Saturday, 1 August 2009

Teens on TV: I like 'em real

For those of you who haven't guessed, I am a little bit of a television freak. I have always watched a lot...too much really. Reading was probably the only thing that stopped my mother from having to stage an intervention.

Since it's Friday, I thought I would list my favourite television shows or characters that depict realistic teens. This unfortunately made it impossible to add my guilty pleasures - One Tree Hill, Dawson's Creek, Roswell, etc - to this list. What I have listed below are some of the shows that I have grown up with or discovered late that (I believe) depict realistic teens, teens that we routinely see in YA and not so often on the celluloid.

Friday Night Lights
2006-current, NBC/DirecTV
You've probably had enough of me gushing about this show but simply put, if you like quality YA you will love this show. Football is there but it's not central. It's the kids in the school and the couple (the coach and his wife) that guide them that are central. What might seem like stereotypes quickly dissolve when you see the pressures in this small town of Dillon, Texas. It's storytelling with a heart and with an eye on the real teen experience.

I relate to Julie Taylor, she's the blond over on the right. I don't like her most of the time, she's shrill, condescending, ungrateful but she IS the most realistic teen on television at the moment BAR none. If that doesn't interest you then there is plenty of man meat. Beware this show will make you cry with joy and despair. It's that good.

2007-current, BBC
This British show is an absolute doozy, specifically season 1. It was created as an alternative to all the American teen content that was flooding the UK. It explores the every day life of a group of friends who live in Bristol. Cassie, third from the left, is an amazingly complex and empathetic look at a girl suffering with anorexia. An amazing cast (it's the show that discovered Slumdog Millonaire's Dev Patel) and refused to hold back on a multitude of subjects from eating disorders, death, mental illness, sexual orientation, etc. It's also surprisingly funny and very British, I love it.
Party of Five
1994-2000, FOX

Party of Five or "The Crying Show" launched when I was thirteen and I immediately fell in love with the Salinger Family. Orphaned when their parents are killed by a drink driver, twenty-one year old Charlie (Matthew Fox, now on Lost) has to return to act as guardian for his four younger siblings. I wanted to be Julia (Neve Campbell) because she had a weird relationship with her bestie Justin and then had an ongoing relationship with Griffin. Though the weirdest crush I had was on Will, Bailey's (the other brother) best friend. He was played by Scott Grimes who has been on ER as Archie for many years. This show made me weep every week and made me jealous that my family didn't own a restaurant where we would have our own booth.
Once and Again
1999-2002, ABC

From the team that created MSCL, came this show about blended families. There are two reasons I loved this show. 1) Grace - played by Julia Whelan - who was completely me at that age. Whiny, studious and seeking out anything that might make me interesting to someone. It's a great disappointment that this young actor stopped working as she was beyond magnificent. 2) Jessie - played by Rachel Evan Wood - who's about to pop up as royalty on True Blood. While this actress took a backseat to the older teens dilemmas at first, she really made a mark for herself with this character in the latter part of this series. This show demonstrated the strength of up and coming actors (maybe not Shane West) and actresses. Check out what the girls at Underage Reading have to say about this phenomenon, it's well worth the read.
My So-Called Life
1994-1995, ABC
This is the show in which the word CLASSIC was intended. I only discovered the show last year and finally realised what all the Jordan Catalano references were actually talking about. It follows Angela Chase and a handful of other very self-aware teens. It is difficult to summarise as it's plain brilliant and ended too soon. Though many people related to Angela, I admit to a bit myself, I felt a real kinship with Ricky and Brian, despite not being gay or a nerd - this is why this show was, and continues to be, so important. It bridged gaps and allowed teens to see the person instead of the stereotype.
2007-current, ABC Family

Follows the adventures of a groups of teens in and out of the Greek lifestyle at the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes College. What is great about this show is that it successful portrays the life of teens at college. When the series begins we meet our protagonist siblings, Casey (a Junior) and her brother, Rusty (Freshman). It is not one of those horrible sorority or fraternity movies as it's creators were heavily inspired by MSCL and other iconic teen productions. Even cooler there are ongoing references and cast members from MSCL that appear time and time again. The characters were purposefully introduced in the pilot as the crude stereotypes and by the end of the episode, you realise you were all wrong. It's hilarious, it's got a great heart and you will love this show. One of the very few shows to depict college well.

Here's why I love it so much - best TV exchange this year:

Ashleigh: "You used to be this focused driven person. When did you become this girl? Someone who sits around pining and making lists and second guessing your choices. Paging Dr Grey"
Casey: "Ash."
"No, wait, you are more like Joey Potter"
Casey" "Well, OK, I get the point."
Ashleigh: "No, you're worse. You're the f-word."
Casey: "Don't say it."
Ashleigh: "Felicity"
Casey: "You bitch."

