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PEN15 - Awfully titled sitcom that's actually really good.

Started by Moribunderast, February 24, 2019, 08:10:21 AM

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Moribunderast

The new Hulu comedy series, PEN15 comes armed with some immediate barriers to entry. Firstly, the title is shit. Secondly, the premise seems very gimmicky: a high-school show set in the year 2000 starring two women in their 30s pretending to be teenagers. Those barriers are worth smashing through, though, because the show is really lovely, in my humble opinion.

Now I may be biased towards it as it follows characters who are basically the same age I was in the period it was set so the references speak directly to me but I think it tackles the general issues most teenagers face in their lives really well. Which makes it sound like a drippy drama, which it most assuredly isn't. It's funny - very fucking funny at times. There's an episode based around some kids excitedly gathering to watch Wild Things which had me cackling throughout.

The show is created, written by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, two women I'm unfamiliar with. They're brilliant in this. The whole show would basically live or die on their performances as 13-year-old girls (given they're both around the 30-mark in real life) but their performances are both natural and funny. Maya especially has a tremendous comedic energy and managed to make me laugh with the smallest facial tics or physical moves. The writing is spot-on - I'm sure there's people who'll find it "been there, done that" or by the numbers but I just found it really sweet and funny and authentic. The actual children that feature as the surrounding cast at school are really good, especially some kid who I couldn't believe isn't the younger brother of Choral from The Walking Dead. Fucker looks identical.

It's a show set in high-school so you know what to expect. Awkward exchanges around young romance, dealing with gossip and bullying, family troubles, the pressure to live up to the musical standards of your father who drums in a Steely Dan cover-band... I just found the show really sang, mainly due to the lead performances and the tone it struck. At times it reminded me of Freaks and Geeks but it's a little broader than that and it's not afraid to take odd little turns.

I'm thinking this one won't be to everyone's (or many's) tastes but I loved it. Probably my favourite comedy of the year thus far. I chose to watch episodes of it ahead of Jon Glaser Loves Gear, which feels like a personal betrayal of Jon Glaser but also speaks to how much I was enjoying this. Give it a try.

Small Man Big Horse

I'm three episodes in and really enjoying it too, at first I thought the casting aspect was a bit gimmicky but it definitely allows them to do things they couldn't if they'd used real thirteen year old's (when Maya becomes addicted to masturbation, for instance) and the friendship between the two girls/women is really affecting and sweet.

St_Eddie

I just can't.  I can't watch a show titled PEN15.  The barrier to entry is just too much.

Moribunderast

Quote from: St_Eddie on February 24, 2019, 09:55:44 AM
I just can't.  I can't watch a show titled PEN15.  The barrier to entry is just too much.

I know, I know. When I've recommended it to friends I've basically quickly mumbled the title and then gone into my spiel of why it's great in spite of that. Interestingly, did you know the numbers 1 and 5 look like an 'I' and an 'S', so when put together at the end of the word 'Pen' it LOOKS like you're spelling the word 'Penis'? Just a bit of trivia for ya.

St_Eddie

Quote from: Moribunderast on February 24, 2019, 10:11:25 AM
Interestingly, did you know the numbers 1 and 5 look like an 'I' and an 'S', so when put together at the end of the word 'Pen' it LOOKS like you're spelling the word 'Penis'? Just a bit of trivia for ya.

Oh, well that changes everything.  I shall watch the show immediately.

(said no-one ever)

Seriously though, why did they title their show as PEN15?  Did they want to actively put people off watching it?  Is this some kind of The Producers type of scam?  If so, it's very effective because I will never watch a show titled PEN15, no matter how much other people tell me that it's great.

olliebean

Well, Scrotal Recall turned out OK (although it was a fucking relief when Netflix renamed it Lovesick).

BlodwynPig


St_Eddie


Chriddof

They should have been a bit more subtle about it and called it Pen Fifteen.

St_Eddie

Quote from: Chriddof on February 24, 2019, 04:08:10 PM
They should have been a bit more subtle about it and called it Pen Fifteen.

I agree with this.  I wouldn't feel so ashamed to watch a programme titled 'Pen Fifteen', as I could always claim ignorance.  PEN15; not so much.  Denial of knowledge, quite frankly, just wouldn't be credible in that situation and my reputation is already laying in miserable tatters, as is.  Just not a image destroying thing that I need in my life and on my shelf.

Moribunderast

Now I'm kinda annoyed I brought up the title thing because I don't want the thread to be totally interested in that at the expense of the fact that the show is genuinely really good. I was surprised, given that it's adults pretending to be kids, surrounded by other kids, how little that actually entered my mind while watching. There are some very obvious and absurd physical jokes that come about through it (any romance scene, really) but for the most part they just really believably perform among a much younger cast. And they manage to tackle the obvious teen issues without feeling like an after-school special.

I do hope people give it a chance. If only for Maya Erskine's performance which is regularly hilarious.

