First episode impressions: ‘Awkward.’ Season 2 (TV review)

There’s a certain coldness to all the characters on “Awkward” (9:30 p.m. Central Thursdays on MTV), which had its Season 2 premiere last week. Even after watching them all of last season, they still seem like pointed stereotypes more so than fully developed characters.

That’s actually what gives the show its unique charm, though. Jenna (the wonderfully gumby-faced Ashley Rickards) goes around being bemused and irked by everyone, and we can immediately relate because we’ve also run into these types of people. I have a smile plastered on my face when watching “Awkward,” but I never find myself looking forward to what will happen in the next episode.

Most of the characters are likable as the cartoons that they are — the jock who likes Jenna, the nice guy who likes Jenna, the hypocritical Christian girl, the Asian girl with strict parents, the wacky best friend, and so forth. I guess the quirky guidance counselor, Valerie, hasn’t really connected with me; she pops up in this episode (which takes place on New Year’s Eve, immediately after last season ended) and — out of the context of the counselor’s office — I did not remember who she was. Sadie (Molly Tarlov), the mean cheerleader with weight issues that make her snappish, is the least likable character; Tarlov totally embraces the caricature-driven style of “Awkward,” but perhaps too much so.

In the center of this maelstrom is Jenna, who is a fine audience surrogate for the reasons I mentioned above. Almost every plot point involves Jenna to some degree, which makes us feel as overwhelmed as our heroine often appears. The biggest question in the offseason was whether Jenna would choose Matty or Jake, and I was glad she chose Jake (the obvious choice, as he is a nicer and less self-centered). But then when the action slowed down enough to give us a dialog-free Jenna-and-Jake dance, it didn’t do much for me, reflecting the thinness of “Awkward’s” emotions.

Another big cliffhanger from last year was Jenna finding out that her mom was the anonymous sender of the list of rules for getting her act together (starting with “Stop being such a (wimp).” That thread is largely set aside in the season premiere, although it promises to heat up in the weeks ahead. It’s an interesting question: Lacey clearly loves her daughter, but is this a good approach to parenting? It’s such an out-of-the-box mother-daughter dynamic that it breaks free from the show’s comforting stereotypes and gives it a story with as much edge as its style.

All told, I think “Awkward” will get better as Season 2 moves forward. I can’t predict exactly how, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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