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August 30, 2015

'Awkward.' Star Ashley Rickards Talks Finale Secrets, Jake and Matty Love Triangle and the Carefrontation Letter

by Laura Prudom, posted Sep 27th 2011 11:00AM
Awkward Jenna HamiltonOnce in a rare while, a new teen comedy will come along that transcends clichés, ignores the urge to talk down to its audience, and leaves lazy dialogue for the laugh-track crowd. On the big screen, we were recently treated to 'Mean Girls' and 'Easy A,' but we've been long-overdue for a comedy the caliber of 'Awkward.' on TV.

The writing is razor sharp, the emotions are relatable, and every character is so delightfully weird (in a believably teenage way), that it's impossible not to fall in love with them. But it's not a broadcast network that can boast of discovering this diamond in the rough -- it's MTV. Say what you will about 'Jersey Shore' and the failed translation of 'Skins,' I'm here to tell you that 'Awkward.' could go toe to toe with 'Modern Family' (or any other Emmy-winning comedy) and elicit more laughs in a half hour than anything the big four networks could offer, and not just in the teen demo.

Ahead of tonight's season finale, AOL TV caught up with Ashley Rickards, star of the underrated comedy, to get her thoughts on the show's important message, the trials of a love triangle, and what fans can look forward to in season two. Mild spoilers ahead.

AOL TV: 'Awkward.' is MTV's highest rated scripted series of the past two years, how does that feel when you've had competition from established properties like 'Teen Wolf' and the now-departed 'Skins?'
Ashley Rickards: I mean, we're just so incredibly lucky to have fans that love our show as much as we love our show. I think that the authenticity in 'Awkward' is really what speaks to the audience; I think some shows can speak down to teenagers and really underestimate 15-year-olds, and we don't do that. We encompass the entire aspect of the 15-year-old and everything that they're capable of -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Jenna is at the center of a love triangle, but it's kind of one-sided because she's mostly been focused on Matty this year without really seeing Jake as a viable candidate -- what is it about Matty that she's so drawn to?
I think with her and Matty it's almost chemical. I mean, the relationships between her and Jake and her Matty are polar opposites. With Matty it's a physical thing and there's some sort of mental connection as well, but it's a little bit harder to get there with him. Then with Jake things are easy, talking to him is very easy and they just get each other -- they could finish each other's sentences. But it's really hard when you have two people that you really care about, to make a decision. Nobody walks out a winner from any love triangle.

Will that dynamic change in the last couple of episodes, since we see her kind of coming around to Jake in episode 11?
Her and Jake just have this great relationship -- like I said, they get along so well, they have great conversational chemistry. So I'd say both relationships, between her and Matty and between her and Jake just skyrocket simultaneously.

There's the ongoing mystery of who wrote the letter that needs to be solved -- do you think fans will be satisfied with the way it pays off after such a big build up?
Well, let me tell you, as somebody who has gotten into this character of mine as in-depth as I have, and has worked with the writers and worked with this network, this has been a large part of my life for a while; I've been thinking about that question for a long time. I have a lot more information than the audience does in terms of little specifics that Jenna has and I was shocked at who wrote the letter. I was shocked. I think it'll set the precedent for a really, really interesting season two -- I can't wait, actually.

I was going to ask if Lauren [Iungerich, the show's creator] has discussed the plans for season two with you now that you've been picked up -- I've heard that there's a cliffhanger at the end of the season?
There is a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers ... I mean, I might take that back, there are some other cinematic cliffhangers that might outdo us. Some Star Wars references come to mind: "I am your father" might outdo us a little bit. But it's pretty damn good, a pretty fantastic cliffhanger. Even though we've talked about it a little bit, it's going to be a different side of Jenna. You saw a glimpse of it in episode nine; Jenna's this kind of resigned, lost girl who doesn't really know how to come out of that situation ... In season two I think we're going to see her a little bit more confused, a little bit more lost, and a little bit more pissed off.

Jenna and MattyWill there be a relationship aspect too? Will her choice between Jake and Matty be paid off?
Oh, she makes her decision this season, yeah -- she makes her decision between Jake and Matty. It's interesting because, like I said, nobody walks out a winner of a love triangle. You're going to find yourself doubting your decision even after you've made it, which I think will be a really interesting aspect to play in season two.

