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5 Shows like My So‐Called Life: 90’s Teen High School Dramas

Roxanne_Sancto_itcher_contributorIf you’re into shows like ‘My So‐Called Life’, a 90’s teen high school drama that doesn’t double as an after school special, you’ll probably get sucked into the lives of the characters on ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’, too. ~ Roxanne Sancto

School is a battlefield….For your heart…

Meet Angela Chase (Claire Danes). Just like any other fifteen year old teen, she’s going through various changes in her life and is desperately trying to find her own identity. She can no longer relate to her childhood friends Sharon (Devon Odessa) and Brian (Devon Gummersall) and prefers to spend her time with high school misfits Rayanne (A.J. Langer) and Rickie (Wilson Cruz), cutting class, going out and obsessing over boys.

Most 90’s TV series similar to ‘My So‐Called Life’ dealt with typical teenage/adolescent issues such as drinking, drugs and sex in special episodes that introduced a problem at the beginning of the episode and solved it by the end.

‘My So‐Called Life’ however deals with these issues throughout the whole series and portrays Angela and her friends in an authentic way, rather than the manner in which parents would like to see their kids behaving amidst mini‐fits of teen rage.

The adults (i.e. the parents of the protagonists) also play a central role in the show and it often seems as though their storylines are trying to manifest common ground: whether you’re a teen or an adult, the problems stay the same.

If you’re a sucker for TV shows like ‘My So‐Called Life’, we have a few more sarcastic 90’s high school dramas for ya!

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Shows Similar to ‘My So-­Called Life’…

‘Popular’ (The WB, 1999)

As is true for any high school, they are all home to individual groups – the cheerleaders & jocks, the slackers & burnouts, the geeks and then the special breed of misfits that don’t fit into any of these categories and Sam (Carly Pope) is one of the latter. As a passionate journalist, she’s not exactly Miss Popular at school – nor is she trying to be. She has no interest in becoming a perky cheerleader. She much rather uncover the school’s hypocrisies and fight for what she believes to be right.

Brooke (Leslie Bibb) is Jacqueline Kennedy High School’s most popular cheerleader and dates the football team’s quarterback – yeah, I know, big surprise there. She is constantly being followed around by her cheerleading posse “The Glamazons”, consisting of Nicole (Tammy Lynn Michaels) and Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman). The people who look up to her – and there are many – fancy her to have the perfect life when in reality, she is insecure and even suffers from bulimia.

Sam and Brooke are polar opposites but when Brooke’s father and Sam’s mother announce their engagement, they are forced to live together and eventually become friends. Their new found family status causes a shift in their social circles and suddenly people from different groups start mingling.

Similarity Match: 85%
‘Popular’ is a little more “glossy” compared to ‘My So‐Called Life’, in terms of style and image. But both high schools follow the same hierarchies when it comes to social groups and the students deal with a lot of similar problems.

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‘Freaks and Geeks’ (NBC, 1999)

Any TV series opening to Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ has to be worth watching! And that’s most certainly the case with the cult series ‘Freaks and Geeks’. Set in the fictional McKinley High School, the show follows Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and her brother Sam (John Francis Daley) as they navigate their way through the day to day trials and tribulations they face at school.

A bit like Angela Chase in ‘My So‐Called Life’, Lindsay distances herself from her former group of “mathlete” friends in favour of the “slackers”. Her new group of friends – a bunch of “freaks”‐ consist of Ken (Seth Rogen), Kim (Busy Philipps), Nick (Jason Segel) and Daniel (James Franco).Sam and his friends Neal (Sammy Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr) on the other hand fit into the “geek” category.

Lindsay, Sam and their friends learn how to deal with all the wonderful things high school tends to throw at you: Peer pressure, drinking, drugs, bullying and finding their place in life whilst simultaneously worrying about the future.

Similarity Match: 80%
‘Freaks and Geeks’ employs a little more humour than ‘My So‐Called Life’, but both shows portray high school life in an authentic and non‐preachy manner.

