Your Rivals Aren't Your Enemies: Awkward Ditches The Mean Girls Trope

Awkward premiered on MTV in 2011 with a very weird premise, even when you consider it was joining a network with a show about a lacrosse playing werewolf. High school sophomore Jenna (Ashley Rickards) gets an anonymous letter advising her to "stop being a pussy," and a bathroom accident, which involves a bottle of aspirin, a hairdryer thrown in the tub, and a handful of razors for good measure, leaves everyone —from her parents to her gossiping peers — convinced that she tried to kill herself.
The show shook free of that storyline pretty quickly, and easily moved on to a love triangle, picking up more hormonal adolescents until it stretched into some monstrous love-polygon that all teen shows aspire to. But possibly, the most important thing Awkward has done, during its four season run (coming up on its final, number five), is ditch the mean girls trope.

In the world of Awkward, there have been mean girls, to be sure, but they've had moments of redemption, which didn't mean they had to change overnight. In too many sub-par teen dramas, a bully sees the light in a single episode, cries it out, and then becomes the former victim's BFF overnight. But Awkward's resident queen bee, Sadie (Molly Tarlov), is seen as a girl struggling with her own issues from the very first episode, when she has to deal with her body insecurities. In later seasons, she proves herself a true friend, and even reaches common ground with an enemy. But she's still her catty, insult slinging self. The character has been allowed to grow as a person, without growing into a completely different person.
In Awkward's fourth season, while Jenna continues to pine for Matty (a guy first introduced as the popular kid, who would only deign to sleep with her in the darkness of a broom closet), he starts dating apparent supergirl Gabby. Every bit of proof that Gabby is a kind human being isn't suspect just to the jealous Jenna, but for the audience as well, who is conditioned to think the rival girl will reveal her true evil intentions before the credits role. But she doesn't. She is nice, because, as Awkward takes pains to show, your rival doesn't have to be your enemy. And yes, Jenna's later mistake does put a crimp in their budding friendship, but that's just fodder for the show's necessary drama. The message has already been sent.

Season five's theme reaches a finality, with a focus on the end of high school, and a close to that huge chapter of the characters' lives. And it'll probably resort to clichés on occasion, like things getting bigger and better, as students leave high school behind. But by subverting the mean girls trope, it could usher in more teen TV filled with multi-faceted characters, rather than one-dimensional stereotypes.

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