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TV shows to binge-watch if you miss high school
It's prom season! Feeling nostalgic? Take a trip down memory lane with these TV shows set in high school.
From teenage private eye Veronica Mars to the iconic "Beverly Hills 90201" crew, we've got the whole high-school experience covered so you'll remember why no sane person would ever want to go back to those days again.
Saved By the Bell
Hijinks, hijinks, hijinks. Was there ever a show that made high-school look more fun?
Airing from 1988 (as "Good Morning Miss Bliss) until1993 (when they swapped out Kelly and Jessie for a new girl, Tori, and hoped no one would notice) on Saturday mornings, "Saved by the Bell" captured a carefree high-school existence at Bayside High School in Bayside, California. While nobody ever mistook the show for realism, it does hold a special place in the heart of many millennials. Just bring up Jessie Spano's descent into caffeine pill addiction, and you will have a group of millennials singing along to "I'm so excited! I'm so excited! I'm so ... scared!"
Zack, Slater, Screech and Kelly all went off to college together for "Saved By the Bell: The College Years," which only lasted one season in primetime before Kelly and Zack got married and went off to live their lives outside of the Bayside universe.
You can relive your childhood glory days by streaming "Saved By the Bell" on Netflix and on DVD.(Credit: NBC)
When "Glee" premiered in 2009, the force and energy could have powered a train. The story of high-school misfits who loved to sing, the show is broadcast as an hourlong musical comedy. But beyond the (sometimes insanely good) performances, the show was once really about a bunch of high-school misfits. In the first episode, the original six glee club members sing their audition songs, each one telling the story of who that person was: Rachel's "On My Own," Kurt's "Mr. Cellophane," Finn's "Can't Stop This Feeling," Tina's "I Kissed a Girl," and Mercedes' "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." The kids all came together under the guidance of club adviser Mr. Schuster, a misfit himself who just wanted to sing and dance.
The first-season, especially, mixed in the emotions and heartbreak of being in high school along with the musical-comedy pathos (one scene in the finale, for example, featured the kids crying that their trip to Regionals had been canceled--so real), and they tackled issues ranging from teen pregnancy to the high drama of sharing a solo. Could this photo of Rachel and Finn be anymore high school?
But later seasons strayed into becoming just a vehicle for the insanely popular single sales ("Glee" broke the Beatles record of the most songs on Billboard 100 in 2010), and most of the original kids graduated high school in season three. The storylines at McKinley High would be focused around Mr. Schuster and the rest of the teachers with a group of new kids (and Finn, who stuck around), and Rachel, Kurt, and Santana went to New York to pursue their dreams.
But the death of star Cory Monteith in 2013 at the start of season five changed things, and eventually the Ohio storylines faded. In the series' 100 episodes, the McKinley High School glee club sang a tribute to Mr. Schuster, and then they bowed out for good--the show will focus now on New York. "Once Cory passed away, that part of the story as we had imagined it just didn't make any sense anymore -- and it felt bad, to be quite honest," creator Ryan Murphy said in April 2014. The finale, Murphy said, would have featured Rachel and Finn back in Lima again--something that doesn't work without Monteith. Nonetheless, 2014-15 will be the show's last season anyway.
"Glee" is available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and DVD.(Credit: Adam Rose/FOX )
Pretty Little Liars
Has there ever been a more high school sentence than Hanna Marin's: "I always hated biology. I mean who cares how a cell divides? It just does!"
Set in the fictional Rosewood, "Pretty Little Liars" is a murder mystery centered around four high school students whose fifth friend has been murdered--and the girls are being stalked by A, the possible killer. In the first season, the show focused on the girls' secrets that they kept from each other, but by the current season (it's going into the fifth season), the four heroes have banded together against the outside world. How very high school.
While the high-school world isn't exactly realistic (just look at the relationship between Aria and Mr. Fitz), the kids do manage to (usually) show up for school everyday, wearing somewhat acceptable clothing. No, but seriously, what kids dress like that--isn't it considered a win if teenagers manage to shower in the morning?
