MTV’s “Awkward.” creator, a Palos Verdes native
When an accident in the bathroom was mistaken for her suicide attempt, Jenna Hamilton, 15, went from being invisible to being one of the most popular girls in school – but not for the reasons most teens probably seek popularity in high school.
Jenna, played by Ashley Rickards, is the lead character and protagonist of the new television series, “Awkward.,” created by Palos Verdes native, Lauren Iungerich.
“I wrote the show as sort of a love letter to the 15-year-old inside me, who felt awkward in high school and occasionally feels awkward as an adult,” Iungerich said of “Awkward.,” which is set in Palos Verdes.
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The series premiere aired this summer and came to a close on Sept. 28. MTV has picked up the show for a second season.
When Iungerich was in high school at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School – she was part of the first graduating class of the high school in 1992 – a couple of suicides occurred, she said. In her show, Iungerich addresses high school social stigmas and the idea of life and death as a choice.
However awkward the experience is for Jenna’s character, the mistaken suicide serves as a catalyst for change in her life on the show, Iungerich said. “The choice for Jenna is to live instead of to crumble up socially,” she said, adding, “She decides to live her life in a happy, positive way.”
Teen stories are universal, Iungerich said, adding that her fans are both men and women of all ages. “It’s still reflective of what’s going on in our life today,” she said.
But the show’s core audience is young, she said. “I’m glad they have a positive role model in Jenna.”
In one episode, Iungerich writes about the hypocrisy of an elite charity organization on the show, the Knick-Knackers, drawing parallels between bullying at the high school level through Jenna, and bullying among adults through Jenna’s mom. “Mean girls don’t just grow up, they just get older,” Iungerich said. “Jenna for the first time sees her mom is dealing with the same stuff she is.”
Iungerich said she received a heavy backlash from Palos Verdes moms after this episode aired in August. “The more aggressive they were, the more they validated my statements in the show,” she said. “My mother was a social worker in the South Central, so I had different perspective of charity growing up – and so does Jenna.”
However, she added, every character on the show is from Palos Verdes. “Where I exposed the bad, I also exposed the good,” she said.
Iungerich attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, later transferring and graduating from Claremont McKenna College. Iungerich has since moved to Bel Air, but her parents still live in Palos Verdes.
Prior to this show, she was writing pilots for different networks. “Awkward.” was the first pilot of hers to get made. She also worked on the show, “10 Things I Hate About You,” on ABC Family.
Currently, Iungerich and her team of about five are working on writing the second season of “Awkward.” “It’s a lot of laughing, a lot of eating, somehow we walk out of the writing room experience a little bit fatter because we snack all day,” Iungerich said, with a laugh.
The second season will delve into Hamilton’s relationship with her mother, who had her at 17, and continue the love triangle between Hamilton and two boys at school.
MTV also recently picked up another of Iungerich’s shows, “Dumb Girls,” about four friends in their early 20s trying to find their way in an adult world. “My theory is that the smartest people are dumbest in relationships – they become their own self-saboteurs,” Iungerich said.
Iungerich notes that she’s no longer her own self-saboteur in the realm of relationships. When she’s not brainstorming in her writing room, she’s busy planning her wedding to a man she’s been with for two and a half years. “I don’t have that experience anymore, but I did for a long time,” she said. The couple will wed in February.
Iungerich’s current television favorites include Mad Men, Community, and Jersey Shore. “I wouldn’t even say it’s a guilty pleasure because I feel no guilt when I watch it. Just pleasure,” she said, with a giggle, of Jersey Shore.
One of Iungerich’s biggest inspirations and influences is filmmaker John Hughes, who wrote and directed a number of 1980s classics, including, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club.
Perhaps the biggest influence on her work is her own life. “All of the hard, awkward, rough experiences I had as a teen only created the person I am today. I wouldn’t be able to write these experiences if I didn’t struggle,” she said. PEN