10 Storylines Every Teen Drama Needs3
By Chris Littler
10 Storylines Every Teen Drama Needs
We’ve all been there before. We’re settled down in front of our TV, a big bowl of Chunky Monkey in our laps, the lights dimmed, watching the latest episode of our favorite teen drama. Something happens – a revelation, a twist, a turn – and suddenly we’re inconsolable. We need the tissues. We escape to the bathroom. Our night is ruined. Why? Because television for teenagers is all about finding the locker combination to our hearts, yanking it open, and pulling our heartstrings so tight we think they’re going to snap. Then they give us a week to reset, and the whole miserable (and wonderful) process begins anew.
A teen drama can’t succeed without a few pocket storylines that draw on the assumed (and highly nostalgic) truths of adolescence: Underdog Pacey from Dawson’s Creek makes good with Joey; Marisa from the O.C. falls in with a bad crowd; Tori and Billy of Miss Behave skirt the demands of their parents. Three very different programs, united under the common banner of celebrating the countless blissful discoveries and seemingly incomprehensible miseries being a youth in America has to offer. There’s always a lesson to be learned at the end of the hour, and any teen show without these storylines would be like remiss without it.
1. Best Friend Becomes More Than Best Friend
In the first season of Dawson’s Creek, Dawson Leery and Joey Potter are the best of friends, but we all know that a guy-girl best friend scenario can’t go on forever. Eventually, one of them is going to have to give in to their hormones and make that awkward first move. The “best friend turns into the boyfriend” scenario has been handled by nearly every teen drama out there (because it’s a situation rife with drama). The careful dichotomy set up between two friends can quickly be skewered when sex is brought into the mix, and friends rarely know how to react around you. It doesn’t work out for Dawson and Joey, but other iterations on the subject have led to wedding bells, jealous bar brawls, and more than a fair share of teary two-part finales.
2. Out of Control Party Brings Teen’s Parents into Equation
Good teens of outstanding parentage more often than not have awesome houses. That’s a fact. Unfortunately, the thing about an awesome house is that people of a self-serving and lascivious nature always want to throw an awesome rager in it. Cut to: the parents going away for a cruise to the Caribbean and the stage is set for some serious Can’t Hardly Wait house-ruining. Of course, all great high school parties end up with the furniture in the pool, a cooler on the roof, and a mysterious puddle on the driveway. And there’s no amount of cleanup that can undo the damage done, especially if the host teen is doing keg stands in the comfort of her own garage. When the parents get home (ONE WEEK EARLY!?), it’s time for a tearful apology and industrial strength carpet cleaner.
3. Social Pressures Leads to Loss of Friend
If we’re to believe everything we see on television, then high school is sharply divided into cliques, which are kind of like dolled-up gangs that eat lunch at the same table and rarely kill other people over territory. When an affable young lady is drafted into a clique, it’s often difficult for her to maintain a friendship with anyone outside the clique. That’s bad news for her dearest, oldest friend, who has attended so many sleepovers and made so many BFF bracelets. When the change occurs, sometimes the friend just wants to know why, like, everything’s changed about you. Alternatively, sometimes the friend feels challenged by the girl’s newfound peers. Whatever it is, the resulting conflict will oftentimes escalate into a friendship-destroying argument, probably in some kind of bathroom, and lead to many weeks of rueful glances from down the hall, and positively spiteful locker slams that shatter any sense of childhood nostalgia.
4. Geek Finds Niche, Accepts Geekly Fate
The girl too smart for her own good is always going to have a hard time at high school. Boys don’t like her glasses. Girls don’t like how she uses eight letter words. Dogs hate it when she overthinks the whole belly-rub situation. Then things suddenly, irrevocably change. The girl is approached by a caring and compassionate teacher (see #9) who thinks she’d make a “great fit” in the so-and-so club. At first the girl is hesitant, she could never do that any good no how, but when she realizes how easy it is for her, acceptance washes away all hesitation, and the girl realizes that what she thought was her greatest weakness is actually her greatest strength. Imagine that. She can then go on and win state and use her newfound confidence to bag a cute and befuddled young man named Rory or Peter.