While it leaves something to be desired if the kids will ever figure out who A really is (they've had some false leads--oy), it doesn't look like they're going anywhere for a while, despite that the stars are reaching their late 20s. Resident brain Spencer, after all, was rejected from the University of Pennsylvania, so she it looks like she'll be kicking around Rosewood High a little longer.
"Pretty Little Liars" is available to stream on Netflix, and on DVD.(Credit: ABC / Eric McCandless )
"Welcome to the O.C. [expletive]. This is how it's done."
Thus began "The O.C.," the early '00s teen soap opera that launched creator Josh Schwartz's career--and taught us all that selfies apparently date back to 2006, when the Cohen took a family selfie prior to Ryan and Seth's graduation. (Seriously, go back and watch the episode "The Graduates," it will blow your mind that Sandy Cohen is taking a selfie.)
The show centered around teen Ryan Atwoood, pictured above in all his muscled glory, who comes from the wrong side the tracks, aka "Chino," and is adopted by the megawealthy Cohen family, who have a geeky son, Seth, around Ryan's age. In the first three seasons, the four kids attended Harbor School, a fancy prep school in Newport Beach (although Marissa briefly departs for Newport Union after she kills someone and is left impoverished--for other reasons, not the murder). In the fourth season, the three surviving kids (RIP Marissa) are stranded back home in Newport and not attending college.
The glory days of high school mixed realistic storylines like first love, prom, drinking, teen pregnancy, class, sneaking out to Tijuana, and creating a comic book with soap-opera storylines like a teenage drinking problem (Marissa), attempted rape and murder (Marissa, again), and a fight club (Ryan, attempting to get over the death of Marissa). And of course, there was the music--even when the show's quality started to decline, the music supervisors stayed on point. The show featured many indie bands (and has been credited with helping start the indie revival) as well premiered songs by groups such as Beastie Boys, Beck, Coldplay, and the Shins.
"The O.C." is available on DVD.(Credit: FOX / Jill Greenberg)
"Veronica Mars" had a concept that seemed unbelievable--a high school student who is also a private detective--and yet was one of the most realistic portrayals of high school on TV. Created by former high school guidance counselor Rob Thomas, Veronica Mars was a girl who helped solved mysteries at her school (that ranged from finding out who stole an unpopular girl's dog to exonerating the leader of a motorcycle gang) while also trying to solve the murder of her best friend.
The first season's emotional core lay in the mystery of who killed Veronica's best friend, Lilly Kane. In the second season, Veronica takes on the task of finding out who caused a bus to crash with eight of her classmates on board. All the while, Veronica lived with her private detective dad, cracking jokes like any sarcastic high schooler.
Aside from the mysteries and the wisecracks, the show also delved into Veronica's love life and her choice between first love Duncan Kane and bad boy Logan Echolls (pictured not wearing any pants--you're welcome, fans). In the recent movie, Veronica returns to Neptune in a trip that coincides with her high-school reunion. So we can never really get Neptune High out of our bloods. As her boyfriend Piz (not originally from Neptune, note) says in the movie about Neptune High "it really does sit on a hellmouth." (You're cute Piz, but you're no Logan.)
Canceled after just three seasons (yes, it went on for an uneven season at college), the show developed a cult following on DVD and reruns--and nine years later, most of the gang returned for the movie. The devoted following helped pay for the movie by having the funds be raised on Kickstarter, and it broke records for raising $2 million so fast.
"Veronica Mars" is available on DVD. Or you can find a fan of the show, and he or she can likely just recite most (if not all) of it from memory. It's that type of show.(Credit: Warner Bros / Greg Schwartz)
Is it really surprising that a bunch of rich kids from the Upper East Side knew how to do drama? The kids of "Gossip Girl" faced it all, with an amazing backdrop: sex, eating disorders (we'll never forget, Blair), prom, SATs (remember, Chuck hired someone to take his for him), class ranking, college admissions, hazing a teacher, having a former minion throw yogurt in your hair, and the rules of sitting on the steps during lunch.
