In praise of the teen dramedy
I have been a long time fan of Degrassi – watching it ever since it premiered on Noggin, what has morphed into today’s Teen Nick – and I picked up Awkward and Faking It when they debuted on MTV. On the surface, all three of these shows seem, well, a bit wacky. Faking It is premised on two teenage girls Amy and Karma who pretend (spoiler alert: one discovers she isn’t quite pretending) to be lesbians in order to gain popularity at their high school. Awkward is built around the trials and tribulations of Jenna, an angsty blogger whose clumsy run in with a bottle of pills, a hairdryer, and a bathtub is mistaken for a suicide attempt. Degrassi is an ensemble cast, and its zaniness arises mostly from the sheer volume of issues the students at Degrassi encounter on a weekly basis – everything from what to do when your sexy fan fiction accidentally leaks to your high school to teen pregnancy (which happens at least once every few years).
Without commercials, these shows each provide me with entertainment for approximately just twenty-two minutes every week. Yet, I find myself looking forward to them more than my regular hour-long shows. They are the perfect size – like an ice cream cone that satisfies your sugar craving without making you feel gross. Here’s why.
There is no time for filler
Since each show is only half an hour, every minute counts. The scenes are either going to be funny or move the plot along, or much of the time both. You’ll have to pay attention because missing even a line might leave you confused, but you’ll never be bored. The plot progresses rapidly, and while this can be frustrating to someone who values a life-like slow build-up of the action, suspending with the notion that television should mimic real life can be liberating!
There’s just the right balance of drama and comedy
If each episode was a suitcase, the drama would be so tightly packed that you wouldn’t dare unzip it to add even a toothbrush. Sure, the plot lines and characters can be a little exaggerated, but that exaggeration is usually what adds humor to the show. A recent example: the Degrassi cheerleading team’s attempt to raise money for new equipment by selling nude photos of themselves through Degrassi’s version of SnapChat, OomfChat, which got super awkward when one of the team members unknowingly sent a nude to her younger brother. That is clearly horrifying, but also a pretty unlikely scenario meant to keep things from getting too heavy.
The drama is silly, but the feelings are so real
While the story lines are sometimes incredible, the emotions always hit home. I would not continue to watch these shows if I wasn’t relating to the characters emotionally. My high school may not have been quite like any of these fictional high schools, but I still know the desperation of wanting to fit in and the struggle of navigating complicated relationships.
It can really help you when you’re going through tough stuff
At the heart of these shows lie some pretty serious issues, and the writers are skilled at keeping up with the problems that teens (and all of us) face and figuring out how to portray them on tv. The threads of humor woven throughout keep the stories from becoming too preachy or soap opera-y without diminishing their poignancy. So what I’ll keep coming back to these shows for is the perfect mixture of levity and gravity, or at least as much as can fit into twenty-two minutes.
[Image via Nickelodeon]