On her 2001 album Britney, Britney Spears declared herself "not a girl, not yet a woman." In that sleepy ballad, the then-19-year-old pop star and sex symbol stressed her need for more time to grow up while cautioning you, the listener, against trying to protect her. "I've seen so much more than you know now/ So don't tell me to shut my eyes," she croons in her signature guttural, Britney-like way.
I thought a lot about this song while watching the first half of PEN15 Season 2, Hulu's charmingly perceptive coming-of-age comedy, released on September 18. The protagonists Maya and Anna are not teen idols, and at 13, they are still firmly in girlhood. But as suburban middle-schoolers entering puberty during the peak-Britney era—the show is set in 2000—they understand profoundly what it means to oscillate between burgeoning maturity and childish innocence.
The first season deftly conveyed the messy, painful, exciting and horrifying nuances of adolescence through period-specific devices like AOL Instant Messenger and an ingenious bit of casting: The millennial co-creators (along with Sam Zvibleman) Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle star as versions of their much younger selves alongside actual 13-year-old actors. In Season 2 they've found new ways to burrow the growing pangs and embarrassments even deeper, to cathartic effect.
The show picks up just two days after the events of the Season 1 finale, which included Maya and Anna being felt up by Maya's crush Brandt (Jonah Beres) in the janitor's closet at the fall dance. Brandt admitted he likes Maya, too, but warned her not to tell anyone.
Of course crushes rarely stay secret for long among loose-lipped tweens, and this is doubly true for any experimenting they do with one another. When Brandt rebuffs Maya at a pool party in the first of the new episodes and insists their closet encounter never happened, a despondent Maya and Anna proceed to go around to each of their classmates and divulge the details to prove that it did. The gossip backfires on the girls; at school, they are slut-shamed and given a nickname based on the dismissive (and false) description Brandt tells his guy friends about what he did with them at the dance.