Top 8 Generation Defining Teen Shows

March 3, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

Fad (noun): a temporary fashion or notion, esp. one followed enthusiastically by a group. A craze.

Origin: 1825–35; n. to busy oneself with trifles, faddle to play with, fondle.

OMG!! I can't feel my jaw, can you?

OMG!! I can't feel my jaw, can you?

Any crazed, trifle-fondling fasionista is all too aware how quickly the zeitgeist can change, and before you know it your  ‘cool points’ have slipped through your mood-ring plastered fingers, down through your MC Hammer Pants and onto your Reebok Pumps.

Never is this more appropriate and obvious than with the plethora of teen shows that flood our screens., with every one coming bounding into our living rooms possessing all the exuberant, spunky energy of a Skittle-induced e-fit.

With actors that are ‘The Next Big Thing’ today and jobless smackheads tomorrow, and dynamic storylines to reflect the current ‘issues’, it’s surprising to realise how quickly everything dates. So, in celebration of the latest generation defining ‘movie of our times’ American Teen, we at OTB have decided to collect those teen shows that have come before, warming our hearts, scattering lovelorn girls, desperate boys and out of work child actors in their wake.

Teen-show? This…. is your life…..

SAVED BY THE BELL (1989)

Toy of the Year: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Shoe of the Year: Reebok pump baby. Although a special shout out goes to these.

Day-glo tops, big hair and ker-aazzzeee theme tunes. Welcome to the Almost-Nineties. The escapades of Ferris Bueller-lite Zack Morris and his stereotypical chums were great Saturday morning fodder, cartoonishly inoffensive and quickly found a special place in the heart of every confused teenager and hungover uni student of the time.

Pop-culture mastermind Chuck Klosterman even wrote a short essay on the show, going as far as to attribute its popularity to “the fundamental truth of its staggering unreality.”

With a teacher/student relationship that would nowadays see Principal Belding lynch-mobbed, pitchforked and registered on the ‘Sexual Predators’ list, and a general aversion to tackling any serious ‘issue’ (in later seasons, the ‘sex’ issue was the show’s notorious elephant dans le room – Jessie excluded), the whole thing was enjoyable if not eminently softcore.

Well, until the show ended, that is….

Where are they now? Jessie Spano = Boobs out for cash. Screech = Porn so disturbing it makes ’2 Girls 1 Cup’ look like an advert for Kenco.

BEVERLEY HILLS 90210 (1990)

Toy of the Year: Game Boy
Shoe of the Year: Air Jordan

A shining example of the wonders of nepotism and the first prime-time teen show to start generating as many column inches for its off-screen tales as the storylines on.

A distinctly ‘American Dream’ take on the wonders of puberty; for many a spotty, sexually incompetent English teenager it was an eye opener to see <gasp> beautiful people in <gasp> in the sunshine, frollicking on beaches and enjoying life. Sure, there were ‘hard-hitting’ storylines about things like date rape, AIDS (not to mention the confused transgender albino pregnancy storyline… or is that me just getting creative with my nostalgia…), but we all knew it was all about the pretty people.

See?

*See?

The show was equally known for Executive Producer Aaron Spelling’s insistence on putting his darling little daughter front and centre, which was also the reason for much of the on-set friction. Either way, at least it’s comforting to know that no matter how many leg-ups (or overs) Spelling receives, absolutely no wealth of shoe-ins will ever warrant her shamelessly deluded need for fame.

The misjudged shiny remake is currently playing to screens (now with added implants!), but does anyone really care?

Where are they now? Tori Spelling = Still fat*, now sans Dad. Shannon Doherty = Drunk-driving → Charmed → Playboy → 90210!

MY SO CALLED LIFE (1994)

Toy of the Year: Magic Eye books (yes, really)/Pogs
Shoe of the Year: Doc Martens

Are you a self-consciously independent and street-wise know-it-all? Are you fed up with the sparkly vacuousness of those other teen shows? Do you look at Magic Eye’s with such contemplative seriousness that you’re in danger of an aneurysm? Then you probably watched My So Called Life.

When Teenage Angst Meets Ice-Cream Headaches

When Teenage Angst Meets Ice-Cream Headaches

After a few years of teen shows saturated with materialism, brashness and shallow issues, My So Called Life tapped into a growing teenage social awareness and was the first teen show to really tackle serious adolescent worries and issues in the deconstructionist, analytical manner that real teenagers actually tend to do.

Full of angst and longing, it was a genuinely relatable approach to the troubles of the teenage condition and as as result, it was a critical – if not commercial – smash. It didn’t hinder it’s cause that Jared Leto and Claire Danes weren’t exactly beaten around the face with an ugly forest either.

So, in the time-honoured tradition of the ‘in-touch’ middle aged television executives, they cancelled it after just one season.

Where are they now? Claire Danes = Leo DiCaprio’s Juliet → Turned down Winslet role in Titanic → 8 years obscurity → Stardust. Jared Leto → Alternates time between screaming pop-emo ’30 Seconds to Mars’ and being fat then thin then fat then thin.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997)

Toy of the Year: Tamagotchi/Beanie Babies
Shoe of the Year: K-swiss trainers

While creator Joss Whedon’s presence on the not-exactly-oversaturated teen/sci-fi/horror genre is now expected, it wasn’t always the case. When Buffy first hit screens many dismissed it as an overblown angry Muppets show with some decent eye candy.

