Why I Love the Awkward Teens of TV Today More than Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire

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Why I Love the Awkward Teens of TV Today More than Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire

Illustration: Arati Gujar

As Mihir Virani continued to die and be magically reborn in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi under the tutelage of the melodrama endorsed by Balaji Telefilms, I found my happy place in the shows and movies imported from the West. When I was a teenager, my friends on TV – Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana were everything I was not. I grew up on a staple diet of High School Musical, The Inbetweeners, and Superbad, and topped it up with generous rewatches of American Pie

Most TV teens were tall, beautiful, ultra-rich, suspiciously well-dressed at every hour, had acne-free skin year round, and were under no academic pressure whatsoever. I was never quite sure whether Lizzie McGuire or Miley Stewart ever had their periods. I was certain that they never bloated after a meal or worried about their sexuality. Instead, they spent most of their time kissing vampires, dating extremely attractive people (Looking at you Gabriella and Troy), and easily sneaking out of their homes to have a night of partying, that included but wasn’t limited to drugs and alcohol. As a 14-year-old, I turned to these people naively believing that they’d help me escape my teenage angst. Instead, I was left aching for a life that could never be mine.

Today, I am an adult who no longer needs to depend on shows centred around the anxieties and aspirations of teens to find herself. And, yet I find myself veering towards the latest crop of coming-of-age shows that depict adolescents for what really are – awkward, perpetually confused in social situations, ridden with acne and braces, and living in the anxiety bubbles in their heads. Teenagers now can turn to TV shows and find comfort in seeing people like them tumble through adolescence and feel like they’re not the only ones going through the weirdest, grossest, and horniest period of their lives. Unlike me, they won’t feel like freaks for not having kissed anyone by 17 (or even being unaware of what a kiss entailed), for choosing to while away afternoons reading conspiracy theories instead of being athletic or popular, or for not knowing what to make of their changing bodies. 

Hannah

I was never quite sure whether Lizzie McGuire or Miley Stewart ever had their periods.

Michael Poryes Productions

I wish I had a show like Big Mouth while I was growing up. Created by Nick Kroll, it touches upon several teenage issues, ranging from menstruation, the pressure to have a life-altering Valentine’s Day, porn addiction, and orgasms. In just three seasons, Big Mouth has delved into the teenage psyche deeper than Gossip Girl ever did. In fact, all these real-life situations completely escaped the youths of the shows and movies that I watched. Unlike the TV teens of today, they seemed to never look inward. Their preoccupations on the other hand, was always limited to being part of the next distraction that they thought would forever change their lives – the next party, the next kiss, the next vacation, and the next bag of weed. They were never interested in learning about themselves, in wanting to reconcile with the fact that fitting in wasn’t just about getting invited to the party of the year.

By the time I was 15, I barely had anyone I could speak to about feeling like the odd one out or my boy troubles, apart from my equally clueless friends. The “guidance counsellor” in our school was more of a joke than a source of help. And we did not have a show like Sex Education that captured the nuances of teen relationships. Adolescent years is when you explore your body, your sexuality. While our lives were never as exciting as that of Spencer Hastings and her friends from Pretty Little Liars that I grew up with, I’m certain there are so many gay teens today who can relate to Sex Education’s Eric feeling less alone after donning stunning gold make-up in the secrecy of his room. For teenage misfits, there’s The End of The F***king World, that has single-handedly burst myths about what socially-acceptable behaviour is in under two seasons. 

When I was a teenager, my friends on TV – Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana were everything I was not.

I wish teenage angst was better understood when I was growing up. After all, many of us seek validation from popular culture. And shows such as Big Mouth, Sex Education, TETFW can articulate the pulse of a generation and make their worries and fears feel not so inconsequential.

I for one, am glad that awkward teenagers are currently ruling our screens. Today, the central focus of a teenager on TV is not in the outwardly experience of trying to have the perfect teen life, but rather to live a life that is a true reflection of who they are when they are not trying to impress people at parties. Today, when I see the teens on TV, I actually have the luxury of getting to know them. Unlike Hannah Montana, these kids aren’t leading double lives. They almost make me wish that I was still 14 years old.

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