PlanktonSideburns

Trailer looks good - is there a free way to watch it in the UK?

Ja'moke

I binged it all a couple of week's ago. It's really good, especially after the first couple of episodes, which kind of nail all the obvious jokes you'd expect out of the premise. It gets much more under the surface of the characters in later episodes.

Chanced upon this after hearing about it on podcast, if you haven't seen it you really should give it a chance - it's great.

Ignore the name, it's irrelevant to the show.

peanutbutter

This is pretty good and, being set in a US city in 2000, is pretty much technologically and culturally very much in line with a lot of what I had in rural Ireland in 2004.


Maya Erskine's great in Plus One too if anyone wants to see more of her.

Quote from: peanutbutter on September 29, 2019, 06:30:10 PM
This is pretty good and, being set in a US city in 2000, is pretty much technologically and culturally very much in line with a lot of what I had in rural Ireland in 2014.



Surely this is the more accurate date?

Replies From View

Unfortunately I will not be giving this a chance due to its terrible title.  :(

kyema

Want to bump this because I just finished watching it and I think it deserves some attention. Laugh out loud funny, but also very sweet. It seemed to remind my wife of lots of embarrassing memories from her teens, but unlike other cringe-related shows it provided catharsis.

ajsmith2

It's jarring to read the phrase 'set in the year 2000' and remember that that phrase isn't being used in the context of a sci fi show, but one set 2 decades in the past :/

jofo

Quote from: peanutbutter on September 29, 2019, 06:30:10 PM
This is pretty good and, being set in a US city in 2000, is pretty much technologically and culturally very much in line with a lot of what I had in rural Ireland in 2004.


Maya Erskine's great in Plus One too if anyone wants to see more of her.

loved her it that, Maya carrying that movie like the muthafuka Hulk.

Retinend


Solid Jim

There is a trailer for series two that nobody has mentioned thus far. It appears the first 7 episodes will be out next month.

I think I read in an interview that they didn't want to ever have the characters age up, but remain perpetually in the same grade of middle school. This would seem to put an expiry date on the show, as the other kids will ironically become too old to convincingly play 13-year-olds.

PowerButchi

It's an absolutely brilliant show. I went in thinking it'd be shocking but it won me over and was all watched in an evening. Also the last episode reminded me how much a clapper that All My Life and K Ci and the other one was.

The AIM based episode was superb.

peanutbutter

First half of the second episode was released there a few days ago.

Quote from: peanutbutter on September 29, 2020, 10:07:23 PM
First half of the second episode was released there a few days ago.

Thanks for the heads up. I love the show - it would kill if it was on Netflix.

Moribunderast

I really enjoyed the second season (or at least, Part One of it). Not quite as funny as I remembered but still feels so authentic to the time and actually had some emotional moments that registered with me. It was still plenty funny, to clarify, but nothing got me as much as the Wild Things episode from s1 got me.

fucking ponderous

Quote from: Moribunderast on October 02, 2020, 11:14:05 AM
I really enjoyed the second season (or at least, Part One of it). Not quite as funny as I remembered but still feels so authentic to the time and actually had some emotional moments that registered with me. It was still plenty funny, to clarify, but nothing got me as much as the Wild Things episode from s1 got me.
It's definitely more somber than the first season but that's not a bad thing as they clearly know how to write drama as well as comedy. And the more serious tone just made the more out and out surreal moments (thinking of the
Spoiler alert
breast feeding
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) funnier to me, made the show feel like its own oddball thing.

fucking ponderous

Also it appears this is more an American thing but I remember many times in middle/high school boys asking each other if they wanted to be in the "Pen 15 club" and if the victim said yes he'd have "pen15" written on his arm which of course looks like something else. Just giving an explanation of the title here. An alternative route was (and I find this more clever) asking if the boy has ever been to "pen island".

I really enjoyed this season, Maya Erskine is just incredibly watchable isn't she? I can't imagine how good this would be if you were a girl who grew up in the era it is set.

Also, surely it would be impossible to make this show with the sexes of the leads swapped?

Two 33 year old males acting with mid-teen girls would be asking for trouble?

Special K

Watched this on the back of this thread and it's the best thing I've watched in ages. Took a few episodes until it clicked but when it did, I was hooked.

The scene in Season 2, Episode 6 when Maya does the scene rehearsal in her bedroom is incredible, a real masterclass in acting. As Better Midlands writes above, she's incredibly watchable and steals every scene she's in. That's not to take anything away from Anna, who fits into the role of an awkward teenager so well. One frustration however, was
Spoiler alert
Maya not getting her first kiss
[close]

One question though,
Spoiler alert
in the last episode of the second season, the scene during the play. The starved for attention girl Maura is seen in the audience flanked by, what I assume, are her parents. Both appear to be women and both are wearing masks. Can anyone explain this scene to me, I don't readily grasp symbolism on TV shows.
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