5. Light-Hearted Prank Goes Awry
Freaks and Geeks can hardly be described as a straightforward teenage drama. When the Nerd Jester Bill Haverchuck is dosed with a deadly peanut butter sandwich in the lunchroom by resident scumbag Alan, his life is suddenly on the line. Teenagers rarely have enough perspective to understand that their actions have meaning, and that they aren’t invincible, so it makes sense that this storyline pops up often. Rarely does anyone die as the result of a prank, but it can lead to prolonged feelings of embarrassment, which is life-altering as a teenager.
6. Deadbeat Dad Comes Back to Town/Mom’s New Boyfriend is a Terrible Human Being
This storyline basically narrows down to “adults are the enemy,” which is relatable when you’re a teen. Mom is usually depicted as the hapless victim to her own insecurities here, unable to stop herself from bringing a bad man into her home, and then turning against her own child for not understanding her helplessness. Some dramas have taken this storyline one step further and made the bad man legitimately bad, which makes a perfect excuse to bring in an old standby into the mix, the morally uncompromised but damaged-goods town Sherriff. Mom, time to meet a man with a suspiciously unvarnished heart of gold.
7. Gay Student Outed
The gay student outed storyline comes in waves. First, it was unheard of, then it became a fad, then it seemed like it wasn’t dramatic enough, and now – with a recent string of gay teenagers committing suicide – you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be making an appearance on your airwaves this season. The “closet door blown wide open” arc is a way for a show’s writers to take the temperature of gay-straight relations in the country, or to hop up on their soap box and reveal the hypocrisy of Middle America. Anna Taggaro from One Tree Hill is a recent twist on an old standard, being a bisexual woman of color who comes to town in season 2 to escape rumors about her sexuality and ends up leaving after coming to the realization that she shouldn’t be running from who she is. She’s probably going to feel really stupid when she realizes how easy it’s going to be for her to get into any college she wants.
8. Countless Mistakes Leads to Pregnancy Scare
Like, what are the odds of actually getting pregnant when you’re having one casual, unprotected encounter after another? According to teen dramas, really damn good. It’s a shame they don’t teach statistics until senior year – or at all – because a lot of these girls could learn a thing or two from it. The promiscuous girl who bounces from boy to boy like a sexy frog on so many square-jawed lily pads has to deal with the ramifications of her lifestyle at some point. This, more often than not, results in a trip to the clinic for the Big A. Depending on the ballsiness of the drama, and the network it’s on, the girl may or may not follow through with it, but rest assured that if she does, afterwards, she has no choice but to commit herself to a higher power or face the wrath of a disdainful, angry-letter-penning viewership who will call for her resignation from the town, the school.
9. Inappropriate Young Teacher Acts Inappropriately
Witness the time bomb that is the inappropriate young teacher. Introduced in his unnatural habitat, standing before the very same chalkboard that he had to take notes from not six years previous, spelling out his lesson plan with a fresh perspective, instantly, dangerously adored by the girls in his class. Whether or not the first step is his or hers is inconsequential (or whether or not there is a step at all, as is the case of season 2 of Friday Night Lights), the inappropriately young teacher has no choice but to step down, pack up his bags, and move on to a different district. We have little sympathy for his educational prowess, seeing him for the sham of a human being he is. Be gone, pedophile!
10. Virginity Lost, Perspective Gained
The ultimate teen drama storyline is, of course, that of the virginity lost and the perspective gained. After all, losing one’s virginity is the final step in going from a child to an adolescent. Every teen in every teen drama – sans those who already lost it before the pilot – must have their first moment in the sack. It’s a fascinating moment for us, the audience, to witness. Rare is it in real life that we witness the transformative power of the popped cherry, seeing as how we’re a puritanical, shameful nation who would rather not discuss things of that nature. But hey, who wants to talk? That’s why we have televisions.
Miss Behave – Much Ado About Nothing Part 1
Miss Behave – Much Ado About Nothing Part 2
Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.