious, immediate aesthetic choice is actually a bit of weird genius.
Season One/Season Two Part 1
The first 10 episodes cover pretty familiar middle school ground. The girls have unrequited crushes, brutal blows to their self-esteem, try smoking and drinking for the first time, and do it all with a certain innocence that's both cringy and heartwarming.
Season Two began with 7 episodes released in September 2020. As Covid had halted production in the middle of the season, they elected to release the first half of the season. These 7 episodes began to move us into a bit rockier ground. We see the girls' naivety fade and the stakes start going up. An incident with another boy leads to "slut-shaming." A gay classmate struggles with being honest with himself, and Maya gets caught in the mix, further damaging her self-esteem.
In August, an animated special was released to help bridge the long gap between the first and second half of season 2. It featured the girls on vacation in Florida, and operated more or less on its own - there was little discussion of any plot points from the earlier episodes.
The New (Half) Season 2 Of Pen15
When it was all said and done, the newly released second-half of Season 2 did a really satisfying job of drawing it all to a close. I was a bit disappointed to realize it was only 6 episodes, as I didn't think it could possibly conclude everything that had been started.
But I was wrong - the writers do an excellent job of pulling together all those half-thoughts and storylines, revisiting the things that truly are the most important parts of Anna and Maya's story. They drop just enough details, and remain focused on the story they're trying to tell, that those 6 carefully crafted episodes are all they need. In fact, it's more compelling at this juncture, because they've carved away most of the fluff to focus on their message.
There are some things we don't learn more about, but that seems somehow truthful. We never really resolve the strained relationship between Maya and Brandt or Anna and Alex, but that feels real. Does anyone ever get a meaningful resolution with their unrealistic middle school crush, after all? The storyline simply being dropped as the girls find more appropriate choices is...well, accurate. We don't get a happy finish to Anna's parents divorcing - the writers make it obvious this is something she'll struggle with for years.
The World Is Getting Bigger - But Are They Ready?
What we do see is the girls maturing. The stakes are getting higher than ever. They take some hard L's, guys. It's not just about cringy weird middle school laughs anymore. They're growing up, the whole world is in front of them, and it's scary and dangerous, and unfamiliar at times.
Much of what they go through will probably remind many of their own confusing teenage years. You watch them make predictable mistakes because they're your own mistakes from years ago. You can't help but feel sympathy, as you see Maya give far too much to a boy she's desperate to feel valued by.
Watching as an adult, you see what a sticky mess it is - that no matter how wonderful she is, she can't be wonderful to everyone; that hinging her self-esteem on one person's acceptance or rejection is doomed to failure. But she does it anyway, just like you know she would. It's the way it goes, but your heart hurts just the same.
And that has always been the beauty of this show, summed up in a simple way. It makes you feel less alone, with these two brave actresses putting a face to every embarrassing thing you never wanted to admit. We hide away the memories of times we trusted friends who weren't really friends, of schoolyard humiliation, of being taken advantage of, and blaming ourselves for being stupid.
This show gives a sense of validation, a liberating awareness that we weren't stupid - or if we were, it's understandable, we were kids. It happened to all of us, in one sense or another. Laugh about it now, even though you cried about it then. Just like Maya, Anna, and the rest of the cast.
And at the very end, when you see Anna and Maya face yet another obstacle to their friendship and walk out unscathed, the final message is clear. These girls, these kids, they're going to be okay - and so were you. Maybe you didn't know it til now, till you saw it reframed. But whatever shape your childhood trauma comes in, you'll be able to manage. With the right friends having your back, you might even have some fun.
Jamie Dixon is a contributing writer here at The Pyrrhic. She's a content writer by profession, but this is more fun. She's also working on her first novel in her spare time.
Find her on Twitter @onegirloneblog
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