In Pen15, co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle painstakingly outline the horror and hellscape that is middle school — and now, in a special episode, they’re bringing viewers along on the thrilling, sometimes disappointing journey of going on a family vacation. As if to emphasise the surreal, liminal setting of a Florida vacation hotspot, “Jacuzzi,” now streaming, is also be completely animated.
It’s been almost a year since Pen15’s midseason finale, so a quick refresher: Erskine’s fictionalised, 13-year-old persona, Maya, was left devastated when Gabe (Dylan Gage) not only rebuffed her onstage kiss, but awkwardly dumped her afterwards. Anna, on the other hand, shared a rare sweet moment with her mom (Melora Waters) after her dad, Curtis (Taylor Nichols), no-showed on opening night. When we last saw both girls, they were jetting off in Anna’s dad’s brand-new car — and when we first see them in “Jacuzzi,” Anna, Maya, and Curtis are all en route to a dinky Florida hotel.
Konkle and Erskine had already planned to drop a special bridge episode between the first and second instalments of season 2. But a week before they were set to start shooting, film and TV production shut down across California — plus, both Konkle and Erskine were pregnant. Like other comedies including One Day at a Time and black-ish, they decided to try their hand at an animated episode.
“We had the choice when COVID happened: Should we try to wait and do this when things open up, or should we get this out sooner and just do it animated?” Konkle told Vanity Fair. “We needed to be passionate about it being animated to do it. It couldn’t just be, like, second fiddle to the ideal, so we started digging in creatively.”
“Digging in” meant taking advantage of the animated format and implementing gags and gimmicks that wouldn’t work in a live-action episode. In one standout moment, Anna and Maya commission a cartoon from a boardwalk caricature artist; they then become so obsessed with the less-than-flattering drawing that they turn into the exaggerated caricatures of themselves. This irreverent detail was written into the original script, but they were originally going to wear prosthetics. With animation, though, they were able to take the schtick even further.
“The first time you discover insecurities stays with you for the rest of your life,” Konkle told Variety. “So can we use this device and tell almost the entire episode through an exaggerated image? That was what we were excited about.”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the second half of season 2 is here quite yet. It took a while to start filming again — especially because, as Erskine told Variety, an entire episode takes place at a very crowded (and not very COVID-safe) bat mitzvah. In a July Instagram Story, Konkle guessed that the last seven episodes of the season will drop sometime around January 2022. In the meantime, “Jacuzzi” should tide you over. You’ll have to wait just a little while longer to see Anna and Maya in the flesh.