It is probably no secret to anyone who has ever stopped by this blog before (or even just examined the above “collage”), that I am a sucker for Trash-tastic Teen Television. I have been a fan of these types of shows since the age of eight. That was when I first decided that I desperately wanted to be a teen. And I have no doubt that I will remain a fan, long after I have cruised past “old age,” and am forced to squint through my coke bottle glasses, and smile through my dentures, at the sight of some pipsqueaks (who bear a suspicious resemblance to my grandkids) attending prom on my small screen.
“That is one hot threesome. Oh, when I think back to my first threesome . . . ah memories!”
Having been around the “teenage television” block quite a bit since my eighth birthday, I have come to notice a few patterns among my favorite teen dramas. Over the years, I have watched in wonder, as certain storylines traveled across decades, time zones, and networks, just to reach my lowly television set, over and over (and over and over) again . . . So I’ve decided to investigate these storylines, in hopes of FINALLY figuring out what makes them so “gosh darn special!”
1) “Hit me with a baby, one more time!” – The Pregnancy Scare and/or Actual Pregnancy Plotline
The Storyline: Our teen female protagonist has sex . . . usually for the first time. Her partner is either a long, LONG time boyfriend, with whom she has been discussing doing the deed for the ENTIRE season . . .
Or, conversely, he is a one night-stand, who she (a) barely knows; or (b) seemingly despises. There is never any in between.
In the very next scene, our protagonist learns that she has missed her period. She is FLIPPING THE F&CK OUT!
She keeps her discovery a secret from everyone, except for her best friend. And the best friend is inevitably the one who convinces the protagonist to take the pregnancy test.
Regardless of the pregnancy test’s ultimate result, inevitably there comes a time when our protagonist has to have “The Discussion” with “The Maybe Baby Daddy.”
Sometimes, he takes it well . . . usually, he doesn’t . . . at least, not at first.
Now, if the protagonist ends up not being pregnant . . . well then . . . THAT’S IT! Our protagonist is RELIEVED! She feels brand NEW! She’s CHANGED!
She will pretend this whole little sweeps week episode never happened (or, in the case of Manny Santos, and Degrassi, the U.S. will pretend this whole episode never happened . . . by NOT AIRING IT, until about 3 years after it was actually filmed). However, if our protagonist IS pregnant . . . we get stuck with a baby storyline for ALL ETERNITY (or at least it will seem that way . . .)!
Examples: Brenda on 90210 (not actually pregnant); Andrea on 90210 (actually pregnant / had baby / raised baby); Summer on The O.C. (not actually pregnant); Manny on Degrassi: The Next Generation (actually pregnant / had abortion); Liberty on Degrassi: The Next Generation (pregnant / had baby / gave baby up for adoption); Emma on Degrassi: The Next Generation (not actually pregnant / feeling left out because EVERYONE else on her show actually was); Blair on Gossip Girl (not actually pregnant); Georgina on Gossip Girl (To Be Determined?); Amy on Secret Life of the American Teenager (actually pregnant / had baby / is raising baby); Quinn on Glee (actually pregnant / had baby / gave baby up for adoption).
Why it’s a cliche?
“Hey there, boys and girls! I’ve got a message for you! Premarital sex is BAAAAAAAAD!”
Teen television programs tend to be written by adults. And even the most hip and forward thinking adults, don’t like to think about their 15-year old kids f*c*ing eachother’s brains out like bunny rabbits on acid.
So they ever so subtly try to scare the crap out of their kids, by showing them how having sex once can RUIN THEIR LIVES FOREVER! It doesn’t really work . . .
This storyline is SO overdone that precisely NO ONE is shocked or dismayed by the prospect of a female protagonist . . . missing her period. Hey writers, want to REALLY scare your kids celibate? Give your television characters crabs.
That will permanently glue your teen’s legs shut for sure!
2) “OH NO! You killed . . . what’s his name again?” – The Death of the Peripheral Character Plotline
The Storyline: There is this recurring character on your favorite show that has becoming increasingly annoying, of late.
You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you just think the character really sucks.
And you can’t wait for him or her to leave your television screen ALONE!
You spend WAY too much time bashing this minor character on online message boards, and in snarky recaps of the show. In those messages, you may or may not beg the show’s writers for said character’s untimely demise.
Then the character actually DIES.
And you’re secretly happy that you got what you wanted.
But NOW you’re convinced you are very sh*tty person. Because, REALLY, what kind of nice, normal person is HAPPY when someone dies, real or fake? Even though very few of the characters on your show seemed to like this character any more than you did, while he was alive, they all make a big show of mourning and /or having a funeral for him or her.
Your favorite character will inevitably give the eulogy for this character. And it will be all warm, and fuzzy, and heartfelt . . . and, of course, totally depressing.
And YOU will surprise yourself by crying like a baby when you watch it (probably out of guilt for openly hating the character so much . . . or . . . maybe the scene just reminds you of a dead relative). After the episode airs, the show’s entire cast will COMPLETELY forget that this dead character ever existed . . .
