Farewell to 'Pen15,' the Weirdest, Sweetest, Saddest, Funniest Show About the Growing Pains of Middle School

With news that the new episodes of 'Pen15' with be the last, Alan Sepinwall bids farewell to the weirdest, sweetest, saddest, funniest show about middle school

Anna Konkle, Maya Erskine

12/2/2021 10:36:00 PM

With news that the new episodes of ' Pen15 ' with be the last, Alan Sepinwall bids farewell to the weirdest, sweetest, saddest, funniest show about middle school

The second half of Season Two — just announced by creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle as the series’ final batch of episodes — is as trenchant a study of adolescence as ever

This news only went public in aNew Yorkerprofilepublished earlier this week, as I was in the midst of bingeing screeners of what would now be the concluding episodes. That sense of finality isn’t really palpable in the new installments, other than a lovely, wistful, perfect closing scene featuring the two BFFs in a contemplative mood. But the episodes continue the shift into more dramatic territory, leaving

Pen15as one of the more unexpectedly perceptive shows ever made about the many horrors and complications of puberty.Important themes and stories carry over from when last we saw the girls. Maya continues to wrestle with her budding sexuality, going through elaborate and secret masturbation rituals one minute, then loudly trying to reframe herself as still a little kid the next. (An old friend who’s a year younger comes to visit, and in comparison makes Maya look like… well, like a woman in her thirties.) The stress of her parents’ divorce, plus a social studies lesson about the Holocaust, sends Anna searching for a deeper meaning in life, and eventually joining her church’s youth group. The biracial Maya’s sense of otherness remains a constant source of microaggression from her peers — a popular classmate is surprised to learn that Maya is only half-Japanese with a white father (Richard Karn’s Fred), saying, “You look full.” (That theme is also central to the now-obligatory, but here wonderfully executed, episode told from a supporting character’s POV: This time we learn how Maya’s immigrant mother Yuki — played by Erskine’s real-life mom, Mutsuko — feels caught between her two home countries.)

Pen15can still be a stressful and uncomfortable show to watch, whether the girls are obliviously walking into another public humiliation or acting very much beyond their years. Like Netflix’sBig Mouth, the use of adult actors playing middle-schoolers grants a license for a certain degree of sexual frankness that would be impossible with younger actors. But there are still plenty of moments where you may feel compelled to pause the action, take a walk around the block, and grapple with the choices that have brought you here, and whether you can watch any more. headtopics.com

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But it’s always worth it to go back. As both actors and writers, Erskine and Konkle are so smart about the nuances of this moment in kids’ lives. They can still mine that knowledge for big laughs, like a surreal sequence where Maya has a bad reaction to ADD meds, or a disgusting joke about Anna’s pet hamster. But, to the end,

Pen15feels much more in the neighborhood ofMy So-Called LifeSaturday Night Live.In another understated meta-joke, a girl in Anna’s youth group tells her, “You talk like you’re 40, kind of.” Anna takes this as a compliment, explaining, “Most people don’t reach their full potential until they’re 38.”

Pen15only needed a few years to reach its full potential. I’ll miss it very much.All seven remaining episodes ofPen15premiere Dec. 3 on Hulu. I’ve seen it all.

Read more: Rolling Stone »

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This Week in TV: ‘Money Heist’ and ‘Pen15’ End, ‘Annie Live’ABC's 'Live in Front of a Studio Audience' and the People's Choice Awards are also set to air between Dec. 2 and 8. Might check out The Last Duel Im so overwhelmed by so much new content I usually just say fck it & go back to re-watching my old faves. We are everywhere MoneyHeistToken

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This Week in TV: ‘Money Heist’ and ‘Pen15’ End, ‘Annie Live’ABC's 'Live in Front of a Studio Audience' and the People's Choice Awards are also set to air between Dec. 2 and 8. Might check out The Last Duel Im so overwhelmed by so much new content I usually just say fck it & go back to re-watching my old faves. We are everywhere MoneyHeistToken

Michigan suspect recorded video about killing students night before shooting, officials sayAuthorities investigating a shooting that left four high school students dead in Michigan found videos on the suspect’s phone that showed him talking about

Michigan suspect recorded video about killing students night before shooting, officials sayAuthorities investigating a shooting that left four high school students dead in Michigan found videos on the suspect’s phone that showed him talking The parents were warned and bought more UNSECURED guns in the house. Arrest them too All he needed was his dad to buy a weapon and leave it unsecured. That's all it took. Make sure you THANK HIS PARENTS FOR A JOB WELL DONE!👎

NPR Cookie Consent and Choicesthe inclusive tone - by using the term “students” - is appreciated. however, why exclude teachers, janitors, administrative staff and any school workers from this?! Misogyny is institutionalized in America 5 states. FIVE. I swear this country hates women.