PEN15 season 1 premiere recap: First Day


Hulu’s new PEN15, from Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle and Sam Zvibleman (with Andy Samberg’s The Lonely Island crew signed on as one of the production companies), follows two seventh graders as they try to navigate middle school.

This episode of PEN15 opens with Anna on the phone with her BFF Maya while Anna flips through a yearbook. After gossiping about what happened to their classmates over the summer, they both settle in and agree that seventh grade is going to be amazing.

After PEN15’s opening credits, Maya is unable to sleep. She gets out of bed and goes to her closet and grabs a magazine with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the cover. She sits in front of her mirror, grabs a pair of scissors and starts to cut her hair.

As she cuts, she practices what she’s going to say to people about how much she’s “changed” over the summer.

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This cuts to the next morning and Maya’s horrified mother. Maya’s hair is a disaster—short on one side, long on the other and an all-around mess. Maya tries to say she’s given herself layers. Her mom says it’s just odd and tells Maya to sit down so she can fix it.

Maya starts to panic as her mom grabs a metal bowl and scissors. Maya begs her to not make it too short. Maya’s brother Shuji walks by and laughs at her.

Cut to Maya, with a quintessential bowl cut, climbing into the carpool car with Anna. Maya doesn’t look happy as they head off to their first day at their new school. Anna tries to convince Maya that the new haircut looks good. Both girls are excited about the first day again after they reassure each other that they both look great.

Maya and Anna (along with Shuji and the last member of their carpool, Sam) arrive at the middle school. Anna and Maya, who have vowed to do everything together, awkwardly jostle to make sure their feet hit the pavement at the same time as they get out of the car.

As they walk into the building, they look around at all of the other students. (The episode uses this moment to capture the idea that puberty hits sporadically in middle school—some people look really young, some look much older.)

Maya has a brief moment of bonding with her homeroom teacher when, while taking attendance, he recognizes that Ishii (part of her last name) means food.

The bell rings and the students are given their locker assignments as they head out of the classroom. Once they hit the hallway, Maya and Anna find sheets of notebook paper taped to lockers all down the hall that say either “Brandt loves Maya” or “Dustin loves Maya.”

Maya starts to freak out because, as Anna puts it, those are the two “hottest guys in the school.”

They speculate that this means Maya has made it—only more confirmed by the fact that three popular girls call Maya over to them. (Despite Maya begging her, Anna doesn’t go. After all, they didn’t call for her, they only called for Maya.)

As Maya gets to the popular girls, they start commenting on Maya’s haircut and saying that whatever she did to it worked because Dustin and Brandt can’t stop talking about her.

This cuts to gym class. Brandt walks up and sits down next to Maya on a bench. Maya and Anna giggle to each other. Between Brandt, Dustin and Anna’s crush (Alex), the two girls get so entrenched in admiring the hot guys that Anna isn’t paying attention when it’s her turn to bat in kickball.

She gets up and promptly kicks the ball directly into Alex’s nose.

The gym teacher tells Anna to take “her victim” to the nurse. Once there, Anna apologizes to Alex. Despite Alex sticking to one syllable responses to anything Anna says, Anna rambles on about how two of Alex’s best friends are in love with Maya, her best friend.

But as she compliments Dustin’s earring, Alex says Dustin is a bitch. This is information that Anna promptly relays to Maya in their English class. This complicates things. Maya decides that she can’t be with someone who isn’t best friends with Alex, so she’ll just be with Brandt.

The English teacher (after at first mistaking Maya for a boy) calls Maya to the front of the room to share something she did over the summer. Maya talks about how she watched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective six times in a row and has the whole class laughing as she acts out some of Jim Carrey’s memorable bits from the movie.

Later in class, Maya and Anna try to craft the perfect note for Maya to give to Brandt to officially start the relationship.

After, Maya and Anna stand in front of their lockers. Brandt and Dustin run up, laughing with each other, each saying that the other one says yes to Maya’s request. Neither wants to be the one who says yes.

Just then, Becca comes up and tells the boys to stop being mean and tell Maya what’s going on. Brandt and Dustin then start calling Maya “UGIS”—the Ugliest Girl In School. Maya’s world shatters and she struggles to hold back the tears.

This cuts to Maya and Anna in the bathroom with Maya looking in the mirror, struggling to deal with how mean everyone had been behind her back. Anna holds Maya as Maya cries.

In the hallway, Sam stares at the Brandt and Dustin love Maya signs for a brief moment before starting to tear them all down.

Anna is still trying to raise Maya’s spirits at lunch. They both agree that calling Maya the ugliest girl in school is ridiculous as they rattle off reasons why other girls should be considered uglier. Anna decides they need to do something about people calling Maya UGIS.

They go find Shuji outside where he’s hanging out with the eighth graders—they want him to beat up Brandt and Dustin. At first, he tells her to go away and seems uninterested. But as soon as he hears that she’s being called UGIS, he snaps into action.

He says he won’t beat them up, but he can teach Maya things she can call Brandt and Dustin. Shuji then teaches Maya a scathing insult she can hurl at Brandt.

In their homeroom, Maya tells everyone that after school she’s going to “bitch out” Brandt and Dustin.

This cuts to after school where Anna massages Maya’s shoulders like she’s preparing a boxer for a fight. A small crowd is gathered (including Alex and Sam) as Maya confronts Brandt and Dustin. Or, well, she tries. She stumbles over the insults Shuji had given her.

Thanks to Anna’s prompting (and literal pushing), Maya gets more and more into it and actually starts insulting Brandt to a point where the crowd gets behind her. Right up until when she takes it too far and brings up Brandt’s dead dad.

Brandt starts crying. Maya has really overstepped.

Thankfully their carpool pulls up and the two run off.

Later, on the phone, Maya asks Anna if she went too far. As they talk, a note is slipped under Maya’s door. Shuji has written that he’s proud of Maya for standing up for herself. He’s also included a map.

The next day, Maya and Anna follow the map which leads them to a boys bathroom. On one of the walls are etched the names of every year’s UGIS dating back to 1980. Next to the year 2000 is Maya’s name.

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This episode of PEN15 ends with Maya scratching her name off the list. As she leaves the bathroom, she starts to cry to Anna saying she doesn’t want to face everyone. Maya tries to say everything will be easier for Anna if Anna goes through seventh grade without here.

Anna eventually convinces Maya that, no matter what, they’re going to conquer middle school together.

What did you think of the first episode of PEN15? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.