Goofy teens take over TV and it’s about time
Everything on Riverdale is too pretty and polite – everything. As the de facto pinnacle of teen TV shows right now, it’s almost like Riverdale try to create something too much perfect. The cast is full of gorgeous human beings, who have crisp clothes, fair skin, beautiful hair, and speak as if they’ve taken several SAT courses and memorized every last word that might appear on the test. It’s often exhausting following Archie and all of his friends, and not just because of the intrigue.
Television has always included a show (or maybe a few) featuring a “perfect” adolescent landscape. The 1990s had Beverly Hills, 90210 and Dawson Creek, the beginning of the 2000s brought us CO, and the late 2000s had Gossip Girl. These paved the way for Pretty little Liars, and eventually, Riverdale. Riverdale also led to several Riverdale-s, because the series has already received spinoffs with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and the future Katy keene, all built around the same Archie universe.
While things were going on in Riverdale (and we were busy trying to figure out The Black Hood, among other mysteries in the show), something else was happening on TV. Slowly the teens on TV started to look a little less perfect and polished. They’ve started talking and acting like real teenagers again, with real issues and clothes that seem to come from Target, not the runway. These teens still had problems, but they were problems of practical solutions. They also had acne, wore braces, and panicked about whether or not they were popular. In short, these new teens feel real.
Over the past few months, there has been an influx of TV shows featuring regular teenagers (although many of these are still played by adults – it will always happen, no matter how hard we try). These 2019 teens are goofy, goofy, confused about everything, and are just trying to become their own people. Since the only teens we’ve seen in recent times attempt to solve murders (or commit them), these new kids are a welcome treat.
Earlier this month, Hulu ditched its charming coming-of-age tale about two teenagers trying to figure things out in the 2000s, PEN15 (and here the lead roles are actually played by adults, but that’s part of the joke). Earlier this year, Netflix ditched its own coming-of-age story about discovering themselves and their bodies. with Sex education. Let’s also not forget Netflix (unfortunately short-lived) Everything sucks! and even their in progress Big mouth. There is also the other teen show from Hulu, Runaways, and even though these kids have superpowers and evil parents, they still have down-to-earth teenage issues, like anxiety and dancing. Nothing about these teens seems glamorous, let alone put together at times. This is why their sudden surge in popularity is so important.
These shows also remind us of what it means to be friends and why our teenage friendships are sometimes the most important. They perform during our most formative years and create that strong support system of someone to count on, no matter what the situation. PEN15 does a great job showing us how rocky and beautiful friendship can be for 13 year old girls. At one point, Anna tells Maya, “You are my real rainbow gel pen in the sea of blue and black writing utensils.” That’s right, and it’s a perfect analogy, and one also wonders if Betty Cooper has ever used a gel pen in her entire life (Veronica Lodge certainly hasn’t).
This crop of teenagers also makes it possible to have problems, whether as children or as adults. Of course, there is something to be said about a soap opera-type fantasy series that can be attributed to guilty pleasure. But this is not the real world. The tastes of PEN15 and Sex education, and even the animated one Big mouth, have relevant storylines that you can point your finger at and say “it happened to me”.
These shows have created a new form of escape, because it is like reliving your younger years, and rejoicing that they are completely over. Perhaps we can attribute this to the rise of things like #TBT and #FlashBackFriday. All PEN15 is a throwback since it takes place in the year 2000. Do you remember what you were doing in the year 2000? Remember how cool you thought you were and now you look back and shudder in confusion and a little bit of disgust? We can relive the past by proxy, without having to see it again, through these shows, and honestly, we need more. How long until we get Eighth year: the series?
Bring more shows about goofy teens doing goofy things they think are cool, and their equally goofy friends supporting them every step of the way. It is a television landscape towards which we should be actively working.