From Press Gang to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Our top 10 teenage TV shows
PUBLISHED: 20:41 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 20:41 09 February 2018
We’ll soon find out if Netflix’s Everything Sucks! can become the latest in a line of cracking TV shows to nail the teenage experience and muscle its way onto a ‘best of’ list. In the meantime, here’s a list of our 10 favourite teen dramas that got it right
Everything Sucks! It’s a conclusion we probably all came to as teenagers, whether we said it, thought it or screamed it.
It’s also the name of a new Netflix series. In case you haven’t heard of it – I hadn’t until recently – Everything Sucks! is vying to hold up a mirror to the exquisite agony of growing up, a show that follows in the footsteps of countless others which have tried to capture how it feels to be an angst-ridden, misunderstood teen.
The show takes two outsiders, Kate Messner (Peyton Kennedy) and Luke O’Neil (Jahi Winston) who find themselves trapped in the purgatory of high school in 1996 in the brilliantly-named town of Boring in Oregon.
Students find creative release for students comes in the shape of the school’s AV* and drama clubs, inspiring Kate and Luke to make a heartfelt film about crossing the Rubicon from carefree adolescence to, supposedly, responsible adulthood. Kate’s father Ken (Patch Darragh) and Luke’s mother Sherry (Claudine Nako) become entangled in their childrens’ travails which are all played out in a nostalgia-drenched era of VHS, portable CD players and iron-on patches for jeans.
That’s a cannibalised version of Netflix’s own rundown, FYI. And it appears the streaming behemoth has high hopes: according to Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, Everything Sucks! is “a sleeper hit people should keep an eye on”. But he would say that.
Sometimes teenage drama can stray into melodramatic, shallow territory, with crappy, stereotypical portrayals and soapy superficial drama. But – big but – every now and then, a show comes along that captures the incomprehensible grunts, the heartbreak, the hopes and dreams and the “I HATE MY LIFE IT’S NOT FAIR I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN OH LEAVE ME ALONE!”-ness that those teenager years bring.
So, while we’ll have to wait to discover if Sarandos is on the money, let’s revisit some of our favourite teen shows of recent years.
10 of the best teenage shows
1) Skins (2007 to 2013, E4): Skins followed the trials and tribulations of (aspirationally beautiful) teenagers in Bristol as they made their way through sixth form, dealing with a wealth of different issues from mental illness to sexuality, from dysfunctional families to friendships, from school trips to the important business of virginity losing. Skins had it all. The script benefited from a writers with an average age of 21 and teenage consultants who kept the action on track and ensured the show tackled the issues its target demographic were facing. While occasionally outrageous and sometimes controversial, the show proved a hit and racked up a cabinet full of awards. Cast members have gone on to great things – Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner series, Pirates of the Caribbean), Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Money Monster), Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Current War), Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lion) and Academy nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Get Out, Black Panther) to name but a few.
2) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 to 2003, The WB): The supernatural drama that spawned an entire language of its own followed the other-worldly adventures of titular heroine Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) as she tussled with her destiny of being a, no prizes for guessing, vampire slayer. It was spectacular for a host of reasons – the way it handled people being gay, the way it dealt with bereavement, love, friendship, gender, discrimination…the list goes on. It was funny, it was sharp, it had female characters that were multi-dimensional and strong – it was also hugely underrated.
3) Misfits (2009 to 2013, E4): A group of teens doing community service get caught up in a strange electrical storm and afterwards discover they have supernatural powers including telepathy, the ability to rewind time and invisibility – some of the powers are actually quite annoying, such as the ability to whip people into a sexual frenzy or the ability to control dairy products through the power of the mind (no, really). The group find themselves on a journey of discovery that involves fighting crime in this think-outside-the-box approach to the science-fiction/horror genre which could persuade even the most die-hard sci-fi refusenik to tune in. Since the end of the show, the cast have shown they have super powers of their own as they quietly take over the (acting) world. The cast was superlative, notably Robert Sheehan as Nathan and Joe Gilgun as Rudy (both of them).