The first two seasons of "Gossip Girl" covered the kids time at Constance Billard School for Boys and St. Jude's, where Jenny and Eric stayed in the third season. (before Jenny was banished for sleeping with Chuck. What, that didn't happen when you were in high school?) The kids eventually graduated and luckily for them, all attended college right here in New York City, so they were free to hang out with their high-school friends just like their high-school days. And who couldn't relate when Blair tried to return once to her days of being queen?
"Gossip Girl" is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Instant, and on DVD.(Credit: The CW / Andrew Eccles )
Beverly Hills 90210
"Let Donna Martin graduate!" That was the rallying cry of the end of the high-school era on "Beverly Hills 90210," aka the best of times on the original (aka best) 90210. And that's the way we all want to remember the classic, never mind the college years and then the adult years.
Over the course of the three seasons that took place at West Beverly High, the gang addressed problems such as sex, teenage drinking, attempted rape, bad reputations, melding friends at sleepovers, celebrity parents, a father getting out of prison and then being murdered, staying a virgin throughout high school (and then college), teaching people to say the correct pronunciation of "Andrea," and of course, wearing the same dress to the Spring Fling (Kelly and Brenda, duh). The high point of drama landed in the summer, when Brenda went off to Paris and Kelly and Dylan fell in love behind her back. Au revoir, Brenda.
It was never the same when they all went off to California University. Dylan never made it there, Andrea got pregnant immediately, Kelly, Donna, and David moved into a beachside apartment--and eventually, the Walsh parents left too. And then there were the later seasons, when the once rich-and-fabulous gang struggled to find jobs.
The first season of "Beverly Hills 90210" is available to stream on Amazon Instant, and all the seasons are on DVD.(Credit: Fox Broadcasting Company / Andrew Semel)
"Dawson's Creek" marked the beginning of an era. The successor of "Beverly Hills 90210," "Dawson's Creek centered on four teenagers who lived in Capeside, a Cape Cod-ish town in Massachusetts (although it filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina). BFFs Dawson and Joey are navigating the teenage world, with help from his male bestie Pacey and newcomer Jen.
The show often veered into soapy territory, especially with the dialogue straight out of MENSA (has none of these kids heard of the word "like"?) and its never-ending quest to figure out who Joey's "soulmate" was (ugh). The common high-school problems like sex, prom, SATs, sleeping with your teacher, and riding a boat to your BFFs' house all made appearances. "Dawson's Creek" followed the gang to Boston, where they all landed in college or just other misadventures.
"Dawson's" was the anchor of the WB Network, the fledgling '90s network that eventually merged with UPN (after "Dawson's" ended) to form the CW, but not after birthing a whole generation of teenage soap opera knockoffs.
"Dawson's Creek" is availabe on Netflix and DVD.(Credit: The WB / Fred Norris )
Secret Life of the American Teenager
Created by "7th Heaven" alum Brenda Hampton, "Secret Life" was a show that was almost universally panned by critics--but had huge ratings for then mostly unknown network ABC Family.
"Secret Life" centered around Amy, who got pregnant at band camp, and now has to deal with the fallout at high school. Also, all the boys sport some awful haircuts--is that really what the '00s teenagers looked like?
The show had some bizarre lessons about sex, including the somewhat strange conclusion that having premarital sex will lead to your father dying in a horrific car crash. As a bonus, the show stars current "It Girl" Shailene Woodley, pre-starring in the Oscar-nominated "The Descendants" with George Clooney.
"Secret Life" is available on Netflix and DVD.(Credit: ABC Family / Randy Holmes)
If this article has taught you anything, it's that it's hard to be in high school. Add on the added problems of being Superman, and things will definitely get awkward.
