That New Hulu Show I Can't Stop Watching
Several people in my ‘circle’ had been talking about PEN15 on Hulu for months before I finally took the time to watch it myself. It’s a show set in middle school in the year 2000, where thirty-two-year-olds Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play seventh-grade best-friend teenage-outcast versions of themselves (Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kone) amongst actual middle school-aged actors/characters. And honestly, at first, I didn’t get it. I even thought I hated it. But it was so weird that I couldn’t stop watching it.
I just finished watching the entire season a second time (as you do) and the final verdict is in: I love it. The lead actors are belly-laugh funny, and so accurately and awkwardly and heartwarmingly and heartbreakingly portray all that is weird and wonderful about the middle of middle school. The younger actors equally hold their own, but even when they don’t, it only adds to the comedy (see: multiple scenes where Shuji, Maya’s ‘older’ brother, turns away to hide his laughter).
I’ve taught all secondary grades 7-12 and now university for nearly a decade, and the start of my career was in seventh grade. Looking back on it all, that was by far my favorite age-group. I’ve been told countless times that “it takes a special sort of person to teach and enjoy teaching seventh grade” and yes, I loved it partly because I’m still that weird seventh-grade kid, too. But seventh grade might be one of the worst years of life—your body is too big for you to comfortably exist in, you have all these feelings that no one else has ever had and therefore could ever understand, everyone’s looking at you, talking about you, plotting against you, and to top it all off, you smell—and that’s why it’s so fun to teach it, to be someone who seems to get it, who tries to help you figure ‘it’ out, which is all you spend your time trying to do. And that’s why this show is so good—it gets it.
Seventh grade looks different now than it did in 2000, or in 2002 when I started seventh grade. But at the heart of it, it’s still the same. Weird and wonderful.