Anyone who has read this blog before knows I’m a huge fan of television shows aimed at teenagers (and of using the phrase “huge fan”). Maybe it’s because I miss the innocence associated with that time in life. Maybe I’m really immature. Maybe I’m definitely both of those things. Regardless, I know what I like and what I like are teen shows.
One of the best places to find teen television is ABC Family. Home to Olsen twin movie marathons and Gilmore Girls reruns, there is no finer teen-oriented channel (except maybe The CW). ABC Family is probably currently best known for Pretty Little Liars, but it has aired far superior shows in the past. I’ve decided to share my top five with you today. Please leave your personal faves in the comments!
1. Make It or Break It– The first sport I remember being active in was gymnastics. I lived for tumbling and attempting to flip through the air. It should come as no surprise that I am crazy into Make It or Break It, a show following four Olympic hopeful gymnasts. The floor sequences are fabulous; I love watching intricate tumbling routines. The drama is equally fabulous: frenemies, secret relationships, cheating parents, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, sabotage. Plus some really cute guys.
The greatest thing about the show is the bond between the gymnasts. They may get into cat fights and try to steal each others’ boyfriends, but they are super supportive when it comes to chasing their Olympic dreams. Team glue Payson is a personal fave. After (spoiler alert!) breaking her back during a fall from the uneven bars she trains to transform from a power gymnast into an artistic gymnast. And she totally kicks ass while doing it. Her friends are with her every step of the way, encouraging her to jump back up on the beam!
2. Greek– The college I (briefly) attended didn’t have a Greek system. There were no fraternities or sororities anywhere near our campus. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated by Greek, a show about a brother and sister in the Greek system at the same campus. The pilot introduces us to social butterfly Casey, a popular blonde sorority girl dating the pledge educator of a brother fraternity. Her life is perfect until her younger brother Rusty, a dorky freshman engineering student, pledges at the fraternity of which her ex-boyfriend is president. She quickly finds herself with a cheating boyfriend, backstabbing “big sister”, and bitchy pledge. Typical college stuff.
The show is stopped from straying into 90210-esque territory by splitting time with Kappa Tau Gamma, the most fun fraternity on campus, and Rusty’s new home (first figuratively, then literally). Cappie (Kappa Tau president and Casey’s ex) is one of my favorite characters in the history of ever. He’s hilarious, charming, loyal, smart, and totally endearing. He gets all the best one liners and motivational speeches. Plus he’s a cutie.
3. Switched At Birth– I went through an intense sign language phase thanks to Switched At Birth, the only show on the list still airing. The story follows two teenage girls who were (surprise!) given to the wrong parents at the hospital: one a wealthy artist from a nuclear family, and the other a deaf girl from the poor area of town who was raised by a single mother. Once the switch is discovered, the two completely opposite families unite to give the girls a chance to know their birth parents. Naturally the parents (and girls) butt heads, separated by their socioeconomic statuses and beliefs.
The show is ground breaking in that sign language plays a major role. Daphne is one of the most prominent deaf characters on television, a role that the show takes seriously. ASL is treated (rightfully) as a second language that her new family must learn to communicate with her. The storylines revolving around Daphne’s deafness have been praised by the community for showing their daily struggles in a realistic light rather than pandering. I love that the show tastefully tackles issues like alcoholism, PTSD, and gambling- not the norm for most teen shows *cough*Degrassi*cough*. The realism and touching coming of age storylines keep me coming back for more. Well that and Daphne’s super adorable best friend Emmett.
4. Bunheads– Bunheads tells the story of a little town called Paradise and its inhabitants. The show splits time between Michelle, a former Vegas showgirl, and her relationship with her new mother-in-law Fanny, a ballet school owner/operator, and the high school woes of Boo, Ginny, Sasha, and Melanie, dancers at Fanny’s ballet school. This show is perfect for anyone who is a fan of Gilmore Girls and/or creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. All of her hallmarks are present: fast-paced, pop culture heavy dialogue, heartfelt mother/daughter moments (and mother-in-law/daughter moments), small town eccentrics, and strong females. What makes Bunheads extra special are two factors: 1) the brilliant Sutton Foster as Michelle and 2) the fantastic dance sequences.
Sutton Foster is a well-known Broadway performer, famous for roles in Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie. The rapidity with which she spits dialogue is insane. She delivers tongue twisters with the kind of ease I could only dream of and she seems completely natural doing so. She has such range, playing elated and heartbroken and all the emotions that fall in between. Sutton is the perfect choice to be the audience’s surrogate as the newcomer to Paradise. We’re with her every step of the way as she struggles to fit into the tiny town and find her place in life.
The dance sequences are crazy awesome. I don’t know if Amy Sherman-Palladino was a dancer or if she just has the most incredible choreographers on payroll. Ballets with themes like recycling or danced to Tom Waitts are unique and fascinating. One of the best of the series, and most written about, was a number at the end of the sixth episode during which Sasha, the most talented performer, dances to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants. Magnificent.
5. Wildfire– I did not want to like Wildfire, a show about an ex-con teenage girl who works on a farm racing horses. I was never one of those girls that desperately wanted a pony and/or dreamed of riding across the beach on horseback with a handsome fella. I can’t remember if it was general boredom or a lack of things to watch on Netflix that made me choose to watch Wildfire one afternoon.
At first I watched the episodes with the sole mission of making fun of the characters. Kris is such a stereotypical reformed bad girl. She stole cars because her father abandoned her! She raced horses because they were the only ones who understood her! Of course the two prominent male characters fought over her. Ex cons are sexy! Imagine my surprise when I found myself making fewer snarky comments and actually looking forward to new episodes.
I won’t even try to pretend that the storylines won me over. I fell for Wildfire for one reason and one reason only: Junior Davis. He was the hot rich boy next door who was kind of an asshole and drove a Porsche convertible. Gradually he became less of a caricature and more of a real person. A very endearing real person. He is funny and loyal and romantic and sexy. Basically he is all of things a girl dreams about.