Mosaic / March 6, 2019

Review: Pen15 shows genuine female friendship

Graphic by Michelle Dudley

As someone who could easily measure my life in various fully obsessive, passionate, do-everything-together female friendships, Pen15 rocked my world from beginning to end. The new Hulu original, created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, follows seventh grade versions of the comedy duo through the turbulent rollercoaster that is middle school. The (semi) fictionalized characters of Erskine and Konkle are vulnerably co-dependent, authentically depicting the whirlwind that is puberty and the importance of a best friend to go through it with.

The seventh grade versions of Erskine and Konkle go through the same uncomfortable firsts that most thirteen-year olds do: first kiss (and maybe more), period, cigarette, dance, fight with a friend, even first time masturbating. Erskine and Konkle tackle more serious issues of pre-teendom, too, with Konke’s character constantly being reminded of her parents’ fighting and Erskine’s character, who is Japanese, experiencing racism. The pair approaches each new experience with equal parts excitement and nervousness, leaning on one another for support through every step.

The pilot episode, appropriately named “First Day,” depicts their first day of seventh grade. The real-life Erskine and Konkle are in their 30s but play 13 year-olds almost scarily well. The rest of their middle school peers are played by, might I say, the most talented child actors I’ve ever seen. As members of a generation who probably has never even used a landline, they play the characters of early-2000s middle schoolers with maturity, sincerity and wit. Stand-out characters include the layered popular girl and her band of friends, Konkle’s first boyfriend who would do anything for her and Erskine’s gruff but well-meaning older brother.

“Pen15” takes place in the year 2000 and brilliantly sets the scene episode after episode with close-up shots of braces, saggy pants, and hairdos (note the pulled-back with two strands hanging in front look). Erskine’s mother (in real life as well!) puts a literal salad bowl around her head to give her a haircut, which gave me some jarring flashbacks to my own mom sitting me down on our porch with a bowl on my head. The soundtrack and glitter gel pens alone will make you nostalgic for the early 2000s, but the show will most likely mainly have you nostalgic for simpler times of hanging with your very best childhood friend.

The friendship between Erskine and Konkle is a very genuine, sweet love that I felt connected to. It made me reminiscent of the deep bond that I had with my childhood best friend: our secret handshakes, nicknames and learning about sex through Sylvanian Families. The show touches on the little moments of puberty that we all thought only we must have gone through, and does it in a subtler and sweeter way than shows like “Big Mouth” do. That is not to say that the show isn’t hysterical and smart, because it is. If you’re looking for a place to go that feels comfortable and reminiscent, funny but uncomfortable, smart and surprising  why not try your luck back in middle school?

Lillie Chamberlin
Lillie is a senior at Knox, majoring in creative writing and minoring in gender and women's studies. At The Knox Student, she has worked as the discourse editor, co-editor-in-chief, and is now a co-mosaic editor. She is also a co-nonfiction editor at Catch. Her work has been published in the Galesburg Register-Mail.

Tags:  hulu Pen15 review

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