14 Teen TV Shows That Are Actually Realistic

Last week, I wrote about teen shows that are ridiculously unrealistic. You know, the ones that basically act as if homework doesn’t exist, money isn’t an object, non-stop melodrama is a way of life, and partying every other night is the norm. Don’t get me wrong, some of those shows are brilliant and deliciously entertaining, but it’s nice to watch a TV show about being a teenager that doesn’t involve werewolves or super hot 25-year-olds with amazing abs passing for 15-year-olds.

Teendom is ridiculous enough without anonymous murderers and musical numbers. If you want a dose of reality, check out these 14 realistic teen TV shows instead.


Daria

Apathy and snark was never portrayed quite so realistically and humorously as it was in Daria. It had the perfect balance of misanthropic angst that every teen goes through and moments that really show how special the people in our lives--best friends, annoying sisters, surprisingly wise acquaintances--can be. MTV doesn't make 'em like this anymore.

Freaks And Geeks

This short lived but much loved show deserves all of the hype aimed its way. It's set in the late '70s and follows the lives of the not-so-popular kids. Yeah, a show that doesn't need a captain of the basketball team or a queen bee to be entertaining. This show was also such a breath of fresh air because it was about a bunch of teenagers who actually look like our classmates and friends, not drop dead gorgeous models.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights is widely regarded as one of the best (and massively underrated) shows around, and not just because Tim Riggins is aggressively attractive. Other than managing to make a show about football players interesting and entertaining for anyone, regardless of how much they care about the sport, it offered some really nuanced depictions of the relationships between teens and their parents. A lot of teen shows either have parents who aren't really present or the parents are stereotypical parents who are flawless and act as serial lecturers. FNL not only showed more realistic dynamics, it also showed parents that were just as flawed as their kids.

My Mad Fat Diary

A show that stars an overweight character, tackles mental illness, focuses on the dysfunction of female friendships, and has an amazing '90s soundtrack? It almost sounds too good to be true, but you can get all of that in every episode of My Mad Fat Diary. It is hands down one of the best teens hows, uh, ever. F'real, check it out ASAP.

Some Girls

This is one of the best shows about being a teen girl these days, and I wish that more people could watch it. Some Girls is a British show about a diverse group of friends who are dealing with the awkwardness of relationships, school, and becoming their own. It has a lot of heart and it is absolutely hilarious. Also, it's fun to see a show about girls who have just as much room to be clueless and thinking below the waist just as much as dudes are. Some episodes managed to make their way onto YouTube, so give it a go!

As Told By Ginger

As Told By Ginger is one of the few cartoons geared toward preteens and teens that comprised of characters who actually grew up and experienced a little thing called character development. Wardrobes changed, personalities changed, lives changed...just like it does IRL.

Degrassi

Okay, yes, Degrassi is probably one of the most melodramatic TV shows ever, especially the first few seasons. But despite the regular doses of cheesiness and silliness, this show really did tackle some real af topics, like abuse, slut shaming, sexuality, rape, and more. Hell, I didn't even really know that boys/men even had eating disorders until this show came along.

My So-Called Life

This cult classic about a teen girl named Angela Chase in a way defined teen angst and introspection in the '90s. It was also such a breath of fresh air in the sense that it tackled topics like alcoholism and abuse in a way that wasn't like a "very special episode" that you'd find in most teen shows at the time; those topics actually had arcs and didn't disappear after one episode. My So-Called Life. was such a major influence in so many teen narratives since it aired in 1995 that I caught reruns of it 10 years later on Teen Nick when I was a teen. These days, you can catch it on Hulu.

South Of Nowhere

South of Nowhere was one of the first teen TV shows that actually focused on a lesbian relationship when it aired in 2005. Sure, the show tackled some other run of the mill teen drama topics, like drugs, neglect, and school violence, but it was its portrayal of a romance between two girls for more than just sexy male gaze points that really helps sustain its legacy as a pretty great show.

Braceface

Do you know how rare it is for a teen show, let alone a cartoon geared toward young teens, to talk about periods? So rare that I was shocked when I was a kid and saw an entire episode of Braceface about them. They sure weren't talking about periods on Lizzie McGuire, that's for sure. Braceface also dealt with a lot of issues that many teen shows don't, like eating disorders, racism, animal rights, sexism, etc. Oh, and here's a fun fact: The main character, Sharon, is voiced by Alicia Silverstone, AKA Cher from Clueless!

The Inbetweeners

This show is crude and ridiculous...just like most of the dudes we know in high school. The Inbetweeners is a show about a group of friends who definitely aren't popular, but aren't at the bottom of the high school hierarchy. They're just--ding ding ding--in-between. If you can take gross out humor and boys being, well, terrible, then you'll probably love this show. It's definitely LOL IRL funny. Plus, it's fun to watch a bunch of dudes with no game fail miserably to impress the opposite sex.

That '70s Show

You know, before Eric left and this show went downhill, it was actually a pretty accurate portrayal of a group of friends in a small town. Even the awkward parents felt real. Also, who isn't friends with some sort of on again off again couple like Kelso and Jackie? When you can actually see slivers of your own squad in a TV show, you know it's not too unrealistic.

Moesha

Moesha often wandered into family sitcom territory pretty often, but it was one of the few shows about a teenage girl without some kind of gimmick. OMG, a show about a black teenager who is just...going through the motions of life, school, family, and romance? How rare is that these days? Answer: Unfortunately, very.

Parenthood

Not exactly a teen show, but it's worth throwing in here because the teens that are actually on the show feel like actual teens. Haddie dates a guy who she loves, but after a while they both just get bored of each other (REAL). Amber has an awkward crush on a teacher (REAL) and, in season two, doesn't get into her dream college and feels like crap because of it (ALSO REAL). Plus, the folks playing teens on the show actually look like teens, unlike 90% of actual teen shows.

Do you think any of these shows actually have an unrealistic portrayal of being a teen? What other teen TV shows out there are actually realistic? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Nina

    Some girls was one of the best teen shows in britain. Shame it’s not on more.

  • LOSER

    Love Daria.

  • LittleGina

    “Plus, the folks playing teens on the show actually look like teens, unlike 90% of actual teen shows.”
    The reason they hire young adults instead of teens is because if you have a show that is going to run on for seasons in the same setting (aka high school), they don’t like how teens age to look so different. They prefer to keep the person looking the same, so they hire young adults because as they age, they don’t drastically change.
    However if there’s a show such as The Walking Dead that progresses through life per season, then they don’t mind hiring someone young (Carl) and have him age throughout the show.
    It all depends on the show’s setting, and let’s face it 90%+ of “Teen” shows are in high school, where they don’t want the characters to age.

  • David Laughlin

    There was something about Degrassi that made me want to avoid it. I guess it was the fact that it was shit, and trashy. Looks like it was Sex and the City for teenagers.