One of TV's best comedies is currently airing on MTV and you might not even realize it. The network that once brought us hours of delight via music videos and now does the same thing via the shirtless torsos of teenaged werewolves, dramatic antics of teenaged mothers, and violent vendettas of teenaged serial killers, is also home to the half-hour series Faking It, which returned for the second half of its sophomore season this week. The series pivots easily between laugh-out-loud funny and earnest and emotional depending on the scene, and the result is one of MTV's—and television in general—most competent productions. It shouldn't be discounted because of the network on which it airs or because it's aimed at young men and women; the series has earned its place as an influential and thoughtful exploration of sexuality and friendship while never losing sight of its humorous origins. And you should be watching it.
One of the sharpest and wittiest comedies currently airing, the series', which follows best friends Amy (an excellent Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens) as they navigate their Texas high school, is full of bantering teen protagonists who are incredibly savvy about what matters—and doesn't matter—but are also inherently selfish and impulsive, making the types of poor decisions one expects from a 16-year-old just dipping their toes into adulthood, the types of mistakes we all have to make at some point to find our path. The humor, the heartfelt emotion, and the show's various messages about acceptance—not only of others, but of one's self, too—makes for a well-rounded and honest depiction of adolescence that can be appreciated by viewers of all ages.
Today's teens watch and may see versions of themselves reflected back at them, while others relate to the show's concepts of love, friendship, heartbreak, and feeling uncomfortable in one's own skin. Faking It lives the way its characters live in that it is free to be whatever it chooses, and it is in that freedom that it's found a snarky, specific, but intelligent voice that is universally recognizable. Unlike Amy, who is still dating Reagan but continues to struggle with her sexuality (and according to the trailers, her feelings for Karma) in Season 2B, Faking It has known almost from the pilot what type of series it wanted to be, and it's never once asked anyone for permission or forgiveness, choosing instead to charge forward in its oddly idealistic and yet slightly twisted version of high school. It's self-assured in a way that few of its characters can be and few shows centered on young adults are. As its characters have risen to overcome various challenges, the show itself has become better. And based on what went down in "Stripped," the series is on course to continue that upward trajectory this season.
Karma, who hasn't fully forgiven Liam and Amy for sleeping together and then lying about it, dealt with some personal issues in the season premiere. The fallout from her parents being arrested for selling drugs at the school has made her a social pariah (more so than pretending to be a lesbian to raise her popularity ever did) and forced them to rent out their home to the new principal, who doesn't approve of Hester's "through the looking glass" version of high school. Frequently abrasive, Karma is often the show's weakest link. She's also the strongest archetypal character in a series that celebrates coloring outside the lines, even more so than Lauren at times.
As the child of two hippies, Karma resisted her upbringing in favor of a life more closely resembling that of the typical teen heroine of '80s and '90s movies, complete with yearning to be popular and yearning for the popular guy—and she achieved both of those things quite easily during the show's first season, albeit in backward fashion. She hurt people—however unintentionally it may have been—and was hurt in return, and watching her struggle with trust, with her own confusing emotions, and with her family softens her hard edges a bit. Karma is at her best when she's letting her guard down with Amy and not scheming her way in and out of situations. And it's the bonds of that friendship that remain the bedrock of Faking It and help ground the series' more outlandish aspects, such as Shane (Michael Willett) stripping in the quad in yet another protest.
The changes Shane opposes in "Stripped" are, in part, the result of the aforementioned new principal, who was brought in as a result of the arrests, and Lauren, who's enacted a number of rules that benefit her and will potentially force Hester High into what many see as the typical high school experience. These regulations are her way of taking back control and dealing with the heartbreak that followed Theo's betrayal after she opened herself up and put herself out there. Now, she's retreated back in on herself, and is using her position as class president, a role she she won because she was intersex, to roll back the school's progressive nature. Lauren's struggle with self-acceptance in a world that is naturally accepting of everyone and everything, is one of the show's most interesting long-term storylines, and Bailey De Young's performance continues to be a highlight as she easily flips the switch between Lauren's vulnerability and guarded but outspoken personality.
Meanwhile, Liam's (Gregg Sulkin) been forced to give up art as a concession to his father for helping Karma's family, and his punishment is working at Skwerkel alongside Zita (The Carrie Diaries' Chloe Bridges), who's already an interesting addition to the cast thanks to her casual bluntness. Liam desperately wants to win Karma back—they're strictly two good buddies who occasionally have sex at the moment, because sure that worked out so well before—but despite Karma's assurances she's forgiven both him and Amy, it's clear that is not the case. And speaking of lying liars who lie, Shane, who's hilariously no longer "in charge" of the student body thanks to Lauren's ridiculousness, has been actively avoiding the fact he outed Duke.
We haven't really seen the depth of the Shane and Duke romance yet—that will likely come later this season as Shane deals with (or doesn't deal with) whatever constitutes as guilt to him—but although we've only seen a taste of their relationship so far, their story is a step forward for Shane, the most confident and sure-footed of any character on the show. He hasn't had a truly meaningful adult relationship yet, and as self-possessed as he generally is, he's still stunted in his own way. I look forward to watching how this eventually plays out, not just because it's incredibly relevant given Duke's status as an out MMA fighter and the increasing visibility of gay athletes in today's world, but because Shane Harvey is often the best thing about Faking It thanks to his quick retorts, unflinching honesty, and status as everyone's confidant, friend, or enabler. That last one is often a source of trouble for his friends, but everyone needs someone to push them out of their comfort zone and Shane is that person. But it's about time the series explores what happens when he pushes them without their permission, when maybe there was no need to stretch the boundaries. It's about time Shane dealt with the consequences of his own impulsive actions.
To some, watching people make mistakes and stumble into the circumstances portrayed on Faking It may be viewed as predictable, but to others it's a welcome reprieve from the dramatics that have shaped so many teen-oriented series since Dawson's Creekattempted to portray its leads as hyper-articulate and intuitive, even more so than their actual adult counterparts, while still falling prey to their teenage hormones. Growing up is messy and often uncomfortable, and even though Hester High is not a typical high school—the football field is an organic garden and calculus is now a class called Yarn Arts—the series is intent on telling the stories of regular teenagers whose most pressing concerns are driven by universally recognizable circumstances surrounding sex or being loved or winning the class election. To take that one step further, it's downright refreshing to watch a series focused on teens that doesn't have a gimmick or doesn't rely on out-of-this world circumstances and saving loved ones and/or the world from yet another supernatural threat.
Faking It is taking back the teen series from the vampires and the werewolves and the superheroes and it's doing so in a way that is more broadly appealing despite also being fairly specific in its own right. It's telling important stories that are relatable and focus on celebrating what makes its various characters individuals by exploring their desires, their insecurities, and their mistakes. And miraculously, it does all of this with a great sense of humor and without making it feel heavy-handed. The series does not force its opinions on viewers, but lets them interpret the events through the prism of their own experiences. And that's what good art should do.