MTV Show

Jenna Lamia ’00E and Sarah Walker ’03 met in the writers’ room for the MTV teen comedy Awkward. “Of course I was instantly intimidated by her,” Lamia says, “because she’s very tall and beautiful, and she had been on the Amherst basketball team.”

The respect is mutual: “I love Jenna—she’s the best,” Walker says. That first meeting took place in 2014, when both had come onboard as writers in the show’s fourth season. By that time each had spent years pursuing a career as a comedy writer. While at Amherst, Walker had landed internships at the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows, and after graduation she’d worked as a writer on MTV and VH1 talk shows and game shows, while also contributing to the humor magazine McSweeney’s and publishing a tongue-in-cheek self-help book, Really, You’ve Done Enough (“It was definitely the most amount of work for the least amount of money,” she says). 

Writing about teenagers meant creating believable (or at least funny) slang.

Lamia, meanwhile, had guest-starred on TV shows including Strangers with CandyLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit and Oz. It was her work with David O. Russell ’81E, in a supporting role in his film The Fighter, that got her on track for the writing career she had always wanted, when Russell passed along one of Lamia’s original screenplays to his agent. “Once I got my foot through that door, I just knew I had to walk through all the way,” she says. “So acting went on the back burner.”

Walker and Lamia worked together on the final two seasons of Awkward, which ended this past May. Each season “we had to write 24 shows in the span of about 25 weeks,” Walker says. For Lamia, who was both a writer and a recurring guest star on the show, Awkward was pretty much a dream job. “Knowing I was going to get to act some of the stuff we were writing just made me more excited to write it,” she says. “One day I was in wardrobe in my trailer, waiting to shoot something, rewriting someone’s script, and I had this moment of, ‘This is the best.’”

The show followed a group of teens as they quipped and squabbled. At right, Ashley Rickards as Jenna Hamilton and Beau Mirchoff as Matty McKibben. Below, a scene from the graduation episode.

The chronicle of quirky teenager Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) and her on-again, off-again relationship with hunky Matty McKibben (Beau Mirchoff), Awkward followed Jenna and her friends through high school and slightly beyond, as they quipped and squabbled and hooked up in various combinations. 

Writing a show about teenagers meant creating believable—or at least entertaining—slang, especially for Jenna’s best friend Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed). “Tamara speaks in these crazy—we call them Tamara-isms,” Walker says. “It’s sort of like a high school student on speed, whatever crazy things they put together. That was fun, making up jargon that maybe trickled down into real life.”

Writers Jenna Lamia ’00E (left) and Sarah Walker ’03

Walker and Lamia each majored in English (Walker double-majored in art history), and both cite Amherst professors as formative influences. Walker was able to get course credit for her Letterman and O’Brien internships thanks to support from her adviser, Helen von Schmidt. And in Professor Judith Frank’s fiction writing class, Lamia learned to give positive feedback to fellow writers, a skill that proved invaluable in TV writing. Of that class, Lamia says, “I would go so far as to say it did change my life.” 

Walker and Lamia have now moved on to new writing jobs—Walker on Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet, Lamia on The CW’s No Tomorrow. Eventually, each hopes to create and run her own comedy show. And they continue to appreciate their Amherst bond. “To be honest, it’s a little bit comforting, because Hollywood can be an intimidating place,” Lamia says. As Walker says, “I could talk about Amherst forever.”

Josh Bell ’02 is the Las Vegas Weekly film editor.