‘PEN15’ Broke Ground By Portraying Real, Weird, and Wonderful Female Friendship

PEN15 has stealthily joined the likes of Broad City and Insecure as a prime example for how female friendship and women-led comedies have become some of the most hilarious and inventive shows of the last few years.

The Hulu Original comedy series, the second season of which drops on September 17, features two women in their early 30s (Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle) playing versions of themselves as seventh graders in the year 2000 amongst actors who are actually middle school-aged; the show’s unabashed weirdness is something to admire.

For years and years we’ve seen men get to be the zany and ridiculous ones in comedy (re: any “Frat Pack” movie, many-an Adam Sandler project, heck, even those rascals Tom and Jerry!), but it’s not often that you see two women embracing the most embarrassing and strange aspects of themselves and owning it so perfectly that they spin the horrors of middle school into something delightfully unique and their own. And at the center of it all is the friendship between Maya and Anna, which is so pure and real, so that even though these characters are seen as losers and oddballs by their peers, they’re buoyed by each other and their friendship, getting them through everything from trying their first beer to underwear theft. Together.

The show’s sophomore season looks to be every bit as hilarious, absurd, and heartfelt as its first, and is already garnering positive buzz and reviews. Collider recently wrote that the new season feels even more emotionally developed and nuanced than its premiere season, praising, in particular, the “in-the-pocket, fully-felt, specific performances” of its two stars, adding that “Konkle and Erskine have stepped it up big time for Season 2.” In another article, The Washington Post celebrated this show “about two women allowing themselves to completely love the girls they once were, faults and all,” and the expert work of Konkle and Erskine. Plus, we at Decider have been loving this show ever since it first dropped, labeling its leading ladies as two of the 12 breakout tv stars of 2019 and PEN15 as one of the top 20 shows of 2019.

No matter where you look, the source of the show’s praise and success can be traced back to Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. Not only does their real-life friendship (not quite since middle school, but they have been tight since college!) translate into beautiful and believable on-screen chemistry, but the performances themselves are so studied and true of middle schoolers, from the way they speak down to the way they dress and carry themselves, that as the show goes on you honestly begin to forget that they’re older than the kids around them. PEN15 is driven by its relationships, primarily that of Maya and Anna, but also Maya and her mother (played by her real-life mom, Mutsuko Erskine), which have strong bases in reality outside of the show. Because of this, PEN15 becomes so much more than two women leading in a comedy with a wacky premise: it is an honest and loving glimpse into the lives of people who feel unabashedly real, even when it’s awkward or embarrassing, just regular people that could have been you or me as our own middle school selves.

PEN15 truly is a special gem of a show led by two unique and brilliant women, and its second season is poised to exemplify just how wonderful Erskine and Konkle really are, but in brand new ways. Even though Season 2’s events begin a mere two days after the Season 1 finale, Maya and Anna are different, having been (in their opinions, at least) transformed into Women while having their breasts touched for the first time by a boy, Brandt, at the same time at their middle school dance. They feel changed, but will these newer versions of themselves buckle in the face of the fallout of Anna’s parents’ divorce, trying to deal with new romantic entanglements and pursuits, a new girl trying to turn their longtime duo into a trio, and a whole host of situations that will try to break the two girls apart? I’ve got a hunch that when it comes to Maya and Anna, there’s not much of anything that could keep these two BFFs apart for long. But hey, the only way to know for sure is by watching PEN15: Season 2 on Hulu when its first seven (of 14) episodes drops on September 18th (that’s tomorrow!), so don’t miss out on this testament to female friendship and comedic talent.

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Watch PEN15 on Hulu

New York Post

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