Picking up right after the titillating season 1 finale in the janitor’s closet, the second season of Hulu’s hit show PEN15 dives deeper into Maya and Anna’s consuming world of teen angst and middle school drama with an even sharper focus and success. The co-leads, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, who play characters with their same names and capture their real world friendship on screen, hit every beat perfectly, navigating between drama at home, bullying at school, and messaging cute boys on AIM Messenger. What makes the show even more impressive and fun to rewatch is that they’re both 34-years-old playing 13. Something they’re almost too good at and why they should be serious Emmy contenders.
You could shuffle through a plethora of moments from any episode to showcase their acute talents: pumping iron in the locker room, summoning a ghost in the school greenhouse, butting heads during their school musical tech week, Maya arriving at a sleepover by emerging from a giant duffel bag, or experiencing Anna’s visceral pain when she learns she has to choose which of her parents she’ll live with after the divorce. Erskine and Konkle float between hilarity, intimacy, and despair with an almost uncomfortable ease, pinpointing the complexities of discovering one’s identity at an early age. While having your first period or feeling shame for questioning your sexuality at that age may seem like taboo, there’s a true sense of catharsis in the way they unravel these hardships on screen. PEN15 may strike a chord with millennials who were also teens in 2000, but the underlying themes that capture a nostalgia for youth, albeit in the most cringey sense, are quite universal.
It’s also refreshing to know that these leading stars have a great amount of creative control as co creators, executive producers, and writers. They each have sole writing credits on an episode this season: Anna with the wickedly funny 203 titled “Vendy Wiccany” and Maya with the melodramatic and keen 206 titled “Play.” Previously nominated for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series in 2019 along with co-writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour for Episode 109, the show should find continued support in either of these episodes or 207’s “Opening Night,” which all navigate the light-hearted and darker moments that accompany growing up. Their writing and acting play off of each other to highlight both their individual and collective charisma within an industry where finding a powerful, unfiltered female team is a rarity. Consequently, it’s their emotional dexterity that makes them masters at creating powerful television that is still easy to watch.
Audiences may be waiting for the second half of the second season to air, but in the meantime, there are plenty of growing pains and deserving talent to consider in the world Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have created. No spellbinding witchcraft required.
The first half of season two of PEN15 is currently available to stream on Hulu. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle are both Emmy eligible Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Erskine is further Emmy eligible for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode “Play” while Konkle is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode “Vendy Wiccany.”
Photo: Lara Solanki/Hulu