Every generation needs an iconic, gritty television series to sink its teeth into, but the current crop of dramatic shows on offer for young adults seems to have a considerable lack of quality, integrity and intensity.
While scoping out the new arrivals for teens on TV in 2015, it became clear that they are just not being invested in or being catered to as they have in the past, especially on free-to-air networks.
The modern equals of coming-of-age series like Skins, the original season of Beverley Hills 90210, Grange Hill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friday Night Lights, Press Gang and Gilmore Girls are no longer on the TV.
While Canada’s Degrassi: The Next Generation continues to get a run on the ABC, it is in no way of the same calibre or cult status as its predecessors, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, which taught Generations X and Y everything they needed to know about being a teenager: friendships, school, dating, divorce, sex, AIDs, homosexuality, racism – they had it all.
As one Canadian fan told The Daily Beast in 2012: “Nobody on Degrassi was perfect. Everyone was ugly, full of embarrassing hair, zits, glasses. The girl in the wheelchair was really in the wheelchair … It was honest.”
This is the polar opposite of pretty much every show aimed at young people on Australian television today.
The criminally under-watched Puberty Blues on Ten was the exception to this rule. It hasn’t been confirmed for an on-air return this year.
Ten, which used to dominate teen TV in Australia with shows like Beverly Hills 90210, The Simpsons, The OC and Glee, says its only young adult dramatic content for 2015 is Neighbours, but a network spokesperson said Modern Family, Family Feud and its upcoming big ticket item I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here! are all popular with teen audiences.
Interestingly, Melissa Joan Hart, the US actress who starred in the terrific 1990s teen show Clarissa Explains It All, is rumoured to be one of the contestants on Australia’s version of I’m a Celebrity.
ABC’s offerings include shows like Nowhere Boys, which has been nominated for an International Emmy, and The Worst Year of My Life, Again that sees its star Alex relive his annus horribilis, his 14th year, all over again.
A spokesperson suggested its gaming show Good Game, Bushwhacked and My Great Big Adventure as the ABC’s top teen content, but none of the aforementioned shows offer any kind of commitment to teaching kids about the big life issues.
The Seven and Nine Networks have a limited range of teen shows, mostly from the US.
Critic Giles Hardie says the lack of content from the US teen TV factory The CW, which produces shows like The Flash, The 100, Hart of Dixie and Jane the Virgin (all on Foxtel), and Arrow (Nine Network), ultimately comes down to the diversification of the local TV market, but he says it’s still not a legitimate excuse for local networks who have all but abandoned the demographic.
“Channel Nine, Seven and Ten have chosen the older demographics over the younger viewers,” Hardie says.
“There is a great irony that no one makes any teen television, and then you get to your late 20s and the networks cry poor and want to know why you aren’t watching their shows.”
On Foxtel’s Fox 8 Channel, which is heavily skewed towards the older teen market, popular series include vampire-based dramas The Originals and The Vampire Diaries, as well as the post-apocalyptic thriller The 100.
“Whereas Degrassi and 90201 used to talk about sex, now, thanks to Twilight author Stephanie Meyer and the ensuing vampire deluge, kids are left wondering if they should let their love interest bite them,” Hardie says.
“The supernatural stuff has certainly bloodied the waters of teen TV.”
The fantastic and supernatural storylines of these series certainly struggle to keep up with shows like Skins and Degrassi on the educational front.
Skins, often topping best young adult TV lists, offered a deep and often disturbing look into the likes of British teenagers and whether your life was like theirs or not, kids connected.
Over on MTV, the best shows outside the plethora of reality rubbish are the glib cartoon Daria and Awkward, about a teenager dealing with the daily dramas of life as an ‘unstable’ young woman.
British show My Mad Fat Diary, which tackles mental health, self-esteem, health, sex and friendships, has been running on UK channel E4 since 2013, and would be a welcome addition to Australian screens.
There’s a fine line when writing for teenagers, but there’s also something to be said for showing genuinely brilliant content that will stay with the next generation forever.