‘Pen15’ Returns for Season 2

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Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine play fictional versions of their 13-year-old selves in “Pen15.” (Hulu)

IndieWire

It’s been over a year since we went to middle school with Maya Ishii-Peters and Anna Kohn (Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, respectively), the stars of Hulu’s comedy series “Pen15.”

And while the wait for Season 2 has been long, fans got their first look at where best friends Maya and Anna are headed in their middle-school adventures, in a Season 2 trailer announcing the Sept. 18 release date.

Typical school-age awkwardness ensues, with Anna and Maya partaking of slumber parties and a pool party they’re obviously too good to attend. On top of that, Maya looks to be going further with her newfound crush on Brandt (Jonah Beres), resulting in her putting her own hair in his locker. Anna is struggling with her parents inching ever closer to divorce and a full-on change to her familial situation.

The series is based around Konkle and Erskine’s own school-age experiences. During the show’s CTAM Press Tour virtual panel, Konkle said she was a bit of an outsider but tried to become a chameleon. “You’re holding a lot of secrets of how reject-y you feel…I feel like I had multiple personalities.”

“You can have a certain perception of yourself,” said Erksine, who remembers herself as an outcast with no friends — this, in spite of looking at her yearbooks and seeing comments that show her to have been positive and happy. “Inside you’re hiding all the freaky parts of yourself.” Once she discovered theater in school, she said, it allowed her freakier side to come out in a positive way.

“We struggled a little bit with how dark to go,” Konkle said regarding to her character’s parents’ divorce. Konkle’s own parents actually did split their house up for two years. “It was really confusing,” she said. She wanted to share the low feelings that come with divorce and the mental health aspects that crop up in the middle-school years.

This season was tough, according to Konkle, because so many firsts for the duo had been explored in Season 1. “This season was a gray area,” she said. Erskine and Konkle presumed the first season might be they only one they’d get, so they went all out just in case they weren’t coming back. “What I repressed was the pain associated with these stories,” Erskine said.

In just a single season “Pen15” has developed a devout following. IndieWire’s Ben Travers gave Season 1 a “B+” review upon release. “It’s sweet, sincere, yet unafraid to go big. Most of them land, but perhaps the greater accomplishment is showing just how many more strange, funny, and honest teenage stories are worth telling,” Travers wrote.

For Konkle and Erskine, they didn’t think audiences would be into the series when Season 1 debuted. “I wonder if [audiences connect]because we expose secrets about ourselves that were out there…[and]found after the show airing that many viewers related to,” Erskine said. “I wonder if it’s exposing things about themselves that we’re doing.”

Konkle said they needed to convey their passion and that she believes audiences like that there are no easy answers presented. “We’re trying to hold a mirror…to human experiences. We found our weirdos.”

The Hulu series secured two nominations from the WGA for Best Comedy Series and Best New Series. Erskine, Konkle, and Stacy Osei-Kuffour were also nominated for a Primetime Emmy for their writing.

Erskine and Konkle have talked extensively about how they have numerous stories they’re prepared to mine for the series. And because both actresses are adults it opens up “Pen15” to discuss more adult topics safely. In an interview for IndieWire last year Konkle said, “We are 30-year-olds in bizarre clothing trying to do it authentically, and maybe it’s OK [if]we don’t fit in — it can just enhance that, which was the idea.”

In a year that’s been filled with all manner of insanity it’ll be great to return to the world of middle school circa the 2000s with Erskine and Konkle. If anything, it’ll be intriguing to see whether their storylines draw comparisons to modern-day events, similar to last year’s powerful episode on racism, “Posh.”

Japanese Connection

Born in 1987 in Los Angeles, Erskine is the daughter of Mutsuko Erskine, who is from Tokyo and plays her mother in “PEN15,” and Peter Erskine, a jazz drummer. She attended Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences and graduated from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, then attended New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Erskine initially studied musical theater but shifted to the school’s Experimental Theater Wing.

Erskine has performed with the L.A.-based theater groups East West Players and Geffen Playhouse. She appeared in the friendship-based film “Wine Country,” opposite a slate of comedians, including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch, and provided the voice of Judy Takamoto in the animated feature “Scoob!”

On TV, Erskine is known for playing Maggie in 10 episodes of “Man Seeking Woman” and Mikki, one of the main characters on “Betas.” Other shows in which she appeared in more than one episode: “Hart of Dixie,” “Stone Quackers,” “Heartbeat,” “Insecure,” “Casual,” and “Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later.” She has also done voice work on “Bojack Horseman,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Crossing Swords.”

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