A not-so-definitive ranking of my favorite teen dramedies
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I like trashy TV shows—especially the ones that take place in high school hallways. It seems like teen dramedies have reigned supreme for almost 20 years now, and some of them were definitely better than others. Here’s a top 10 countdown of my favorite shows from this category for you to watch the next time you’re looking for a new TV show to binge:
“One Tree Hill” (2003-2012), “Beverly Hills 90210” (1990-2000), “The O.C.” (2003-2007)
10. “Degrassi” (1987-probably forever)
I used to watch “Degrassi” in my middle school health class, probably because the show addresses issues like suicide, teen pregnancy and eating disorders in a relatively realistic manner. The “Degrassi” franchise began with a 1987-1989 show called “Degrassi Junior High” that was followed up by “Degrassi High,” a late 1980s spin off that featured most of the same characters. Since then, there have been multiple reboots—the most current being “Degrassi: Next Class,” but my personal favorite is “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” which launched a slew of teen stars including Nina Dobrev, Shenae Grimes and, of course, Drake. While I first saw “Degrassi” in health class, I enjoyed the show enough to watch it on my own, although I lost enthusiasm after all of the original “Next Generation” cast members left. I’ll admit, the dialogue is sometimes cheesy, and you start to wonder why anyone would send their kid to this high school of horrors. That said, “Degrassi” is pretty entertaining, both for the drama and the jokes, and you won’t have to worry about finding a new show to binge for a long, long time once you start this one.
9. “Secret Life of the American Teenager” (2008-2013)
Before Shailene Woodley starred in “The Fault in Our Stars” and the “Divergent” films, she was the main character on “Secret Life.” Was this show good? Objectively, no. The show consisted almost entirely of poorly written dialogue, and the same plotlines were recycled over and over again—even the premise of the show, a teen pregnancy, was recycled a few seasons later. Despite the series’ faults, “Secret Life” lasted a full five seasons, drawing in over 4.5 million viewers its first season, a record-breaking number for ABC Family. The show wasn’t without its merits. Woodley’s Amy was self-absorbed and kind of annoying, but her parents, George (Mark Derwin) and Anne (everybody’s favorite 80s ingenue Molly Ringwald) were funny, although perhaps a bit naive at times, and the conflicts between the teens’ parents was generally more entertaining than the high school drama, even though I was a middle schooler during the bulk of my years as a “Secret Life” viewer. All I can say is you might fall in love—it’s such an easy thing to do.
8. “Switched at Birth” (2011-present)
This show’s premise revolves around two protagonists, the deaf, academic Daphne (Katie Leclerc) and the feisty, artistic Bay (Vanessa Marano) who were switched at birth. Deaf characters are rarely portrayed on screen, but “Switched at Birth” addresses the struggles faced by the deaf community without relying on stereotypes. There was even an episode done entirely in sign language. Bay and Daphne are complementary characters—Bay’s sarcastic and rebellious, while Daphne’s sweeter and more levelheaded. The show addresses serious issues well, but I think the crowning glory of “Switched at Birth” is probably the character development. Every single character evolves over the course of the series, which isn’t something that can be said of most shows, especially those targeted at a teenage crowd, even though “Switched at Birth” isn’t always particularly well-written.
7. “90210” (2008-2013)
After the initial success of “Gossip Girl,” the CW decided to present a revamped version of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” featuring a couple of the original cast members but focusing primarily on a new bunch of students at West Beverly Hills High. “90210” was one of those shows where 22 year olds star as 15 year olds in a completely un-ironic way, and the drama was oftentimes crazy unrealistic, with storylines ranging from a hit-and-run, to a false rape accusation, to a sweet girl joining an escort service. Although “90210” did broach some serious subject matters, it also included a mud wrestling match between two of the main characters and random guest appearances by celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Ryan Lochte. It was one of those series where camp inevitably worked its way into basically everything. Even so, what “90210” lacks in staying power (and it definitely lacks staying power) it makes up for with DRAMAAAA.
6. “The Carrie Diaries” (2013-2014)
This show may have been canceled after only two seasons, but “The Carrie Diaries,” a prequel to “Sex and the City,” introduced the world to a 1980s Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb), with her trademark daring fashion sense and bigger, blonder hair. Fans of “Sex and the City” might miss Carrie’s group of gal pals (and all of their beaus), and although Carrie’s high school friends are cute, they don’t quite compare to Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. “The Carrie Diaries” was funny and sweet, more innocent than most of the series shown on the CW, and the show could stand on its own. You could like “The Carrie Diaries” without having ever seen “Sex and the City.” I tuned in to see what happened between Carrie and her high school boyfriend, the bad boy Sebastian (Austin Butler), but I also wanted to see Carrie explore her passion for fashion at her new internship in New York. I wasn’t really surprised when the show got canceled (mostly because I was in the target demographic and barely anyone I knew watched it), but I was still sad anyway.
