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Interview: AWKWARD. Creator Lauren Iungerich

Ladies, it’s time to admit that I may have a problem. My name is Mikela, and I’m addicted to an MTV show. Now before you get to your hums and haws, let me clarify just one thing- the object of my affection is not of the Guido or Guidette variety; nor does it explore the trials (oh, and there are trials) of teen pregnancy and/or motherhood. Nope, my DVR has been faithfully set to record one show brought to you by my former employer, and that show is AWKWARD.

I’d like to begin by noting (though some of us care not to) that TV has been seriously lacking in the funny females of the teen variety, for a long time. For all the scheming hotties (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS); Upper East Siders (GOSSIP GIRL); and poorly-acted new moms (THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER); few teen queens offer the complexity and wit of the Rory Gilmores and Angela Chases of the world. Enter Jenna Hamilton. AWKWARD’s leading lady is not without her faults- she’s a confidence-lacking, accident-prone misfit trying to fly under the radar. However, after a series of accidents lands her in the unrelenting spotlight, she handles it with aplomb. Sometimes. OK, maybe not, but it does make for some great TV.

Season 1 wrapped last week, and when I got the opportunity to chat with show creator Lauren Iungerich, I jumped at the chance. Iungerich’s writing (and the show’s success) not only caused MTV to renew AWKWARD.  before the first season had completed its run; but to bestowe enough trust in her to pick up another show of her tutelage, the twentysomething-centric DUMB GIRLS. Check out our chat below, and you tell me- are you as into AWKWARD. as I am? Caution- spoilers below!

Hi Lauren! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! First things first- I LOVE the show.

You are so welcome!  Thank you for all your support and interest in the show!  It means a lot to me and all the wonderful people who brought it to the screen!

Awkward. is an irreverent look into the lives of Southern California teenagers (and moms). More than that, it appears to be a show that focuses on a girl with an uncanny ability to embrace her “inner weird” and do her best to navigate the trials and tribulations of suburban high school life. What message do you hope that Jenna’s character (and the show overall) sends to the young girls who tune into MTV each week?”

My goal was to write something authentic that gives voice to the kids who feel invisible but who are as important and valid as anybody else.  It is so tough to walk through life and be labelled.  I thought it would be interesting to disect a character who is defined by her peers in a negative way and not be beaten down by it, but instead find the strength to see the blessings in her challenges and set out to define herself on her own terms.  Because you can’t always control the things that happen to you but you can always control how you feel about them.  There is power in that.  Power to love yourself even when other people don’t.

Let’s talk about Valerie. She’s hands-down my favorite character on the show; a ladychild looking to stay relevant and “hip” amongst the kids. It seems like this sort of character is usually played by a man. Where did Val’s character inspiration come from?

She came from a real place.  I worked with a woman like Valerie.  A wonderful, uniquely quirky lady who had no boundaries and had no clue how inappropriate and misguided she was.

As far as Jenna’s love life goes, it seems like she keeps going back to the ultra-dreamy Matty McKibben, all the while contemplating a relationship with the nice-but-boring Jake. Will we get any sense of resolution regarding this love triangle in season 2?

Well, now you know.  There was a choice made.  But going into season 2 – things are still complicated because matty will still be very much in jenna’s life as the best friend of jake.  And when it comes to matters of the heart- things are never easy.  BTW- Jake is so not boring!  He is a complicated and thoughtful kid- who has as worth as Matty.  But alas, he is a different kid of boy and that is why the love triangle works.  The audience is squarely split between the two and that was always my hope that both would be worthy – in different ways- of Jenna’s affection.

How much of the show is based on your childhood growing up in Los Angeles’ South Bay area?

The show is not entirely autobiographical.  There are bits of me and people I know in all the characters and i put the show in pv for fun.  But I look at the show as a reflection of my experiences with a dash of creative license.  Basically, the show is a love letter to my 15 year old self.   My inner 15 year old is still alive and kicking and she would have loved jenna and this show.  I wrote it for “her”.

Television critic Mo Ryan recently published an article about the decline in the number of female TV writers; indicating that there are more women at the top, but fewer and fewer coming up the pipeline. What advice to you have for aspiring female television writers looking to break into this once-again male-dominated industry

There are a lot of wonderful female writers coming up the pipeline and so many more opportunities for female writers these days.  That said, I don’t think the business is entirely male-dominated. Not like it was 20 years ago.  In my experience, networks and studios buy projects that fit their needs and don’t judge whether the projects are written by men or women.  For whatever reason, there just seem to be more men pursuing writing as a career in hollywood than women.  It’s a tough business and perhaps more women are gun shy about it or don’t get the encouragement from their families to pursue it.  I would say to any aspiring female writer to just go for it.  Writing is a craft and it takes time and practice and if you love to write- then nothing will stop you from doing so.  Unlike many aspects in the business that have ceilings- writers are always able to take their careers into their own hands.  A writer can always redefine themselves on the page.  They can always write themselves into a new sphere.  I got into this business with no contacts and worked as an assistant to producers and then became an executive working with writers.  I think having that other insight into the business – seeing why some writers succeed where others failed, was imperative to my journey and success.  But truly, it was just by the strength of my spirit and determination and love of the craft to tell the stories that i had to tell, that propelled me to where i am- coupled, of course, with some seriously good timing and luck.  But as I start season two I have five writers on my staff and four of them are women. So ladies, keep writing.  There is no one but you who can stop you from living your dream!!!

Words to live by, ladies! Now do yourself a favor and catch up on this show, if you haven’t. If you have? Well, go ahead and watch it again. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for season 2.

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One Response to “Interview: AWKWARD. Creator Lauren Iungerich”

  1. Melanie #

    Great interview and great read, Mikela!

    October 4, 2011 at 5:12 pm Reply

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