I’ve never seen myself onscreen before. Like, not my pre-teenaged version of myself. Sure, there are loads of nerdy types in lots of films, but they usually over-egg it. And yet this actually happened to me a few months ago. I stumbled upon Pen15 when Sky Atlantic started promoting a new show from the US which was executive produced by none other than Andy Samberg as one of the key players. Since I really enjoy Andy’s humour, and am known to be a huge proponent of an annual ‘Dick in a Box’ Christmas showing, I figured this was a must-see.
I was not disappointed. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a pre-teen girl about to venture into Grade 7 as not the coolest kid in the class, this is your Idiot’s Guide. I think it relates well to the boys too, but since I can’t verify that, I look forward to anyones feedback! What shocked me the most was that not only was this based on real life events by the writers, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, but that they actually PORTRAY the girls in the show.
Let me explain.
I fully admit that I did not realise, upon initial viewing, that the writers who were sharing their past (hysterically funny) stories…were actually the ones playing it out onscreen. What is even more mind bending is that these best friend writers are 33 years old. And are (un)believably reimagining their youth as themselves some two decades later.
Don’t believe me?
In no way did I think this was actually them. They show in the opening credits pictures of the characters from back in the day, and I thought to myself, “Sure, there is a huge likeness and I admire how they really went all out to get actors who could really represent.”
I was so enamoured with the show with its honesty and truthfulness about the difficulty that is navigating becoming a teenager that I began reading more about the show online. When the discovery hit me that it was ACTUALLY THEM recreating their youth, I was astounded. With streaming you always hit [Next Episode], so I never bothered to watch the credits. And when this info hit me, I was both amazed and tickled. These grown women were able to recreate their past, and in my opinion very authentically! What a laugh they must have had recounting real stories and then brazenly putting them out there for the world to see in all of it’s detailed awkwardness.
Because it is so very awkward.
They have all the classic scenarios you could imagine. Sleepovers (whoever falls asleep first gets permanent face marker). The school play. Being in band. Dealing with the ‘cool kids’. Unrequited love. First day of school nerves. The school dance. First kiss anxiety along with ALL sorts of sexual discovery (Season 1, Episode 3 is memorable).
What’s so great about this show though, is that it’s not as simple as me telling you in a review what I love about it. It’s about seeing it yourself and how it makes you feel. Those ‘a-ha’ moments when you relate to your own past feelings of insecurity and when you though it was just you who felt that way . When it acknowledges the universal feelings we have all had in our various iterations of being in Grade 7, whether we were cool kids, jocks, nerds, teachers pets or class clowns.
So much to cringe about.
In case anyone is wondering what the show title is about, I should add this too is a bit of Grade 7 trivia. As a joke, kids used to tell gullible classmates that they were starting a Pen Club, and did they want to be a member? The targeted Gullible Classmate would respond “yes”. The recruiter would then say they would write their membership number on the back of their new recruits hand and would write Pen15. This resulted in classmates then laughing and shouting that the new recruit had ‘penis’ written on themselves. Cue much torture for the rest of the day.
The fact that Pen15 secured a second season tells me everything I needed to know. That I was not alone in thoroughly enjoying this show. The second season was cut short at 7 episodes instead of the planned 13 because of the pandemic, but it will be back for a third.
I guess I wasn’t the only one who liked to see myself portrayed just that little more accurately in some ways onscreen.
Pen15 is available to stream now on SkyAtlantic in the UK, and on Hulu in the USA. In Canada. It’s available on CBC Gem.