Regardless of the amount of shit I get for it, it’s no secret that I love watching teen shows. It started in the 1990s with 90210, continued in the early 2000’s with The O.C. and is still going strong with Gossip Girl. Although most teen shows share similar themes such as love, clothes, homework, addiction, betrayal and the inevitable transition from high school to college, there is usually one character that stands out in each show:
In 90210, Dylan McKay was the son of notorious millionaire/thief Jack McKay. Dylan grew up living in a hotel and spent most of high school taking care of himself, surfing and visiting his father is prison. He was already in AA by age 16 and developed quite the drug habit by the age of 20. He was also extremely wealthy as a result of a hefty trust fund and his James Dean looks made him noticeable from a mile away. Damaged and abandoned by his parents, Dylan was taken in by the Walsh family who saved him more than a few times. Jack McKay is killed when Dylan is a senior in high school (a fact that gets a little sketchy as the years go by) and Dylan ends up being a wanderer who is not sure what to do with his life.
The O.C. introduced us to wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid Ryan Atwood, who finds himself in Juvenile Hall as a result of his older brother making him an accomplice while stealing a car. Finding himself behind bars, the then 16-year-old Chino kid meets his lawyer (Sandy Cohen) who promises to help him. After finding out that Ryan’s father is in jail and that his alcoholic mother has abandoned him, Sandy brings Ryan to live with his family in Newport Beach. Despite his background, Ryan ends up being a good kid and succeeds with the help of the Cohen family. He also subsequently saves the people he loves in more ways than one and the show comes full circle after four seasons when Ryan helps a young kid the same way Sandy helped him.
The most sophisticated of the three shows and the one that is currently on television is Gossip Girl. Based on an anonymous Web site of the same name that somehow knows secrets about the rich and famous of Manhattan’s Upper Eastside, the show features characters that simultaneously love each other and want to destroy each other’s lives. The center of all evil and deception is wealthy Chuck Bass who lives in a hotel and whose father dies when Chuck is 17-years-old. A lover of vices and women, Chuck is dangerously smart and destructive. Still in his teens, Chuck inherits his father’s business and, always dressed in a suit, conducts himself as a business man decades ahead of his time. Whether or not Chuck will ever get over his need to be better than his father is yet to be determined but honestly I’m just hoping he survives the next season considering he is the most exciting and interesting character on the show.
While each of these shows featured/feature other compelling characters, the ones that standout clearly have similarities. Maybe viewers enjoy watching damaged people rise and fall or maybe it’s a coincidence that these teen shows thrive on male characters that are anything but normal. Either way these are the people who make the shows worth watching even if the shows they are starring in are teen shows.