Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Five seasons and four years later, and there’s a sort of quiet ease into which the MTV sitcom template-setter that is Awkward presents its fifth year: not with a senior-year bang, but with a whimper as bittersweet and disappointing as the gang’s handful of failed pranks dotted throughout the premiere. Its stars still shine and its drama still crackles with a heightened hilarity that only a show with this high level of acronyms-to-actual words could muster, but its lost some of its acerbic spark that surprised everyone back in 2011.
Jenna and co. aren’t as ribald and breezingly candid, the writing feels more like an interpretation of Awkward than actually Awkward, and the decision to continue last year’s most interminable plots instead of just tying them up in the prologue and catapulting the team into something new, all lends the first hour of season five a feeling of tacked-on frivolousness rather than a fresh new start. There’s still life in the show – especially the promise of these characters in college, possibly in season 5B – but you can’t help but get the feeling that this section of season five will be the year that fan apologists reference as a low point when the box set of the series comes out after everything is said and done.
The premiere picks up after the end of spring break last year, with a fully naked janitorial closet expositional dump that’s at least a humorous alternative to a stock “previously on” segment. The senior class is planning a senior streak day, but it doesn’t exactly work out, and neither does Matty’s (Beau Mirchoff) other lackluster ideas. Turns out, he’s kind of the only one caring about any of it, with everyone else spiralling around the leftover drama from that trip to Mexico. Well, except for Cole (Monty Geer) and Theo (Evan Crooks), who rescue the dismal prank amateurs with an epic hallway suds party (someone give these two a spin-off) that results in a big secrets-spill at the end of the premiere.
Infidelity, jealousness, and (for some reason, still unexplained) teen marriage are all still unspooling around the Palos Verdes-set high school. The frustrating thing about the fifth year of Awkward is that the stories are interesting taken in a vacuum, but feel somewhat recycled from earlier seasons. The show has been at its best when it went off on crazy, unexpected tangents (e.g. season three’s Dark Jenna storyline combo’d with Ming’s Asian Mafia rise to power) and less when it relies on traditional soapy sources of inspiration, like last year’s Eva arc that lasted a few episodes and felt like entire galaxies were dying before it finished.