What does it take for a gimmick-based show to rise above its gimmick?
The same things it takes for any series to succeed, I suppose: writing that avoids cliche, strong plotting, assured performances from actors playing fully formed characters. Still, a show like Faking It — one that’s designed around a purposefully shocking premise (“pretend lesbians!!!”) — might necessarily find it more difficult to grow past its pilot than, say, a show that’s about six pals just hanging out, or one that focuses on the minutiae of office life.
That said: There’s definite potential in Faking It, which takes the basic DNA of Awkward. (girl’s social status changes after everyone starts believing a lie about her) and gives it an even edgier twist. The show follows two friends, Amy and Karma (ugh, the name; at least it’s established that her parents are hippies), who are the equivalent of extras at their ultra-progressive Austin high school: “In this school, you have to stand out to fit in,” laments Karma at one point. “And I’m so f—ing ordinary.” Minutes into the pilot, Karma gets a chance to change her fate when openly gay Shane, the most popular kid in school, overhears something that makes him think, mistakenly, K and A are dating. Before you can say “girl on girl is hot,” Karma has convinced Amy to embrace the lie — and it’s not long before the two of them are in the running to become Hester High School’s first-ever same-sex Homecoming Queens.
Treating lesbianism as an identifier that can be worn or shed on a whim, like black nail polish or a cheerleader’s uniform? Not cool. But that’s not exactly what Faking It does, or at least not what it wants to do — specifically because at the end of the pilot, Amy realizes that she may not exactly be pretending to be in love with Karma. Showrunner Carter Covington has no intention of dropping that thread: “I had crushes on my friends [in high school] but could never express it, because I was in the closet,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I started to think that a lot of people could relate to that experience of falling for someone, whether it’s your best friend or the guy who sits across from you in class, and wishing they had the same feelings for you that you had.”
If Faking It isn’t afraid to get earnest — and to let its more stereotypical characters, such as nasty mean girl Lauren and Amy’s southern belle mother, grow extra dimensions — it could end up showing surprising depth. And even if it doesn’t, the show is quippy and quirky enough to earn your attention, at least for a few episodes. Though hopefully, future installments will feel confident enough not to shoehorn in some of the clumsiest exposition this side of…anywhere. (Amy to Lauren: “I’m not thrilled our parents are engaged either.” Cringe.)
Did you catch Faking It? If so, are you fully on board with the show, kinda intrigued — or totally turned off? (Insert lesbian joke here.)