Defined as a typical adolescent teen wracked by ambivalence and insecurities, Sam Zamblowski (Taj Cross) makes some dubious decisions on the show that makes one question his intelligence quotient. The rival and next-door neighbor who slowly becomes Maya's love interest goes about it all wrong on the beloved Hulu original series.
Just when Maya develops feelings for Sam, he lacks the social and emotional intelligence to recognize such and immediately begins dating another girl. Later, Sam picks the worse time to reveal he was Flymiamibro22 in the singles chatroom all along, prompting Maya's ire. Sam also teases both girls over their weight gain, oblivious that they would feel hurt by his comments in a way that shows his lack of awareness.
Silly, fun-loving, and rarely around, Maya's father Fred (Richard Karn) is a world-class drummer who uses his talents to tour the country as part of a Steely Dan cover band. Rhythmically-inclined, Fred's intelligence comes in perfecting a musical skillset that allows him to provide for his family.
Alas, Fred is rarely in town long enough to really show off his intellect, although he does have the wisdom to support his children in times of great emotional need.
Although he is often seen reading novels in bed and wisely avoiding marital conflict by sleeping on the couch, that is pretty much where Curtis Kone's (Taylor Nichols) intellectual prowess ends on the show. Designed more as morbid comic relief to underscore Anna's absurd parental divorce, Curtis is rarely given a chance to prove how smart he is.
Alas, the humor of the Kone's failed marriage becomes darker and darker until there isn't much about the abusive relationship to laugh at. Even when Kurtis takes the girls to Florida in season 2, he shows little chaperoning that leads to their jacuzzi melee. Simply put, Curtis is not a very smart parent.
Prone to outlandish New Age theories and religious lifestyles, Kathy (Melora Walters) is more idiosyncratic than outright intellectual. High-strung beyond belief due to her failing marriage to Curtis, Kathy is at least wise enough to channel her own sense of spiritual healing in order to find a semblance of personal peace.
The smartest thing Kathy does on the show comes in season 2 of the binge-worthy Hulu comedy series when she denies Anna and Maya the chance to pursue a modeling opportunity offered by a huckster. Citing the $3,000 price as a surefire scam, Kathy prevents her daughter from falling for the ruse and having her dreams shattered at an expensive cost.
As Maya's cool older brother who is seen smoking joints outside school, Shuji (Dallas Liu) has a much smarter perspective than most typical 8th graders. In season 1, Shuji sits Maya down and explains the horrors of racism, providing insight that her own school teachers have no authority on.
While Shuji is also there to tease his little sister and call her out for being bratty, he has a firm understanding of what Maya needs most and when she needs it, often acting as a de facto father figure when their step-father Fred is on the road with his band.
If Maya gets her silly side from Fred, she almost certainly derived her intelligence from her mother, Yuki (Mutsuko Erskine). Played by Maya's real-life mother, Yuki is strict but caring and raises her daughter using logic and pragmatism with an aim of doing what's best for her.
Beyond having the intellectual wherewithal to cheer Maya up following Maura's ruse on the binge-worthy Hulu drama, Yuki's wisdom is further highlighted in the season 2 episode dedicated to her reunion with her ex-husband and Shuji's father. After reminiscing on their marriage, Yuki returns home and immediately spends time with Maya and Shuji separately and tells them how much she loves them. It's a great moment that shows Yuki's emotional and intellectual maturity.
While Maya is initially presented as a class clown whose awkward sense of humor makes her classmates laugh at all times, she is a smart, sensitive, and skilled musical drummer with a bright future. When she isn't falling for boys at school, Maya uses her wits and wiles to achieve her biggest desires. Some have argued that she is the real main character of the Hulu show.
For instance, Maya is wise enough to ask Sam for help in her drumming solo to impress her father, is morally righteous enough to know returning Heather's thong was the right thing to do, and is smart enough to plant strands of hair in Brandt's locker to win his affection. While Maya's ADD and Irlen Syndrome diagnosis in season 2 explain her lack of concentration in class, Maya's ability to come into her own and accept her Japanese heritage proves she has a good head on her shoulders.
Primarily due to her righteous fight against racism and the prejudicial treatment of her best friend, Anna Kone is the most intelligent character on Pen15. While the show is primarily geared around the poor decisions and life lessons learned in adolescence, Anna demonstrates wisdom beyond her years.
In season 1, Anna has the gumption and smarts to organize a hunger strike to end racism after Maya is racially discriminated against, showing a wise perspective at just 13 years old that grown adults should aspire to. With a whip-smart sense of sarcasm to boot, Anna is also a super talented musician who uses her artistic outlet to cope with her parents fighting. Anna's intelligence is further shown in season 2 when she begins a deep philosophical search for the afterlife upon learning about the Holocaust in class.