There aren't a dearth of realistic teens on television. Before you argue with me, I will admit to loving and slavishly watching (and emotionally investing) teen programming. But if you really break it down many of the characters they are playing house, not the teen experience. Too often they are labelled teens but 1) don't look like teens (primary because adults have been cast) and 2) they lead adult lives with little to no parental involvement*.
*The exception to this very a very special episode or arc where a character's parents suddenly show up to divorce or die. Then their importance in the life of the character is unparalleled, until the next episode where they are over it.
Some of our favourite teen characters are so removed from reality that we excuse them of everything. A prime example is Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass. This lovely lad has attempted rape, travels solo to far flung corners of the globe, owned a burlesque club and intends to propose marriage all before reaching twenty. It sounds preposterous because it is and yet we love him anyway. But do you ever, have you ever, really considered Chuck to be a teenager? To be honest, I never have.
My favourite teen as a teen was Felicity Porter from the WB's Felicity. She was the first for me (I didn't see My So Called Life until last year) to represent an authentic teen (albeit in her first year at NYU) with a real perspective. She impressively dropped her college plans to follow a guy based on a handful of words and a nicely written yearbook comment. She crushed in the only way a teen girl can...to determine a soul mates based on good hair, a cute face and an assumption. She was so insanely real. She was pissed off when Ben had a connection to her best friend and then blamed him for her moving to NY. Completely illogical but understandable. Her biggest concern was whether to continue studying medicine as her parents wished or to pursue the fine arts as she wanted. Her problems were less flashy than that of most teen dramas but they were infinitely more grounded and true. It is for this reason that Felicity is so resonant to those who watched the show even though the show has not been on the air for a decade.
My intent today is to discuss realistic teens on television today. There is a show called Parenthood that just concluded its first season and it features two of the most realistic depictions of teens of recent years. There is a third teen who is wonderfully portrayed by Miles Heizer but I have chosen to focus on the two that have had the most screen time.
Amber (Mae Whitman)
This actress gets to work amongst some of the best actors of our generation (Lauren Graham, Peter Krause) and she's holding her own! Amber is a disenfranchised teen with a viewpoint of life that intrigues, entertains and affects me. She's cynical, bitter and all too knowing for her age and yet she possesses a real warmth that she bottles up. Scratch that - she doesn't hide it, people just don't choose to see it instead deciding to judge first. She's older and wiser than her years while also very young, without ever being immature.
The character made a huge balls up this past month in a way that could have been cliched but the connection and chemistry demonstrated between Mae and the other actor made the situation authentic. Even better, her conviction made the audience empathise despite the nasty nature of her choices. Last week there was a scene where Amber asked her mother what was wrong with her and how screwed up she was to do what she did and it was heart wrenching. The pain and the confusion of adolescence is played beautifully by this actor.
Haddie (Sarah Ramos)
Haddie is the less flamboyant of the Braverman cousins - the seemingly perfect one. It is a nuanced role that Ramos has played to perfection, specifically any scene that has her and Krause in the same scene. Her revelation that her life has always revolved around her brother (who has Aspergers) was achingly good. There wasn't blame, just truth and she followed it up by asking about his well being straight away. The teen selfish card is the go-to card in teen dramas but people tend to forget that there is a selflessness to teens as well and Ramos played this simply.
Haddie's issues are ordinary internal ones of self-doubt and identity and it is a joy to see this so fully realised in a TV teen.
There's a long hiatus until decent television comes back to our screens. I would like for you to check out Parenthood because it is a great representation of family and of teenage-dom. So whether you want to see adult siblings argue and then break into laughter seconds later or some teens actually act like teens then this is your show. It is superbly written and beautifully acted. It has made me cry and laugh on more than one occasion and is worthy of your time.