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Hulu series ‘Pen15′ is a hilarious, unexpurgated look at middle school

Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle

New show Pen15, which debuted on Hulu over the weekend, is a hilarious, R-rated look at the awkward, middle school-era of adolescence in all its embarrassing glory playing out somewhere between Freaks & Geeks and Netflix’s animated series Big Mouth. The show was created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, both 31, who star as 7th grade versions of themselves in 2000 with the rest of the school’s cast played by actual kids. It sounds a bit weird on paper, and it plays like a Strangers with Candy type joke at first, but they never wink at the audience and very quickly you just accept that these two are 12-13-year-olds.

This allows Pen15 — a reference to the “club” which actually isn’t brought up in the show — to depict things you couldn’t with actual 12-year-olds, like all things puberty (the third episode is dedicated to the discovery of masturbation). Other subjects: smoking, drinking, crushes, AIM obsession (this is 2000, remember), cliques, make-out parties, dances, divorce, racism, and more. It sounds like the usual stuff, but the point of view is so specific and is portrayed so realistically, it remains fresh throughout all 10 episodes. It’s also consistently hilarious, sometimes cringey, but always grounded in real emotions. (They show also pulls off more than a few dramatic, emotional moments with finesse.) They make good use out of the Y2K setting, but unlike Netflix’s mediocre ’90s teen show Everything Sucks!, doesn’t shove references in your face constantly. Pen15 doesn’t really make a wrong move, and I think it’s one of the best new shows of the last year. Watch the trailer below.

While Bikini Kill’s “Demirep” is Pen15‘s theme song (weirdly of the moment), but music in the series is, appropriately, ’00s pop (one episode’s subplot is trying to win tickets to see B*Witched), including Britney, Xtina, Mandy Moore, Sisqo (thongs play into one of the show’s funniest episodes), Nelly, Spice Girls, *NSYNC, 98° and more. Hulu made an official playlist and you can listen to that below.

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