How PEN15's Creators Went From Squirrel Hunters To Hulu
Even if middle school is a time of life you'd rather forget, there's a lot to enjoy about the Hulu series PEN15. Co-created by and starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, the show is a hilarious look at the way-too-real awkwardness of early teen life.
What makes PEN15 so great? For starters, it offers a spot-on portrayal of what it was like being a pre-teen/teen in the late '90s and early 2000s — from the launch of AOL Instant Messenger to Spice Girls mania. It's also one of the rare shows (like Broad City or Fleabag) where women get to be gross and weird and make bad decisions. And then there's the very real chemistry between the show's stars, who have been friends since college.
Konkle and Erskine are both in their 30s, but play 13-year-old versions of themselves in PEN15. The rest of the show's actors really are teens, which doesn't sound like it would work — but it only adds to the wonderful weirdness of the series.
All 10 episodes of PEN15 are available to stream now on Hulu. But if you've already laughed and cringed your way through the series and are in need of more, we have a recommendation: Erskine and Konkle's 2013 web series Project Reality. (Warning: Like PEN15, parts of Project Reality are NSFW).
The idea behind Project Reality was that each episode was a different rejected reality TV pilot that never made it to air. BFs of Beverly Hills, for example, is a spoof of shows like MTV's The Hills and The City.
In the opening sequence, Konkle and Erskine introduce themselves as "Croatia" and "Tyla," two best friends from Beverly Hills who've decided they want to become fashion designers. They explain, "We decided to risk it all, give up everything we knew, and move to our very own apartment in a really s——- area, all by ourselves... to West Hollywood!"
"It's far from what we hoped it to be, but we really put everything behind it," Konkle told KPCC's The Frame. "It was our first lesson, as people who are perfectionists and have anxiety, of not allowing ourselves to continue to be paralyzed by not being good enough."
The web series was the first project that Konkle and Erskine worked on together after graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
Konkle said their mantra for Project Reality was, "Nobody has to watch this." It was more of a way to figure out, "Can we do this for ourselves to express ourselves? Is this something that we feel pulled to do? Writing? Producing? Acting? Maybe we won't like it. Maybe it won't work. But I want to make you laugh, you want to make me laugh, let's do this."
"I think even PEN15 had the same motivation behind it," Erskine added. "It was, 'This is an experiment.'"
Luckily for Erskine and Konkle (and for fans of the show), the experiment worked. And if you're enough of a fan that you still would like even more PEN15 in your life, you can check out their boy-band-heavy Spotify playlist: