The first decade of the 2000s was, for lack of a better phrase, a game changer. It was a new millennium, geopolitics were changing (and getting scarier) day by day, technology was becoming more advanced, and our society was slowly–but surely–valuing cultural, racial, and sexual difference.
Oh, and we were really into showing off our thongs and wearing distressingly sticky lip gloss, but I digress.
Our media reflects the times we’re living in, so, naturally, TV shows–especially teen TV shows–had to deal with an avalanche of issues that their predecessors didn’t have to deal with. Sure, there were exceptions. In the early ’90s it was groundbreaking that a teen show like My So-Called Life included a gay main character in its feature cast. But otherwise? Shows from that era and earlier kept things pretty sterile. The most controversial episodes were about teen pregnancy and mom finding a joint; boring. But by the 2000s, teen programming was really starting to push the envelope, and while in retrospect some of them might already feel outdated or like a cheesy Very Special Episode, it’s still fun exploring the themes that shook teen shows back then to their very foundation. So check out these seven topics that every teen show in the 2000s freaked out about, from bisexuality to school shootings.
Discovering Your Not-So-Straight SexualityIn the 2000s, TV show writers suddenly discovered that not every single teenager on the planet is straight. Before you knew it, TV shows were full of characters who were either trying to grapple with their sexuality or come out of the closet. The cult classic TV show South Of Nowhere was pretty revolutionary in this regard, since it was the first teen show in which the main character was bisexual. It's worth noting that as great as it was that teen programming tackled this elephant in the room, it's strange that male characters being open about their homosexuality was couched with a lot of drama (Degrassi, Skins), while many teen shows kind of made female characters use bisexuality as a fun, edgy subplot; Marissa in The OC is a notable example. South Of Nowhere
School ShootingsIn the early '00s we were all still reeling from the horror of the Columbine shootings. Sure, that wasn't the only deadly school shooting of that era and other TV shows have been focusing on guns in school since the '90s, but shows in the 2000s really went the extra step and dedicated entire episodes and plot lines to a school shooting. The build up is pretty predictable: Irritable loner who is a minor character feels more isolated than ever and decides to wreak havoc on all of the people who he feels wronged him. Of course, there's some kind hearted main character who is spared, and there's some jock or popular person (also a main character) who is a number one target. Someone is shot, but doesn't die. The shooter always either dies or is somehow apprehended. The perfect example of this is the episode of Degrassi in which Rick famously shoots Jimmy (though we now know him as a little known musician naked Drake) in the back, paralyzing him. Degrassi
CyberbullyingIn the 2000s, bullying started to get hi-tech, which spurned countless episodes about cyberbullying in all kinds of teen TV shows. In a way, Gossip Girl is a show that is low key all about cyberbullying. We probably take cyberbullying and the phrase for granted now because we have a lot less separation between the online world and the real world now compared to, say, 2007. But back then, this was a whole new frontier of torture, so of course TV writers ran with it. Sexting, of course, was next...but camera phones had to get better resolution first. Gossip Girl
Internet Stranger DangerYou know how you learn not to talk to strangers when you're a kid? Well, the internet panicked every parent in the universe about a whole new crop of creeps that could potentially take advantage of, kidnap, exploit, and/or kill innocent kids with less detection than the creep chillin' by your high school. So, of course, a bunch of teen TV shows had to have at least one episode dedicated to being smart and safe online, or else that person you're talking to might be a total creep. We're a little more savvy about how to spot a weirdo online these days, but in the 2000s? Yeah, not so much. Still, TV shows like One Tree Hill and Degrassi just had to make sure to terrify viewers as much as possible about the worst case scenario when it comes to meeting strangers from the internet. It's like, am I watching a CW show or an episode of Law and Order: SVU? One Tree Hill
Self-HarmOkay, we need to talk about self-harm in the 2000s. Self-harm, specifically cutting, didn't suddenly appear in the 2000s; it has been a method of self-harm for ages. But for whatever reason, self-harm started to become incredibly glamorized during this time period, especially in emo/scene subcultures. That's why, no matter how cheesy the episodes were, it was important to see shows (like Degrassi highlight the issue without making it look sexy. Degrassi
The Queen Bee With Minimal Redeeming QualitiesThe queen bee who acted as the foil to our protaganist was pretty much a feature in almost every teen movie for the past couple of decades, but they weren't really all that popular on TV shows until the 2000s. Sure, some would be not-so-bad on the inside--like Paige from Degrassi--or you find out something tragic about them that makes you feel so sorry for them that you almost excuse the fact that they're a heinous person. And then, there are the stock Mean Girl™ characters who are never redeeming and are just there to be hated, like Kate from Lizzie McGuire. Skins
Character DeathYou'd be hard pressed to find a character death take place in any teen TV show from the '90s. But starting in the 2000s, teen TV shows killing off main characters grew in popularity big time. From South of Nowhere, to Degrassi, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to The OC, teen characters we build strong connections to were dropping like flies in the most dramatic ways possible. The OC
What other things do you think teen TV shows were obsessed with in the 2000s? Tell us in the comments!