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How MTV's Faking It Overcame Its Flimsy Premise — Plus New Season Spoilers!

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Photo: Courtesy of MTV.
MTV’s Faking It, which premiered in April of 2014, seemed like a show crafted entirely on a flimsy gimmick: Two teen girls, tired of their status as high school nobodies, pretend to be lesbians to become popular and get elected homecoming queens. The trailer pointed out many of the obvious questions that would arise. How long can they keep faking it? What if someone discovers their secret? Are they playing directly into the long-perpetuated heterosexual male fantasy of hooking up with a lesbian? Would the show be offensive to queer teens whose own sexuality isn’t just a label to be applied when it’s on-trend?

Faking It
seals its fate with a kiss at the end of the first episode. The two female leads, Amy (Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens), lock lips in front of the entire school at a homecoming assembly, to prove that they really are a couple. They’re not, of course, but Karma — the ringleader of the two — has convinced Amy to go along with the scheme so that they won’t have to spend another weekend watching Netflix. When they kiss, Karma feels nothing besides excitement over her new popularity and the party invites to come. Amy, on the other hand, starts to feel something she never expected to feel about her best friend. In that moment, which closes the pilot, viewers realized that Faking It was going to overcome its paper-thin set-up. The show returns for the second half of its second season on August 31.

“I knew that I wanted to have one of the best friends fall in love with [the other], and I wanted it to be a journey exploring that,” show-runner and executive producer Carter Covington tells Refinery29. “Growing up in the closet in North Carolina, I was constantly having feelings for my best friends that I couldn’t express. And as I talked to other friends, so many people had that moment of, like, I kind of want this friendship to be more, but I don’t know if the other person feels the same way. I think that it transcends straight or gay. It’s just kind of a universal coming-of-age feeling.”

Fans responded strongly to the show’s central couple. A search on Tumblr for Karmy (the nickname that’s been coined for Karma and Amy) yields hundreds of GIFs, quotes, and tagged results. Their bond has been tested immensely in the two seasons that have aired so far. Not only has Amy confessed that her love for Karma is more than platonic (and Karma responded that she didn’t share those same romantic feelings), but Amy also slept with Karma’s love interest, Liam (Gregg Sulkin) after Karma rejected her. That kind of betrayal is tough to watch, but feels very true to the teenage experience.

“My premise for the show has always been that this is a romantic comedy about two best friends. We want to make sure that we show how they struggle to remain best friends, and how hard that is when there’s been big betrayals,” Covington explains. Fans were devastated when Amy slept with Liam, but their vitriol — and there was vitriol — was exactly what Covington was aiming for. “I want everyone to be so invested that I can make their blood boil if I want to. I wanted this show to challenge people and make them dive for the next episode because they want to see how things turn out.”

Faking It
is also a show that feels like it could only exist right at this moment in time. Series like Glee (2009-2015) and Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-present) featured queer characters, but they were presented with their sexuality fully figured out — and it was usually their defining trait. Faking It ditches the binary paradigm that has dominated for so long and shows characters who are still in the process of exploring their identities. These characters also refuse to let their evolving sexualities become the most salient details about them — an idea that Karma nods to in Season 1, Episode 4, “Know Thy Selfie,” when she tells Liam, “I never really felt like [my parents] got me until I came out, and now they’re so excited, I’m worried they think my sexual orientation’s the most interesting thing about me.”

“That, to me, felt like breaking a new barrier and kind of the next evolution of this chain of shows that have broken ground when it comes to sexuality,” Covington says. “I think that, so often, people are pushed into this gay/straight binary that they don’t get to explore. I think that if more people explore, then you would see a lot more diversification in the way that people express their sexual orientation in the world. I don’t believe that everybody is born either gay or straight, and I think that is such an outdated way to think about sexuality."

The upcoming string of episodes, which MTV calls "Season 2B," will explore another area. “We’re going to discuss, briefly, male bisexuality and whether or not it exists...and what the double standard is," Covington explains.

Where Faking It has indisputably broken new ground is with the character of Lauren Cooper (Bailey De Young). The show is set in Austin, TX, at the very progressive Hester High School. Lauren is forever pointing out that in the rest of the state, a diminutive blonde conservative like her would be the homecoming queen. At Hester, she’s seen as an intolerant outcast. Lauren remains steadfast in her identity and beliefs, not only because she believes Hester and Austin are anomalies that she'll one day leave behind. She's also resistant to the open and tolerant people who populate them because she's afraid they'll learn her secret: She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a genetic intersex condition.

“We came up with Lauren’s intersex storyline at the beginning of the first season, because in a show called Faking It, we felt that everybody had something they were faking, except for Lauren,” Covington says. “GLAAD connected us with Advocates For Informed Choice, which is an advocacy group for intersex individuals. They shared stories with us. We met intersex individuals — a couple became consultants on the show — and we heard their stories and what it’s been like for them. Many of them had been told by doctors that they would never meet anyone else like them, even though it’s a very common occurrence. Intersex individuals are as common as meeting a redhead, so it was proof that this was shrouded in secrecy and given a lot of shame by the medical community. I think that really resonated with us with why Lauren could be so defensive.”

The intersex community hasn’t been reflected much in popular culture, especially on television, and the reaction to Lauren’s character has been positive. The show’s creative team and De Young also worked with Inter/Act, which calls itself “a youth group for young people with intersex conditions or DSD” (difference of sex development) to produce content, including videos and FAQs that further explain what it means to be intersex.

De Young accepted an award for her portrayal of Lauren from the AIS DSD Support Group, with whom AIC works very closely as partners in intersex advocacy, at their annual conference this summer. "AIC is grateful to Carter, his writers, actress Bailey De Young, and staff at MTV for listening to the voices of our Inter/Act youth and making every effort to portray TV's first intersex main character in an authentic and respectful way," Kimberly Zieselman, a board member of AIS DSD Support Group and executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice says in an email.

Fans are eagerly awaiting Faking It’s return on August 31. “This season, it’s a little bit about trust,” Covington hints. The trailer promises all sorts of hookups, breakups, Hester High protests — hi, naked Shane (Michael Willett) on a table — and even a friends-with-benefits situation for Karma and Liam. All of this from a show that started with two best friends pretending to be lesbians so they wouldn’t have to stay at home watching Netflix anymore.
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