San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Teen television moments show how riveting the genre can be

- By Rachel Leibrock Rachel Leibrock is a Northern California freelance writer.

Teen television often gets a bad rap. Critics dismiss it as shallow and materialis­tic — an outlandish depiction of what it means to survive some of our most formative years.

Sure, it’s not always realistic, but it’s unfair to outright dismiss an entire TV genre that’s rich with diverse characters and thoughtpro­voking story lines. We’re not talking preachy “Afterschoo­l Special” melodrama here, but moments that challenge stereotype­s, upend socalled norms and provide a safe place for youths and adults alike to explore questions, and get answers, about real issues impacting the world.

Thanks to new shows like HBO’s “Euphoria” and HBO Max’s “Generation,” the genre is getting a prestige cable glowup. And on Thursday, July 8, the streaming service premiered its juicy reboot of “Gossip Girl,” the influentia­l CW drama about uppercrust New York City prep school students that aired from 2007 to 2012.

Want to catch up? Stream the entire original series on HBO Max. Or take a moment to get to know some of teen television’s classic heavy hitters with this rundown of some of the genre’s most pivotal moments.

“Fame” (198287): Long before the kids on “Glee” sang and danced their way through life, this ’80s series explored the world of adolescent drama — figurative­ly and literally. The show, based on the 1980 film of the same name, focuses on the lives of students (and their teachers) at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. The show, which starred Debbie Allen as a tough dance instructor, was groundbrea­king for its diverse casting and realistic story lines. In a season two episode, “Beginnings,” the students realize one of the ballet teachers is racist against Black students.

Watch it: Rent or buy on Apple TV+ and other major platforms.

“Boy Meets World” (19932000): In 1997, when “Boy Meets World” paired up Shawn and Angela in the season five episode “Chasing Angela,” it was still rare to see an interracia­l relationsh­ip on television. The show’s sweet depiction of these high school lovebirds, played by Rider Strong and Trina McGee, helped normalize a romance once considered taboo for TV audiences. Unfortunat­ely, the show’s message didn’t translate behind the scenes. In 2020, McGee revealed that several of her castmates bullied her during filming because of the color of her skin. She also shared that several of her former coworkers, including star Danielle Fishel and actor Will Friedle (who played Eric), have since apologized.

Watch it: Available to stream on Disney+.

“The O.C.” (200307): It may seem tame now, but when the show aired its “The Lonely Hearts Club” episode in February 2005 (season two), its depiction of a kiss between spoiled rich girl Marissa (Mischa Barton) and sexy bartender Alex (Olivia Wilde) was considered wild for network television. The popular Newport Beachset series, produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage before developing the original “Gossip Girl,” also made headlines over the years for story lines that focused on mental health, extramarit­al affairs and untimely deaths.

Watch it: Available to stream on HBO Max.

“Gossip Girl” (200712): “Gossip Girl” boasted a wellheeled flair for the outrageous with its exaggerate­d take on what it means to be extremely wealthy and privileged. Still, the show explored true-to-adolescenc­e topics during its six seasons. In the season one episode “All About My Brother,” Serena van der Woodsen’s (Blake Lively) rival Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenbe­rg) outs the socialite’s little brother, Eric (Connor Paolo), as gay during a painfully emotional family dinner.

Watch it: Stream on HBO Max. “Riverdale” (2017presen­t): Although the CW series is based on characters in the Archie Comics universe, which first made their debut in 1941, the topics it broaches are darkly modern in scope. A season two story line followed as bisexual cheerleade­r Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) was taken to gay conversion therapy by her parents. While some criticized the controvers­ial plot point that was revealed in “Chapter Thirty: The Noose Tightens” — saying it subjected the queer character to a stereotypi­cal and traumatic story line — others praised the show for its depiction of an experience that hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ youths have endured.

Watch it: Available to stream on Netflix.

“13 Reasons Why” (201720): Based on Jay Asher’s book by the same name, and shot largely on location in the Bay Area, the Netflix series received mixed reviews for its problemati­c depiction of suicidal ideations, bullying and other issues. Its pilot episode “Tape 1, Side A,” however, launches the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) with finesse. Hannah, who recently died by suicide, left clues as to why in a set of cassettes she narrates. She entrusts them to a friend, Clay (Dylan Minnette), who soon discovers her first reason, one that will resonate with any techsavvy, socialmedi­afluent teenager: A boy Hannah kissed later spread vicious rumors and a racy photo of her throughout the school.

Watch it: Available to stream on Netflix.

“Euphoria” (2019presen­t): The HBO series, which premiered in 2019, is one of the genre’s most explicit and shocking entries. The show, which stars Oakland native Zendaya in an Emmy Awardwinni­ng performanc­e as Rue, depicts a high school world defined by its pursuit of sex, drugs, love and selfexpres­sion. In the season one finale, “And Salt the Earth Behind You,” recovering addict Rue breaks her sobriety after a breakup, leading to a vivid hallucinat­ion. It’s a stark reminder that addiction is a disease — one with no easy cure.

Watch it: Available to stream on HBO Max.

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 ?? Gary Null / NBCUnivers­al ?? The cast of the “Fame” television series. In one episode, the ‘80sera series pointed out the racism of a ballet teacher.
Gary Null / NBCUnivers­al The cast of the “Fame” television series. In one episode, the ‘80sera series pointed out the racism of a ballet teacher.

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