The “teen show” has an inherent appeal as it can seamlessly wade into the soapy romantic dramas of budding adulthood while featuring characters full of youthful, optimistic ambitions. The characters aren’t weighed down by the reality of taxes, diminishing job prospects and the obligations of providing for the next generation. They get to dream big and pursue goals where the sky remains the limit.
Netflix has debuted quite a few teen shows over the last few years as the genre has clearly become a priority for streamers. As the service has rolled out its public popularity ranking system in 2020, it’s been fascinating to see these types of soapy shows (such as the Netflix Original “Outer Banks”) routinely place high in the rankings compared with the “prestige” fare.
But just because “teen shows” tend to be melodramatic and go after lowest-common-denominator pleasure receptors, doesn’t mean they have to be bad. Netflix has done an admirable job of assembling teen shows, both through making its own Netflix Originals and adding classic hits, that aim for more creativity than simply hitting the tried-and-true pleasure receptors.
To simplify the list, I avoided Netflix shows like “American Vandal,” “Stranger Things” and “The End of the F***ing World,” which feature teen characters but are moreso a different genre than “teen show” (such as “true crime satire” for “American Vandal”). In my mind, “teen shows” feature teens exploring their budding maturity and relationship to society first and foremost, versus the main plot centering around a search for alternate dimensions.
Read on for the shows that do make the list.
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Premise: “Gossip Girl” is the gold standard for trashy, but actually well-written, teen fare. (Or, perhaps, the silver standard compared to “The O.C.”)
The show focuses on ungodly wealthy New Yorkers as they vie for control of the Manhattan social scene.
Runtime: 121 episodes of roughly 40 minutes
“Sex Education” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “Sex Education” is one of Netflix’s first forays into trying to tackle a hypermature version of a teen show, with nuanced conversations about sex that don’t even happen in adult-oriented programs.
The show focuses on the son of a sex therapist who teams up with friends to run a makeshift sex therapy business in his school.
Runtime: 16 episodes of roughly 50 minutes
“Grand Army” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “Grand Army” is a recent addition (debuted Oct. 16) and follows the hypersexualized youthful dramas of shows like “Skins” while also featuring more diverse storytelling than is typical for the genre.
The show focuses on the varying trajectories of students attending the biggest public high school in Brooklyn.
Runtime: Nine episodes of roughly 55 minutes
Premise: “Dawson’s Creek” ran from 1998 to 2003, bridging the gap between the early teen shows such as “Beverly Hills, 90210” (which ended in 2000) and the next wave of shows like “The O.C.” (which began in 2003).
The show focuses on a group of friends who have continually changing “will they, won’t they” romantic possibilities while learning to mature into adults.
Runtime: 128 episodes of roughly 45 minutes
“Never Have I Ever” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “Never Have I Ever” was co-created by Mindy Kaling, who partially based the story on her life.
The show focuses on the life of an Indian-American girl who has to deal with familial hardships while also trying to find her place in American high school society.
Runtime: 10 episodes of roughly 30 minutes
“Derry Girls” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “Derry Girls” pairs the irreverent, comedic hijinks of immaturity often found in these shows with the inventive backdrop of having the students live in Northern Ireland during the deadly “Troubles” period of strife between the IRA and Great Britain.
The show focuses on students who can’t seem to stay out of trouble while growing numb to the horrors of the “Troubles” around them.
Runtime: 12 episodes of roughly 25 minutes
“Outer Banks” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “Outer Banks” is part of the latest evolution of the teen show as it brings in a “high concept” (such as murder mystery or science fiction) to the typical teen drama. Rarely does a teen show simply have teens hanging out anymore, and “Outer Banks” fits this new wave by essentially pairing “The O.C.” with a dark mystery.
The show focuses on a teen who convinces his friends to look for a mysterious treasure that may also give him clues as to why his father disappeared.
Runtime: 10 episodes of roughly 55 minutes
Premise: “Riverdale” is closely related to “Outer Banks” in that both combine the typical teen storylines with a dark mystery.
The show is based on the “Archie” comics but injects a dark underside to the overly “perfect” world as the characters get entangled in a mysterious death.
Runtime: 76 episodes of roughly 45 minutes
Premise: “Gilmore Girls” in content somewhat straddles the line between “teen show” and something more akin to an adult ensemble comedic drama (a la “Parenthood”), but the show defined enough American teens’ early upbringings that it should ultimately count.
The show focuses on a mother-daughter relationship that develops over many years in a small town, while the daughter also tries to branch out on her own.
Runtime: 153 episodes of roughly 45 minutes
“On My Block” (Netflix Original)
Premise: “On My Block” is similar to “Outer Banks” and “Riverdale” in that it blends the teen show with higher-concept violence but stands out by focusing more on comedy despite the dark storylines.
The show focuses on a group of friends living in Los Angeles who get tangled up in a situation involving stolen money.
Runtime: 28 episodes of roughly 30 minutes