Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Pilot Review: Pen15

Pen15 (Hulu)
Premiered February 8

Now here’s a show that isn’t even trying to be mature, starting from the point of having its title serve as an infantile reference to genitalia. There have been many shows recently that have tried to approach the teenage years from a novel angle, including “Sex Education” and “Big Mouth,” two very different interpretations of oversexed young people and the outlets they find for their fantasies and real-life issues. The notion of having two thirty-year-olds play versions of themselves going through middle school is mildly appealing for the visual humor it provides, but that’s about it. This show makes its protagonists seem like bullies because they’re so much bigger and evidently older than everyone else, and not in the way that many high school-set shows and movies often feature clearly older actors. I didn’t think I knew either Maya Erskine or Anna Konkle, who serve as co-creators along with Sam Zvibleman and star as Maya and Anna, respectively. A quick look on IMDB shows that Erskine played Rae on “Casual,” a role I enjoyed greatly. Little of this opening half-hour reminded me of the actress’ spark there, and it’s hard to find much to applaud on this show that delivers exactly what it promises: efforts to be inappropriate and crude at every juncture in a way that’s supposed to be made funnier by the physical presentation of adults reflecting back on their childhood while surrounded by actual kids. It’s a gimmick, and one that doesn’t end up being nearly as transformative or revelatory as its star-creators seem to think it is.

How will it work as a series? I can’t imagine that much more of it, since most of the bases of seventh grade have already been covered, from dolls to drugs to kissing. Their friendship will no doubt be put to the test time and time again, and I suspect that, true to form to the people it presents, they’ll manage to get over each hurdle even if considerable drama occurs until each eventual moment of forgiveness.
How long will it last? The reviews are surprisingly good, which baffles me but probably shouldn’t since I know that I’m not in the target demographic for this show. Hulu is trying to build up its brand as it goes up against competitors Netflix and Amazon, and having fare like this will help it diversify the type of content it airs and keep it relevant. I don’t see why a second season wouldn’t be commissioned.

Pilot grade: C

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