As the schools tentatively reopen, there is no better time to revisit that most canonical of teen TV genres: the high school drama. A Marmite show, Ryan Murphy’s Glee rubbed some up the wrong way but nevertheless was manna for the musical theatre kids. The teen drama showcased the intertwining lives of high schoolers through song, and made stars of Darren Criss and Amber Riley.
If the final season of Netflix’s documentary series Last Chance U has you hankering for more American football action, look no further than this high school sports drama. Centring on the Texan town of Dillon and its team, the show explores the tension of small-town attitudes through its ensemble cast.
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A refreshing recent take on the genre comes in the form of Laurie Nunn’s Sex Education, which transposes the cliques and conventions of the US high school to a British setting. It tells the story of awkward teen Asa Butterfield’s ascension in the social stakes after he dishes out advice cribbed from his sex therapist mum (Gillian Anderson).
The east coast OC, this much-memed New York show deals heavily in melodrama, detailing the dramas of privileged Manhattanites as they have their secrets revealed by the mysterious blogging of the “gossip girl”. Look out for crush-worthy early performances from Blake Lively and Penn Badgley.
The newest addition to the genre is a meta take on high school tropes as comics Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, gamely starring as their 13-year-old selves in the year 2000, delve deep into the embarrassment of puberty. Expect acne, braces, boys and questionable fashion choices.
A distinctly British and puerile vision of the high school comedy here, as we follow the (mis)fortunes of four suburban misfits – Will, Simon, Neil and Jay – as they navigate their burning desires for the opposite sex, awkward parental relationships and love/hate bonds with each other.
From its theme tune to the tanned and eternally youthful cast, there is perhaps no other show that better encapsulates wealthy California than The OC. An early-2000s staple, this drama stars Ben McKenzie as troubled adopted teen Ryan, who must deal with the exclusive world of Orange County as he embarks on a romance with rebellious socialite Marissa (Mischa Barton).
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In West Philadelphia born and raised was this fictionalised version of Will Smith, sent by his single mother to live with his uber-rich uncle Phil and Aunt Viv in Los Angeles’s exclusive Bel-Air neighbourhood where he attends a private school. It was the teatime sitcom that made Smith a star, showcasing his aptitude for goofy slapstick as well as landing weighty, emotional punches.
On air for only one season before it was unceremoniously cancelled, this 1994 drama has since become something of a cult classic. Starring a fresh-faced Claire Danes as 15-year-old Angela and Jared Leto as her love interest Jordan, the show was radical at the time for frankly exploring issues such as homophobia and child abuse.
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It doesn’t always have to be gritty realism or mishap-fuelled comedy when it comes to high school – it can involve vampires, too. Joss Whedon’s fantasy sees Sarah Michelle Gellar as the latest in a long line of vampire slayers, protecting her neighbourhood while finding time for romance with Angel (David Boreanaz).
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