Teen Shows of the past that Were Actually Good

What teen shows were worth watching even if you were an adult?

A couple of decades ago, TV land was dominated by The Big Three networks. Programming for teenagers wasn't really a priority. However, around the 90’s FOX started to hit it big with its ‘young and edgy’ programming and a few years later the WB channel was created. Suddenly teenage shows were all the rage. It was right around the time I was a teenager and my generation grew up watching preposterous writing with Dawson’s Creek and the crazy soapy plot twists of 90210. Somehow, in the middle of all the craziness there were some teen shows that were actually worth watching even if you were an adult.

The O.C. (FOX 2003-2007)

I read somewhere that this show was sold as “90210 in Orange County”, but it was surely just a marketing tactic, because The O.C was much better than the teenage melodrama. Yes, it went off the rails around season 3 or so (much like Gossip Girl did) but this was Josh Swchartz first outing into the teenage drama world and for a while it was great. The show follows Ryan, a troubled teen from a poor neighborhood. After a series of events he ends up living with his public defender in his Orange County mansion. This show was the first of many to deal with the lifestyle of privileged teenagers. Yes 90210 did it first, but it was rosy and unrealistic. The O.C. took a deeper approach and, as one of the characters points out in the pilot, we were looking at the “dark side”.

Veronica Mars (UPN 2004 -2007)

A teenage girl helps her P.I. father solve cases in a small town in California. When I first heard the premise I thought this show belonged at the Disney Channel (a Shirley Holmes type of thing) but I was very wrong. The concept sounds childish and Veronica Mars is officially a teenage show, but in reality it was a good procedural crime/detective show that could be enjoyed by teens and adults.  The character of Veronica Mars is one of the best female characters on TV. It was brilliantly played by Kristen Bell who found a rare balance between being sassy, clever and vulnerable. The show not only had a good mystery of the week, it also dealt with teenage issues, family drama and even social criticism. In addition it had a season long mystery that never stopped being compelling. So many people compared The Killing with Twin Peaks, but I think Veronica looking for the killer of her best in the little town of Neptune was a better legacy of the cult-hit.

Felicity (WB 1998 – 2002)

Felicity is a show about a girl that follows her High School crush all the way to NYU. There are so many shows that take place in High School, but not nearly enough in college. According to my college production teacher, it has to do with the fact that stakes are too high in high school; however when we go to college we are more mature and it is not so dramatic. That explains why not many shows about college are successful. It could also be because there aren’t many good shows about college. Felicity came around the same time as Dawson’s Creek and I remember thinking that they couldn’t be any more different.  Dawson’s portrayed a bunch of teenagers dealing overly dramatic issues and speaking with vocabulary that no teenager (or person) would ever use in casual conversation. On the other hand Felicity was very realistic. The performances and speech were natural and they dealt with trivial everyday issues like not being able to find a book or cheating on a test. The first two seasons of the show represented the average college experience in the most realistic way I have seen on TV. I could identify with Felicity’s mundane trouble and overall it was a well acted well written show that also had a lot of heart.

Everwood (WB 2002 – 2006)

In Everwood, a big city doctor moves his family to a small mountain town after his wife dies tragically in a car accident. The doctor, who had been an absent father, goes on to rebuilt the damaged relationship with his teenage son and his little daughter.  I guess this one is more a family drama than a teenage show, but they did have teenagers so I am putting it here. Teenagers have families, teenagers have parents. In most teenage shows, adults are relegated to the background, somehow that doesn’t seem quite right. When we are teenagers we are still living with our parents and most of our issues involve them in one way or another. When I watched Everwood, it was refreshing to see teenagers that were fighting with their parents (as we all do) without hating each other. Everwood dealt with serious issues like AIDS, abortion, drugs but it also explored family dynamics and human motivations. I also love that it was the kind of show you could watch with the whole family, it had a lot of moral value without being preachy. It is rare to find that balance.

That 70’s Show (FOX 1998 – 2006)

Come to think about it, there aren’t many ‘teen comedies’. These days comedies are about single young adults, families, nerds and pretty much any other random group of people you can think off (Go On e.g.). But regardless of being a comedy or a drama That 70’s Show was one of the most inventive and original shows of the 2000 decade. As the name suggests, That 70’s Show is about a group of teenagers living in the 70’s. So many period shows fail because they either rely too much on the historical context or they don’t use it enough to make it relevant. That 70’s Show had a perfect balance, they mocked many things of the time period like pot smoking, star wars and disco music, but above all it was actually funny. The writing was entertaining and the actors had great comic timing. What can be more hilarious than Debra Jo Rupp laughing?

Greek (ABC Family 2007 – 2011)

I am a little embarrassed to include this in the list, but there… I admit it I loved Greek. Can’t really say why, it wasn’t as deep or groundbreaking or original as other shows on the list. It was your average ABC Family show, but there was something in the way they wrote it that kept it interesting. The show pretty much revolves around the Greek houses of an East coast college. You have the pretty girls’ sorority and the frats of the party boys and the trust fund brats. You also have the geeks trying to fit in, one of which gets into a frat after a series of fortunate events. As I said, I don’t really know why I loved it but I did. The young actors were well cast, the story lines kept flowing quickly and somebody in the writing room was as much of a geek as me because they kept throwing references to Lost, Terminator, Mad Men and Alias in there. Yes, it was a show about blond girls and frat boys, but the way they did it they neither celebrated them nor condemned them. It was a show about the characters, not the setting. Overall the show had a lot of sweet moments, it moved fast, had great dialog and a lot of humor. In my book it was actually worth watching.
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The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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