Back to the future

In Pen15, showrunners Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine plunge back with us into the setbacks of their adolescence. A fresh and cutting initiation story to rediscover the worst years of our life. 

By Quentin Moyon
Translated by Paul Gombert

Reading Time 5 min



Anna and Maya are both 13. The first one hides behind a metallized smile. The second one would like to resemble Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s star Sarah Michelle Gellar, but her failed hair experimentations rather make her a Japanese Mireille Mathieu clone. Two marginal friends, in search of popularity, sailing the rough ocean of the middle school life while leaning on their mutual complicity. First boyfriends, beers and cigarettes… They have sworn to each other to have all their baptisms of fire together. Evidently, they kept their promises: Pen15 is the first TV series co-written by Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, who also appear on camera. Already seen in several other shows, the thirty-something actresses iron the clothes of their adolescence in the 2000s to play themselves their fictional doubles.

The originality of this process – all the other actors are really 13 years old – carries a strong message: you never truly recover from adolescence, this physical and psychological crisis which draw the outlines of your identity, sexuality and relationship with others. Anna and Maya go through all the consecrated stages of this initiatory journey, from the most intimate (the discovery of masturbation) to that which puts their sociabilisation at stake, greedy as they are to be accepted by the group and noticed by the good-looking guys, at the risk of yielding to the pressure of the norm. A norm that sometimes turns into racism – the one that Maya often faces – or stigmatisation of classes. Thus, the show highlights the social reproduction phenomenon that incites the individuals, from the adolescence, not to spend time with people from their own background.

“This story full of self-mockery is the worthy successor of judd apatow’s freaks and geeks

Political and societal, but also packed with humour, this story full of self-mockery is the worthy successor of Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, the expert of teenage series who prefers to stage the ingratitudes of puberty rather than erasing them under a layer of glamour, in the style of Beverly Hills. The difficulty of growing up from Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine’s point of view is both painful and tender. By playing this stage of their lives again 20 years later while assuming the time that has changed them since, it gives us a therapeutic return in our own adolescence

Pen 15, starting June 19 on Canal + and MyCanal

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