The Greatest Teen TV Shows of All Time
Patrick Ecclesine/The CW

The Greatest Teen TV Shows of All Time

On Friday, January 15, Degrassi: Next Class will première on Netflix under their easy-to-binge model, with all 10 new episodes arriving at the same time. The news of the previous iteration's cancellation on its longtime network, Teen Nick, created an outcry not only from its fans who had followed the series since 2001 (not to mention the original class run in the late '80s). 

Why do we get so attached to teen dramas, even after we are well out of the age range of its subjects? It's likely because the topics, no matter where and when we grew up, ring true across decades: navigating romance, balancing a rotating cast of friendships, and taking on first experiences. The difference is the lens under which they operate, from the supernatural to the locale, and reality versus suspended reality.

Because you're never too old to appreciate drama, here's a look back at our favorite teen shows of the last few decades.

Degrassi: Junior High, The Next Generation, The Next Class
Run Dates:
1987 - 1989, 2001 - 2014, 2015 - Present
Synopsis: Set at a fictional school in Toronto, Ontario, the students encounter everyday and not-so everyday issues amongst a rotating cast.
Why it's awesome: Arguably one of the most authentic teen shows, Degrassi's stand-out characteristic is that it casts actors who are actually high school-aged, awkwardness and all. They stay true to the actual experience of an average school, with characters who graduate and you never see again. Just when you think they've covered every possible topic, (seriously, this list of 239 is only through 2012) they evolve with current topics such as sexting and online harassment. With the jump to Netflix, they'll likely have more freedom to "go there." Here's hoping for way more polite Canadian cursing.

Friday Night Lights
Run Dates: 2006 - 2011
Synopsis: The story of a small town in Texas where the world revolves around high school football.
Why it's awesome: From the very first episode, it was clear that this would be so much more than just sports. They tracked the lives of an extensive ensemble cast on and off the field. The show grew a cult following as something stylistically different and unapologetically wholesome. You wanted The Taylors to be your parents, Tim Riggins to be your boyfriend, Tyra to be your best friend, and your Friday nights spent on Panther Field.

Veronica Mars
Run Dates:
2004 - 2007, movie in 2014
Synopsis: The daughter of a private detective in the fictional town of Neptune, California, helps her Pop's business while handling cases of her own.
Why it's awesome: The series immediately sets itself apart by opening with the central mystery of who killed Veronica's best friend Lily and the fallout from her then-sheriff father's investigation of the wrong guy. A series of mini-mysteries present themselves, from finding missing dogs to kidnapping, alongside romantic squabbles and other teen issues. The series was so beloved that seven years after its final episode ended on a strange note, fans had raised enough money to produce a film that tied up all the loose ends of what had happened to the characters 10 years later.


The O.C.

Run Dates: 2003 - 2007
Synopsis: A kid from the wrong side of he tracks is taken in by his lawyer and his family to live in a gigantic mansion in Newport Beach.
Why it's awesome: Even if you haven't seen it, you know it. The O.C. set off a string of other quintessential teen shows in the early 2000s, including a reality show about the California county (we'll get to that later). It catapulted its young stars and became a beacon of cool in fashion and music. Where would Phantom Planet be without that theme song, or Death Cab For Cutie without the stamp of approval from Seth Cohen?


Pretty Little Liars

Run Dates: 2010 - Present
Synopsis: After the leader of their pack goes missing, four friends are stalked by a mysterious "A" who seems to know what happened and wants to make them pay.
Why it's awesome: Just by looking at the title, let alone its placement on ABC Family, you'd never guess that this show gets majorly twisted, majorly fast. Its central mystery has remained over the course of six seasons, but it has gone in some bonkers directions that include a student-teacher romance, a multi-villain conspiracy, and several more deaths. The show managed to seemingly close that chapter in the middle of its current season, but the second half will jump ahead five years to the aftermath — and more mystery, of course.

The Carrie Diaries
Run Dates: 
2013 - 2014
Synopsis: A Sex and the City prequel featuring Carrie Bradshaw as a high school student in Connecticut who lands a killer internship in NYC and, well, the rest is history.
Why it's awesome: You don't even have to be a Sex and the City fan to like this show, as its young cast and 1980s backdrop is particularly charming. However, if you are a fan, you'll get a kick out of seeing Carrie's first foray into fashion, her sexual awakening, and her relationship with a family we never heard about in the original show. Unfortunately, it was a bit doomed in a Friday-night slot and was canceled after just two seasons. Bonus: Scottsdale native Lindsey Gort plays young Samantha — and the resemblance is uncanny!


Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County

Run Dates: 2004 - 2006
Synopsis: A group of extraordinarily wealthy teens navigate life their extraordinarily wealthy town in Southern California
Why it's awesome: In retrospect, "The Real Orange County" is a bit of a funny tagline considering the show (and its many spin-offs) have been fairly open about their lack of actual reality (staged relationships and confrontations, etc.). However, it was in the midst of the reality boom, giving us relatively accurate glimpse into the life of the privileged whose squabbles were just as silly as those of us who didn't drive Range Rovers at 16.

Gossip Girl
Run Dates:
2007 - 2012
Synopsis: The happenings of a group of prep school students on NYC's Upper East Side, as told by an in-the-know blogger.
Why it's awesome: Where Laguna Beach and The O.C. acted in earnest, Gossip Girl milked the absurd world their wealthy characters lived in. While the central allure of figuring out Gossip Girl's identity is still there, it falls by the wayside to the insane drama that unfolds. When it comes to cultural significance, it took The O.C. model and turned it up to 11, with product and music placements an unavoidable force.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Run Dates: 1997 - 2003
Synopsis: A high school student must balance her life alongside destroying vampires, other ghouls.
Why it's awesome: Once you get swept up in it's cartoonish wackiness, it becomes as endearing as any on this list, demons and all. Through its supernatural scenarios, you get to pull yourself out of the other, more ordinary teen issues. This show became such a beacon for all that followed and launched the careers of its outstanding cast and especially creator Joss Whedon.

Glee
Run Dates:
2009 - 2015
Synopsis: A new teacher revives his high school glee club with a crop of misfit students.
Why it's awesome: The show may have overstayed its welcome a bit toward the end, but it thrived with its breakout cast and quippy dialogue, especially by cheer Coach Sylvester played by the impeccable Jane Lynch. It also started an empire of the one-two punch of the show itself and cast recordings released immediately after broadcast. You may never be able to listen to "Don't Stop Believin" again though.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >