The Teen Dramas From the 2000s That Would Have Been #Cancelled in 2021
Teen dramas. You either watched them for one of three reasons: 1. Everyone you know did, or at least owned a shirt bearing the logo, and you wanted to see if it was a justified action. 2. You branded yourself “too cool” for the mainstream but watched it “ironically” until it backfired and turned into a guilty pleasure. 3. The cast were, to put simply too attractive to possibly belong in the same age group as adolescent you; and it felt like living a double life.
One more thing, remember commercials? I’m sure it still exists now, but watching teen dramas on cable did hit different during times when bathroom breaks existed and you groaned involuntarily every five minutes when you weren’t in control of the pauses. Those definitely gave you more time to process what the hell you just witnessed on TV, though. The awful, unspoken truth is that the nostalgia that comes along with these shows could also be from their complete lack of regard for social issues. Producers back then couldn’t care less about political correctness. It’s definitely not a good thing, but what did teenagers then, who sent out group messages (#GM) using their unlimited load, know?
The internet existed at that point, but social media was riddled with games and stickers, then, not hot takes. You were probably on Friendster more than Facebook and only used Facebook to feed your Pet Society dog, clean the house when you were away, or pester your friends to join you on Mafia Wars. Twitter was for your #NowPlaying and #jwu tweets, the occasional witty updates from celebrities. Instagram was basically a string of photos with too many hashtags and the ashy, sepia-toned filters to fit their once polaroid camera branding. Tumblr was still a thing, and print media ruled. It was simpler times, for sure, but we wouldn’t exactly go back given what we know now. No matter how you view call-out and cancel culture, there’s no denying that beyond the echo chamber that is social media—you’ve been made into a decent person (debatable).
Since streaming sites have made our teen dramas available for unlimited rewatching, the love affair is now back on after long hours in Zoom meetings. The rendezvous does feel different now, but it’s definitely not you this time: it’s them. Here are five teen dramas with storylines that would not survive the wrath of social media today. But then again, it's also what made watching them so fun.
1| Gossip Girl (2007-2012)
First thought: how in the world did these ‘teenagers’ have access to the trendiest and definitely not age appropriate bars and clubs, in Manhattan, no less where bouncers definitely exist? Gossip Girl was like the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts song, Bad Reputation: the people behind it knew they were controversial, and they used to their advantage, scorning every conservative parent who detested seeing their children consume such content.
Sex wasn’t really the issue, though. We barely flinched, as awkward as these scenes were. However, despite the iconic status of the first season to fans of the series, we have to discuss the awful characterization of Chuck Bass. He was sleazy, trying to get it on with everyone, even young little J. That scene was so uncomfortable, we wonder how the writers were able to salvage his image and make him the Blair Waldorf-worthy leading man he became towards the end of the series. The love affairs between these high schoolers and older counterparts (think of Nate Archibald and Catherine Beaton), the cheating tropes, or incestuous dating within their circle of friends would have everyone cancelling the entire cast. Let’s not mention Serena and Dan ending up together despite sharing a sibling or Blair and Chuck’s blatantly toxic relationship. The absurd and ignorant wealth of these Manhattan kids and the way they made the world revolve around them was indulgent or entertaining back then, but definitely would not thrive in these times.
Even Tavi Gevinson’s character, Kate, in the 2021 HBO remake of Gossip Girl said it, “This Chuck and Blair thing is out of control, definitely pre-cancel culture.” Compared to the 2008 version, this new cast is diverse and queer. It’s still drama-filled and fashionable, of course. Nothing like the classic, but will earn brownie points for the incorporation of ‘wokeness’.
2| 90210 (2008-2013)
This is one of those “If you’ve seen this, you qualify for a veteran’s discount,” meme worthy teen dramas especially if it’s the original from the ‘90s, but we’re talking about the 2008 version with the rich white kids having nothing to do but propose or buy bars at the age of 18. Again: How? Why? The only thing we could afford at 18 were the saver meals at Jollibee or the occasional one bottle of beer as a college rite.
This one was created by Darren Star (yes, Sex and the City) so we were at least assured of the dramatics. However, that hit-and-run on prom night by Naomi in the season one finale should have been enough to not have following seasons, but it gets worse: she ends up dating the dead guy’s nephew a few seasons down the road. Season two had a rape scene, and there were numerous kidnapping tropes throughout. The cheating tropes were up to extremes: Adrianna plotted revenge when she found out Silver was hooking up with her boyfriend, Navid. The revenge plot in question? Messing with Silver’s bipolar meds, ultimately the reason she got checked into a mental hospital.
Evil, and would not have lasted another day on air in 2021 without a public apology on Twitter (preferably on the Notes app).
