Ashley Rickards (left), Evan Williams

After five seasons, MTV’s Awkward. has finally come to an end. It probably comes as surprising news that the show was even still on––let alone that anyone was actually watching it. After show creator Lauren Iungerich left after season three, the drop in quality was apparent immediately. In its fourth season, Awkward. eased into the life of a standard high school comedy. MTV split up the remaining two seasons into four spaced out chunks; causing viewers to drop out and forget the Jenna Hamilton of yesteryear. For some reason, I stuck around. Through fake pregnancy storylines and Sex In The City dream sequence episodes, I kept watching.

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I wanted to believe the show would course correct. Every now and then a glimmer of the old show would pop up. I’d almost start to believe they hadn’t lost what made the show so special when it premiered in 2011; back when Todd VanDerWerff reviewed the pilot and Myles McNutt deemed the first season a solid B+. Awkward. demonstrated realities of the female teenage experience that were relatively new to TV and unheard of on MTV. Jenna Hamilton was smart, but she wasn’t a nerd. She wasn’t popular, but she wasn’t an outcast. She drank and did drugs without the series turning into an afterschool special. She had sex and wasn’t punished for it. While boy drama was an issue from the very beginning of the series, Jake and Matty only acted as catalysts for Jenna to discover more about herself and what she truly wanted. Her writing career was her focus and each blog post shared with the audience made her intentions clear.

Ashley Rickards

When the show changed hands, Jenna changed. They threw out Jenna’s signature journal entry voiceovers that had given her agency. Jenna was still a writer, but we hardly ever saw her write as she spent more time focused on dating and saving Matty from an All About Eve style stalker (seriously). Secondary characters suffered too. They turned the quick-witted Tamara into an irritating, non-stop catchphrase machine. Sadie, the bitchy-but-lovable bully, turned into just a bully. The writers were more interested in writing her insults than explaining why Sadie relied on cutting everyone around her down as earlier seasons explored. Instead, Matty and Jenna’s on-again/off-again relationship took center stage, they graduated and, this season, the show attempted to move everyone on to college.

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While college could’ve been an opportunity to have Jenna return to her independent roots and find herself, they chose to focus on her breakup and fallout with Matty in the months since graduation and the end of freshman year. We barely see College Jenna as we’re shuffled back to Palos Hills; bringing all the characters back together for the summer. Jenna has somehow landed an internship at Ideabin (an irritating BuzzFeed knock-off) and struggles to write the viral material her boss demands. Old Jenna may have dug into her past––her “suicide,” the letter that caused her to change her entire life––but new Jenna just writes about boys and, boom, she’s a success. The show tells us over and over again that Jenna is a good writer, but they fail to prove it like the earlier journal entries. These issues plagued the last season of the show. I thought the finale would address them or attempt to give Jenna the ending earlier seasons deserved. It didn’t.

Instead, the show leaned into the awfulness of the last two seasons. They barely referenced any of the history or relationships built over the first three seasons of the show. Character motivations disappeared as plot demands dictated feelings and actions. One second, Jenna was happy with Luke, until the plot needed her to be jealous over Matty’s new girlfriend. Jenna was stuck in limbo and season five seemed happy to keep her there. I never imagined the finale would do the same. An unnecessary two-part episode (there’s a car crash that serves as a cliffhanger, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter), tries to give Jenna a decision, but fails. Her magical boyfriend Luke has given her the opportunity to transfer to his college, a school with a better writing program that she was rejected from earlier. Or, she can continue at her East Coast liberal arts school; defining her path on her own terms.

It would’ve been great to see Jenna really struggle with this decision. Would she transfer and choose a writing career that her internship had proven wasn’t quite right for her? Would she stay on the East Coast and continue to be the world’s most annoying vegetarian? It doesn’t matter. Matty decides for her. When the second episode decides all of the characters need to return to Camp Pookah (where Matty and Jenna first hooked up), he declares his love for her. He tells Jenna she knows who she is and they’ll find each other when the time is right. He tells her not to transfer. She thinks it over for about a second and decides Matty is right; he knows her better than anyone. I wanted to see Jenna free herself from her indecision as the series ended, instead Matty does.

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In the final moments, the gang sits together around a fire. The friends that shaped Jenna throughout high school are all present. What could’ve been a great moment to reminisce on her friendship with Tamara is thrown out in favor of, oh you guessed it, Matty. The final nail in the coffin of Jenna’s independence is driven in as she states via voiceover that her and Matty would always be together and that made her feel safe. There’s no triumph for Jenna, she doesn’t land a second year at her internship or get an ebook published. But, hey, she has a boy who’s willing to wait for her and that’s something I guess?

Matty and Jenna were never the best part of Awkward. Later seasons of the show forgot this and Jenna suffered the most for it. Jenna’s relationship with her mother was a highlight of earlier seasons, in the finale she barely consults her mom. In fact, her mom saves the advice for Matty as she encourages him to go after Jenna. Watching the finale double down on this relationship made clear what a waste the last two seasons had been. While this may be Awkward.’s official goodbye, the show already left us years ago.

Stray Observations

  • It would take more words than this review allows to go into all the details of just how much every character was let down by this finale. Tamara, the motivated, always-honest class president? Now she’s in debt and lies to her boyfriend about her background. She learns to tell him the truth, it doesn’t matter. They dated for 4 episodes, I don’t even remember his name.
  • Sadie? She alienates all of her friends and gets into a car accident. They think it’s suicide, in reality she was just anger-texting. I guess this is supposed to mirror Jenna’s arch at the beginning of the series, but by episode’s end she’s at camp with everyone else and all is forgiven.
  • Jake and Lissa were always entertaining idiots. They remain entertaining idiots. Lissa even reads a copy of The Feminine Mystique, starts her own business and steals every last ounce of Jenna’s independence.
  • Did anyone ever care about Luke? The show painted him as the one that got away, but who really believed he was a good fit for Jenna? But, hey, something had to delay her inevitable reconciliation with Matty.
  • They brought back Val as a grief counselor. Even though her friendship with Jenna shaped the first few seasons, they barely speak here.
  • They couldn’t bring back Ming??
  • Remember when this show was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Television Award?

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