"Smallville" was the story early Superman, with the first four seasons centering around Clark Kent's time in high school. There were some elements that were similar to the comic books and earlier series (Christopher Reeve even gave the stamp of approval and guest-starred a few times), but "Smallville" also created some new characters, such as high-school newspaper editor Chloe Sullivan. The show had some classic elements of high school, like the love triangle between Lana, Clark, and Chloe, and some supernatural elements, such as having to save your love interest from an incoming tornado.
After high school, the show followed its main characters through Clark's early days at the Daily Planet, and eventually, Chloe's cousin Lois Lane joined the cast. But it never did recapture the magic of Clark Kent trying to figure out who he really is--all while being Superman.
"Smallville" is available on DVD.(Credit: The WB/ Timothy White )
La la la, this is my stuff ... For a generation of millennials, "Daria" spoke the truth. Misfit Daria Morgendorffer had to deal with the daily indignity of being Fashion Club Vice-President Quinn's sister, her crazy parents, a crush on slacker-rocker Trent (lead singer of "Mystik Spiral," although they're "thinking of changing the name"), an assortment of shallow classmates, and teachers who just didn't understand.
"Daria" ran from 1997-2002 on MTV. The early seasons focused on Daria's razor-sharp observations on modern high school. Underneath the jokes though, there were real emotions about Daria's isolation, her struggle to figure out who she is despite her misanthropic tendencies, her parents' struggle to relate, and even Quinn showed a deeper side sometimes when outside her Fashion Club facade.
Despite being a cartoon, the show took real risks in later seasons when Daria and her best friend, Jane, fought over a boy, richie rich Tom. Tom and Daria dated in the final season, bringing "Daria" out of her comfort zone and addressing the sticky issues of class and friendship betrayal--Daria and Jane were never the same afterward (sniff!). Daria and the rest of the Lawndale crew signed off with a movie "Is It College Yet?," sending all the kids off to various colleges, Daria and Tom breaking up, Daria's sometime frienemy Jodie being valedictorian and the final scene of Daria and Jane eating pizza together.
"Daria" is available on Amazon Instant and DVD.(Credit: Handout)
Is there any problem that "Degrassi" didn't address? The first version of the Canadian TV show premiered in 1979 as "The Kids of Degrassi Street," focusing on the lives of regular kids. Although the ratings started slow, it picked up in later seasons--and led to the spin-off "Degrassi: Junior High" which ran from 1987-89 on Canada's CBC. This time around, "Degrassi" tackled sex, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, homosexuality, discrimination, racism, epilepsy, false campaign promises in student elections, and journalism ethics.
The kids from "Degrassi: Junior High" went on to "Degrassi: High School," where they tackled many of the same issues--and now with abortion (which aired with the abortion edited out in the U.S.), AIDS, suicide, gay rights, eating disorders and more thrown in. A generation of Canadian kids grew up with the show, and it's been said to have had a profound impact on their lives.
In 2001, creators Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood launched "Degrassi: The Next Generation," (pictured) which included the daughter of Spike from "Degrassi: Junior High" and continued to tackle many of the issues of the earlier series. "Degrassi: The Next Generation" has proved to be a huge success: it's one of the most watched shows in Canada as well as one of the highest-rated shows on the U.S. broadcaster, TeenNick. In 2010, it switched to a daily soap opera format in the summer months.
"Degrassi" is still going strong in the thirteenth season. "Degrassi: The Next Generation" is available on Amazon Instant and DVD, and the earlier series are available on DVD as well.(Credit: Epitome Pictures, Inc. (PRNewsFoto) )
Skins (U.K. version)
The brief attempt to market this huge British hit in the U.S. might have failed, but don't let that stop you from watching the original.
The first two seasons (or series, as they call it across the pond) focused on a group of teens friends, with each episode from a point of view of a different friend. Issues ranged from sex, drug use, parental abandonment, more sex, a crippling injury, drugs, mental illness, eating disorders, the cultural divide with immigrant parents, and more. The third and fourth series took over by focusing on Tony's younger sister Effy and her friends (the end of the third series is seriously something to be seen to be believed). Perhaps following in "Degrassi's" footsteps, fifth and sixth series took on a "third generation." In the seventh series, Cassie, Cook, and Effy returned.
