MTV's Faking It, returning tonight for its second season, is a show everyone should be watching. Now, it's not required viewing – I generally oppose the idea that any show is necessary for those outside of those who need to be well-versed in a broad spectrum of television (like critics). If it's not to your taste, avoid it at will! Do you, because no one can tell you not to.
But even if not everyone has to watch MTV's Faking It, they should be. Because it is doing so much more with its premise than you'd expect – in ways prestige shows could really learn from.
The original premise was such: Amy (Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens) are nobodies at a liberal Austin high school, where "normal" is ignored and the alternative is celebrated. They decide to fake being lesbian lovers to get attention. One problem: Amy isn't really into this plan, because as she discovers about herself, she has feelings for Karma beyond just friendship.
That twist, included in the show's first episode, was enough to endure any bits of bad taste and stick around. The first season gingerly, honestly, and refreshingly explored Amy's sexuality, without reaching any easy or definite answers. Meanwhile, Karma started having a fling with Liam (Gregg Sulkin), but he was primarily attracted to her because he couldn't really have her. There were a great deal of conflicting dynamics at play, especially when you started to consider the (stellar) supporting cast – and it was all very high-level for a MTV show aimed at teens.
But compare Faking It to another queer-themed teen show – namely, Glee – and you quickly see what's so special about this show: It never sacrifices character or tone in favor of condescending to its audience. Glee may have had Kurt Hummell first, but it quickly transformed him from a challenged-and-challenging teen discovering himself to a saint who had no agency. In contrast, Faking It's Shane (Michael J. Willett) is bitchy, rude, and dramatic, but also cares deeply for his friends and wants to be a better person. You know, like most teens.
Faking It isn't afraid to let its characters be bratty teens still learning about themselves. Even a moment that could have been read as character-damaging in the first season finale (spoiler alert) – when Amy and Liam sleep together after Karma rejects the former and is revealed as a fake lesbian to the latter – plays as young people hurt, confused, and lashing out. That's pretty remarkable writing for this category of program.
The second season premiere continues to explore new ideas – there's a dramatic reveal about a main character near the end of the episode that the show wisely doesn't play as a jaw-dropper. Instead, it indicates to us that we'll learn more about this character in a sensitive way, but the relationship dynamics between the ensemble members will remain as thorny and complex as possible.
In a way, Faking It is the teen show version of The Good Wife: willing to blow up its premise and let all of its characters interact in interesting, difficult ways. Karma and Amy aren't faking their relationship anymore, and yet almost everyone's keeping new secrets. Such ambition, regardless of the show, is worth rewarding with your attention. So no, you don't need to set your DVR season-pass now. But you really should.