Matty suddenly learns that he was adopted. Lissa falls in love with her own adopted brother. Matty and Jake spend a night in jail. Tamara is a lesbian for one night at a college party. One episode was titled “Sophomore Sluts,” and you’d have ended up in the hospital if you’d drank every time they called a teenager a “slut.” Most egregious of all, the series introduced Eva, a con-artist character with a fake name, made-up backstory, a full-on crazy wall, and a positive pregnancy test — Matty’s going to be a father! It was all sensational plots with no real narrative threads, just shit thrown at a wall.
Tonight, Awkward. begins the second half of Season 4 and the second half of senior year. The two episodes sent out to critics are still shaky, but the intentions behind them seem to be clear: to steer this show back to where it was in the earlier Iungerich years (though the showrunners have remained the same). There are plenty of lingering problems, such as Lissa’s secret relationship with her brother (and a “shocking” twist involving her family), but it feels a bit more like home.
Without spoiling too much: The big Eva issue is dealt with pretty quickly (though I’m wary of whether it’s totally over), and Matty and Jenna once again because the center of the show, sort of, as they dance around each other way they have been for years. School is another focus, as the premiere centers around finals (and not in the fleeting way that Jenna’s low class ranking was brought up and then shrugged away), and everyone worries about the last grades colleges will see before sending out acceptance letters. The second episode mostly takes place at a New Year’s Eve party — one of those high school parties where someone just randomly shows up with a keg. It’s very reminiscent of early Awkward. parties, weaving throughout these various social groups (and parents!) and remarking on the surprising relationships that form at the drop of a hat.
Awkward. isn’t ever going to feel the way it did in those first years, but at the very least, it can rein itself in and go back to exploring the interpersonal and internal conflicts that dominated the show and made for thoughtful viewing.