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July 21, 2011 / mandalaymai

Quality Programming from MTV

I know! I was shocked, too!  Like most folks my age, I recalled with nostalgia when MTV carried the programming that MTV2 does now.  You know what I mean – the showed music videos.  FULL LENGTH music videos.  They showed Beavis and Butthead, which I am told was awesome, in it’s way (don’t hate on me.  I don’t get South Park either, OK?)  All they seemed to have lately was vapid reality crap.  Their tent pole (if tent pole is the phrase I want) is Jersey Shore, for God’s sake! Basically, I was resigned to the fact that it pretty much sucks now.

I had written off MTV, but the other day, as I was surfing channels I flipped by the new series Teen Wolf and found that it was surprisingly good.  It takes the basic premise of the 80’s film by the same name (and who could forget Michael J. Fox as a werewolf in that basketball uniform?) but it’s more of a teen drama, soap opera type of deal, complete with highschool angst, relationships and a genuine grisly mystery that drives our protagonists.  The main teen wolf is Tyler Posey.  Don’t know that name?  Neither did I, but he was why I stopped the channel flipping.  After a few minutes of, “Dude, i know I know him from somewhere…” I gave up and consulted imdb.com on my iPad.  He was J.Lo’s kid in ‘Maid in Manhattan.’  So, with that mystery solved, I could have moved on.  But, I didn’t want to.  I stayed for the hour and at the end adjusted the settings on my DVR.  The Teen Wolf has a girl, a best friend whose father is the sheriff, a job at an animal clinic, and of course a brand new secret that he has to deal with along with the usual complement of teenager issues.

But, even MORE intriguing than that was the commercial I spotted for the new half hour series Awkward.  The preview showed a girl who self-identifies as a ‘loser’ (of course like all TV ‘losers,’ she is perfectly cute and attractive, but wtf – it’s TV).  She hooks up with a guy on the last day of summer camp only to be told 15 minutes after they are done that he ‘couldn’t let other people know that he liked her.’  Cue inner humiliation on her part.  Of course, through an Aristotelian confluence of events, she winds up with a broken arm in traction (bent elbow holding her fist permanently up in a comic gesture of defiance or strength or solidarity or something) and the whole world thinking that she tried to kill herself.  She honestly didn’t.  She just slipped in the bath. No one believes her.  “The more I denied trying to kill myself, the more people told me that I was in denial.”  I laughed out loud at that line because of course that was what people would say.  That’s how society has molded us, you know?  We are trained to think that her denial is a cry for help.  But, in this case we, the audience, know that the denial is an honest one.  It highlights perfectly how these days you can’t deny anything because no one will believe you.  Know why?  You’re in denial…

Anyway, the pilot premiered last night and I have to say I loved the show so much!  It was funny and real.  I found the main character, Jenna Hamilton, played by Ashley Rickards very likeable and believable.  Not overly dramatic or sappy, but reminiscent of Emma Stone in ‘Easy A.’  But, appropriately enough, awkward.  The show’s other characters still need fleshing out to be real.  But, at the end of the half hour, I found myself wishing it were an hour show.  I don’t know a better endorsement than that.  I feel like I will care about Jenna’s journey through this (and not to spoil anything for you, but there is a bit of a mystery involving a letter Jenna receives and refers to as a ‘Care-tervention’ and I want to know how that plays out over the season).  They have set up a love triangle, some villains, some cohorts and some unwitting obstacles (The scene with the guidance counselor stands out as kind of brilliantly ‘WTF?’).  Unexpected popularity as a leader of outcasts seems to be Jenna’s destiny, and that will also be interesting to watch.

Of course, with all this background, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the other show I watch that is set in highschool, Glee.  When it first premiered, I loved it.  But those kids go through such overblown melodrama in every single episode that it’s not believable, not even by ‘suspension of disbelief’ standards that we know we are supposed to apply to our television viewing.  Especially in the past season,  it’s clear that the writers do not care about consistency of character.  They care about having some excuse to introduce the next song.  Even if it makes no sense at all.  Rachel and Finn have been around and around so many times that I care about their relationship about as much as Jersey Shore fans care about Ronnie and Sammi’s (did I get those two names right?) relationship. 

Who knows if Awkward will hold my interest?  But, not too long ago, I was on my way home from a conference in Memphis.  It was an important day on the Hindu religious calendar as well and so though it was well past noon, I had been fasting without food or water all day.  I was standing in line at security literally surrounded by coworkers and and unable to react with the proper emotion when I basically got dumped via text by the d-bag I had been dating.  WTF and FML and any other three word acronym that basically means my life kinda $ucked at that point kind of floated through my head.  I had to start laughing because really, what else could possibly get piled onto me in that moment?  So, that was what I thought of when I saw the previews for Awkward, with Jenna navigating the hallway of her high school with that ridiculous cast and the stares of her classmates.   It encapsulated that typical high school drama in a way that resonates with adults long after we have turned in our mortar boards for the greener pastures of the college quad. 

What can I say, except that I am interested in how it turns out?

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