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TV Review: Awkward. – “Sex, Lies and Videotape”

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The latest chapter of MTV’s Awkward. is “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” Jenna (Ashley Rickards) considers telling Jake (Brett Davern) about Matty (Beau Mirchoff) preemptively when a video camera is discovered outside of the Sanctuary, the secret hookup place for the school. If the video leaks and shows Jenna and Matty, their secret will be revealed. But Jake says he doesn’t want to know who the other man in Jenna’s life was. Should she tell him anyway?

Ah, the drama of teenage love. These characters are incredibly authentic to their age group. Jake frets, admitting his jealousy over a mystery man is a bit insane, but unable to help himself. Matty is oblivious to the fact that he hurt Jenna. Jenna worries about hurting others’ feelings, and is too immature to have the courage of complete honesty, or the wisdom to know when it’s vital. These are characters flaws, to be sure, but ones typical of kids, and a credit to Awkward., not a liability.

If there is any doubt that Matty’s feelings for Jenna are real, “Sex, Lies and Videotape” erases them. He is really hung up on her, and his joy to learn that she loved him is endearing. Not realizing that his behavior towards her while they are together is so painful, his confrontation of that reality, and the obvious ill feelings he has over it, also score a point in his favor. Mirchoff nails this episode, allowing the flavors of Matty’s emotions to dance across his face without having to vocalize everything.

Unfortunately, at the same time that Matty is ready to commit to Jenna, she pulls further away. She isn’t the flighty type, and having decided to be in a relationship with Jake, she is serious about making it work. Jenna made her decision, and she isn’t going to second guess it to death. It’s too bad, but Matty missed his window. At least until Jake and Jenna break up, and this is high school, so even if it weren’t a television show, they probably would.

The question is, should Jenna tell Jake about Matty. This is wrestled with throughout the half hour, but even though Jenna decides not to tell, it isn’t over. Jake says he doesn’t want to know, and seems happy with the knowledge that Jenna doesn’t love the other guy anymore. However, the fact that her first sexual experience is with Matty, Jake’s close friend, makes this equation a lot different than if Jenna slept with a stranger. She does owe him the full truth, and soon, because it will come out eventually, and if Jake hears it from anyone but Jenna, no matter how painful her telling him might be, he will feel even more deeply betrayed.

Jenna’s relationship with her mother, Lacey (Nikki Deloach), is even more complicated. Lacey is doing everything she can to try to make things up to Jenna for writing the mean letter that is so central to season one. Is it because Lacey regrets hurting her daughter, or, as Jenna asserts, she’s worried Jenna will tell Kevin (Mike Faiola), Jenna’s father? It’s probably a bit of both, but Jenna is nowhere near ready to hear Lacey’s apology, and Lacey desperately does not want Kevin to know about the transgression.

Just as Jenna comes to the understanding that she can’t tell her dad because it’s not her secret to spill, Lacey acts like a grown up, deciding that she must come clean to Kevin and face the consequences. For someone as immature as Lacey can be, it’s a wonderful surprise to see her take this responsibility, and it demonstrates that Lacey is determined to be a good mom, setting the right example. “Sex, Lies and Videotape” does not show Kevin’s full reaction to the news, but it can’t possibly be good, especially if any part of him still believes Jenna tried to kill herself in episode one, at least in part due to the letter. What a cliffhanger going into next week!

As great as Awkward. does this drama, it also excels at comedy. There have been a number of one-note and enjoyable classmates shown, usually introduced more for a punchline than story point, but are always amusing. This week, there is a girl (Alison Sieke) who, while being a vegan, admits to eating a hamburger in the Sanctuary, then is shown having a cup of red liquid thrown on her. It may be small stuff, but it’s touches like these that pump up the charm factor and make the creative team, led by series creator Lauren Iungerich, seem even more clever than before.

Also introduced in “Sex, Lies and Videotape” is the school’s Asian mafia, led by the almost omnipotent Becca. Jenna asks Ming (Jessica Lu) to approach the Asians to get information about the Sanctuary tape, since they seem to know everything. Getting the tape is no problem for Becca, who is a scary creeper with an impassive face. She gets the tape, but tells Ming that one day a favor will be called in.

On many shows, this type of situation would fall into rote stereotypes. In Awkard., race is played upon, but not quite in the way one would expect, and certainly not in a lazy way. Much of the credit should go to the actress playing Becca, who totally has the Eddie Izzard head shake / nod bit down cold. The overall effect is impressive and thoroughly humorous. Hopefully Becca will return soon to cash in her favor! She would be a great recurring character.

Lastly, Valerie (Desi Lydic) is tasked by the principal with recovering the tape. In the episode’s only possible misstep, the principal isn’t aware of the camera, either, and fears his own sexual liaison, which happens on campus, will be exposed. Valerie is merely a pawn in Becca’s game, but ends up getting a Vice Principal position out of it, without quite knowing how she is blackmailing her boss. Not too shabby, and certainly a self-esteem booster for a woman that needs it!

It should not surprise me by now how delightful each and every episode of Awkward. is, balancing larger story arcs with an extraordinary attention to detail. And yet it still does surprise, because the bar is set so high, and it continually exceeds even those lofty expectations. The cast is nearly flawless, and the characters seeming to be built upon the actors’ strengths. There are few series out there that I look forward to as much as this one, and can find so few faults in. If you have not discovered it, it is time to correct that.

Tune in to Awkward. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on MTV.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://jeromewetzel.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    IMDB lists this episode title as “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” However, I have since discovered that the official show website lists the title as “Sex, Lies and the Sanctuary.” I apologize for the error in my article.

  • bitchstolemyremote

    Yeah – the episode title is confusing because it’s listed incorrectly all over the place!

    I agree that the show manages to balance its drama and comedy really well. I thought they walked a fine line with the racial humour, but ultimately pulled it off because Becca is such a great character and because Ming doesn’t fall into either stereotypical group.

    In our review, I comment on the dangers of the love-triangle, but so long as it doesn’t eclipse the narrative each week, it seems to be working thus far this season.