I've always wondered: Jenna keeps this blog, which I assume is available to everyone, so is the show ever going to deal with people at school finding the online journal? Because Jenna lays herself bare there in a way that could add another layer of awkwardness to everything. Is that something that's going to be explored?
I think that'd be really interesting if people found out about it, because Jenna is, in her voiceovers, for the most part, a lot different. She's her true self and she's her uncensored self and she's her most vulnerable. What she puts in that blog, the only people that are reading it are Tamara and her close friends. If people were to find out about that, if people were to find out everything that's going on in her mind, her ups and her downs and the specifics of what she's feeling, they'd have that much more ammunition to take her down. I would not want to know what Sadie would do with that information. I would think that that would be a really crushing episode!

Some of the things Jenna has to suffer on a daily basis would probably have made me cry and threaten to quit school if they'd happened to me -- but she always seems to pick herself back up and not have a complete mental breakdown, why do you think that is?
Yeah, I think in that sense Jenna's a real role model; she's a fighter. Every time she gets kicked down she gets back up fighting. She really has that silver lining outlook on life. She's an eternal optimist and what doesn't kill her makes her stronger, that's what she really lives by. I think that's a really interesting aim for teens and adults everywhere; our situations on the show aren't specifically included in high school -- you can take our characters out of high school and give them different ages and it's a universal theme. So, our show is about identity, our show is about hope and love and loss and humor and the chaos of life and human interactions -- that's what fans relate to. I think that authenticity combined with Jenna's heroic outlook is what really makes for an inspiring show.

'Awkward.' has a sort of levity and wittiness that keeps things from getting too dark, Jenna and Sadieeven though you're sometimes dealing with some serious subject matter like bullying and teen suicide; how do you find that balance of keeping Jenna relatable without either making light of those issues or getting too bogged down in the real-life angst?
The truth is that a lot of people cope with their emotional issues with humor, so we're just tapping into that human reaction or that human emotional strategy. So when Jenna can cope with it with humor, then she'll figure out a way, a strategy to get through it. At the end of the day, it does hurt, it does hurt her just as bad as anyone else in the world, but she's not going to let it get the best of her ... It's that fine balance between suffering and surviving. As long as you focus, you admit to the suffering and you focus on the surviving and throw a little bit of honest, justified humor in there, you get a great end product.

When I first started watching the series, I remember being surprised at how risqué the scripts were and the kind of things you could get away with saying thanks to some judicious bleeping -- were you surprised at how much you guys were allowed to say, even for an MTV crowd?
No, I love it because I think that that's what the fans are drawn to. It's not a gratuitously shocking vocabulary; the situations that are portrayed in our show, it's realistic -- we're not watered down and we're not overly glamorized, and that's what keeps people coming back. People on Twitter will say "Tuning in to watch my life ... Oh wait, I mean 'Awkward.'" It's that kind of relational vibe that we give off to people. People don't say "oh shoot" when they've had a picture of their boobs texted to the entire school! [laughs]

Everyone has their own high school horror stories -- do you have one that you can share?
I graduated high school at 16, so I guess a really awkward moment was when ... Because I was out in California, I didn't go to the graduation ceremony; I got my diploma and tassel mailed to me, but they didn't mail me the hat. But nevertheless, my mother made me take a picture with the tassel and the diploma and throw the tassel in the air -- that was incredibly awkward. I have really embarrassing pictures of that moment.

Where do you see Jenna at her ten year high school reunion?
I think she's going to be some sort of author, some sort of columnist. I hope that she's one of those kids that gets to come back to their reunion and see all those kids that tried to take her down and thought that they were better than her that haven't left high school. I think it would be really interesting to do some sort of flash-forward event at their 10 year where Jenna's been in New York doing a column or something and really successful. I don't know -- I would hope the best for everybody, but I think needless to say, some fans would like to see certain characters in a compromising position. Jenna, I think, will come back and end up feeling sorry for them because that's just who she is.

The hour-long season finale of 'Awkward.' airs tonight at 11PM ET on MTV. If you've missed any of the previous episodes, MTV is also airing a marathon of the first season from 12 noon until 4.30PM ahead of the finale, or you can catch up on MTV.com.

Who do you think wrote the carefrontation letter? Do you think Jenna will choose Matty or Jake? Share your predictions below!

Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA

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