3| The O.C. (2003-2007)
Yes, the cast was unbelievably conventionally attractive (Misha Barton, Rachel Bilson, Adam Brody), but also blindingly white. No diversity, a lot of cheesy or completely ridiculous storylines. Where are the parents? How are they able to do these things as teenagers? The O.C. is definitely a classic, but they also had that one-dimensional thing going on for most of the characters (think of Che, played by Chris Pratt) and the crucial storyline that helps in the central plot of Ryan Atwood (Ben McKensie) joining the wealthy Cohen family.
The “bad” characters from Ryan’s old life were often poor, with criminal records, and substance abuse problems. When compared with the “good” characters; morally, no one is really winning, but the classification includes money and nice mansions. It could be seen as anti-poor or tacky with the poor execution of important issues. Unlike Dawson’s Creek giving LGBTQ+ representation with Jack McPhee’s character and the first boy and boy kiss on TV, The O.C. did not responsibly handle “the secret” that Luke’s dad is gay in the first season.
Seth is also an early version of the “nice guy” who doesn’t really live up to the reputation, romance-wise. We can’t forget the self-inflicted dumbassery of dating Anna and Summer at the same time.
Ah, to be young, rich, and bored.
4| Skins (2007-2013)
Skins as a show is one that seriously makes us doubt if we’ve led a fairly uneventful life as teenagers or if the characters in the show are simply out of control. Sure, they didn’t lack much on the drama front, but the amount of underage drinking and drug abuse is a tad bit overwhelming, especially when you think about how these kids go to high school every day and probably learn about trigonometry or some English literature classic. Seriously, where do they find time to do homework? Do their parents look for them? We wished we partied as hard, but also, not really.
For a teen drama, numerous clips of this series on Youtube are age-restricted. Which begs the question: who was this really made for? We particularly remember Cassie confronting Sid who had been hanging out with Michelle. She shoots him with a (plastic) gun and then goes to her favorite park bench and attempts an overdose. Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario) is one of the most memorable characters of the series, the mysterious girl. However, there was a storyline there somewhere when this 14-year-old went clubbing and did heroin (or some other hardcore drug). At 14, I went hard on Zesto and mamon during recess. There were too many illegal raves and older boys in vans, preying on them. The relationships they had were so complicated, it felt like they went through ten divorces in a season. I could forgive them a little for giving us acting greats like Dev Patel and Nicholas Hoult, though.
However, Skins really oversexualized teenagers, and that could lead to dangerous situations in real life, especially now when paired with social media. If parental controls didn’t work then, it’s harder to set now. They also didn’t do much for the characters the entire series, no justice to all their complexities, so we wonder why this got another remake. The way it’s overrated is probably because of the sensationalization of their shocking activities. Unfortunately, they fell flat on redemption arcs, both for their characters and viewers.
5| The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2013)
We’re not sure if anyone remembers, but Shailene Woodley was 15-year-old Amy Juergens, and ‘80s teen icon Molly Ringwald was cast as her mom in this American drama. It sounds promising, given the title, but the “secret life” they pertained to isn’t exactly the intro to a cool spy kids series or the usual underage drinking plot. They go the mature route. Or so they tried.
Amy throws away her “ambitious and musically-talented” status as a high schooler when she gets pregnant with the popular Ricky Underwood’s child at Band Camp, and then that weird love triangle with Ben when school starts. They even attempted to get married, because clearly the writer’s room was struggling. The show’s portrayal of sex was the most problematic part of it all, feeding on preachy beliefs for the TV ratings. Amy does it once and gets pregnant. We have a Christian cheerleader Grace who castigates herself for having sex. And of course, the American drama created a sexualized “bad girl” character, Adrian, because women are so black and white. The way the boys who were coming-of-age was equally problematically portrayed as the show normalized toxic relationships, unresolved issues, and unnecessary angst. But hey, it’s a teen show. What else could we expect?
We are well-aware that teenage pregnancy happens in real life (it’s a real issue to be addressed), but this teen drama really went out there and portrayed teenagers as one-dimensional characters with zero room for growth. The Secret Life was a not-so secret, anti-pregnancy cautionary tale that no doubt drove parents into hysterical fits. They tried so hard to be realistic with a premise that would normally be taboo, but they just ended up making it the most unrealistic portrayal of teenagers. Yes, no matter how supposedly liberated they were, everything was just confusing. The display of toxic relationships is not something that teenagers should strive for in real life. This show would definitely get the axe in the first season in 2021. There were a lot of problematic scenes, but the cringey dialogue would be immortalized on Twitter.
The good news: we know better now, at least, to know when to take what we see in shows with a grain of salt or when to turn to social media to express grievances over problematic storylines. Despite our nonchalant attitude towards parental guidance warnings, it’s also somewhat our turn to worry about the kind of media that the kids these days consume, or to let them enjoy the teen dramas of their time, many of which have captured the enlightened nuances of the coming-of-age phase (Never Have I Ever and Sex Education, we see you).