A Look at the Impact of TV’s Favorite Teens of Yesterday & Today

Hunter Schafer Zendaya Euphoria Season 1
Eddy Chen/HBO

Ah, teen dramas. They shape our teenage years, make us yearn for our youth, and have brought forth countless numbers of TV heartthrobs to pine over. With the recent announcement of HBO Max’s new series Genera+ion, and the raging popularity of other teen dramas like Riverdale and the upcoming Gossip Girl reboot, it’s almost impossible to imagine the modern TV landscape without a heaping serving of teenage dramatics.

Don’t forget to respect your elders though! Before there was Euphoria, there were the intense U.K. hijinks of the Skins crew. Before the singing teens of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, a group of oddball theater nerds joined forces with quarterbacks and cheerleaders in Glee. The list goes on and on, but one thing is for certain: Teen dramas have been a mainstay in television for years prior to 2021. As the years have passed, it’s interesting to note what classic shows paved the way for the teen groups that have come to dominate our screens since.

Calling all Upper East Siders and pretty little liars, here’s a look at some of TV’s favorite teens of the past and present.

Degrassi: The Next Generation Paige Ashley Christina Hazel Episode 15

Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2015)

This classic teen drama series was able to reach a variety of audiences due to its impressive 14-season run. Following high school students, the show tackled topics taboo at the time such as teen pregnancy, suicide, mental illness, and bullying, making it an important watch for any teen. While today these topics are common in many teen dramas, Degrassi was one of the first shows to depict actual teens undergoing these tough, and unfortunately real, situations.

The O.C. Ryan Atwood Ben McKenzie Pilot

The O.C. (2003-2007)

With its constant twists and turns that kept viewers on the edge of their seats for years, The O.C. has gone down in history as one of the most iconic teen series from the early 2000s. Despite the obvious allure of the drama of teen romance, The O.C. stood out for its storylines that tackled class issues head-on. Granted, this was the early 2000s, so these insights were not nearly as poignant as one would find in shows of today. But the decision to have Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) navigate the transition from a broken home to a wealthy and high-class California environment was rare to see on TV at the time. In fact, we can see its influence on modern teen hits like Netflix’s Outer Banks, which focuses on class differences within a small town.

One Tree Hill Lucas Scott Chad Michael Murray Pilot
The WB

One Tree Hill (2003-2012)

It’s nearly impossible to hear Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” and not think of One Tree Hill’s now-iconic opening title sequence. At a time when teen TV was on the rise, this CW series emerged, desperate to make a name for itself — and it did, with fans of all ages latching onto the high school, and eventually adult drama, of the quaint town of Tree Hill. While some of the plotlines were… farfetched to say the least (remember when a dog ate a heart intended for transplant surgery?), fans still continue to revisit the drama-fueled lives of Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty), making this series a classic.

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars - Pilot Episode

Veronica Mars (2004-2007, 2019)

The intense fan following of early 2000s classic Veronica Mars has brought the series back not once, but twice since its cancellation in 2007; a feature film was released in 2014 and an eight-episode fourth season in 2019. It’s safe to say that the impact of this cult classic series has made it a mainstay in teen TV dramas, with Veronica’s (Kristen Bell) strong-willed and witty personality an immense draw for many viewers. With the emergence of crime driven teen series (such as Riverdale and Nancy Drew), we cannot forget the spunky camera-wielding private investigator who paved their way.

Gossip Girl Blair Waldorf Leighton Meester Pilot Taylor Momsen
The CW

Gossip Girl (2007-2012)

In what might arguably be the most iconic teen drama on this list, viewers were whisked into the lavish and scandalous lives of a key group of New York City’s most elite teens through the world of Gossip Girl. From quick lunches on the stairs of the MET to tumultuous romances, viewers of The CW drama were always engaged in some form of alluring teen drama. But what sets this series apart is its integration of technology as a plot device, through the blog posts of Gossip Girl, who always seemed to know the intricacies of these privileged teens’ lives. This mysterious internet moniker set a precedent for other technologically-driven teen mystery series such as Pretty Little Liars and 13 Reasons Why.

Skins Tony Cassie Sid Maxxie Anwar Michelle Generation One

Skins (Hulu)

If there’s one thing that Skins tells its viewers, it’s that, in the words of Cat Stevens, “Baby it’s a wild world.” Following three different ‘generations’ over the span of six years, Skins introduced an eclectic ensemble cast whose lives and problems intertwined to create some serious teen drama. Considered controversial by some, there’s no denying the show’s willingness to discuss serious topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault and eating disorders, among other real and impactful teen issues.

Glee Pilot Tina Finn Mercedes Rachel Kurt

Glee (2009-2015)

Love it or hate it, no one can deny the impact of Ryan Murphy’s Glee on pop culture and pop music as we know it today. With countless number one songs on the Billboard Top 100, a sold-out arena tour in 2011, and merchandise galore, the series and its giddy theater kids absolutely ruled the early 2010s. In retrospect, this impact makes perfect sense. Despite its flaws and farfetched plots, Glee provided monumental representation for the stories of LGBTQ+ characters, including Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Santana (Naya Rivera), handling storylines ranging from coming out to navigating one’s sexuality in high school.

Pretty Little Liars Pilot Emily Hanna Aria Spencer

Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)

Being a teenage girl is hard enough, sans murderous blackmail that takes the form of an all-knowing ‘A.’ Yet it was exactly this concept that drew viewers into the drama and high-stakes plot twists of Pretty Little Liars. Through a story of friendship and betrayal, teen viewers everywhere were pulled into the vast mysteries of Rosewood, with theories of ‘A’s true identity dominating social media discussions everywhere. That made it one of the first teen dramas to become popular through the emergence of platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.

Riverdale Archie Veronica Betty Jughead KJ Apa Camila Mendes
Dean Buscher/The CW

Riverdale (2017-present)

One of the most prominent teen series on TV today, Riverdale has made a name for itself over the years through its gripping mysteries and dynamic relationships. While the plots may not always be completely realistic, the show sticks out due to its adaptation of the characters of Archie Comics, reinventing a teen narrative from the 1940s for teen audiences of the 2010s to rediscover.

Zendaya Euphoria Rue Bennett Episode Four

Euphoria (2019-present)

It’s impossible to deny the impact of HBO’s Euphoria on Gen Z viewers. From the colorful, glitter-filled makeup of each character influencing teens everywhere to the use of Labrinth’s score in various formats of TikTok videos, Euphoria has established itself as a cultural mainstay after only one season. Unlike other teen series, however, the HBO drama has received its fair share of critical acclaim as well, with Zendaya receiving an Emmy for her portrayal of the series protagonist, drug addict Rue Bennett. From its high production value to the discussion of powerful topics ranging from mental health to queer representation, Euphoria is here to stay.