By Michal Shvimer
In a mission to dive headfirst into niche comedies created by and starring women, I stumbled upon “PEN15,” a perfect example of such a comedy. The show’s creators, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, play their 13-year-old selves as experimental seventh graders and best friends.
What’s the 411?
Reminiscent of a live-action “Big Mouth,” “PEN15” is incriminatingly cringy. Viewers follow Maya and Anna’s first exposures to masturbation, drinking, IM’ing, thongs, shaving and boy drama.
Their experiences are perfectly adolescent — spare no grotesque details. The early 2000s aesthetic of the show only exacerbates the awkwardness. And if you didn’t think that wasn’t worth a wince, imagine two 31-year-old women playing two middle school girls, braces and all.
Nothing says seventh grade in the early 2000s like Maya Ishii-Peters rocking cargo pants and a bowl cut and secretly IM’ing “Flymiamibro22.”
But at the heart of the show is the impenetrable friendship between Maya and Anna. Their sisterly bond is the focus of the each episode, as they grow together, learn together and love each other through their awkwardness.
They’re not perfect friends to each other, much like real middle schoolers. Maya wants to push her boundaries, but Anna doesn’t want to leave her comfort zone, especially not without her best friend. But they work things out, strengthening their friendship in the meantime.
Why it’s PEN15/10
This girl-girl best friendship seems like a must-have dynamic in contemporary women’s comedies. From “Broad City” to “2 Broke Girls” and now “PEN15,” viewers are eating up the adventures of girl best friends not only for their hilarious excursions, but for the heartwarming relationship.
“PEN15” provides the best of both worlds but with a much-appreciated middle school twist.
Speaking of the middle school twist, adolescence has been celebrated in mainstream comedies lately. From “Big Mouth” to “Sex Education,” Hollywood has really capitalized on teenagers discovering their own changing bodies.
And let me say, it’s about dang time. TV Shows that embrace realistic adolescence make those currently experiencing it not feel so alone, and those who have already experienced it laugh at the commonality of their embarrassments.
I’d like to think there’s a little something for everyone in this show, and although it’s just in its early stages, I’m excited to see where it goes. It premiered on Hulu on Feb. 8, so there’s plenty of time for the show to be (fingers crossed) renewed.
My only qualm with the glorified best friend dynamic is that it idealizes the idea of one person providing all the support, fun and understanding you need — putting a lot of pressure on that friendship.
Other than that, I recommend the binge! Grab your retainer, your middle school memories, a few good gal pals and let “PEN15” do the rest.