If there’s one thing on which we can all agree, it’s that adolescence is a confusing stage in our lives. It’s a period of growing pains and pleasures, while a swirling hurricane of emotions and urges threaten to overwhelm us. Hulu’s PEN15 deftly captures those formative years, namely for millennials of a certain age.
The quirky coming-of-age, R-rated “traumedy” returns to Hulu for the second part of Season Two, and, folks, it’s worth the wait.
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle dazzle as 13-year-old versions of themselves trying to get by in middle school in 2000. I’m only two years younger than Erskine and Konkle, so, needless to say, this series resonates with me on a profound level. We millennials are obsessed with nostalgia, and PEN15 cleverly capitalizes on that.
Season Two, Part Two further explores the ebbs and flows of the teen years with hilarity and relatability. There’s a certain heaviness to it. Anna and Maya enter a new phase of adolescence, bringing them one step closer to adulthood. It aptly conveys teenagers’ obsession with being a “grown-up” and their desire to be treated like adults. That essence lingers throughout part two.
No topics are too taboo, with our leads encountering grief, existential crises, low self-esteem, first loves, divorce, socio-economic statuses, racial fetishization, consent, coercion and more. Maya grapples with racist microaggressions and struggles with self-image as a biracial girl in a predominantly white community.
Anna’s parents’ divorce continues to cut deeply in part two, and as a child of divorce myself, I found her situation all too relatable.
PEN15 strikes the perfect balance between humor and heart, but part two finds our BFFs encountering more “adult” scenarios and themes.
Erskine turns in a powerhouse performance, seamlessly switching between hysterical slapstick comedy and gut-wrenching vulnerability. Konkle imbues Anna with complicated layers, and her natural screen presence electrifies.
PEN15 Season Two, Part Two also shines a spotlight on Mutsuko Erskine (Erskine’s real-life mother) as Yuki Ishii-Peters, and the series pulls back the curtain on Maya’s mom. It’s an artful deep dive into Ishii-Peters’ life as a Japanese-American, with Mutsuko delivering beautiful work.
The back half of this season presents situations ripe for comedy and heartbreak, including a Bat Mitzvah, a funeral, a Cancer Walk, a potential modeling opportunity and a get-together with (gasp) boys. As per PEN15’s usual, it’s a hilarious romp down memory lane, with every 2000s reference landing perfectly.
It also speaks to the power of female friendship and the inextricable bond between Maya and Anna. Amid the heartbreak, trials and tribulations, it’s our BFFs who remain unwavering in their support, never leaving each other’s side no matter how cute a boy is.
The show effectively and lovingly captures the beauty of platonic companionship, reminding us that the term “soulmates” doesn’t have to carry a romantic connotation. Maya and Anna are soulmates, and nothing can sever their link.
Season Two, Part Two paints a vivid picture of adolescence in the early aughts that’s enough to transport anyone back in time to their formative years (but especially folks my age).
It’s delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, cry-out-loud sad and everything in between. Erskine and Konkle expertly steer the ship, leading our characters down a path of growth and change.
PEN15 is unadulterated nostalgia wrapped in a 2000s bow, complete with Walkman CD players, Tamagotchis, butterfly clips, overlined lips and low rise jeans.
Now, cue the lovey-dovey boy band music while I gaze longingly at my crush.
PEN15 Season Two, Part Two premieres Friday, December 3, only on Hulu.