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Ominous Message from ‘Awkward’: OMG, What if High School Never Ends?
November 7, 2015  | By David Hinckley
 


High school ends for Jenna Hamilton on MTV’s Awkward Nov. 9, which it turns out will not mean the show is over. 

Way more terrifying, it also turns out that high school itself may never be over. 

For any of us. 

Ever. 

“The bravado and the underlying neuroses that people have in high school?” says Chris Alberghini, one of the writers and executive producers. “They never leave you.”

“We hear from older people who enjoy the show,” says Alberghini’s fellow writer and executive producer Mike Chessler. “Because high school is so universal. The high school experience never ends.” 

Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickard, above and bottom) will, however, graduate from Palos Verdes High School in the Nov. 9 episode, which will also wrap up the first half of the show’s fifth season.

The 12-episode second half will most likely air in the spring of 2016, Alberghini says, “and there are ongoing discussions about the possibility of a season six.” 

“Everyone’s life unfolds in chapters and phases,” says Chessler. “The first half of season 5 closes out one phase for these characters, and we think it does so in a way that will be very satisfying for fans.” 

That will include, he adds, resolution of this half-season’s major drama: whether Jenna and Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff, left) will ever get past their own reservations plus a string of misunderstandings and confess they love each other. 

Since Matty seems to be headed off to college at Berkeley and Jenna is going to Maine, they’ve been running out of time. 

But Jenna-and-Matty isn’t the only story. Jenna’s best friend Tamara (Jillian Rose Lee) has a military boyfriend and ex-fiance. Quasi-mean girl Sadie (Molly Tarlov) has family issues and Lissa (Greer Grammer) has to reconcile being the peppy good Christian girl with protecting “my second virginity.” 

Plus a few others, though Awkward has been smart about focusing on its core characters. It doesn’t overload the show with parents, though Jenna’s impulsive mother Lacey (Nikki DeLoach) has exemplified the ways in which the patterns of our high school life never disappear.   

The second half of the season, says Chessler, will test that thesis further by fast-forwarding after graduation. 

“They all come back to Palos Verdes,” he says, “although some of them never left.” 

Treading carefully around spoilers, he adds, “When you go away, you change. You think you won’t be constricted by your high school life or your high school crowd. 

“You think you can reinvent yourself. But when you go back, you immediately see you are the same person. 

“It’s been really fun to write these episodes.” 

Alberghini and Chessler also stress that the durability of high school dynamics doesn’t mean that the characters never change. 

“Jenna has been through a lot of phases already,” says Chessler. “She’s always been a fish out of water at this Southern California high school. But there was a little while when she was the popular girl. She’s gone through a lot of emotions with Matty. 

“She’s come to know herself better. She’s become more self-confident. People relate to Jenna.” 

“Jenna is the Everygirl,” says Alberghini. “She's very pretty – and she doesn’t know it. She’s not the smartest, but she’s still really, really smart.” 

Both writers credit Rickards with helping shape Jenna into what Alberghini calls “a well-defined character.” 

“Ashley brings so much to Jenna,” says Chessler. “She’s almost melded into Jenna. We have an open dialogue with Ashley about where we think she should be going and what she should be doing. 

“Ashley understands Jenna so well that she’ll tell us if she’s uncomfortable with something, or doesn’t think Jenna would do that.” 

The way the show is framed, Jenna also has a dialogue with viewers. When the show began, she was a blogger, and in recent seasons she has commented on various developments with a personal voiceover unheard by other characters. 

“The voiceover trope has worked well,” says Chessler. “I think it comes across as the voice of a wiser, more experienced Jenna looking back on these things as they were happening. 

“She may still be blogging. We don’t show it because we couldn’t think of how Jenna sitting at her laptop could be interesting.” 

Jenna also isn’t the only character who has developed over the course of the show. 

“Maybe the other one who has grown the most is Lissa,” says Chessler. “When we met her, all we knew was that she was the hypocritical Christian girl who followed Sadie. 

“Then over the last two seasons, we’ve seen different sides of her. She has a mind of her own. She understands what’s going on in her relationship with Sadie. Greer has done a great job making her interesting.” 

Alberghini says Beau Mirchoff has done the same thing with Matty. 

“Beau’s such a good actor we started giving him stuff to expand the character,” Alberghini says. “In season four we found out he was adopted, and started seeing how that informed his behavior throughout.” 

Alberghini also says it hasn’t been a challenge to integrate serious issues, like Matty’s search for his biological father, into a half-hour comedy. 

“It’s not difficult at all,” he says. “It’s all life, it’s all part of human behavior. Comedy is comprised of moments of unhappiness, too.” 

In fact, says Chessler, one of the easiest ways to understand Awkward is to recognize that “Jenna is the straight man, suffering from all the crazy characters around her.” 

That includes Southern California. 

“The show is set in the world of the entitled Southern California golden girl,” says Chessler. “For Lacey, The Real Housewives of Orange County is aspirational.” 

So that’s been one more challenge for Jenna to navigate, and the writers think she’s done it in a way that makes her story compelling to follow. 

“You take characters to a certain point and you wonder where they’re going next,” says Chessler. “With Jenna, I think there are more places to go.” 

And not just a high school reunion.
 
 
 
 
 
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