Teen Soap Operas Lose That Loving [Awkward] Feeling
- September 11th, 2009
- 3 Comments
As this week of teen-centric TV premieres comes to an end, Anastasia (Gen X) and I (Gen Y) decided to adopt the letter writing format once again to talk about the evolution of primetime soaps and teen sexuality. Here’s what happened…
True confession: I haven’t watched the new “90210” since I caught the pilot and maybe one random episode last season. As my DVR tends to be full of premium cable goodies like “Weeds,” “True Blood,” “Party Down,” “United States Of Tara”, etc. My appetite for “trashy” TV or sub par scripted dramas has waned. (I know I sound like a total TV snob). That said, I caught the premiere of “90210” before “Melrose” on Tuesday night and found myself longing for….the old “90210,” where Brenda had some meat on her bones, Donna was a proud virgin, and Andrea (though she always looked too old for the cast) was the resident smarty pants. The fact that one of my favorite characters from “The Wire” (Michael, played by Tristan Wilds) has moved from the meanest streets of Baltimore to be the token African American (Dixon) in this crowd just makes me sad.
I know that the teens on our advisory board seem like they can watch these shows and separate the fantasy from reality – i.e. rich teen drama vs. real life, but I can’t help wonder if some messages aren’t sinking in somewhere. For example, I know there have been complaints about how thin the young women are on this show – they seemed like they lost more weight on Tuesday! The message that stick thin equals popularity and power blows. And granted, sex happens in high school, but the premiere just came off as hypersexual to me – from Naomi fantasizing about sex with an older [married] man (ick and illegal), to Adriana’s new “no drama” policy that involves straddling and making out with her boyfriend who is dying for her to be his first, while simultaneously saying no after recovering from addiction, sleeping around and giving up a baby for adoption. And then poor Annie, who I thought was going to be date raped, having very drunken sex as a set up for some pretty nasty cyberbullying/sexting.
It’s not the sex itself that bugs me – it’s that it’s missing the awkwardness of real teen sexuality. Just as the leads look like they hopped off America’s Top Model or jumped out of a Revlon ad, the sex feels too slick. Yes, it’s Beverly Hills, but even Entourage has its Turtle.
Ok, your last line made me laugh out loud. Given that I was a teen in Beverly Hills not so long ago, I can tell you first hand that growing up there is just as awkward as anywhere else. Or, at least, it felt that way. And I actually think the “rich teen soaps” that get that, the ones that are capable of walking the line between fantasy and relatability are the ones that are most compelling to watch. Take Seth Cohen from “The OC.” To me, it was his insecurities, obsessive tendencies and even the realistic relationship he had with his dad that kept the soapy melodrama rooted in the real teen world and made me, well, actually care about the characters. You watched his painfully unrequited childhood crush on Summer grow into an actual relationship, and you couldn’t help but root for him.
Even though I’ve found Josh Schwatz’ current series “Gossip Girl” amusing, I’m not sure I can say that I genuinely care about any of them in that same way. I definitely haven’t connected with any of the characters on the new 90210 (I stopped watching after a couple episodes last season). And yes, I think part of that is the nature of the bedhopping. Not that it’s happening (what would teen soaps be without lots of platonically-incestuous hook ups?), but that it happens so easily and nonchalantly. Where is the self-consciousness? The fumbling? The day after overanalyzing a la Dawson’s Creek?
Did you see the first episode of “Glee” on Wednesday in the scene where Flinn tries to stop himself from (um..how do I put this delicately) arriving early? That’s the element that seems to be missing the most for me (as you pointed out). Not that it always has to be played for laughs either. I think another example that actually respects the nature of the teen experience is “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” when the two title characters “hook up” offscreen in her dad’s recording studio. The nervous, sweet dialogue during that scene is something I’d love to hear and see recreated on the dramas we’re talking about. Because that’s the thing. I feel like these shows could still be entertaining and help to normalize teens’ feelings about sex and body image. Is that too much to ask?
Of course I watched “Glee” – loved it and it’s frank and funny treatment of teen sexuality. It’s also just a better show—better actors, better writing, etc. I don’t think teen “soaps” have to live up to that standard or to my snobby premium cable standards to be enjoyable, but to your points, I do think they could be a lot more sweet/awkward/real. I can’t imagine The CW casting the same actors from “Dawson’s Creek” or the original “90210” as leads now—they wouldn’t be “hot” [or thin] enough. I’m not sure whether the decision to go this airbrushed, hypersexual, glam route came out of focus group testing or what, but I think these shows would be even more popular if they went back to their roots just a little bit more….
P.S. Feel free to join our conversation in the comments!