By Paola Bakker
Web Content Contributor
I suppose I was one of the lucky (depending on how you want to look at it) ones whose parents never really supervised their television or internet habits. I was privileged enough to have a television in my room and there weren’t any kind of locks on our family computer that prohibited me from going onto certain websites.
Neither of my parents really believed in censoring the pop culture I was exposed to, with the exception of “Jersey Shore.” For some reason that’s where my mom drew the line, but of course I still ended up watching it at my friends’ houses. She said I would become “trashy” like the characters if I watched it — I have yet to determine if she was right.
Looking back, I probably should not have been watching certain shows at such a young and impressionable age, but hey, I’m glad I did. A lot of the teen television shows that I started watching before I even hit my teen years really had a profound effect on my formative years. While there are so many that I could list as being influential in my life, here are just a few.
Let’s start with probably the most controversial TV show that was far too inappropriate for a 12-year-old to be watching. If you were on Tumblr from the years of 2010 to 2013, you’ve definitely seen countless screenshots of Effy Stonem saying something super deep that related perfectly to your soft grunge blog (yes, I’m cringing too).
“Skins” was one of the first shows I watched that I felt truly understood teenagers and wanted to depict them as real people. It wasn’t a version of teenhood that was made for children, like “Hannah Montana”, or one with literal 30-year-olds casted as 16-year-olds, like in the “90210” reboot.
The characters in “Skins” were real teenagers with real issues that never felt like an after-school special. Setting aside the rampant drug and alcohol abuse, I could see aspects of myself in multiple characters, like Katie, Effy and Sid. “Skins” never shied away from showing dark and gritty themes that are very present in the lives of young people, and the show helped me come to terms with many different parts of myself when I was just entering teenhood.
While certainly tamer than “Skins”, “The O.C.” made waves in the early 2000s with teenagers and their parents. With its premiere in 2003, I was only 5 years old, so I didn’t really get into the show until years later after watching reruns on Warner Bros.
It showed me a world I never could have imagined of the wealthy teens of Orange County. I saw these gorgeous people that would party on the beach by their oceanside mansions and wear designer clothes, and it was so different than what I grew up seeing. I idolized Summer Roberts and wanted to date a Seth Cohen.
While “The O.C.” wasn’t at all a realistic portrayal of the real world and I could not relate to their lavish lifestyles at all, I realized I shared common issues with some of the characters, and it helped me feel less alone. I watched Marissa’s parents’ divorce during my parents’ custody battle, and I understood Cohen’s feelings of isolation from his peers. Not to mention, the theme song “California” by Phantom Planet still evokes unexplainable emotions in me I forget I have.
I remember seeing the promos for this show, which used scandalous images of its main characters with the words “every parent’s nightmare” and “mind blowingly inappropriate” written across, and thinking, “Oh man, I need to watch this show.”
“Gossip Girl” shares a lot of similarities with “The O.C.” because they were both created by Josh Schwartz and both starred rich and snobby teens in an enviable setting, this time taking place on the Upper East Side.
Although this show did not exactly depict realistic teenagers — because what teenagers are constantly plotting revenge against their mortal enemies? — it still managed to show multi-faceted characters that I both loved and hated. I also 100% blame this show for contributing to my high school dreams of moving to New York City.
“Freaks and Geeks”
Looking at these last shows, “Freaks and Geeks” really doesn’t reach anywhere near their levels of “your parents wouldn’t want you to watch this,” but there was no way I could leave this out of a list of influential TV shows of my youth. “Freak and Geeks” was a show far ahead of its time, getting cancelled just after one season because of low ratings.
I didn’t get my hands on this show until I was in high school, but I am so glad I did. Like “Skins”, “Freaks and Geeks” starred people that looked and felt like real teenagers. There is none of the glitz and glam of “The O.C.” or “Gossip Girl”, but it’s an honest and hilarious look into kids coming into their own skin during an awkward time of their lives.
I think what I loved about this show really was just how uncomfortable everything was because, honestly, that’s the reality of being in high school. The show taught me that it was okay to feel like a gross awkward hag most of the time because one day, I’d grow out of that.
It’s easy to look at these shows on the surface and think they were over-dramaticized depictions of hedonistic teens with no substance, but I know these shows really meant something to me and its other young viewers.
Whether I could relate to the lifestyles of these characters or not, I was still able to identify with someone and learn from them. As a teenager, it’s easy to feel like it’s me against the world and no one understands what I’m going through, but these shows helped me feel like I wasn’t so alone. I think there’s something really special about that.
Featured image via Creative Commons.