What made "Skins" stand out is that the show's writing cast has an average age of 21, featuring help from teenage consultants who helped give the realistic storylines that teenagers in the working class Bristol would experience.
"Skins" is available to stream on Netflix and on DVD.(Credit: YouTube / Skins)
Freaks and Geeks
The kids of "Freaks and Geeks" never made it out of high school, after the show was pulled just 12 episodes into its first season--the lowest-rated show on NBC's schedule from 1999-2000 season. The show centered around the Weir siblings, Lindsay and Sam, and whose friends are the respective "freaks" and "geeks" of the title, in 1980s high school.
Created by "Bridesmaids'" Paul Feig and Judd Apatow as executive producer, the show featured real kids (some of whom hadn't even gone through puberty yet and who would go on to become stars in their right), including James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillpps, and "Bones'" John Francis Daley. Some of the guest stars included Rashida Jones, Shia LaBeouf, Ben Stiller, Joanna Garcia, Jason Schwartzman, "The Good Wife's" Matt Czuchry, Ben Stiller, and Leslie Mann. Although the show has been critically lauded since its unjust early cancellation, Judd Apatow said in 2014 that all his success was just revenge for "Freaks and Geeks'" demise.
Critics raved about "Freaks and Geeks" for its realistic portrayal of the complex issues of high school, and it's since become a classic. For example, in one episode, Jason's Segel's Nick realizes he has to join the Army if he isn't successful as a drummer--something that will elude him. As anyone who survived high school can tell you, that pain is all too real.
"Freaks and Geeks" is available to stream on Netflix and on DVD.(Credit: NBC Photo: Chris Haston )
My So-Called Life
Oh, Jordan Catalano. That sound you hear is the sound of a generation's hearts breaking at the sight of him.
"My So-Called Life" premiered in 1994, and only lasted 19 episodes. The show was a gamechanger--one of the first primetime dramas to continuously tackle issues like drug use, alcoholism, homosexuality, sex, family relationships, dyslexia, and self-image. Angela's friend Rickie was TV's first gay teenager, and the show was hailed for not making him into some kind of lesson, but rather developing him into a three-dimensional character. Her friend, Rayanne, meanwhile, struggled with drugs and alcohol--but like Rickie, her storylines were not told as a cliched lesson.
In the AV Club in 2014, critic Todd VanDerWerff writes that "there's never quite been a series like it," and called it "an oasis in the history of television."
"My So-Called Life" is available on DVD.(Credit: Capital Cities/ABC Inc. )
Friday Night Lights
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Have there ever been truer words spoken?
For five seasons, NBC's "Friday Night Lights" chronicled Texas football coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, a high school guidance counselor (and later principal) and the football team. In the early seasons, Coach Taylor and his wife worked with the Dillon Panthers, which had to deal with the injury of quarterback Jason Street in the first episode, his best friend, the handsome and loveable (if you like criminals) fullback/running back Tim Riggins and new quarterback Matt Saracen. With football as the backdrop, the show really tackled class, race, sex, love, and heartbreak.
In the fourth season, Coach Taylor was sent to the poorer, new high school East Dillon. The once-mighty coach was left with a team that struggled to win a single game, before bringing the team to greatness.
"Friday Night Lights" launched the careers of some of its young stars: Michael B. Jordan, Minka Kelly, Jesse Plemons, and Taylor Kitsch (for better or for worse). It also confirmed the necessity of having Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton in our lives everyday.
"Friday Night Lights" is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Instant, and on DVD.(Credit: NBC Photo: Bill Records )
Bonus! Orange Is the New Black
Okay, "Orange Is the New Black" is not actually set in high school. But doesn't the show's prison setting remind you of an all-girls' high school? Think about it. There are even elections for the leaders of each clique.
"Orange Is the New Black" is available on Netflix (duh).(Credit: Ursula Coyote for Netflix)