By Kevin OKeeffe
Originally published on Advocate.com May 13 2014 3:30 AM ET
Shortly after watching the first episode of MTV’s Faking It, I tweeted that it was “the sweetest, loveliest little show, and I just wanna enjoy it without everyone think-piecing it to death.”
I was admittedly suffering from a mild case of PTSD from Looking’s early reception mere months ago. While I appreciate the need to express opinions on the World Wide Web (in fact, look, I’m doing it right now!), the glut of think pieces released right before and just after the gay-themed HBO series’ premiere changed the conversation immediately from “Is the show good?” to “Can it live up to our unattainable standards?”
I was worried about the myriad ways Faking It could be called out by critics hungry for a fight. The premise — best friends Karma (Katie Stevens) and Amy (Rita Volk) are mistaken for lesbians by their hyper-liberal school’s most popular gay student, Shane (Michael J. Willett), but they decide to run with it — could be considered offensive. The characters — all teenagers, and immensely flawed in the way that teenagers often are — could be deemed unlikable. I saw these concerns — disagreed with them, but saw them — and braced myself for the onslaught of opinions.
So I was thrilled to see that on the whole the reception wasn’t that bad! The New York Times even liked it. But there were some harsh critiques — The A.V. Club offering perhaps the most brutal assessment.
Like I said, I disagree with the criticisms of the show — and in fact, I think it’s one of the freshest, smartest shows aimed at teens I’ve seen in years. It reminds me of early Gilmore Girls or of surprise hit Awkward when it first started on MTV. The characters seem realistic in a way that teenagers on TV often don’t. Sure, Amy, Karma, and company are imperfect, selfish, and superficial, but they also have genuine good in them. Willett’s Shane is, to me, the most specific, well-drawn gay teen character on TV since My So-Called Life. His line in the second episode about watching Project Runway with his dad post-coming out (“He loves it when they go ‘Thank you, Mood’”) could easily have been about my own experience.
But Karma faking being a lesbian to get with a boy, Liam (Gregg Sulkin), is admittedly problematic. That doesn’t matter. “Depiction is not endorsement.” That’s what director Kathryn Bigelow said when she defended the scenes of torture in Zero Dark Thirty.
It’s a simple rule to remember. After all, the creative team behind Dexter didn’t create the show to support serial killing. The powers behind Breaking Bad weren’t suggesting selling meth was a solid alternate career path for cancer-stricken science teachers.
Similarly, the people who work on Faking It aren’t endorsing Karma and Amy’s flaws. Karma using every advantage she can get to hook up with Liam is absolutely something a teenage girl would do. Amy not being honest about the fact that she’s questioning her own sexuality and might have real feelings for Karma is true to life as well — and Volk is great at giving dramatic weight to Amy’s internal struggles. In fact, the only character who seems poorly drawn is Liam — and I’m willing to give the writers and Sulkin time to figure him out before rushing to judgment.
Faking It refuses to judge its central teen characters for bad behavior, and that’s a good thing. It allows for more interesting plots and three-dimensional characterizations. More than that, the show is also clearly aware of its issues — for example, Amy calls Karma out on a lot of her nonsense in the third episode. Now, admittedly, a lot of that self-awareness doesn’t come into play until later episodes, but that’s what’s frustrating about criticism of Faking It: The show hasn’t finished telling its story yet.
Why the insistence on picking apart a show that’s still growing? Scandal got better at the end of its first season but didn’t catch fire with audiences until the second. Parks & Recreation also needed a full season to correct its tone and become the quirky, lovable show it is today. Even David Simon, creator of critically adored The Wire, thinks his show wouldn’t have made it in today’s episodic criticism-filled environment.
Faking It may not be everyone’s cup of tea by its end; though it’s already mine, flaws and all, I get that it serves a specific audience. But it should get the opportunity to tell its story. Near the end of the third episode, Amy calls Karma out for only liking Liam because he’s hot. Her response? “I’m a fucking teenage girl.” Take that as a prescient message to the critics too: Let the characters be the hormonal, screwed-up hot messes that teenagers truly are. They — and the show — deserve that chance.
KEVIN O’KEEFE is The Advocate’s former intern who will be joining The Wire this July. Follow him on Twitter @kevinpokeeffe.
(For more, check out Michelle Garcia's counter-point, Uh-Uh, Not So Fast, Faking It).