Keep Calm, Trope On: Teen Dramas

We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.

High school is four years of your life you’ll never get back.

Jokes aside, high school is full of highs and lows. Some of the biggest moments of one’s life will take place during those years, so it is no wonder that many television shows try to tackle those very formative years.

Most series take high school and twist it into a dramatic tale making for some juicy drama. Sure, a psycho stalker who holds two friends hostage during prom is a bit far-fetched, but beggars can’t be choosers.

One Tree Hill, Gossip Girls, The OC, and Glee are just a few of the teen dramas that so many are obsessed with – and I haven’t even gotten to those with a supernatural element. Each is about high school, but with their own unique take. Basketball stars, rich snobs, and glee kids are just some of the ways in which these shows try to tell their own high school stories.

One Tree Hill is my own kryptonite. If I could choose only one show to watch for the rest of my life it’s probably One Tree Hill. What I love about the show is that it shows you the power of relationships, whether that be friendship or a romantic relationship. On top of that, there are genuine characters that aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability. Despite being teenagers, they face legitimate problems that so many young people do.

Sure, One Tree Hill gets absurd at times. But when you take away the wacky storylines, you’re left with just a range of characters that can help you get through some of the most difficult things in life.

Despite a high school setting, most of these shows have relatable elements at any stage in your life. Falling in love, going through heartbreak, or losing someone you love can happen not just in high school but anytime so why not start preparing yourself now? I actually found One Tree Hill more relatable when watching it during my college years even though it takes place in high school.

What really got me thinking about this topic was Glee. Just add it to the list of shows I’m rewatching, knowing I should be trying something new. Glee is ridiculous 99% of the time, but on the surface, it’s really just about people who want to fit in, be loved and follow their dreams. I don’t mind the music though.

Friday Night Lights is another show where the characters have to deal with a small-town mentality, while also trying to get through giant life hurdles and pursue their dreams. As I said, most of these shows are basically the same with just their own little twist. Friday Night Lights just used football instead of basketball. That’s not to belittle any teen drama because I really do love them.

I’d say the 90s and early 2000s teen dramas are where it’s at. Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The OC are fantastic teen dramas (I’m pretending the last couple seasons of The OC didn’t exist). What these shows succeeded in was that they didn’t forget that these characters were actually in high school.

Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries always seem to have a running joke about how these kids somehow manage going to class when they’re out doing all the stuff they do. It’s insane to me to think that Elena, Stefan, Caroline, and co. managed to graduate high school while dealing with all this supernatural crap. Or how the girls in Pretty Little Liars could concentrate in class with “A” looming around.

Funnily enough, just as high school does in real life, most of these shows outlive the teen years. While the first few seasons are dedicated to these characters going through puberty, eventually they make their way into adulthood. These post-high school seasons are really hit or miss. Personally, I love the adult One Tree Hill years. I love seeing my favorite characters grow into adults and face a new set of problems they couldn’t face while trapped in high school.

However, not many of these teen shows handle this transition very well. When the core set of characters graduated in Glee and Friday Night Lights, we were left with only a few of the characters we fell in love with for the first couple of seasons. Obviously, people go off to college but don’t assume that we will at all automatically care about a brand new set of characters as we did the originals. Friday Night Lights managed to introduce us to a couple of new characters that were interesting (looking at you Michael B. Jordan), but where Friday Night Lights succeed, Glee failed.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t like change. But I could not stand the last couple of seasons of Glee because I couldn’t get over the fact that I was no longer getting the show I signed up for. The first three seasons were fantastic, but we could all tell there was a huge void left the second half the glee kids graduated school.

But I know that senior year can’t go on forever. All teen dramas must face the graduation dilemma. Pretty Little Liars and One Tree Hill did what made sense for them as they did a time jump that let them completely skip over those three/four years of college. It really did work for them, but I understand why it wouldn’t work for shows like Glee. If you’re going to make everyone watch these kids go from high school to college, you still have to make it worth our time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer did just that. When the Scooby Gang went to college it was truly a turning point in the series. The first three seasons were amazing. They were in a groove but knew that they had reached a point where they could make the show even better. And, wow, did it get better. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did what few could – transition from a teen to an adult drama.

There are so many teen dramas out there that every time I finish one, I find another one to watch. The 2000s and 2010s were the peak time for teen dramas, as you don’t see much of them anymore. I suppose this generation of teen dramas is Riverdale and that’s a sad thought. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is alright. Sex Education only has one season (with the new one coming Friday!), but it’s honestly the most promising one out there right now.

Good thing that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon exist for kids these days so they can spend their time watching true teen drama treasures. Who knows where I’d be if I didn’t have mine to get me through my own teen (and college) years.   

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