The new year is, thankfully, not Eva bad, but there’s also no new hook for the year that could be seen as something uniquely season five. Senior year began last year, so that’s nothing new, most of the characters and situations are direct continuation from the fallout of spring break, and there’s yet to be any notable addition to the cast. Perhaps a good decision stemming from the drama-overload of spring break is a little character arc forming for Matty and Jake, a fissure growing between the likes of which haven’t been seen since season two, and doubly worse this time around.
But, otherwise, season five’s biggest hamartia is its wheels-spinning continuation of Jenna (Ashley Rickards, straining in believably as a 17-year-old as the years go on) and Matty’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. The two have both will-they’d and won’t-they’d so many times over the course of the series, I can’t imagine anyone out there, even diehard fans, caring as much as they do for the couple as they did in season two’s Jake or Matty struggle. It’s the backbone of the show, so it can’t be thrown under the rug, but at this point I think the best move for creator and showrunner Lauren Iungerich is to address it head-on: either they get together and it works harmoniously and drama stems from the outside, or they get over one another once and for all. The end of episode two suggests neither outcome will happen anytime soon.
Especially lacking in the first two episodes of season five is the show’s quick-witted repartee between its characters. They all still talk in a heightened, unrealistically amusing way – think Aaron Sorkin filtered through the mind of an SNL writer working on a John Hughes sketch – but it doesn’t feel as pointed or, well, funny anymore. There’s some golden nuggets in there for sure, especially an endearing aside given by Ally (Barret Swatek) to Sadie (Molly Tarlov) – “Other than that you’ve been a real pain in my an'” – but the Mean Girls-esque quotability of early years has largely evaporated.
Which is maybe the most disappointing angle to take when stepping back and looking at Awkward as a whole: over the course of five seasons, the show has managed to discuss actual, meaningful worries kids in high school face on a level that feels about as far away from an after-school special as you can get. Season five doesn’t feel like it’s about anything anymore, other than which upper-torso Jenna will eventually end up with; there’s none of the anxiety of season one or indecision of season two or even the extremely cutting alienation of season three.
The show’s yet to truly delve into the angst of preparing for college and losing your close friends to different schools, so hopefully that will fuel the rest of Awkward’s final season in the place of the same relationship dramas we’ve seen since season one. I have hope for the show to go out on its highest point ever, because when it’s at its best, Awkward – despite its silly score and over-the-top characters and even its network – feels somehow important. There’s a legion of seniors out there who will feel specifically connected to the show’s final hurrah, and Awkward‘s writers owe it to to them – and all its fans – to end the show on as epic a note as they intend to end their own senior years.
What is Awkward without the scathing wit and emotionally relevant stories of earlier years? A season opener that lacks the bittersweet charm of its own 30-second ads. Or, to put it in Tamara's own words: one Big Fail Mary.