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Starring a young Claire Danes, My So-Called Life takes us to the suburbs of Pennsylvania where Angela Chase and best friends Rayanne and Rickie traverse the rocky waters of adolescence at Liberty High School. This 90’s favorite tackles major social issues such as child abuse, homophobia, and drug use to a degree that most shows of its time did not. The show also features an unstable but sweet romance between Angela and Jordan Catalino – a handsome rebel with an undiagnosed learning disability, played by Jared Leto. Though canceled after one season, critics hail MSCL as one of the greatest television series of all time.
In this 18-episode dramedy, Lindsay Weir and her younger brother, Sam, attend William McKinely High School in 80’s Michigan. Despite her history as a star mathlete, Lindsay weaves her way into a posse of so-called ‘freaks’ – the slackers and stoners, played by actors you will likely recognize, like James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel. Sam, on the other hand, hangs with the ‘geeks,’ who exist in an entirely different social universe and try, with little success, to fit in. TV Guide named Freaks and Geeks #1 on their list of 60 shows that were ‘canceled too soon.’
The WB, 1998-2003
Dive into Capeside and join Joey, Dawson, Pacey, and Jennifer for a six-season journey from adolescence to adulthood. With best friends, Joey (Katie Holmes) and Dawson (James Van Der Beek), at the show’s nucleus, Dawson’s Creek ponders the classic When Harry Met Sally question: can men and women really be ‘just friends’? Known for its implausible dialogue and occasional melodrama, this iconic series depicts all facets of maturation, from sexuality to mental health. If you’re a fan of love triangles and 90’s nostalgia, DC is the perfect pick for your next binging sesh.
The WB/UPN, 1997-2003
Buffy Summers is the newest in an ancient line of women called ‘Slayers,’ who are chosen by fate to fight against all forces of darkness – especially vampires. In between school and homework, Buffy must hone a long list of new skills, from dramatically augmented physical strength to clairvoyance, with the help of her Watcher and friends. As she quests to slay the wicked, Buffy comes across characters who challenge the line between good and evil, like Angel, a vampire with a soul who becomes her central love interest. With a place on almost every ‘Best TV Shows’ list, Buffy is a must-watch classic.
In this pop culture standard, Ryan Atwood emerges from the shambles of a broken family to join the Cohens as their adopted son in the high-class world of Newport Beach. With the comradeship of Seth, his awkward but charming foster brother, Ryan copes with major culture shock and eventually finds comfort in a romantic relationship with girl-next-door Marissa Cooper. The closer he gets to his new peers, the more he recognizes their similarities, allowing him to flourish and move on from his tumultuous past.
The CW/UPN, 2004-2007
This teen noir mystery drama takes us to Neptune, California, where Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell), the daughter of a county sheriff, moonlights as a private investigator after her best friend, Lilly, is murdered. Each episode presents a new case, as well as clues to larger, season-long mysteries, making VM ideal for binging. After the show’s cancellation in 2007, fans crowdfunded a budget of $5.7 million via Kickstarter for a feature film, which was released in March 2014.
The WB/CW, 2001-2011
Before he rose to fame as Superman, Clark Kent went to high school in Smallville, Kansas in this 10-season origin story starring Tom Welling. Smallville exposes the humanness of Superman as Clark struggles to maintain a normal life and keep his superhuman abilities a secret – especially from love interest Lana Lang and best friend Chloe Sullivan, a nosy journalist whose mission in life is to uncover the truth. Viewing tip: look out for special appearances by Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in the original films!
This award-winning series takes us to the small town of Dillon, Texas, a community built around high school football. Coach Eric Taylor must lead the Panthers to victory after their star quarterback falls into paralysis – all while balancing his duties as a husband to good-hearted Tami and a father to spunky Julie. Over the course of five seasons, FNL offers much more than gripping football sequences, poignantly exploring the complexities of family, responsibility, passion, and pride through the lives of unforgettable characters like bad boy Tim Riggins, heartbreaker Tyra Colette, and underdog Matt Saracen.
The WB/CW, 2003-2012
Apart from a shared passion for basketball, Lucas and Nathan appear to have nothing in common. Lucas is the reclusive only child of a single mom; Nathan is the most popular and wealthy guy in school. But they are bound by an unshakeable truth: they have the same father. The show takes off after Lucas joins the basketball team and plunges head-on into the unfamiliar world of popularity – and the endless drama that comes with it. Led by a vibrant ensemble cast, OTH chronicles the gradual formation of brotherhood between Lucas and Nathan Scott and the emergence of new identities and relationships.
The CW, 2007-2012
Gossip Girl begins when ‘It Girl’ Serena van der Woodsen returns to the Upper East Side after a mysterious absence. Serena’s return provokes the resurgence of an age-old rivalry with Blair Waldorf, queen bee of Constance Saint Jude Prep. Male counterparts Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass entangle themselves in complicated, clandestine romances with these leading ladies. Dan Humphrey, a scholarship student on the outskirts of this surreal glamour, eventually finds himself in unexpected but thrilling proximity with Serena. Narrated by an omniscient blogger called ‘Gossip Girl,’ this series will surely become one of your favorite guilty pleasures.