Growing up I went to a myriad of high schools: West Beverly, Bayside and Sunnydale High, just to name a few. I know what you’re thinking: “Reese, were you some sort of teenage derelict with a long list of academic expulsions or were you some military brat moving from town to town, always the mid-year new girl?” Of course not — the answer is much simpler than that. I am merely a loyal viewer to any series that depicts the trying times of high school students. Watching these shows week to week was like graduating with degrees from all over the country (well most high school premised shows are set in California so at the very least, lot of degrees from California.)
For generations, television shows have tried to emulate the formula of high school life. The recipe for a good high school cast roughly remains the same no matter which show you are watching: Take a group of good looking teenagers, add trials and tribulations (i.e.: drunk driving, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, how to properly slay a vampire or, on rare occasions, homosexuality) and stir. I should note that when the topic of homosexuality does arise it is usually during sweeps (hat tip to The O.C.). But molds are being broken of late with shows like South Of Nowhere where gay characters are (gasp) recurring.
Recently the LA Times posted a few of their favorite teen casts, here is the best of that list with a few additions:
Beverly Hills, 90210
90210 created such a perfect high school formula that The CW has decided to do a remake of the show for their upcoming Fall season. But how can anyone replace Steve Sanders and his assortment of colorful button down shirts and those tight curly blond locks? Lightening doesn’t always strike twice, so let us be wary of this new generation of rich kids from Beverly Hills.
My So-Called Life
No series better encapsulated what it is like to be a teenager better than My So-Called Life. Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and her perceptive narratives was relatability to those awkward teenage moments. The show flourished with fans and critics (but sadly not with TV execs who canceled the series) because the characters were so unpolished and flawed. Even Angela, our narrator and protagonist, had her moments when you gushed with embarrassment for her.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Battling such demons in your mind as a teenager such as “should I skip 8th period math class and go to mall or stay and learn these damn algebraic equations once and for all” is hard enough. Add to that battling actual demons from the underworld that can seriously kill you … well that is just plain stressful. Such is life in Sunnydale with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Willow (Allison Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brandon ). These three teens slay vampires, fall in love and still manage to make it to school on time each day without even a single guidance counselor suspecting anything of their cuts and bruises. Buffy The Vampire Slayer balanced terror and humor without skipping a beat. The show even broke ground in having one of its characters, Willow, become one of the most prominent lesbian characters in network television history.
Saved By The Bell
I know it’s cheesy, but I love it when a character on a television looks into the camera and talks to the audience. I got to have this thrill on a weekly basis every Saturday morning with Zack Morris. I felt so much more a part of things like secretly it’s just me and him and these other people he is going to The Max, the local teen hangout, with all the time … well they don’t understand us. Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, Lisa and Screech made up the clique to be in if you went to Bayside High. (And in random episodes there was an additional character named Tori who suddenly appeared who wore leather jackets, worked on cars, strutted down hallways and ‘liked’ Zack (*cough* beard *cough*).
South Of Nowhere
No other teen show has had lesbian characters as the focal points of the series. Tuning into Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) and Ashley (Mandy Musgrave) — Spashley to all you fans of couple name blending — toyed weekly with our heart strings. Even when they were together I was always waiting for someone to pull them apart….darn you Aidan. When all was right with the world and these two were alone together, sure the ‘action’ was G rated to say the least, but progress needs to start somewhere, and a peck on the cheek is a great place to begin.
The Facts of Life
The Eastland School for Girls sounds like a dreamy place to garner a high school education. I always felt for some strange reason that Jo and I would be best of friends … you know, like I would tell Jo something about me like how I had a crush on some hypothetical girl from my hypothetical English class and the Jo would confess to me a secret feeling she was harboring about, oh I don’t know … Blaire. The cast was made up of Jo and Blaire along with funny girl Natalie and cute-as-a-button roller skating phenom, Tootie. These girls were able take the good and take the bad and take them both and then have … well, the good with the bad. Eastland must have had a really easy curriculum.
Freaks and Geeks
This brilliant but canceled TV series highlighted high school life, circa 1980, in Michigan. The show chronicles life from the outcast perspective of the “freaks” (your loner types) and the geeks (you know, nerds). This show was smart, touching and funny and ended far too soon (only 12 episodes aired), but not without forming a huge cult following.
So whether you were home schooled, high schooled or never schooled, we can all say on some level that we vicariously went to high school with these characters. We’ve seen them at football games, we watched them at their lockers and we’ve even been to their proms. Television has given us countless high school ensembles to relate to – who are your favorites? Are you a Gossip Girl? Or did you wish you were Popular and lived in The O.C.?