Patrick Ecclesine / The CW
A Guide to Teen Shows for People Who Are No Longer Teenagers
Even though we’ve already made it clear that the E! TV Team does not feel very guilty about our Guilty TV Pleasures, we understand many of you might feel sheepish admitting the sheer volume of Real Housewives you consume on a weekly basis.
There’s another genre that also frequently comes up when people are reluctant to admit their TV-watching habits: teen shows—especially if you haven’t been a teenager for more than a decade. But we’re here to help you embrace your love of all things high school melodrama, and have come up with a list of more under-the-radar teen shows that you’ll want to add to your Netflix queue/Hulu watchlist/streaming service of choice to relive that particularly emotional time in your life.
We’re not talking about the Dawson’s Creeks and the O.C.s. You should know about those. If you haven’t watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer yet, that’s on you. You like teen shows and haven’t seen Beverly Hills, 90210 (original version for lyfe, yo) or One Tree Hill? Shaaaaame.
Instead, we’re recommending the one- or two-season shows you might’ve already forgotten about and never watched, or the lesser-known early ’00s sleeper hits that somehow passed you by.
So pop some popcorn, put on some sweatpants, and prepare to hibernate all weekend while you bask in the glory of these coming-of-age programs knowing you yourself are far removed from the sheer embarrassment of being a teenager.
No, We’ll Never Stop Harping on These Four Shows: Veronica Mars, Freaks and Geeks, Friday Night Lights, My So-Called Life
This is just a little sub-genre for shows that you definitely should’ve seen, but were or still are far lesser known than the more popular teen shows at the time. They are: Veronica Mars, Freaks and Geeks, Friday Night Lights and My So-Called Life. You haven’t watched one of these? What are you waiting for? Now is the time, friends. If you’re baffled by people’s continued attraction to Jared Leto after his gross Suicide Squad press tour, finally give in and watch the way he leans in MSCL. You’ll get it.
Degrassi: Next Class (2001-present)
OK, you’ve probably heard about this one. You probably even watched it, considering it’s been on for 15 years—and that’s just when The Next Generation began. But did you know that not only has Degrassi continued to churn out hundreds of episodes since Drake was Degrassi High’s resident stud basketball player, it’s still good, addictive fun?
The Fosters (2013-present)
This ABC Family—sorry, Freeform—drama about a married lesbian couple parenting five kids (a mix of biological, adopted and foster children) is totally sweet and surprisingly well-acted. It touches on ~issues~ a la Degrassi, but you can forgive any sappiness because you quickly grow to love the characters so much.
This teen drama—which was developed by FNL creator Jason Katims—introduced us to Katherine Heigl and Shiri Appleby and, though it followed a group of aliens living as teenagers in Roswell, New Mexico, gave us one of the realest depictions of the pains of being a teenager on TV. Unfortunately, it lasted a short three seasons and was overshadowed by Dawson’s Creek, which began a year earlier.
Life Unexpected (2010-2011)
Ah, the life cycle of Hollywood. Just eight years after Roswell ended, Shiri Appleby played the mother of a teen in this delightful CW drama about a teen (Britt Robertson) who reunites with her birth mother after 16 years in the foster care system. Appleby’s character was 16 when she gave birth, but still. Harsh.
You’ve seen Gilmore Girls. You’re pumped for the revival to hit Netflix in two months. Instead of rewatching GG for the 16th time, why not try this delightful Amy Sherman-Palladino show about a dancer who moves to a small town to teach dance? It has all of those signature, super-speedy, pop-culture-filled monologues AND Kelly Bishop, just in California instead of Connecticut.
The Carrie Diaries (2013-2014)
Ostensibly the story of the teen years of Carrie Bradshaw, this ’80s-set series has much more in common with Gossip Girl or Gilmore Girls than with Sex and the City. Carrie (Anna-Sophia Robb) is a well-meaning, smart, determined teen from the ‘burbs who sneaks off to New York City whenever possible. It’s got the decadent NYC setting of Gossip Girl but the heart-filled high school stories of Gilmore. Sigh. We still miss it.
Like Glee? (Or the earlier seasons of Glee, anyway?) Try Popular, which was Ryan Murphys first series and wayyyy ahead of its time. The subversive teen drama followed two very different students, a popular cheerleader and a bookish journalist, who were forced to become family when their parents became engaged.
We’ll never forgive 7th Heaven for getting an unnecessary 11th season and bumping Everwood from the schedule when The WB and UPN merged to form The CW in 2006. This was a rare male-focused teen series that followed Mahnhattan teen Ephram Brown (Gregory Smith), who was forced to move to Colorado when his widower dad decided to give up his high-profile neurosurgeon job for a simpler life. It was beautiful and lovely and Emily VanCamp and Chris Pratt played siblings.
Okay, so the show hasn’t officially been canceled, but it’s clear that MTV is quite happy to have the fifth season finale act as the end of the series as well. But if you’re not familiar, you’ll want to check out the first three seasons (overseen by creator Lauren Iungerich before her departure), which capture the most painfully embarrassing parts of being a teen in a hilarious way.
If you were of a certain age in the late ’90s-early ’00s, sarcastic misfit suburban teen Daria was your hero. The show is definitely a cultural touchpoint for the youngest Gen-Xers and oldest Millenials, thanks to its very specific sense of humor and skewering of high school conformity.
Bonus British Entries: The Inbetweeners (2008-2010), My Mad Fat Diary (2013-2015), Skins (2007-2013), Misfits (2009-2013)
You can find each of these series on Hulu and Netflix, and each gives a different perspective on teen life. The Inbetweeners follows an awkward group of guy friends, My Mad Fat Diary is about an overweight teen in the mid-’90s dealing with depression and body image issues, Skins follows different groups of hard-partying, sexually active Bristol teens as they come of age, and Misfits is the story of a group of juvenile delinquents who get superpowers in a freak storm. All verrrrry different stories and very different tones, but the four shows share a distinctly British sensibility and a less sunny, Hollywood outlook than most American teen shows.