It’s A Teen Drama?

As drama addicts and box-set junkies I’m sure you’ve had the problem of trying to describe a great show to someone whose not quite convinced. It’s a problem with a lot of the best shows because often what makes them great is the part that can’t be covered in a standard synopsis or format and genre description. On top of that some of the best shows go ahead and call themselves ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (or ‘Stargate Universe’) so that as soon as you mention the title people tend to look at you like you’ve grown a second head.

Of course since they are great shows and you know friends and family would love them if only they’d give it a chance so you try various descriptions to see if any work. “Imagine a cross between Lost and Deep Space Nine!” was one such description I tried for Battlestar to no avail, possibly because everyone to who that description is appealing was already watching. “It’s really great drama that just happens to be set in space!” seemed to be the most effective one for BSG. “It’s similar to BSG” worked to get a certain audience to try Stargate Universe.

But as hard as its been to get people on board with ‘Drama that happens to be set in space’, another genre has proved monumentally harder to get people interested in. Teen Drama. “A teen drama?” people will say before you apparently vanish into thin air. There is a massive stigma. I am guilty of giving someone the odd sideways glance when they recommend a Teen Drama as worth a watch. That’s despite 3 of my favourite shows fitting squarely in the genre. Of those 3 shows I’ve never been able to get anyone to watch them, nada, not one single person.

The Stigma is an odd one, but very real. In the case of Veronica Mars (one of the 3 shows), creator Rob Thomas said recently said that if he hadn’t written the show he might not have watched the show himself!

To try to break though this stigma I thought I’d rave about my 3 favourites in the hope that I might convince at least 1 person to give one of them a go or look on the genre slightly more generously.

I know my readership isn’t massive but I’d appreciate people posting their favourites in the comments.

Without further ado, in the order I came across them…

 

The O.C.

Probably partly responsibly for the most recent wave of teen dramas, is also a good example of how quickly the tastes of TV execs change, after being an almost instant hit after being a mid-season replacement its first season was apparently extended several times. It was then cancelled at the end of its third season as new execs didn’t think it fit with rebranding the Fox network was undergoing.

It’s hard to summarise the beginnings of the plot but the important bit is a friendship between Ryan a ‘kid from the wrong side of the tracks’ and Seth the geeky loner son of Ryan’s public defender. They develop a brotherly bond which drives the show forward when it’s slipping into genre clichés elsewhere.

The show itself is one of my guilty pleasures, that’s another term that has some negative connotations, although in this case it probably fits well, but don’t let that put you off. The quality is inconsistent at times, but I always cared about the core cast of characters, Seth and Ryan especially. At its best it is up there with the very best of the genre, particular highlights include:-

  • The Pilot. One of the best pilots I’ve ever seen, it introduces the world of the show effortlessly, providing the right amount of explanation of the rituals and customs of Orange County through the eyes of Ryan. At it’s end Ryan and the viewer are presented with a pretty clean choice, let the whole experience be a nice one-off experience or dive back in.
  • The Wedding. The Season 1 finale, if the way the core group of four teens is broken up during this episode doesn’t bring at least a lump to your throat you are probably dead inside.
  • The Ends Not Near Its Here. Series Finale. When the show was cancelled without much notice they had to wrap things up quick. From the outside it appears they had 3 or 4 episodes worth of material to pack into the final 45 minutes, yet they manage it without it feeling rushed and have time to spare to wrap the shows main arc in a neat bow which again may bring a lump to the throat. Another episode worthy of study by scriptwriters (and amateur TV critics a like) I’d say.

 

Veronica Mars

I’ve talked a lot about Veronica Mars in the past, so I won’t recover too much old ground. But for those hold-outs who need a push now would be a very good time to give Veronica Mars to go, with the Kickstarter Movie due early next year there’s still time to get wrapped up in the 3 TV seasons before heading to the cinema. Briefly Veronica Mars follows a high-school (and then University student) girl who solves crimes and works for her Private Detective Father in her spare time. The first season sees her trying to solve the murder of her best friend and deal with the upheaval of her mother leaving, her boyfriend breaking up with her and the change in social status that resulted. It’s got a lot of heart, charm and laughs. Give it a go.

 

My So Called Life

This was on my ‘to watch’ list for a long time. One of those I’d wish I’d gotten round to earlier, although it’s so timeless and well written I don’t think it would have mattered when I first watched it, I was always going to love it. It is a shame I didn’t try it sooner though because I’m fairly certain it is the time of show you can watch every 2 to 3 years and so it from a different perspective on each viewing.

The show follows high schooler Angela Chase (a young Claire Danes in a performance which easily matches her award-winning one in Homeland) and her friends and family.

As a show it has been remarked it was probably ahead of its time and that had it waited a few years it would have found a larger audience and gotten more than one season. All that is probably true, however when you finish the last episode there is an added poetic poignancy to there being just 19 episodes. Those 19 episodes are some of the most consistently well written TV I’ve ever come across. You know this is the high bar for teen dramas because if they where all this good, there would be no stigma.

 

Hope I’ve convinced someone out there to give one of these fine shows a go, and do please sound off in the comments on others that are worth a go, or indeed on any show which you’ve had a hard time convincing people to watch but which is one of your favourites.

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