Going through puberty during middle school can make it the hardest years of your life. Thankfully, comedians Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have decided to relive their formative years with a comedic twist.
Hulu’s new comedy “Pen15” follows the lives of Maya and Anna who play 13-year-old versions of themselves in the year 2000 trying to survive as adolescent outcasts.
The 10-episode series, which premiered on Feb. 8, deals with typical issues that plague and traumatize a middle schooler, but have the added comedic presence of these 30-somethings playing teens who are at the bottom of the social ladder.
Many have praised the series for its openness without becoming crude or obscene. Issues like female masturbation or drinking are discussed as naively as they would be among any group of preteens, despite the adult audience.
One episode in particular that sparked a large reaction from audiences dealt with prejudice and racism among kids.
In the episode, Maya and Anna are placed in a group to make a video about osteoporosis prevention. As the true 2000s kids they are, the kids decide to play old Spice Girls who need milk to help their bones and give them the ability to dance again.
Erkine’s character Maya Ishii-Peters is half-Japanese and was deemed the ugliest girl in the grade earlier that season for reasons that seemed to just be petty middle school drama. However, the thought behind those sentiments became more clear when the rest of the white peers in her group, aside from her friend Anna, force Maya to play Scary Spice and be the servant who brings the girls milk. When she asks why, one replies,“Because you’re different from us — you’re, like, tan.”
In an article with Vulture, Erskine discussed the episode and said what she and the show writers thought would be something very funny ended up becoming quite traumatic.
“When I was in middle school, I didn’t have anyone I could identify with race-wise. It was, like, a lot of white Jewish kids, or there was a small group of Korean kids who came from Korea to be at the school. I didn’t have anywhere to fit in, so I clung to the popular girls. And once we hit middle school, I wasn’t as pretty; I wasn’t as rich, and I sort of got left behind,” Erskine said.
Outside of just highlighting race, the show bravely tackles the idea of the “white savior” role, when Anna, understanding that something doesn’t feel right but can’t quite figure it out, goes home to research racism all night.
“It’s like a white person being like, ‘I’ll fix it! I know what’s best for you!’” Konkle said.
The entire show does a great job of laying out adolescent issues without making them too exaggerated to relate to.
Overall, the series has been very well received from audiences and critics alike. However, there is no word yet on whether the show will be picked up for another season in exploring the lives of Maya and Anna.