A Series Of Fortunate Interests: Teen Drama

For the first few some weeks of 2013, I’m going to be doing a series of posts about the things I’m taking with me through adulthood. My no-longer Guilty Pleasures. A Series of Fortunate Interests.

Can we all agree to pretend that this post was posted in timely fashion and not been trapped in my drafts since the 8th February? Fabulous, thank you. The last few months have been buried under a variety of work crises and panicking about academic standards. But, like a chastened and stressed out phoenix, I rise from the ashes of my intentions to begin anew. So basically: sorry. Part of my absence was down to having to write a 5,000 word essay for my Quality TV module. The brief was very open and, seeing as I care an awful lot about television genres that are unfairly derided, I spent those 5,000 words discussing how The O.C deserves a seat at the quality table. So naturally I bring you the first of my Series of Fortunate Interests: Teen Drama

What came first, the essay or the drafted blog post? In this case, it was the blog post, first written on the train down from Manchester in early February. (As opposed from its current composition on board a coach down from Manchester; the more things change, the more they stay the same). Having realised that it had been a decade since The O.C started airing in the States, my friends and I spent the first weekend of February watching several hours of its first season. We are all twenty-something women pursuing postgraduate degrees, participating in an exercise of the greatest kind of nostalgia. Such is the allure for teen drama when you are no longer part of its target demographic. I would consider myself something of an avid teen drama viewer. My love for the genre is probably only outweighed by my love for procedurals or science-fiction (more on both at a later date friends). The show that best exemplifies what this genre can be is The O.C.

Maybe it’s just me (it’s not just me), but The O.C has somehow remained a generational touchstone in a way that those other shows just haven’t. Perhaps it’s the comparative brevity, a mere four seasons to their six or ten. I’d say it wasn’t on long enough to mess itself up but, we’ve seen Season 3, we know that’s not true. Looking at the current crop of teen dramas (still a supernaturally themed coterie), I don’t see anything that will have the same cultural impact. As the 90s had Beverly Hills 90210 and My So Called-Life, my generation had The O.C.

Arguably much of my opinion is heavily based on my own personal attachment to it. The first season started airing the year I became an official adolescent, making me just the right age to be bowled over by it. I remember the mysterious and exciting adverts that got played repeatedly on Channel 4: Ryan Atwood smirking “Welcome to the dark side” in a tuxedo; a bevy of partying shots and backstage montages; Luke throwing a punch. I remember my mum thinking it seemed inappropriate and that I pleaded to watch the pilot, just to see. It was the whole package: smart, funny dialogue; interesting characters with beautiful faces; memorable plotlines; gorgeous cinematography; and perhaps most well documented, an outstanding soundtrack. God, this show had a profound influence on my musical taste. I own at least four of the six soundtrack CDs. I’ve no shame in admitting that Seth Cohen’s obsessive championing of Death Cab For Cutie led me to buying my copy of Transatlanticism. My ownership of the first two mix CDs was the primary reason for my brief stint of popularity circa Year 9. It led me to Ryan Adams, Imogen Heap, Alexi Murdoch, The Album Leaf to name but a few. Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor for The O.C and Gossip Girl, is something close to a god for certain swathes of twenty somethings. She, along with Schwartz and Savage, built into the show an unbeatable, credible combination of clever indie and popular music.s. Has any other show produced such musically iconic moments as Ryan running in slow motion to ‘Dice’ by Finley Quaye (ft. Beth Orton)? Ryan carrying Marissa in a succession of scenes to Mazzy Star’s ‘Into Dust’? Ryan sadly leaving Orange County and Seth sailing to Tahiti soundtracked by ‘Hallelujah’? Even the infamous Season 2 finale set to ‘Hide and Seek’ that spawned an SNL Digital Short (‘Dear Sister’) lives on in countless parodies on YouTube. After all, I think it means something that years after its cancellation my friends and I could still sing along to not only Phantom Planet but also the instrumental that plays over the end credits.[1]

Music aside, The O.C marked my adolescence in little ways too. My battered orange boxset of Season One was the first dvd set I bought myself. There is still a skirt at the back of my wardrobe I bought thinking it looked like something Marissa Cooper would wear. I based a lot of my late teen sarcasm on Seth’s repartee and Ryan’s deadpan expression. Taylor Townsend spoke to my tense, anxious high-achieving self. The O.C reminds me of Saturday mornings, of T4 weekends and Steve Jones in a terrible wig doing ‘Schwartz Reports’. It gave me music to love and characters to treasure. It gave me something that was for me, even if none of it was about me. You see, teen drama occupies a space in our culture that is incredibly important. We all know that we are an amalgam of the media we consume, that we learn about who we are not only from each other, but what we read and watch and hear. Teen drama gives an explicit space for teenagers to see themselves and their struggles being articulated. These representations may be super rich kids or superheroes in the making[2], but they are all exploring the private adolescent dramas we think we are the only ones to experience. Even when we are long past our teenage years, these dramas resonate. I’m not saying that teen dramas are a constant exploration of the human condition – sometimes they really are just about masquerade balls or shopping trips or impossibly attractive pseudo-teens staring at each other.

But this is the thing: teen drama raised me. I gave six years of my life to Gossip Girl long after the heart and spark of the show had fled; I cut my hair like Chloe Sullivan and had a patch for Smallville High on my Year Seven backpack; Gilmore Girls taught me about Beat literature and the importance of being unabashedly yourself. And as I’ve said above, nothing had more of an impact than The O.C. The best of teen dramas (and even the worst) engage with things we may spend our whole lives wrangling with: love, family, identity. At its core, Gossip Girl was about a friendship that became toxic and the family you build yourself; One Tree Hill was about family, small towns and ambition; Smallville was about the burden of responsiblity; Veronica Mars was about justice, class and self-reliance; Pretty Little Liars is about female friendships and loyalty; Skins was about love, grief and confusion. Just because a show prompts these debates with adolescent characters does not make them any less worthy. So no, I’m not going to stop watching teen shows or stop talking about the ones I grew up watching. I’m keeping them with me.

Next up: pop music.

[1]> The only other musical moment that rivals any of this for me is the scene where Andie and Pacey both dance and say goodbye to each other set to Heather Nova’s ‘Paper Cup’ in Season 2 of Dawson’s Creek (a cue that was replaced on the DVD).
[2] On that note however, the overrepresentation of able-bodied, white, middle-class, predominantly straight teenagers in teen television is a problem that needs to be addressed, given the power it has at a crucial point in life.

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One thought on “A Series Of Fortunate Interests: Teen Drama

  1. Oh my God this entry is just too marvellous. Obviously I am that little bit too old for The OC to have the same resonance with me as it did with you (#holdmeclosergrannypervert) but I absolutely appreciate the sentiment, and I found myself incredibly nostalgic when you started talking about music. That show absolutely widened my musical taste, as did Dawson’s Creek before it (though The OC definitely widened it in a better direction…!). I’ve been re watching S2 of Dawson’s Creek recently and I can’t believe how clearly I remember all the musical cues, and how much I notice it when one has been replaced! I’ve still got that heartbreaking goodbye episode to watch (damn you, Meredith Monroe, for realising you were better than the show – I’ll never get over the loss of Pacey and Andie!) but I shall report back once I’m finished – and I may take inspiration from this post to share the importance of Dawson’s Creek to me. You are, as ever, too clever for words and I love you for making me think. x

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