Which, first season allowing, was not far from the truth.

What? Me?

What? Me?

With room to breathe however, viewers and critics started realising that there was usually a subtle, witty and intelligent analogy hidden behind every sploogemonster or queedlemorth. Buffy worked so well due to Whedon’s ability to sneak fully relatable teenage dramas (difficult relationships, sexual experimentation,  turning into a…. fish?) into an already brilliant formula of wit and ass-kicking feminism.

What really elevated it into the worthwhile ranks of ‘greatest teen dramas’ was the titular character’s relationship with every mum’s nightmare and perpetual broodthon vampire Angel.

Just when viewers thought they had a handle on the couple’s emotional back and forth, Whedon’s sledgehammer subtle sex metaphor twisted everything on its head and crystallised the ‘heartless bastard’ response many girls are forced to deal with once they pop their cherry (once Angel came, he literally became a different person, losing his soul and going on a murderous rampage that slaughtered many of her loved ones – just like real guys then).

The longing, angst and torturous pain of teenage love was so perfectly encapsulated, there’s been few greater television romances since and as such, cements its place and stake (aha!) in our hearts for years to come.

Where are they now? Gellar = J-Horror remake, Crappy kids film, J-Horror remake ad finitum. Boreanaz = Spin-off, Bones.

DAWSON’S CREEK (1998)

Toy of the Year: Furby/Yo-Yo
Shoe of the Year: Converse Chuck Taylors

The show title that spawned a thousand pornos and completely redefined the laws of physics. How else can you explain the fact that when the programme began, ‘gramps’ (60-ish in the show) was actually in her mid 40′s and ‘Jack’ (16 in the show) was nearing 30?

GILF-alicious

GILF-alicious

Get past the eerie realisation that gramps would have had to have been 12 in real life to produce the Creek’s offspring, and it was an intriguing if not overly-waffley teen show that continued the genre’s direction towards a more adult take on teenage dilemmas. Sure, they were improbably well spoken, informed and generally introspective. But hey, they spoke the way teenagers wished they could speak, about issues they wished they were having.

So young. So pretty. So pre-Cruise.

So young. So pretty. So pre-Cruise.

Warning: May contain endlessly recycled love quadrangles, melodramatic existentialist deconstruction and an unlikable titular character who never stops acting like a pretentious dildo.

Where are they now? Katie Holmes = Began successful indie career → p*ssed it away when she became Tom Cruise’s prisoner and perpetual baby-maker. James Van Der Beek = Pooped on film for The Rules of Attraction →  surprisingly little since. Michelle Williams = Against the odds, found husband on gay cowboy film → husband died → full time single mum.

AS IF (2001)

Toy of the Year: Appropriately enough, Bratz
Shoe of the Year:
Osiris D3

The 90′s had been a barren period for great British teen shows, and many UK teenagers had to mainly make do with Aussie soaps, American paff and CBBC’s Grange Hill to sate their hormonal desires. The arrival of As If was (finally!) something different and with its streetsmart wit and cutting dialogue, paved the way for Skin’s success.

The culturally accurate antithesis to the US Teen mould, As If was full of directional flair, stylised camera-work and enough sarcy rejoinders to feel truly relatable. Waking up on a Sunday morning with a White Lightning-inspired headache, it felt like tuning in to watch your real mates struggle through life’s loopy plot twists, pop-culture chat and complicated love lives (and accompanying S.T.D’s).

Also notable for starring the world's first conjoined sextuplet

Also notable for starring the world's first conjoined sextuplet

Realistic without sacrificing its heart for the sake of being ‘gritty’, As If was a cut above any British teen drama of the last decade.

Still loses a point for inspiring the McFly song ‘Five Colours in her hair’. True story.

Where are they now? Your local Tesco, Morrisons or Woolworths.

THE OC (2003)

Toy of the year: Beyblades
Shoe of the Year:
Ugg Boots

The birth of the noughtie’s ‘geek-chic/rich-kid’ sub-genre, The OC was at first glance a welcome return to the vacuous, loaded, pretty-people teen shows of the early 90′s. So far, so mockable.

God Damn you Josh Schwartz for gifting it an almost bi-polar adherence to celebrating the rise of the geek. By contrasting the melodramatic teen shenanigans of the gorgeous folk with the nerdy, pop-culture littered ramblings of social reject Seth, Schwartz found a way for almost everyone to relate to the proceedings.

Even if every ‘Mum’ in the show was so hot they make Stifler’s mom look like ol’ gramps up top.

Well you would, wouldn't you?

Well you would, wouldn't you?

Where are they now? Mischa Barton = joined the ‘Small Dog In Big Handbag Assocation’ and fannies around the world being friends with posh celebrities. Rachel Bilson = 1 good film, 1 bad film so far…

Matt Risley

For an altogether more realistic (but just as entertaining) peek into the tortured angsty brains of today’s teenagers, make sure to check out our review of award-winning director Nannette Burstein’s latest movie American Teen!

Martin says:

no, no – best line = “Katie Holmes = Began successful indie career → p*ssed it away when she became Tom Cruise’s prisoner and perpetual baby-maker. “

Nina says:

Ha ha ha, i love “Small Dog In Big Handbag Assocation”, that’s so true… great article!! :)

Where’s Degrassi though?!