On paper, “Fakes” is about as cliché as it gets. We’ve got two teenage girl best friends. One is a nerdy, timid, introverted genius hiding under the shadow of the aforementioned best friend. She hasn’t exactly had it easy growing up and needs to work twice as hard for an Ivy League scholarship. That’s Zoe (Emilija Baranac, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”). Her partner in crime (a joke that will set in about six sentences from now) is fun, flirty and popular, ever the life of the party. That’s Becca (Jennifer Tong, “Grand Army”), who’s seemingly shallow, careless and rich, with a wardrobe that threatens to steal the scene about as often as she does. If you watch enough teen TV, you might’ve already made up your mind about these two, and you probably have an idea of the pair that’s not that far off (take a wild guess as to which is which). But as the show so keenly likes to remind us, things are never quite what they seem. With “Fakes,” there is far more going on beneath the surface than you may think.
“Fakes” follows Zoe and Becca as they accidentally build one of the largest fake ID empires in North America. At the start, the dynamic between the two friends feels predictable and rather trite. When Becca calls from a party, drunk and in need of a ride, Zoe dutifully goes and picks her up. From the first scenes, it’s easy to surmise that whether Becca is aware of it or not, Zoe is at her beck and call — the clear-headed, calm, cool and collected presence to offset Becca’s often spaced out and utterly clueless demeanor, the London Tipton to Zoe’s Maddie. It’s a cliché in and of itself: best friends that are complete and total opposites, that complement and foil each other in every regard. But there’s more to this story and more than meets the eye with this duo.
In case you forgot, the main plot of the show may seem a little off-scale in terms of average teenage shenanigans, but it’s evident from the get-go that this will not end well for the two of them. It starts out innocently enough. Zoe creates her own fake ID, not for purchasing alcohol, but to use the college campus library to study (because of course she does). When Becca loses her fake ID, Zoe makes her one — a really good one. So good that the pair get the idea to make some money selling them. Zoe, our narrator, navigates us through the scheme’s inception, explaining that she was the brains behind the operation, but it was all Becca’s idea and her fault entirely that they got into this mess.
At this point, the show is piling on the clichés big-time, so I hardly flinch when it makes the odd yet cheesy choice to have Zoe routinely break the fourth wall and explain the situation directly to the audience. It feels like overkill. We watch the show’s events play out while Zoe vehemently reiterates the facts right in front of us. I was getting sick of this, but the second episode redeemed itself by showing the same story from Becca’s perspective.
One of the show’s greatest assets is its shifting perspective. From here on out, each episode flips between the two girls’ POVs for the same events, and you’re left questioning … everything. It’s a twist on the unreliable narrator trope because you’re never sure who to trust, and the show makes no clear indication of what’s real.
To be fair, I went in with low expectations on the whole “two sides to every story” deal. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the show is well aware of the stereotypical ground it’s treading on. It’s more than watching the same scenes play out over and over, because each one feels carefully reframed through the other person’s mind and tailored to their viewpoint. Dialogue gets restructured, scenes play out differently or are left out entirely. Subtle cues distinguish between the two perspectives. Becca is decidedly less cool and ditzier in Zoe’s eyes, and Zoe is always on the verge of a panic attack in Becca’s. Becca often forgets to include her boyfriend Clem (Wern Lee, “Voyagers”) in entire scenes, and Zoe conveniently leaves out parts that indicate that Becca is genuinely a good friend to her, like every time she calms her down from those aforementioned panic attacks. Despite what Zoe might have to say about it, Becca carries her weight and then some and quickly becomes one of the most interesting characters on the show. All we can assume is that their true selves are a combination of of how they’re perceived by others and how they wish to be perceived.
The show’s comedic moments meld the fractured structure of its scenes like glue. It sometimes overuses the “realization of panic” jump cut to “Zoe and Becca screaming and yelling over top of each other” chaos sequence, but it works often enough to let slide. The audience is constantly thrown into scenes mid-way, temporarily confused, only to catch the missing pieces in the following episode. Although the fast-paced, choppy, mis-ordered editing of the scenes makes it difficult to tell what’s going on, it makes an otherwise predictably unremarkable story all the more interesting to watch. It’s like the show refuses to let you get bored of it and remains fully aware of the fact that if told in a straightforward manner, it simply wouldn’t be compelling enough to sustain itself.
In the wrong hands, “Fakes” could have been terrible. Its saving grace is its own refreshing self-awareness that keeps it afloat even amongst its most stereotypical storytelling devices. In the pilot, the “breaking the fourth wall,” moments are nearly unbearable but quickly get tamped down to less of a “let me explain everything going on right now,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” style to more of an “are you seeing what I’m seeing?” vibe of Becca or Zoe making a face at the camera, “Jim Halpert” style. A well-crafted first season, full of twists and fakes at every turn, “Fakes” is a fun, delightfully thrilling piece of teen crime comedy. Watching it is kind of like the thrill middle-aged men get from “Breaking Bad,” but with better outfits, I imagine.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.