1999-2002, The WB

Whether or not you were a Ben or a Noel girl (I was Ben 100% just so you know), Felicity was integral in my late teen years. She started college the same year I did and we were about as naive as one another. That being said, there is no way on Earth I would follow a guy who spoke to me once all the way to college. Felicity was unique as she wore ugly, frumpy, woolen jumpers, was a complete social spazz but frighteningly smart and dumb all at the same time. She was the smart girl who still had no idea what she wanted...aka me. While I regret that I never got to kiss Scott Speedman, I will never forget the episodes that dealt with date rape, spousal abuse or losing one's virginity. JJ Abrams won my undying loyalty with this show and it's characters (no matter how much they derailed later).

Forever, CBC

This Canadian show was an institution on Aussie television back in my teens years. It was literally the coolest show ever when I was twelve. It also scared me stiff about high school.
Press Gang
1989-1993, ITV

I wanted to be Linda, the editor of the Junior Gazette and date Spike, the reckless by talented reporter. It was a teen show set in the world of newspapers with a couple that had URST in scary, unbelievable levels of awesomeness. Mainly this show was great as it showed a teen girl in the late eighties as smart, capable and in charge. Loved her.

There are many other teen shows that I LOVE but haven't mentioned. Why? I was never caught up in a love triangle, or had my crush realise that I was alive - those shows were fantastical for me. As a teenager, I was thoroughly boring. Yet I saw myself in a few shows that allowed teens to be more than a sex romp or a pitiful laugh on a sitcom. It's these shows that demonstrate the same strength in storytelling as many of my favourite authors in YA. If some of these titles are unfamiliar to you, maybe you could consider checking them out.

Greek and FNL are still screening and can be viewed on Hulu. Both are of outstanding quality and I am positive you will love them.


liz said...

MSCL consumed my life when it first started - I was a sophomore in high school, just like Angela. I will always love anything Marshall/Herskovitz (& Winnie Holzman) do.
On O&A I liked Grace but Jessie irritated me during the first season -just liked her better later. ERW is fine actress & was good when Jessie was in therapy!

prophecygirl said...

As you know, I love FNL in a big way!

The only others from your list that I've seen are My So-Called Life, Party of Five, Skins & Press Gang. Love them all, and completely agree about the realism.

Shame about OTH, Roswell and DC, but they're just not eligible, unfortunately. Great shows though!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the link!

We appear to have the same taste so I'd love to see some of the ones you mention that I haven't watched (Press Gang) -- though they may be hard to track down these days!

I've never seen Degrassi (in any of its incarnations) BUT I recently bought the original series on DVD... and I am VERY excited to dive into it. Master's thesis? Whatever, I've got important teen television viewing to do.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, also:

1) I somehow missed or forgot that you only discovered MSCL last year! How exciting for you (and then, you know, tragic when you get to the end and realize there are no more).

I totally hear you on Rickie and Brian -- and the friendship that tentatively develops between them is so fantastic, too.

2) I'd never HEARD of Greek before and am now dying to watch it. Thank you.

Shalonda said...

So glad you mentioned OTH as a pleasure. It's my FAVE.

I LOVE all the Degrassi shows and spin offs. One of my all time favorites.

Greek is super fantastic. It always makes me laugh.

Ever watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager? It's a great one!

Steph Bowe said...

Hi Adele!
I tagged you for a meme on my blog:

I don't think I've seen any of those shows (I'm not a big TV watcher, sorry), but I'm going to see if I can get Friday Night Lights because you rave about it so much!

simmone said...

skins is so good - I heard season 3 is all new cast so looking forward to seeing that ... and I was a latecomer to MSCL too, but they got it so, so right ... I am sad about TV of late. Be intersted to see what 'Tangle' is like as it's supposed to be about teens and their parents - but it's the Love my Way folk, who were the Secret Life of Us folk - so it could feel a little samey-same ...anyway it's on cable so I won't get to see it, like, forEVA

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Z said...

I loved Felicity but I found both Ben and Noel a bit dull and aftershave/toothpaste commercial-ish. Keri Russell was great as Felicity though. I think she's gorgeous in a completely unpretentious way and a pretty decent actress.

It's funny how the ratings dropped when she had a hair cut though!

PolishOutlander said...

I loved Felicity! It started when I was in high school so by the time I got to college, I was unable to watch the 4th season since I had no tv. I started to rewatch the series on dvd recently but am only partially through the 4th season. I read it was quite the weird season. But yes, Ben all the way!

FlossAus said...

See you scare the crap out of me often because I do become concerned that maybe we are twins split at birth. This is list is crazy good - you know I'm there for FNL, but you've outted yourself as a Spike & Linda fan, while also like Naley and Pacey & Joey. Seriously, that's a special type of person.

You should check out Freaks & Geeks. Very, very good Judd Apatow series that had 'real' characters that I could actually relate too.

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