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I’m a year younger than MTV is, which nearly makes it obligatory for me blather on a soapbox about how they used to play music back in my day. But I’d sooner ignore that argument altogether, since they wouldn’t playing what I’m listening to anyway. With the rare Human Giant-like exception, I don’t even go to the channel anymore for the original programming. (How about some Austin Stories repeats?) But it was still with an impartial mind only sprinkled with antipathy that I bussed into the first episode of the new teen dramedy Faking It, in which the central hook involves two best friends posing as a lesbian couple to attain more popularity in their trope-filled high school. By the end, though, I almost wanted to curl up inside a locker with a bag of milk and watch Sifl and Olly on my phone.
One would think a lot of open minds would have prevailed for such a series to exist. While people on TV will often pretend to be wealthy or superheroic to impress others, it’s a strong statement for this Austin high school to champion its gay students, and a subversive statement to have main characters who exploit this universal acceptance to get ahead in their social lives. If there is a city in America where a completely LGBT educational system could find its home, Austin fits the bill, and I would definitely watch a reality TV show about that school, where there are real people populating the scenes. But in being so freely liberal with sexuality, Faking It preys upon stereotype after stereotype with a startling lack of genuine humor or emotion.
The oasis on this Isle of Lesbos is Amy, played mostly by Rita Volk’s deeply encompassing eyes. She is best friends with Karma (Katie Stevens), who tires of Netflix marathons and wants their high school existence to be filled with parties and romance. It’s generally impossible to reverse a school’s first impressions on a whim, but most whims don’t involve Shane (Michael J. Willett), an extremely popular gay senior, mistaking platonic friendships for romantic trysts. Once people like Douche McDouchenstein Liam (Gregg Sulkin), the hottest guy in school, think Karma and Amy are dating, they become the center of attention and are quickly on the cheaply carpeted road to becoming the school’s first ever lesbian homecoming queens.
On the opposing side of the Battle for Queendom is the shrill and self-important Lauren (Bailey Buntain) – okay, so everyone in this show comes off as self-important, but this bitch wrote the manual on it – who recently became Amy’s stepsister, and will do anything to get that essentially unimportant crown. Both Lauren’s attitude and Buntain’s acting are toxic, and she’s by far the most caricature-ish sore thumb in the bunch, which makes her antagonistic angle makes future episodes all the more unappealing in theory.
I could easily throw more hatred at Liam’s “I’ll fuck anything as long as it understands my rules” attitude towards women, or the fact that the two leads are already outed as non-lesbians twice. But the episode did have a few rays of sunshine to balance the vomit jokes and the Shia LaBeouf reference.
Karma’s initial goal of pretending to be blind to fit in was an inspired way to start the plot off, and I like the way the foul language is bleeped rather than substituted for corny slang. It also doesn’t get old hearing Lauren (correctly) assert that the rest of Texas would be a lot less accepting of such an openly gay high school couple. Plus, the homecoming queen rally actually featured ticker tape confetti dropping from the ceiling when Amy and Karma kissed, which was rather wonderfully surreal.
It remains to be seen how the lesbian friendship between Amy and Karma will pan out, but the series will hopefully take advantage of Amy’s seemingly sudden struggles with her own sexuality, which could definitely serve as the series’ dramatic anchor. Granted, it only takes a few minutes to envision every single outcome that any of these plotlines could offer us, but I think Volk is capable of handling the transition from faking homosexuality to the outside world to faking heterosexuality with the best friend she’s secretly in love with. And I think that Willett is a strong enough actor to make Amy and Shane’s future confession-filled conversations the potential highlight of future episodes.
One thing that Faking It does better than most shows is product placement, with the product in question being the series that aired next. At one point in the episode, Karma congratulates another character on her impending twins as she walks away. Teen Mom? Right? I mean, it wasn’t a direct reference to Teen Mom 2 Reunion Part 2, but it was still a nice touch.
About as relevant to the gay lifestyle as Modern Family is, Faking It shoots for the stars, but only hits a bunch of brightly colored rainbows on “Vote for Me” posters. Maybe this is how high school goes now, and I’m just a half-generation too early to understand. Either way, I’ll stay invested until it punishes me for doing so, which is completely different from how I expected to feel when I started watching. Or, you know, maybe I’m just faking it.
Faking It plays Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30c on MTV.