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Teens have always been a source of drama. Here are the best young adult shows from the 90s and 2000s.

High school gets real: The evolution of young adult TV shows

The 00s were all about portraying high school as a playground for wealthy attractive teens. These were shows like The O.C., Freaks and Geeks or Gossip Girl in which young adults were too busy getting loaded in Tijuana or plotting epic takedowns at the Met Ball to be seen doing mundane activities like homework.

Today, young adult shows are stepping a little closer to the realities of what it’s like to be young with shows that are far more realistic than their predecessors. The teen show has evolved, yo! Here’s how young adult TV shows have changed in the past 20 years.

Freaks and Geeks (1999 – 2000)

The only series of it’s time to accurately portray adolescence was cancelled after its first season, proving great shows have always been tossed in the trash by morons with more power than taste.

The early 00s apparently weren’t ready for a series as naturalistic and sophisticated as Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) and Paul Feig’s Freaks and Geeks, but it at least built some high-profile careers for stars like James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs).

The O.C. (2003 – 2007)

While the teens in this show dealt with some hard-hitting issues such as drug abuse, death, and being the founder and only member of the high school comic book club, the show is primarily remembered for setting the tone for the glamorized teen party culture of the mid-00s.

Gossip Girl (2007 – 2012)

The biggest problem in the lives of Gossip Girl’s Upper East Side teens is their secrets being exposed by an anonymous blogger. Realistic? No f–king way! But it’s mix of colorful characters and juicy drama was too good to pass up for viewers. It remains a cult classic for many.

– XOXO Gossip Girl.

90210 (2008 – 2013)

Realism in YA shows severely plummeted during the time 90210 was on air. Some of the actors in this show were in their late 20s / early 30s and acted like it – even if they were all the more stupendously hot for it – with some of these Beverly Hills socialites not even living with their parents. The subsequent spinoffs and reboots faltered, but the original remains a teen staple.

The Vampire Diaries (2009 – 2017)

This show is more realistic than some of its CW predecessors despite the vampires – but it still doesn’t quite hit the mark. Everyone is too busy enjoy some fatal lusts for some seriously thirsty vamps to deal with real the everyday issues of an average teenager. Still, we’ll take a problem like a tortured romance with Damon (Ian Somerhalder) over teenage acne any day of the week.

Riverdale (2017 – )

Despite the obvious escapism the show provides with its murder mystery feel, the characters look and act like teenagers – well, when they’re not starting a vigilante group like Archie (KJ Apa) or involved in their family’s mobster business affairs like Veronica (Camila Mendes). Hats off to The CW for making an effort to portray high school a little more realistically yet somehow with double the volume of serial killers.

13 Reasons Why (2017 – )

This show is brave enough to tackle suicide, sexual assault, bullying, and mental illness in an honest, unflinching, and often harrowing manner. Despite the controversy the series has caused, it has started a vital dialogue between young people and the adults in their lives regarding issues that can be impossibly challenging to talk about. The Netflix Originals show has undoubtedly opened the door for more honest teen dramas.  

Atypical (2018 – )

It’s debatable whether the Atypical depicts autism accurately, but you have to give it props for doing right by its depiction of family dynamics and of a realistic high school environment. Gasp alert: the characters are actually seen doing homework!

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