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PEN15's animated special might be its best episode yet

  • The Hulu coming-of-age comedy's "Jacuzzi" special released Friday "boldly reinforces the humiliation and hilarity of Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle’s series about adolescent agonies," says Stuart Heritage. He adds: "What at first threatened to be gimmicky and off-putting – the sight of two women in their 30s playing adolescent versions of themselves certainly takes a moment of adjustment – has quickly grown into a gorgeously observed comedy about the agony of being trapped between two worlds. While it largely treads the same ground as Netflix’s Big Mouth, PEN15 is a much more delicate affair. Not for nothing does its second season currently hold a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. Miraculously, 'Jacuzzi' manages to somehow best everything that has come before. A small, sweet holiday episode, it sees Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle (again, voicing their teenage counterparts), take a holiday to Florida with Anna’s newly single father. They meet some boys, try some alcohol, get into a moderate amount of trouble. In all honesty, nothing of any great importance happens, but it all feels important thanks to the lens through which it’s seen. In this regard, the animation actually helps a great deal. The style they’ve chosen is cheap and jerky which, whether intentional or not, comes off like a cunning detail. PEN15 is set 20 years ago, and the animation is instantly reminiscent of elements from MTV’s 90s showcase series Liquid Television. The fact that 'Jacuzzi' is animated also means that the show’s central conceit – here are some adult women playing children – becomes better obscured. Erskine and Konkle no longer need to try to de-age themselves with clothes and makeup, and there’s no longer a moment of jarring creepiness when they start to chat up 13-year-old boys. In animated form, Maya and Erskine are exactly the same as everyone else. If the age gap between performer and character has been putting you off, then this episode could be your jumping-off point. It also allows for perhaps the most excruciatingly relatable moment in the entire series."


    • Maya Erskine says the originally planned live-action episode ended up working perfectly as animation: "It was a couple of things," she says. "Because we had flirted with it before — because it was a special — we were like, it could be anything. I think at one point we were like, 'Oh, stop-motion would be amazing,' but that takes really long and was expensive, and all these other things. So animation felt great as we were doing it. It sort of surprised me, I would say, as we were making it, like 'Oh wow, this actually is really perfect for animation and I’m really glad that we went this route.' There’s something a little fantasy about this episode. It’s this vacation that you take with your parents that you get really excited about and then it ends up being boring, and how you can’t go in the water and do anything. And then you meet a boy, and all of a sudden, like, everything changes. And because they have this sort of supernatural experience — or not really but they get their caricatures drawn — all of a sudden, their insecurities become their new faces and their new heads. It was like this just seems to scream animation. If we’re going to do it at all, this is the episode. So yeah creatively, pandemic-wise it all kind of just fell into our lap perfectly."
    • Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle looked through different animation references and illustrations, deciding their characters should be as close to what they really look like as possible

    TOPICS: PEN15, Hulu, Anna Konkle, Maya Erskine