Like the phrase “only ‘90s kids remember this”, the evergreen appeal of teen shows can be attributed to the feelings of nostalgia they evoke, not to mention they are bittersweet reminders of one of the most painfully relatable moments of our formative teenage years.
Not unlike the ones we watched growing up, teen shows nowadays still tackle familiar themes like friendship, love, and family. However, it has to be said that they no longer shy away from heavier topics like the harsh realities of romantic relationships, grief, social activism, and the aftermath of traumatic experiences such as bullying and sexual harassment.
Here are some shows that we could’ve learnt a lot from if they’d existed during our high school days:
To All the Boys trilogy
The To All the Boys is more than just your typical teen rom-com. Throughout the trilogy, we follow Lara Jean through her high school years, navigating her way through love, relationships, and even life-changing decisions as she starts treading the path to adulthood. Through her eyes, we learn that love is not always rainbows and butterflies – a lesson that even fully-grown adults could stand to learn. Open communication and mutual trust are essential in making relationships work, especially when there are challenges you have to weather through as a couple.
In the final instalment, To All the Boys: Always and Forever, we see the daunting world ahead through Lara Jean’s eyes as she faces some of the most important decisions of her life. Ultimately, she put her future and her dreams first instead of relying on others to affect her choices. She is truly a role model we all needed in our formative years.
Sex Education, much like its name suggests, is the sex-positive show our teenage selves wish existed when we were awkwardly dealing with our changing bodies and their budding desires.
Not only does the show spark open and honest conversations about sex, body positivity, and matters of the heart, it also attempts to bridge the gap between the often-conservative ideologies of the preceding generation and the curious search for knowledge from the current generation when it comes to these subject matters.
Through its diverse roster of characters, Sex Education also tackles issues like bullying, mental health, as well as the trauma of sexual assault and harassment against women and how harmful it is to normalise and belittle such experiences.
While Big Mouth tackles similar themes with Sex Education, such as the awkwardness of puberty and exploring sexual identities in your adolescent years, the former offers a more light-hearted (and sometimes, accurately disgusting) take on these subject matters.
Big Mouth follows five middle school students on their hormone-filled journey as they try to come to terms with the scourge of adolescence. The show perfectly demonstrates the lack of confidence and moments of horror that arise when our changing bodies betray us, with some help from personified versions of their issues such as Hormone Monsters and Shame Wizards.
Never Have I Ever
As children to Asian parents, most of us can probably relate to 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar’s tense relationship with her mother Nalini, who is often tough on Devi and expects the best from her at all times.
Never Have I Ever offers a raw, yet light-hearted look into how repressing your grief and deflecting your emotions can be an unhealthy way to cope and may even be detrimental to your relationship with family members who are also trying to deal with the same feelings.
Acknowledging your feelings and letting your walls down are not weaknesses. It may be easier said than done, but most of the time, open communication is the key to bridging the gap between you and your “difficult” parents, bringing you one step closer to mutual understanding.
The Edge of Seventeen
Like Devi, The Edge of Seventeen’s Nadine (played by Hailee Steinfeld) is grappling with the aftermath of a tragic and sudden loss. In her grief, Nadine gives in to the rage and loneliness she’s feeling, lashing out at the people closest to her and alienating her loved ones in the process.
At the turning point of her character arc, we see Nadine finally realising that she too has to shoulder some responsibility when it comes to maintaining positive relationships in her life. That’s a lesson we can all learn from – to look inward, acknowledge our flaws, but also constantly reminding ourselves of our self-worth and that we too deserve respect from others. After all, it takes two (or more) to make a thing go right.
Moxie [Coming soon on 3 March]
Can we get a “HECK YEAH!” for solidarity and allyship for a good cause? Upon discovering the sexist double standards and unchecked harassment that’s happening in her school, 16-year-old Vivian takes it upon herself to expose bias and wrongdoing within the institution’s walls, sparking an all-out movement in the process. From a drop in the ocean to a wave of change, Moxie emphasises the importance of speaking up and taking a stand for what you believe in; it may just be the stepping stone you need to make a difference.
Catch these coming-of-age shows (and maybe learn a thing or two), only on Netflix. After all, it’s never too late to go on a journey towards self-discovery.