The best way to enjoy high school comedies is to watch them while cycling through all your most traumatic personal experiences from that time in your life. You know? Just kick back, relax, and let those unbearable mistakes and regrets wash over you until you can't breathe. Just kidding, that is probably not the best way to enjoy high school comedies, but it IS a thing that can happen depending on your current mental state. See, if you are a grown adult who enjoys high school-set entertainment, chances are you're either chasing nostalgia for good times you may have experienced for real OR you're living vicariously through fictional characters as a means of erasing your actual memories and experiences and replacing them with something better. My guess is that second group of people is much larger than the first, which is why typical teen entertainment is fluffy and idealized rather than real. In my opinion The Perks of Being a Wallflower did not make as much money as American Pie. But however teen comedies make you feel (or not feel), this much maligned subgenre has always had the capacity to be surprisingly profound. Faking It, MTV's latest attempt at single-camera comedy, might be the newest kid at this overcrowded school, but based on its first three episodes we know two things: (1) It is very well-done and (2) it is borderline devastating. Yeah.
If you haven't seen it yet, Faking It's initial premise was cute if implausible: At an alternate universe public school where liberal minded students worship the misfits rather than traditional jocks or cheerleaders, two girls pretend to be a lesbian couple in order to elevate their social statuses. At first Amy and Karma stumble into the ruse after well-meaning and popular gay guy Shane "outs" them at a house party, but soon the ladies start reaping the benefits of their newfound popularity — especially Karma, who finds herself suddenly getting attention from Liam, the campus hunk with a thing for lesbians. But just when it seemed like this show would run this seemingly vapid premise into the ground, the pilot threw us a startling twist: Amy realized she may actually be in love with Karma for real. It's at that exact moment when Faking It transformed from a slightly forced exercise in high-concept sass into a subtly devastating exploration of unrequited love between best friends. All human beings—but particularly gay ones—have been destroyed by these kinds of feelings at one point or another, but especially in high school. Ouch, Faking It.
"We Shall Overcompensate," Faking It's third episode, continued the show's better-every-week trajectory. The plot had something to do with the students shutting down campus in protest after a Google-like company attempts to force its sponsorship on them. A great opportunity to poke fun at protest culture, sure, but most of the comedy came from Karma's misguided attempts to woo Liam by pretending to care about politics. Meanwhile Amy's conflicted feelings about Karma's crush on Liam cause her to go find a "secret boyfriend" of her own, resulting in a genuine meet-cute with Oliver, a charming loner who observes the student body via security cameras. While it's totally possible that Amy "swings both ways" (ugh, that phrase) and could conceivably fall for Oliver someday, it's telling when she bolts from his company in order to fawningly watch Karma sing a protest song in the cafeteria. But this being Faking It, what starts as a showcase for Karma's surprising singing abilities (actress Katie Stevens was once an American Idol finalist) turns into something more heart-wrenching: With Karma's simple look away from Amy and toward Liam, Amy realized where Karma's true affections lay and ran from the room choking back tears. In other words, pretty strong emotions for someone only "pretending" to be in love.
The sitcom format tends to require a minimum of growth or story progress, but as with Awkward. before it, Faking It moves the narrative forward like a telenovela. In the previous episode Amy was crowned homecoming queen and even "came out" to her own parents and here she ended the episode coming clean to Shane that her relationship with Karma had been a put-on. Except that it had suddenly become not quite as much of a put-on? Those complicated feelings of repressed emotion, the relief of opening up (without quite knowing how to explain things), the uncertainty about where everything might be going: All are fundamentals of the gay teen experience. Who would have guessed that a show which initially seemed to trivialize the existence of gay teens would go on to explore the very specific and painful nuances of yearning many of us experienced in those days? Yes, Faking It is quick, smart, colorful, broad, very funny, and, above all, escapist. But beneath all those things is a heart that threatens to beat as much as it breaks. May we live vicariously through it at our own risk.