Hulu's 'PEN15' takes on Netflix's 'Sex Education' and ends up looking like its title
Does Hulu's 'PEN15' deserve a season 2 and would we watch it? Heck, yah, but it definitely should take a page out of 'Sex Education'
On Friday, February 8, Hulu premiered one of its most scandalous, controversial, shows, ‘PEN15,’ and despite the intrigue it evoked initially, the show itself fell a little short of the brilliance we were hoping for. Teenage troubles are the flavor of the season with shows like ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘Sex Education’ making a mark on Netflix viewers world over, but despite this tried and tested formula, the execution of ‘PEN15’ was… anti-climactic.
Written by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle about their own awkward teen years, ‘PEN15’ was expected to break stereotypes and showcase three-dimensional characters within the high school environment, and it did anything but that. As funny and awkward as the show is, it failed to represent real people with real emotions, instead settling for stereotypes and clichés.
The jocks are jocks, mean girls are mean girls and outcasts are outcasts. We have seen this formula before, and we have seen it work - in the high school movies that came before ‘PEN15.’ The only difference here is the outcasts are played by adults who are basically reliving their high school experience (from the 2000s) in a pathetically comedic way. The joke, however, is in the premise, and in my opinion, the show could not take it much further than that.
In comparison, Netflix’s ‘Sex Education,’ which dealt with a similar premise managed to relay a much more compelling, heart-warming experience. With characters that are truly multi-faceted, and problems that are universal, the teenagers of Mooredale High School definitely struck a chord with me, while ‘PEN15’ came off as a little off-key.
In the case of ‘Sex Education,’ there were no clearly defined heroes and villains; people you root for, and people whose failure you root for. In fact, every single villainous character had a redeeming quality – from the bullies to the queen Bees. The viral “vagina incident” proved that at the end of the day, every teenager is acting out of their emotions – anger, fear, rejection, and so on.
This rings true for Adam (Connor Swindells) as well, who having bullied Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) all the school year, hooks up with him, proving not only are his actions a result of his own father’s bullying, but also his own suppressed feelings towards the flamboyant, gay teen he is slightly homophobic towards.
These real, human emotions that make characters other than Amy and Maya realistic do not exist in ‘PEN15,’ and that is where the Hulu show has failed. In fact, when people call it a live-action remake of ‘Big Mouth,’ it rings true because of this. That being said, ‘Big Mouth’ can get away with it, because as an animation, it is absolutely irreverent in its approach towards everything from ghosts to hormone monsters.
Does the Hulu show deserve a season 2 and would we watch it? Heck, yah! However, we would sincerely recommend looking at high school from a universal perspective, and not cut out the emotions and real-life experiences of everyone else in the school.