Revisiting our awkward middle school years with the creators of Hulu's "Pen15"


For their brilliant Hulu series "PEN15," costars, co-creators and real-life close friends Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine wanted to depict all the embarrassment, awkwardness and low-rise pants trauma of middle school during the early 2000s. The challenge was how to honestly show early adolescence in all its messy, R-rated glory.

"How do we tell these things that as adults we can talk about, but that really happened as kids?" recalled Konkle on “Salon Talks” with SalonTV’s Mary Elizabeth Williams. Then, they came up with a unique solution. The decided, "Okay, we won't have kids do it. We'll do it ourselves and get real with it."

Playing comedic versions of their 13-year-old selves, the women pull no punches in revealing the braces, bowl cuts and menstrual hell that often make up genuine seventh grade femaleness. But doing it as the grownup women who have made it through to the other side means that, as Erskine put it, "You can see the years of depth and emotional understanding that we have, so it's not just having kids going through these emotions."

Surviving the social pecking order of tweendom prepared both women to face a different arena later on — the entertainment industry. "Just being Asian American and trying to work in this business for so long," Erskine said, "Hollywood does feel like my middle school. It's starting to change and it's great, but I felt like an other for so long."

Now, after going through years of development for the show, both women have gained new regard for their younger selves. Konkle says that "There was something really peaceful and freeing about playing that character." And Erskine notes that filming the series, "I felt like I was giving a hug to my younger self."

Watch the full episode above to hear more about the show and how the creators explained 2000s problems like dial up internet and AOL instant messenger to their cast of actual teenagers.


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