Review: Pen15 and the Golden Age of Women In Film and Television
(Writer: Marissa Gilliard)
Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of binge watching a new show. I don’t get to do this too often, and when I do I usually re-watch The Office for the hundredth time or Law and Order: SVU. But, this weekend I had a long weekend from work and had seen a ton of advertisements about a show that screamed me called Pen15, a Hulu original show.
From first glance, some people might think it’s a little weird that two adult, grown women are playing middle schoolers surrounded by actual middle school age actors. Trust me, this is why Pen15 is gold. The show was created and stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle who play Maya and Anna, two middle school outcasts trying to navigate middle school in the year 2000. The show also has a familiar early 2000’s face, as Richard Karn of Home Improvement fame plays Maya’s dad (who is a world class drummer in a steely dan cover band mind you). The shows theme song is “Demirep” by the punk girl band, Bikini Kill so I knew from that moment on I was going to love this show.
The show is mainly a cringe comedy, which is some of my favorite kind of humor. I was in 7th grade in 2007-2008, but I feel like this show relates to anyone who was in middle school in the early 2000’s. It was like looking in a mirror at some points, like playing elaborate back story games with figurines, picking a really embarrassing screen name and having your crush leave the chat (mine even had a similar screen name to Anna’s crush in the show), and of course blockbuster movie nights. While these are all told in an adult situational comedy, it never feels like Anna and Maya are talking down to middle schoolers, it’s showing that everyone goes through these things and we were all extremely awkward at some point. As much as you may think this is going to be an entire comedy show, the show has its dramatic moments that will tug on your heart strings (may give some spoilers, so skip over this part if you have to). Some of these moments are when Maya is called the ugliest girl in school by two popular boys, the racism episode, and when Anna’s parents tell her they are getting divorced. I caught myself crying a few times and I was like “I can’t believe a show called Pen15 is making me tear up!” Pen15 to me, is an amazingly written show that I believe everyone should check out!
Pen15 is one of many television and films currently created by women. Mindy Kaling just released the trailer for Late Night and so has the trailer for Olivia Wilde’s directing debut, Booksmart. We have women like Issa Rae, Abbi and Ilana of Broad City, Frankie Shaw, and Greta Gerwig all creating unique works telling their stories. I grew up watching a ton of movies with strong female leads. A lot of my favorite movies as a kid were all made and directed by women. It was rare back then to see a ton of women and women of color writing and directing, let alone any movie that had women as these complex characters. I have wanted to be a film maker since I was a child, and I am so hyped we are in a golden age of women directors and writers sharing their stories. The genre I’ve always gravitated towards with my own work is stories based off of my own experiences. We see that in the work of Greta Gerwig, Issa Rae, Mindy Kaling, Frankie Shaw, and the ladies of Pen15. This is opening the doors to more women crews. We aren’t just making stories about one dimensional women, we are making stories about women with flaws, experiences and inexperience’s, we are normalizing talking about “unladylike things”, experiences with race, and that our path is ours. Because we are people and we want our stories to be told.