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‘Dawson’s Creek’ (The WB, 1998)

If ever there was a show that explored all symptoms of teenage angst with thorough detail, it was the heavily criticised but extremely popular ‘Dawson’s Creek’, starring James Van Der Beek in the role of Dawson Leery.

Although most of the cast were well into their twenties when ‘Dawson’s Creek’ premiered, they all slip into the roles of high school teenagers who are trying to make sense of their lives, relationships, identity and sexuality. A prominent theme in the series is of course sex and the character’s eagerness to lose their virginity caused for much chagrin amongst the Parents Television Council who were appalled by “an almost obsessive focus on pre‐marital sexual activity” and the show’s “acceptance of homosexuality.”

The central characters of the show are Dawson (Van Der Beek) and his childhood friend/on‐off girlfriend and soul mate Joey (Katie Holmes). Dawson’s family life is quite down‐to‐earth, with just a few upsets here and there, whereas Joey’s home life is unstable. Her father is in prison on drug charges and she lives with her older sister Bessie (Nina Repeta) who is trying to keep the family business afloat.

Similarity Match: 75%
Although ‘My So‐Called Life’ and ‘Dawson’s Creek’ deal with the same kind of teenage anxieties, the latter is prone to concentrate on “adult” themes more than the former.

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If You Like ‘My So­-Called Life’, You Will Like….

One of the reasons we all find ourselves relating to 90’s high school dramas is because most of us lived it; we hung out with the same kind of people, wore the same type of clothes and were confronted with the same kind of feelings as the characters in TV series like ‘My So‐Called Life’ or ‘Freaks and Geeks’.

But besides the fashion fads – do you think any of that changed in the 2000’s? Here are two other shows centred around high school characters that prove that, no, things don’t really change…

‘The O.C.’ (Fox, 2003)

It’s not easy being the new kid in school – especially if you’re a delinquent from Chino trying to build a new life in Orange County, home to the rich and fashionable. But luckily Ryan (Benjamin McKenzie) knows how to stand up for himself and always has the support of his new‐found brother Seth (Adam Brody), an “emo‐boy” with a hopeless crush on the shallow but beautiful Summer (Rachel Bilson).

When captain of the water‐polo team Luke (Chris Carmack) attempts to kick Ryan’s ass (“Welcome to the O.C, Bitch!”), Ryan lets it be known that he is not one to be messed with. It also happens to be one of the first times anyone ever stands up for Seth, who doesn’t really have friends and is just cast aside by his peers for being a “geek”. But when Ryan starts dating prom‐queen Marissa (Mischa Barton), things start changing for everyone… For the better and for the worse.

Think of ‘The O.C’ as ‘My So‐Called Life’ set in the 2000s. Both shows focus on both teen and adult issues but ‘The O.C’ approaches certain situations with a little more humour.

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‘Gossip Girl’ (The CW, 2007)

‘Gossip Girl’ is a TV show based on the book series by Cecily von Ziegesar. The show follows the two Upper East Side girls Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and her best friend Blair Waldorf (Leihgton Meester) and their daily lives. The show starts with Serena’s return from a Connecticut boarding school; she split town suddenly after having slept with Blair’s boyfriend Nate (Chace Crawford).

Things are rocky at first as Serena and Blair try to rekindle their friendship, but when both find new love interests, they slowly go back to normal. The world of ‘Gossip Girl’ is based on intrigue, lies and several manipulative and cold characters: In other words, true high school hell!

The teens in ‘Gossip Girl’ seem more mature than the main characters in ‘My So‐Called Life’, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dealing with the same insecurities.

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Revisiting the Hell that is High School

Some of the shows mentioned above really bring back memories of my high school days – the good and the bad. Which 90’s high school drama makes you revisit your high school days?

Why don’t you tell us about the characters you most identified with in the comment section below?!

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