tek's rating: ¾

PEN15, on Hulu
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Caution: Potential spoilers.

This 2019 web series is set in the year 2000. I think of it as a dramedy, even if it's generally referred to as a comedy. But I think it fits better under "weird" than either comedy or drama. (However, when I eventually started a category for "period" webseries, I moved my review there instead of "weird.") It stars Maya Erskine as Maya Ishii-Peters, and Anna Konkle as Anna "Na" Kone. (I knew Erskine from Betas, though I didn't really recognize her in this.) So, um, Erskine and Konkle are in their 30s, but they're playing versions of themselves as 13-year-olds, in this series. Which is roughly how old they actually were, in 2000. In the series, they're best friends who are both fairly awkward middle school students. (One of the weird aspects of the show is that all the other kids their age are played by actors who are actually the age they're playing.) There are various recurring characters in the show, including Maya and Anna's respective families, as well as other kids at school. But for the most part, I didn't manage to keep track of who the relatively important kid characters were, or what their relationships to Maya and Anna were.

The show has been pretty well-received by critics, I guess. So I really wanted to like it more than I did. And I'm not quite sure what to say about the plot. You know, stuff happens. The main characters are entering adolescence, so there are a lot of changes for them. And eventually Anna's parents decide to get divorced, so that's really hard on her. And the friendship between Maya and Anna has its ups and downs, though for the most part they seem to feel much closer to each other than I've ever quite managed to feel to anyone. I suppose I'm sort of jealous of that. Which may be part of the reason I couldn't totally identify with the show's vibe, or whatever. (Of course there's also the fact that I'm a guy, and girls have to go through things I never did... but that doesn't mean I can't empathize.) I do identify with the feeling of being an outsider, which clearly Maya and Anna both felt. But on the other hand, I don't think I ever had the same sort of desire to be, you know, an insider. Or to date. Or... anything.

I dunno. I just feel like I'm missing a lot of what makes critics like the show, because my own experiences, both internal and external, were (and are) rather different than that of the characters (and of people in general). Plus, I've never really been a big fan of "cringe comedy." But I do think it's a good series. And I think Maya and Anna are good characters. And whenever the second season happens, I'll probably watch it (if I still have Hulu by then).


period webseries index