When you’re younger, growing up is seamless. This isn’t to say that it isn’t rocky, full of awkwardness and discomfort, but rather that you’re less aware of the imminence of change. It’s gradual, your period starts, you start growing hair in places that were once a bald landscape. You think, Oh, this is new. This is happening to me. You don’t really see it coming. Your life is too short to induce a sense of introspection, there’s nothing really to look back to. You don’t have the neuroses to examine your behavioural patterns, you can’t dissect the seminal events of your life because you’re a little person with very little shame.
For me, these past few months, if it isn’t evident already, growing up has felt very different than what I’ve experienced in the past. As graduation inches closer, I feel like I’m being thrust into change, overcome by newness. Come September, I’m going to (hopefully) be somewhat employed (if anyone has any tips on how to do that, they are very welcome; my DMs are open). I won’t have school for my identity to lean on, or to use as a safety blanket when things aren’t going my way. I feel like I’m constantly hatching plans to have something to do with myself, searching for an outlet to place all my nervous energy and lead me to salvation, a.k.a. financial stability. Maybe I’ll take a year off and go to architecture school, do my CFA, maybe, just maybe, I’ll put my LSAT to good use and go to law school. None of these seem like feasible solutions to my lawless uncertainty but fantasizing about what I could do is easier than actually figuring out what I will do.
Watching PEN15 was a temporary antidote to my un-temporary problem. We follow best friends Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone, two middle-schoolers as they undergo the turbulence of seventh grade. Portrayed by real-life BFFs Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, they stand out amongst the rest of the cast, comprising actual seventh graders. They acquire and quickly lose boyfriends, get bullied, are constantly being left out, argue and make up. The chaos we see on screen merits deep belly laughs and a cringe-inducing resonance that hits close to home.
PEN15 is a high-wire act, balancing between outrageous hilarity and tender drama that is difficult to create, let alone maintain. The consistency of the show is baffling– how good it is at making me laugh and how good it is at making me cry. In this ultra-specific world that Erskine and Konkle have created, we relive perhaps our most tortured years, where we’re all ugly and horny and uncomfortable with our bodies. We see that growing up was gross, sure, but also, in a way, growing up is also magical.
Some instances seem lifted verbatim from my own life. Like when Maya first gets her period and she bundles toilet paper in her underwear as a makeshift pad, or when some girls go out of their way to say that Maya’s mom has an accent, to which she replies, “No she doesn’t.” Anna, in a moment of ignorance, says, “I just don’t think you hear it because she’s your mom.” I gasped when I heard this. Not because it’s rude or shocking, but because I’d experienced this same exchange on a few occasions and every time it goes exactly like this. Not similar, exact.
The second season, which is split into two parts to halve a fifteen-episode season, underlines the more angsty part of adolescence, in how we relate to friends, both old and new, and in how we react to family. It’s unclear when we’ll get the second half of season 2, but I hope to God it’s soon.
The one consolation to my constant state of terror is that growing up doesn’t really stop once you reach the traditional threshold of adulthood. In Search Party, whose entire series was added to Crave earlier this month, the core protagonists truly have no idea what is going on. They’re each in their own respective ruts that seem almost fabricated by their own design. All struggling late twenty-somethings, they get pulled into Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) quest to find a college acquaintance that has gone missing.
For a show that has been unhinged for years, season 4, which aired a few weeks ago, is absolutely off-the-rails– but only in a good way. The comedy is heightened, the twists and turns are sharp, and it’s a joy to watch every minute.
One of the great things about the show is that the casting is always pitch-perfect. The main quad that drives the action, composed of Dory (Alia Shawkat), Drew (John Reynolds), Portia (Meredith) Hagner, and Elliott (John Early), has such great chemistry that I could watch them do literally anything and I’d be engaged. On the exterior, adorning each season is a broad cast of characters that flow in and out of the show. On a recent episode of Las Culturistas, co-host Matt Rogers called Search Party, “Law and Order for comedy”, meaning that every single alt-comedian you follow on Twitter, Instagram, and/or TikTok will find their way onto the show and give a dazzling, if not iconic, performance. Notably, this season, Cole Escola is a stunner as Chip, their talent shines so brightly.
Even when they do find success, Portia as an actress in a movie about their life and Elliott hosting a talk show where he poses as a full-on homophobic, gun-toting Republican, it always comes at a cost. Their inability to find true happiness, discovering and deploying Band-Aid solutions to problems that only get bigger and suck more people into their spiral, is almost comforting.
Being far from this turmoil, or, at least, entering it for the first time, I obviously lack the perspective to truly know what this sense of being lost actually feels like. But I do understand that growing up is hard. It was hard in middle school, full of pimples and ill-fitting clothes from Aeropostale when it wasn’t cool anymore to wear Aeropostale. It seems like it’s gonna be hard later, too, struggling to find my place in the world and not having anything to fall back on. But that’s okay. I don’t think it’ll ever be easy, but I do know that one day I’ll be able to look back and laugh.
If you want…
… something entirely heartfelt and hilarious at once, watch Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). At first, I was very skeptical about this show despite my long-time crush Jason Sudeikis being at the helm, and I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
… something weird where it’s mostly nonsense (the science that they attempt to justify on this show is so ridiculous I cackle, like, why bother explaining if it’s DUMB) but still somehow fun, watch WandaVision (Disney+). I’ve been obsessed with Kathryn Hahn since her 11-episode stint on Parks and Recreation as campaign icon Jennifer Barkley and she’s great in this too!
… something devastating and prescient and that will make you angry beyond belief, watch It’s A Sin (Amazon PrimeVideo). I loved it so much that I almost dedicated this column to it. Warning: do not watch if you’re already in the middle of an emotional meltdown.
… something where women are bad people, watch I Hate Suzie (HBO Max). My mom’s name is Suzy and I love her and she’s a very good parent to me, unlike the Suzie in this show.
… something to remind you of how good 00’s television was, watch Veronica Mars (Crave). I rewatched the pilot one night because I couldn’t sleep and honestly, it holds up.
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