Preview: MTV's Awkward. Pays Homage to John Hughes, Mean Girls

The title of MTV’s new comedy, Awkward., says it allclumsy period included.

In the series premiere this Tuesday at 11/10c, klutzy Jenna (One Tree Hill‘s Ashley Rickards) is thrown for a loop when everyone assumes that an epic accident was really a suicide attempt. Suddenly, she has to wear an embarrassing cast and hear classmates whispering about her. As if that’s not enough, her crush, Matty (Desperate Housewives‘ Beau Mirchoff), is totally ignoring her. Yes, being a teenager sucks, but here’s why Awkward. doesn’t.

IT’S REAL AND RELATABLE | Creator Lauren Iungerich, a former writer on ABC Family’s gone-too-soon 10 Things I Hate About You, has an adage that everyone can relate to: “High school starts in high school, but it never ends. Life is high school,” she says. In her quest to make a teen series that’s authentic to that experience, Iungerich was inspired by the films of John Hughes, particularly Sixteen Candles. The idea was to “do something that John Hughes would have done if he were making television [today].” Like Samantha (Molly Ringwald) in Sixteen Candles, Jenna is not a cliched ‘type’ but a regular teenager. “[Samantha] was just invisible,” explains Iungerich. “To me, most people live in that anonymous area of life. … [Jenna] hasn’t formed her identity yet. She’s figuring it out.” And rather than letting her accident define her in a negative way, it becomes a blessing in disguise that empowers Jenna. The “theme of the show is, you can’t change what happens to you, but you can change the way you feel about it,” says Rickards, whose Jenna fights back with a very dry sense of humor. Adds Iungerich: “It’s really a show not about suicide or taking her life. It’s really about life.”

MATTY IS THE NEW JORDAN CATALANO | Like the My So-Called Life hunk that Jared Leto played was to Claire Danes’ Angela Chase, Matty is the hottie just out of Jenna’s reach. He’s “a little confused sometimes,” describes Mirchoff. In other words, a stupid boy who just can’t get it right. But there’s more to Matty than it at first appears. “I wanted to create a [real] boy who’s not cookie-cutter like a bad boy,” describes Iungerich. “[Matty’s] complicated. [Jenna] never really knows where she stands with him.” While he may let her down on more than one occasion, Matty will also surprise Jenna. After all, even Jordan got it right at least once, when he took Angela’s hand in the hallway. “Right when she thinks, ‘I’m done with him,’ he does the most amazing thing,” teases Iungerich. So what draws the popular guy to the school laughingstock? “She’s different,” replies Mirchoff. “When [Matty and Jenna are] at the summer camp, it’s an opportunity for me to get to know her. … You realize that Matty’s interested in her intellect and her weirdness and her realness.”

LOVE TRIANGLES, DUH! | What would high school be without one? Matty’s outgoing best friend, Jake (Cold Case‘s Brett Davern), will also be drawn to Jenna’s newfound devil-may-care attitude, especially when she volunteers for a school stunt. “He doesn’t care what people think of him, either,” says Davern. “He’s not afraid to be silly. … I think when Jenna does that, it’s like, ‘Oh!’” But Jake’s got a girlfriend, cheerleading minion and Abstinence Club president Lissa (Greer Grammer). Not to mention the fact that he’d be betraying the bro code if he pursued Jenna. In his defense, “Jake has no idea about Matty and Jenna,” points out Davern, adding with a smile, “Yeah, there’s some things that might develop.”

Forget love triangles. What would high school be without some popular mean girls? Enter Sadie (Huge‘s Molly Tarlov), a clever Regina George type cheerleader, who manipulates the school staff, makes life hell for Jenna and bosses around Lissa. Sadie has “a really deep-rooted insecurity, which drives her to be so mean,” explains Tarlov. We’ll get more insight into what makes her tick in an episode called “Queen Beyotches,” which follows Sadie home. Providing shelter from Sadie’s storm are Jenna’s two two best friends: catchphrase-spouting Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) and sheltered tomboy Ming (Jessica Lu), who gets life lessons from a surprising source. “She learns everything from Lifetime because her parents are very overprotective,” says Lu, who relates to her character’s strict Asian upbringing. “If she goes on a date, she will get raped and have a baby.”

IT’S RAUNCHY BUT SWEET | The premiere episode doesn’t waste any time taking advantage of its cable home. “MTV pushes the envelope where they need to push the envelope,” assures Reed. “The edgy content that we do explore, we do it in a humorous way, so it doesn’t come across as racy as maybe it could.” Iungerich hastens to add that she’s also careful to back up the show’s more scandalous humor with genuine feeling. “If you’re going to go to a raunchy place, especially for girls, you need to end on something that’s really romantic,” she explains. So, in the end, the show is “very heartfelt. You’ll tear up, I promise.”

Can’t wait to watch Awkward.? Check out the entire first episode for free here.