Examples: Scott on 90210, Abby on Dawson’s Creek; Rick on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Johnny on The O.C., that dude Serena supposedly “killed” on Gossip Girl, Percy and Reed on Grey’s Anatomy (not technically a teen show, but still . . .), Vicki on The Vampire Diaries
Why it’s a cliche? The “Very Special” Dead Person episode of any teen show is sure to be a ratings grabber, no matter how unlikeable the soon-to-be dead character was before he met his demise. Plus, killing any character on their show (even if it’s just a one-episode guest star) allows producers to run that oh-so-original . . . “SOMEBODY WILL DIE!” promo the week before their episode airs, and you know how ALL producers LOVE that promo!
The Storyline: The protagonist has a crush on his or her very attractive (yet obviously lonely, and very desperate), teacher.
The teacher makes a lame ass attempt to rebuff the protagonists affections, but fails miserably.
Soon the student and the teacher are doing the horizontal mambo together in secret.
Someone always finds out. Someone always exposes them for the sluts they both are.
It always ends badly . . .
Examples: Pacey and Miss Jacobs on Dawson’s Creek, Paige and Mr. O on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Dan and Miss Carr on Gossip Girl, Aria and Mr. Fitz on Pretty Little Liars
Why it’s a cliche? Forbidden love is HOT! And cougars are all the rage! Plus, who HASN’T had a crush on one of their teachers and indulged in a naughty fantasy, or two (or twenty) involving same?
Mine was my freshman history teacher in high school. He was pretty young, compared to most of my teachers at that time . . . probably in his mid-to-late twenties . . . and single. Actually, he kind of looked like this . . .
. . . only he was a wee bit older . . . and he generally wore shirts (unfortunately). Coincidentally, Mr. Devlin, if your reading this . . . 😉
4) “Cheaters never win, and winners never . . . whatever.” – The Cheating on a Test / Plagiarism Plotline
Storyline: The protagonist REALLY needs to pass a particular test or ace a certain paper. He or she is under a lot of external pressure to do so.
But something happens, so that he or she doesn’t have time to do the appropriate amount of studying and /or research. He or she is tempted, upon receiving answers to the test or a pre-written paper, to . . . CHEAT!
The protagonist struggles with whether or not to enter into the dark evil world of “school crime,” but ultimately does.
Because the character cheated, he or she does so well on the test or paper that his teacher inevitably wants to enter him or her in some national competition of some sort related to the aforementioned paper or test. Smothered by guilt, the character eventually comes clean. He or she then gets in trouble . . .
But not in nearly as much trouble as the character would, if caught, in . . . say . . . the REAL WORLD . . .
“It can’t possibly be worse than when I got that awful haircut . . .”
Examples: Felicity on Felicity, Andie on Dawson’s Creek, Rusty on Greek, Lindsay and Daniel on Freaks and Geeks, Spencer on Pretty Little Liars
Why it’s a cliche? One word: schadenfreude. You see, here’s the thing . . . every teen show has that one uptight overachieving character, who always gets A’s, is super judgmental of all of her “less brilliant” friends, and never seems to do anything wrong. Admit it! It’s kind of fun to see tight asses like that crack under the pressure . . .
Make that VERY fun!
5) “I’m gonna do real bad things to you . . . and make you DO real bad things!” – The “Bad Influence” Plotline
The Storyline: Our protagonist is going through kind of a “rough patch” in his or her life. He or she is therefore looking to let loose, and have some sort of emotional and/or physical release. In walks a character who is fun, adventurous, and more than a little dangerous.
Our protagonist starts hanging out with the “dangerous” character a lot.
(Click the internal link to watch!)
Before you know it, he or she is behaving just like the “dangerous” character, and getting into all sorts of trouble as a result.
The protagonists other friends are jealous of all the fun their typically boring protagonist is now having. But they are also worried. Inevitably, the moment comes when protagonist is about to get into a cr*p load of trouble with the “dangerous” character.
The friends stage an intervention of sorts.
The dangerous character rides away on the evil broomstick by which it came. All is, once again, right (and boring) with the world . . .
Examples: Abby influencing Jen on Dawson’s Creek, Georgina influencing Serena on Gossip Girl, Damon influencing Caroline on The Vampire Diaries, “The Freaks” influencing Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks, that character Paul Wesley played on Everwood influencing Hannah on Everwood, that character Paul Wesley played on The O.C. influencing Ryan and Seth on The O.C.
Why it’s a cliche? Everybody’s got a dark side. Secretly, we all want to be a little “bad” sometimes. The good news is that we can do it safely and vicariously, by watching our favorite “good” television characters “go bad,” albeit temporarily. They have fun while doing it . . . and so do we, at least until their lame friends bring them back to earth.
Well, that’s all the teen television cliches I have for tonight. But please tune in tomorrow, when I tackle love triangles, love-hate relationships, prom, the ever enlightening “trip to Europe,” and, of course, the dreaded ski trip . . .