My Teen Angst Bullshit Has a Bodycount

I am surrounded these days with ads for the new TV version of Parenthood. I liked the movie, and given my demographic, I should be excited about it.  Yeah, I won’t be watching.  I’m counting down the days until Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries come back, wondering if The N will start showing new episodes of Degrassi anytime soon.  As many times as people tell me that The Wire is the best television show ever made, I’ll likely never watch it.  I did watch a few weeks of the new 90210, until it made me want to shove a knitting needle in my ear and perform a self lobotomy.

I didn’t have the perfect high school experience, with school dances, crushes on football players and pep rallies.  I was in a Gifted & Talented program located at an inner city school, so I was in a little geek bubble in classes, and then released into a world of peeling paint and fences with razor wire on top.  I wouldn’t change a thing about it, but it’s driven home to me how weird it was whenever I talk about it to friends.  It was my normal, but it’s far from it.  Of course, I was also awkward and trying to find myself and define myself.  I do need both hands to count the number of dates I had, but only barely.  I was on  the verge of asking a friend’s ex-boyfriend to go to senior prom with me when someone whose date had dumped him after they made prom plans asked me.  I accepted, and heard the words every girl longs to hear, “Thank God someone finally said yes.”  Night of wonder and romance it wasn’t, but my dress was amazing.  Being too smart for my own good, and for most teenage boys, I ended up with a bitter snarky streak a mile wide.  I aspired to be Dorothy Parker, not homecoming queen.

I think that’s why I like to indulge my inner 12 year old and lose myself in teen dramas on TV.  For an hour, I can connect with that perfect teen experience, be a rich prep school girl on the upper east side, or a girl from a small town torn between her safe old boyfriend and a dangerous stranger.  Or even a girl about to graduate from college, wondering if she’ll be able to have the future she’s dreaming of and keep her slacker boyfriend.  I can revisit past choices, try different decisions, without torturing myself about all the mistakes I’ve made.  That’s saved for middle of the night insomnia.  No, watching these shows allows me to relive those times and turn it off with no after effects when an hour has passed.

Some shows are better than others.  Just thinking about My So-Called Life brings up emotions almost as strong as those about my own experiences.  Angela Chase was every confused teenage girl who lived in her head too much and felt too deeply.  Except she had Jordan Catalano.  And that was part of the appeal, the real Jordans of high school would never have noticed the Angelas, but through the show we got to see what it would have been like if he had.  Oh, the scene when he takes her hand in the hallway, acknowledging they’re together.  Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Degrassi is nowhere near that level.  It’s half an hour of Canadian teen soap opera.  As the tagline says, “It Goes There.”  The shit that has gone down at that school would have most parents clamoring for a new principal and oversight board.  A school shooting, teen pregnancies, rapes, drug abuse, various STD’s.  It’s a hot mess, and I eat it up like junk food.  From a public health standpoint, the show does a better job of educating viewers about issues without stooping to the “Very Special Blossom,” level of most American shows.  Except for the character who developed, and recovered from, a meth addiction over the course of three episodes.  The episode where a 14 year old character got pregnant and chose to have an abortion wasn’t aired in the US for over a year after its Canadian debut.  The acting isn’t great, and they are really struggling with what to do with the original characters as they’ve aged out of the high school.  It’s my secret shame.

The WB used to be a bastion of great teen shows, the CW a bit less.  But the new show Life Unexpected is like somehow having the WB back.  The characters are complicated, the writing is sharp, and the plots are realistically messy.  No one on this show is a real grown up- the teenager is often more mature than her parents.  But it’s not cloying, it rings true.  Being raised in foster care would make Lux grow up fast, and Cate and Baze are privileged enough to have kept one foot in Neverland.  Lux’s high school storylines are paralleled with her parents’, showing that while we may leave high school, we’re always haunted by our teenage selves.  This is the “family” drama I’ll be watching, the one where no one knows what they’re doing or how to be who they’re supposed to be.

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February 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , . TV Shows.

One Comment

  1. Chris Franklin replied:

    I generally can’t stand teen dramas on TV. They usually involve mid to late 20s actors. Everyone has their own car, everyone is sleeping with someone, everyone drinks and parties all the time, etc. Of course doing a show about my high school experiences where you walk home everyday to watch TV in your bedroom until time to go to school the next day wouldn’t make very thrilling TV…

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