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For a first-year showrunner, Awkward creator Lauren Iungerich hit the right note with MTV’s target teen demographic — and critics — in telling the story of a beleaguered teen as she struggles to figure out who she is and what she wants from life.
The series revolves around Ashley Rickards’ Jenna Hamilton as she navigates a complex relationship with her mother Lacey (Nikki Deloach)and juggles the affections of two very different guys in the classic good guy Jake (Brett Davern) and former flame Matty (Beau Mirchoff)was quickly renewed for a second season after nearly a month on the air.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Iungerich to discuss how she approaches writing complex teens, lessons from Season 1 and who stands to gain the most from a relationship with Jenna.
The Hollywood Reporter: Have you ever waivered on whether ultimately Jenna ends up with Matty or Jake because of fan reaction online?
Lauren Iungerich: Never. I love both of them and came in with a strong vision for both of those characters wanting to make them incredibly compelling and good contenders for Jenna’s heart. It was really hard after Season 1. I engage with my fans but I never let it dictate what kind of stories I’m going to tell; we have success because I believed in what I believed, and had a singular vision just checked in with my gut. If you engage too much with what other people have to say, you lose your vision.
What kind of research do you do to prepare to tell such a spot-on high school story?
Every year I go to my old high school and I talk to teenagers about their lives and the things are going through to stay engaged and to stay true to our show and ensuring that we are hitting the right notes. They had all watched the first season and were huge fans. One girl asked me why Lissa (Greer Grammer)was the only person of faith on the show and that why she was portrayed as dumb. I wanted to explore faith this season it really helped me make sure I did right by exploring kids of faith who are positive and not being sarcastic about it. The kids have also shamed me with some words I’ve used that are completely politically incorrect nowadays to use.
Looking back at Season 1, what was the biggest lesson that you learned?
This season is more complicated emotionally than the first season. I was a first time showrunner and I’d never run a writers’ room teaching them how to write how I write. It’s an impossible job, and the fact that we even got the show done was kind of a miracle. Coming into the second season I wanted to go to deeper places with the show and tell more complicated stories. If I look back at the first season, I don’t feel like I made mistakes; and I read every blog criticism of each episode and took their opinion and appreciated that I thought differently. The show feels very much like me and I like me. It’s taken me a long time to like me, but I like me now.
Jenna spent most of Season 1 figuring out who she is. What’s the theme of Season 2?
The first season is really about identity and an exploration of “Who am I?” though the eyes of Jenna as she’s exploring who she is. This season the driving theme is, “Who do I want to be with?” and that doesn’t just pertain to romantic entanglements but also to friendships and family for everyone. The driving force of Season 3 will be “Who do I want to be?” and making a choice in the decision of identity.
You pack so much story into 20 minutes. How do you think the show would change if it were an hour long?
It would lose its energy. I’m a total action-packed writer and I’m all about flow; it’s how I direct the show. There are occasional times when I have to cut things so that I can let themes that are romantic or emotional breathe and that’s imperative to the story telling. But I don’t think the show would be as special if it was an hour; it needs that pace, that’s what makes it special. It’s a whirlwind and its fun, and it makes you want to watch it again. It’s really moving but there’s a lot more comedy than the traditional sort of half-hour dramedies that you’d find on HBO or Showtime. It’s a question we always ask because I know that the fans always ask for more episodes, and we are writing more episodes this season but I don’t think making them longer would necessarily make them better.
As a big fan of TV, what do you watch that influences your writing?
I don’t watch a lot of comedy. While I write comedy, I tend to be a lover of drama and action. I was obsessed with [NBC/DirecTV’s] Friday Night Lights. I used to say, “This episode is like a three-tear episode.” I love to cry and feel. What Jason Katims did in five seasons was utterly beautiful. The story and who the people truly were came first. That’s what I sort of took away from it; to be so bold as to graduate people, and wrap up story lines or allow them to come back in organic ways and to fall in love with the new characters. I want to take a lesson from that. Moving forward, I’m going to take a note from the brave things that he did in that show. Maybe come back in Season 4 when everybody was new except for some peripheral characters like Tami [Connie Britton] and Eric [Kyle Chandler].
Lightning round: Who has the most to gain from a relationship with Jenna, Matty or Jake?
Matty, because Jake already has a good sense of who he is and Jenna helps Matty figure out who he is. Not overtly, but just through inspiration. The nice guy wins in this situation. I can’t tell you who wins, but I can tell you this: There are winners and losers, and then losers still win.
How will Jenna approach her mother after her parents separate because of the fallout from the letter?
It’s a real mother daughter relationship, so a real teenager girl who is pissed at her mom will be pissed at her mom. There’s an underlying tension there, but we kind of forget that it’s there and it resurfaces again in the most interesting way.
What does the arrival of Kristopher Polaha’s character mean for Lacey?
He’s someone from Lacey’s past. We’re exploring who Lacey was before she had Jenna and he’s an integral part of that.
Is he a threat to their marriage? What does Jenna think of him?
He’s absolutely a threat. Jenna Loves her dad and doesn’t like him.
By the end of the season, will Jenna have made a final decision between Matty and Jake?
There will be a decision and all I can say is it’s complicated.
Awkward premieres Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on MTV. Hit the comments with what you’re most looking forward to seeing.
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