Middle school is a time of what can only be described as extreme awkwardness. Awkward for the ways that the body may begin to feel alien. For metal-clad teeth, and a general uneasiness as the precipice of adulthood starts to creep up. No show articulates the existential absurdity of middle school as well as Hulu’s R-rated “PEN15,” which premiered in February, giving credence to a period in one’s life that has often been ignored on television–until now. It manages to swiftly poke fun at the self-absorption of middle school while also taking seriously the concerns of its students.
Comedians Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play the title characters Maya and Anna. Conkle and Erskine are 30-somethings performing the role of ’90s middle schoolers alongside a cast of actual middle school students. The boldness of such a choice lends the show a feeling of convincing uneasiness. They render the out-of-body feeling visible. But the show’s biggest triumph is the way that it precisely illustrates the preciousness of female friendship at that age. Maya and Anna’s worlds appear to begin and end with each other. Take a look at the top ten funniest moments from season one. Truly, it was difficult to pick just ten–the show is rife with comedic gold.
1010. First Day Jitters
Anna (left) and Maya (right) talk on the phone the night before their first day of seventh grade. They can hardly contain their excitement, which also matches their nervousness. They discuss rumors of how their classmates have changed over the summer and wonder dreamily about their crushes. This scene will take you back to those first day butterflies in your stomach.
99. Friendship Means Supporting Each Other
As Maya enters her friend’s mom’s car to get carpooled to school, Maya and greet each other as if they hadn’t seen the other for a long time. When Maya enters the car with her newly minted bowl cut–a style her mom forced on her, placing a bowl above her head and cutting around it–to fix an uneven haircut Maya gave herself in the mirror. The friends’ genuine love for the other, and their unwavering support that the other is looking like their best self, is a marvel to behold.
88. Trying A Little Too Hard
Maya and Anna are having a sleepover. But what they thought would be a quiet night to themselves takes them outside their comfort zones. They pass the house of a classmate and notice that she’s having a party. They decide to crash. This scene is a little uncomfortable to watch, but in a fun, cringe-y way, as they work hard to impress their more popular classmates. Between first illicit sips of beer and the anxieties of seventh heaven, Maya and Anna walk home biting off more than they could chew.
77. First Lies
Anna experiences the horror of witnessing Maya lying to her for the first time. When Maya ditches their Friday night plans for some personal time, Anna feels lonely. But the lying eventually brings them even closer together, as they find out that ghosts “visit” the both of them.
66. First Crushes
A boy in Maya’s class agrees to help her prepare for a drum solo. But really it’s an excuse to hang out with him. Time slowdowns when Maya and the boy listen to music. Maya’s nonverbal reactions here are priceless, capturing the joys and nervousness of having a crush.
55. Maya Gets Her Spotlight
The school music concert is a time unlike any other, where the character’s insecurities are broadcasted quite publicly to their parents. After Anna shines as the star chorister, Maya takes the stage for her drum solo. She doesn’t exactly bomb. Rather, she goes for something a little different and shatters everyone’s expectations in the process. It’s both uproariously funny and uncomfortable, which is the hallmark of the show so far.
44. Feeling Brand New
The girls steal a classmates’ thong, and they feel, for the first time, like women. Once they put on the thong, we see images of them looking in the mirror, feeling much older than their pre-pubescent selves. These scenes are particularly funny and impactful since the series is reminding the viewer yet again that the main characters are played by adult women. The show is poking fun at itself and we’re here for it.
33. Maya Gets Jealous
To Maya’s surprise, another girl begins crushing on the boy she likes. She’s devastated, but trying to play it cool in a darkly funny way. One thing the show gets right is that it does not demonize the love interest. The series avoids overtly criticizing the character. Instead, the show pursues the plot line of Maya making a fool out of herself in front her crush more intensely while portraying the girl as sweet, if a little unsuspecting.
22. All The Phones
The landline phones have a special significance to the characters. They are the vehicles for all of the show’s most important moments and are an emblem of smart production design. Anna’s phone is glittering and see-through with plastic blocks inside, working well with her effervescent personality. Maya’s is grey and clinical. The popular girl’s phone, pictured here, is baby pink, reflecting her preferred color palette.
11. AIM: The Future
The most memorable moment in the show is the introduction of AOL Instant Messenger. The instant messenger revolutionized communication in the early 2000s, especially for young people. Everything about this scene is iconic. The distinct sound of the motem. And most especially, the simultaneous joy and terror of seeing a whole world open up in front of you–right on your screen.