I’m torn about “Pen15.” On the one hand I love the idea of a female-centered show about pubescent middle-schoolers awkwardly fumbling through puberty and their sexual awakening. Not to be reductive, but one could describe this as a middle-school version of Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” In some ways I was also reminded of Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” in that both projects share similar, go-for-broke sensibilities that often border on the hostile and aggressive, while they’re also both downright confrontational about the less savory aspects of puberty. But on the other hand, there’s something routinely off-putting throughout the show. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps it’s that leads Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are both well into adulthood (as a matter of fact, Erskine is in her thirties), and while both their performances as pubescent teenagers are convincing, it’s distracting when they’re surrounded by their age-appropriate cast mates. What makes the show worth watching however, is the chemistry between Erskine and Konkle: Their friendship is loving and they share warm, lived-in chemistry that goes a long way towards making the season more palatable. Ultimately perhaps I’m simply not the right audience for this, and while I enjoyed parts of it, it wasn’t exactly a slam dunk for me.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)