5. “Glee” (2009-2015)
When I was in middle school, everyone watched “Glee.” And when I say everyone, I mean everyone—“Glee” was a cultural phenomenon because of its theme of self-acceptance, diverse cast and musical renditions of everything from “Poker Face” to “Don’t Rain On My Parade” to “Blackbird.” The series touched on serious topics, such as coming out as gay to your parents, being a teen with Down syndrome and becoming pregnant as a teen. Nonetheless, what I remember from “Glee” more than anything else are the silly moments: a football player “slushying” a geeky kid. A grilled cheese sandwich that looked like Jesus. A cheerleading coach ruining an office. For its first couple of seasons, “Glee” was really good. After the most important original cast members left, “Glee” took a turn for the worse. New characters were brought on, and I couldn’t ever get as enthusiastic about the new students at William McKinley as I’d been about the originals. I stopped believing in “Glee” around season four, but if you’ve never seen the first couple of seasons, you just found your latest binge watch.
4. “Friday Night Lights” (2006-2011)
Where I’m from, high school football isn’t really a big deal. From watching “Friday Night Lights,” I realized that high school football is a really, really big deal in some places. To be honest, I wasn’t that into this show at first, mostly because my mom was the one who told me about it, so I assumed it would be better for an older audience. That said, I ended up liking “Friday Night Lights” a lot, and it’s one of the few shows on this list that most definitely has cross-generational appeal. Mitt Romney even stole the line “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” for his failed 2012 presidential bid. Any show that’s able to be political without even being about politics is a winner in my book. Besides, the show averaged 6 million viewers for its first couple of seasons, which isn’t a lot for a major TV network but is a lot more than most of the trashy shows I like. Even if you don’t watch football, you’ll probably like watching “Friday Night Lights.”
3. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (1996-2003)
I’ll let you in on a little secret: This is probably my absolute favorite show of all time, and I may or may not be including it on this list even though it doesn’t quite work. “Sabrina” doesn’t really fit so perfectly into this teen dramedy category. Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) is a teenage witch (as the title suggests), and she definitely does go through some drama, although I would say that this show is really a comedy. Sabrina uses magic sparingly, but her mishaps with magic are definitely a big part of the show’s earlier seasons, although the series became a bit darker after Sabrina took off for college. I remember watching “Sabrina” in syndication when I was in elementary school—before the days of Netflix—and I fell in love with the show so much that I read the comic books upon which the live-action show was based and watched a couple of animated spin-offs. “Sabrina” has two sassy aunts, a talking cat and some occasional magic. Really, what’s more to like?
2. “Gossip Girl” (2007-2012)
“Gossip Girl” was just an irresistible show, with irresistibly good-looking characters who wore irresistibly beautiful clothes and lived in irresistibly luxurious homes. I started binge watching this series when I was in middle school, and only one or two seasons had aired so far. Maybe “Gossip Girl” aired at the right time to secure its place in history—during the rise of social media—because the number of “Gossip Girl” GIFs and memes on the internet is astounding. The ratings for the show were nothing special, but the fan base seems particularly devoted. Honestly, some of the “Gossip Girl” plotlines were ridiculous, like when a character faked his death and reappeared seasons later, or when another character decided to marry a wealthy European prince. Yet, these moments are entertaining, so even if you’re opposed to watching trashy TV shows, I think you might end up falling a little bit in love with “Gossip Girl” and watch all six seasons in only a few days. Actually, I think you know you’ll love it. XOXO, Ella
1. “Gilmore Girls” (2000-2007)
There aren’t many shows targeted at teens that are smart. “Gilmore Girls” is smart. Replete with obscure cultural references and sarcastic one-liners, “Gilmore Girls” is a show almost anyone can get behind. I watched the show with my mom and then-11 year-old sister, and we all really enjoyed our glimpse into the lives of dynamic mother and daughter duo Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham). “Gilmore Girls” will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. Even though the final episode aired almost a decade ago, the issues Rory deals with, like applying to college and dealing with academic pressures, probably are more relatable to Washington University students than many of the issues dealt with on, say, “Gossip Girl.” While creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s departure led to a less-than-stellar final season, a four-part revival series on Netflix, produced by Sherman-Palladino and slated for November, might make up for the final season’s failings.