With just a season and a half, Hulu's PEN15 has established itself as one of the best TV comedies ever made. As a show about middle schoolers starring two women in their 30s, it's unlike anything else in the streaming world. Its curious experimental style works spectacularly and its spot-on deep dive into the excruciating foibles of adolescence is as painful to watch as it is hilarious.
There are also a handful of other shows out there that share PEN15's brand of cringe humor to tide over fans who are waiting for the second half of season 2 to release on Hulu.
Actors like Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki or Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox can be cast to play best friends and do a serviceable job of convincing the audience of their characters' friendship. But the difference between two actors hired to play best friends and two actual best friends playing best friends is night and day.
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle's on-screen chemistry in PEN15 is off the charts. It goes a long way toward immersing the viewer in the reality of the show.
A huge part of what makes PEN15 work so well is that it's a touching ode to friendship and its two leads, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, share a real-life friendship that brings the kind of authenticity that can't be faked to their on-screen friendship.
The same can be said of Broad City, which is led by a similar BFF pairing played by series creators and showrunners Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. Their on-screen avatars are closely based on themselves, particularly the friendship part.
A lot of TV comedies that attempt dramatic moments can fall flat. Friends is arguably the most iconic sitcom of all time, but most of the emotional scenes don't work at all because they feel forced.
In PEN15, the dramatic moments land. Every episode has plenty of laughs, but storylines like Anna's parents' divorce don't force jokes into situations that don't need them. There's a real humanity to all these characters; the drama works because it rings true.
Although the characters are a little older and the main cast is all-male, The Inbetweeners is a lot like PEN15 in its use of cringe humor in a school setting.
The series opens with Will McKenzie's parents' divorce forcing him to downgrade from a private school to a public one. The culture shock is hilarious, but the show really finds its footing when Will makes friends in Simon, Jay, and Neil and the quartet embarks on a string of humiliating misadventures.