4) Dawson’s Creek (1998 to 2003, The WB): As with Buffy, Dawson’s Creek is another evergreen on top 10 teen show lists: for good reason. The show focussed on the lives of a tight group of friends, beginning life in high school and tracking them through into college days. These teens were capable. They were smart. They were witty. They were self-aware. They were often deeply annoying. And that’s before we even THINK about Dawson’s crying face which launched a thousand memes, the first network TV male gay kiss in 2000, Pacey being every lady’s favourite swordsman and The World According to Gram.
5) The End of the F***ing World (2017, Netflix): Sure. OK. TEOTFW is a wacky concept. But – hear me out – it’s a wonderful coming of age tale, oozing with teen angst and with wholly relatable themes at its core. It’s two teenagers – James and Alyssa – against the world. It’s bad parenting. It’s love. It’s finding yourself. It’s running away. It’s about trying not to kill the people who matter. It’s sweet. It’s funny. And, our two lead characters themselves are inherently relatable - psychopathic tendencies, aside.
6) Byker Grove (1989 to 2006, BBC): The series that spawned national treasures Ant and Dec, Byker Grove was a series which tackled young adult’s issues head-on. Set in a youth club in Newcastle, the show followed 12 to16-year-olds as they got to grips with life and was one of the first programmes to focus on teens entering adulthood. In essence, it was about a youth club which was 99.9 per cent better than any youth club you’d ever been to and where everything that happened was 99.9 per cent more exciting than anything you’d ever done. Issues taken on by the Grove included child abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, homophobia, abortion and coming out, the latter causing a tabloid uproar when character Noddy Fishwick kissed his close friend Gray Hendrix at the cinema and The Sun called for the show’s producer to be sacked. Byker Grove also offered a slice of morality cloaked in entertainment: joyriders often met a tragic end, messing about on roofs led to paralysis and Ant McPartlin’s PJ soon found out why he was supposed to keep a face guard on during a game of paintball when he was blinded during a game. Actions and consequences, people.
7) The Inbetweeners (2008 to 2010, E4): Another teen hit for E4, The Inbetweeners told the coming of age tale of four misfit teenage high school mates amid a storm of immature jokes about sex, young ladies and bottoms (and sometimes all three simultaneously). Although the humour was toilet, the dynamic of band of brothers against the world ran far deeper and illustrated just how vital friendship is during adolescence. From ultra geek Will (who carries a briefcase) to unreconstructed man Jay (a womaniser in his fantasies only), the almost-normal Simon and lanky dancer Neil, the characters were poles apart but brought together by brilliant comedy writing by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris.
8) Press Gang (1989 to 1993, ITV): It came before Doctor Who, before Sherlock and it was described by the British Film Institute as both the funniest and “most painfully raw and emotionally honest” children’s series ever made – writer Steven Moffat’s first foray into the small screen was with Press Gang, a dramedy about a youth magazine. It’s the reason half the journalists working today first picked up a pen, a notebook and a shorthand guide and launched the careers of many of its stars, including Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous), Dexter Fletcher (recently directed Eddie the Eagle) and Lucy Benjamin (EastEnders). In addition to the kind of will they/won’t they love story between Spike and Lynda, the show tackled big issues such as suicide, child abuse and drug addiction.
9) 13 Reasons Why (2017, Netflix): While I had issues with the way Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why portrayed suicide and tackled mental health – or didn’t – there is no doubt it does a better job exploring the life of as a teenager in the 21st century. Hannah Baker’s (the brilliant Katherine Langford) struggles opened the door for conversations about bullying, sexual assault, the pressures of life at high school and more.
10) Friday Night Lights (2006 to 2011, NBC): It might have been a difficult journey across the Atlantic to a country where American football isn’t well known but Friday Night Lights transgressed the issues we might have had with a different kind of football thanks to great writing and sheer optimism. The story of Eric Taylor, his wife Tami and the characters who make up their high school football team, the show boasted an incredible cast (notably Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) and was an honest, realistic portrayal of life in a small town. Sometimes life actually isn’t unfair, after all.
• What’s an AV club, we hear you ask, unless you’re from America, in which case you’ll know. AV clubs were for the kids at school