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    Two Teens Break Down What “Sex Education,” “Riverdale,” And More Get Right And Wrong About The Teen Experience

    “You will not see a character that has any acne, like, ever. And that is such a central point of the teenage experience for so many people, including myself.”

    On today's episode of BuzzFeed Daily, we broke down the top pop culture headlines AND discussed the most and least accurate teen shows. You can listen below or scroll down to read more about the interview!

    Listen to BuzzFeed Daily on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you might listen to your favorite podcasts!

    So let's dive right into it! Recently we talked to Cloe and Jade from This Teenage Life about which TV shows they think do a good (and bad) job of depicting the teen experience. Here's some of what we learned:

    BuzzFeed Daily: At BuzzFeed, we talk a lot about TV all the time, which of course includes teen shows. But at the end of the day, all of these teen shows are written by adults, so I think it's all the more impressive when a teen show actually feels authentic. I'd really just love to hear from both of you about the TV shows you think do a good, or at least decent, job of portraying the teen experience.

    Asa Butterfield and Mimi Keene as Otis and Ruby in Sex Education
    Netflix

    Jade: I would say Sex Education. I think there's an authenticity about it, in the sense of curiosity and confusion, that is portrayed in a lot of the situations, and seeking guidance and also wanting to be independent and on your own. And I think that they also do a really good job at developing very complex relationships between characters and that the relationships are the story more than anything else.

    Cloe: I have to agree with Jade. I just feel like in Sex Education, they allow for more dynamic stories to unfold, and they don't rush in on focusing just on the drama of it all. They try and touch on serious issues, as well as just familiar issues for other teenagers themselves, which I think is more realistic than some of the other TV shows that are out there.

    BuzzFeed Daily: I'm also curious to know which shows do you think are totally missing the mark.

    KJ Apa, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, and Lili Reinhart as Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and Betty in Riverdale
    CW

    Jade: So one that I have talked about before has been Riverdale. I think that overall, it's important to acknowledge that there are parts of that that are obviously meant to be fictional. But then there are also a lot of pieces of it that I think are there not necessarily [supposed] to complement the comic book origins and are more there to make it interesting. And that also applies to a lot of other shows about teenagers. I think the first thing that comes to mind is the way that sexual situations are portrayed and just generally sexuality. Unlike Sex Education, they kind of know what they're doing, know what they want. 

    And then there's also just incredible amounts of drama that don't exist and don't make sense in real life. And just the sort of general like determination in terms of like, yes, young people are determined, but there's a weird aspect to it of how independent they are. And there's not very many barriers, it seems, that are put in their way. I think that teenagers shouldn't necessarily always have barriers in their way for everything, but the reality is that there are a lot of extra barriers that teenagers face whenever they want to do things. Like in order for me to join the show today, I had to get my parents to sign a waiver. 

    Also something I think about a lot with shows that portray teenagers is that they never have to do homework, seemingly ever. They always have plenty of free time, which is not the case throughout high school. Most people are unavailable all the time because of school and other extracurricular activities. And so I think that those things are all applicable in Riverdale, but also to most other shows about teenagers. 

    Cloe: Well, I'm a sucker for Gossip Girl. I love that show, but it's not realistic at all for my experience. There aren't parties happening at big fancy clubs every weekend, and somehow they're all getting great grades and fighting to get into Harvard and Yale. It's never been the case. And I just feel like that over-excitement over going to these big fashion shows or how having this drama that ensues, with revenge and stuff, was not my high school experience. I think it's great for the drama. I'll watch it for that, but never to actually feel related to the characters. 

    And I just think all of them are super attractive, whereas, I don't know, for me, high school was a time of awkwardness and pimples, and grossness that just needed to be hidden, and you have this flawless Blake Lively. That's where I find the difference between the show in real life.

    BuzzFeed Daily: It's interesting that you say you're still a sucker for it because, I guess one thing I'm wondering is, do you think it's actually a problem when these shows aren't really authentic to the teen experience? Or can you find yourself just enjoying Riverdale for the craziness that it is, or Gossip Girl for the aspirationalness of that kind of show. Do you still enjoy it even when you feel like this is not what it's like to be a teen at all?

    Blake Lively as Serena Van Der Woodsen in Gossip Girl
    CW

    Cloe: Yeah, completely 100%. It's my escape. I don't always need to feel like I have a shoulder to rest on from the TV shows that I watch. I'm usually watching it to completely escape, maybe from my own teenage woes.

    Jade: I think that it's important to recognize that, like most of the media we're consuming, it's not going to be representative of reality. But at the same time, I think it's a two-way street. I think not all shows need to be depicting reality, but I also think that we need to be careful about what we portray as reality. I think this is something that Cloe kind of brought up a little bit — it's not uncommon for your teenage years to be incredibly awkward and you have to feel incredibly uncomfortable and insecure. And I think part of that has to do with the way that teenagers are portrayed in media and in like being these like beautiful Blake Lively types that are in reality played by adults and not only adults, but adults who are objectively meeting the beauty standard.

    BuzzFeed Daily: What's your one piece of advice for how to write a true teen character in the year 2021?

    Kier Gilchrest as Sam in Atypical
    Netflix

    Jade: I think that way more than anything, there just needs to be a focus on like the hard parts of life as well. In reflecting on what makes each of these shows so great, like Sex Education, Atypical, and Freaks and Geeks, is they all have these parts of the shows that are not just like Gossip Girl, where it's like, "Oh, we're going in clubbing on the weekends and getting revenge." There are hard parts that definitely resonate with viewers — at least me — of like, "Oh, there are these family conflicts and all sorts of inner conflict as well." And so if they want it to feel real and relatable, those like relationship tensions are going to be there.

    Cloe: I feel like more awkwardness, just more. The more I can laugh at myself, at the characters that portray realistic situations that are kind of cringe-worthy, I think are something that makes it feel just lighthearted in a way that's not so "I put so much pressure on myself as like a teenager" or we're going to high school and you think everything matters. And then you see on a TV show, "Oh, this happened, and it didn't matter at all." Like it was completely okay that they were this goofy, weird, quirky person. 

    I think also a lot of times in TV shows, they sometimes either omit teachers completely or sometimes they make the kids and the teachers completely against each other. And I just don't think those are the only sides of teacher and student dynamics. I think seeing more of those teachers who want to help, or those teachers who, yes, maybe give you a hard time...is something more realistic about the adult and kid relationship. Because when you're in high school, you are learning how to be an adult. And I think the role models you see in the classroom also influence that. 

    BuzzFeed Daily: Now, let's say someone comes to you and they say, "I've just been hired as a casting director on the hot new teen show. What do you want to see in terms of the actors that are cast on these shows?" And I don't mean particular celebrities you want to see, but more like when they're auditioning people, what kinds of people do you want to see onscreen?

    Samm Levine, Martin Starr, and John Francis Daley as Neal, Bill, and Sam on Freaks and Geeks
    NBC

    Cloe: I think I personally would like to see younger folks. I think there are certain TV shows that do have them, like on Freaks and Geeks. The ages are more similar to us in a way, or they just look maybe younger, but I think when you have the older adults playing the teenage roles, they're obviously more attractive or they have just less appearance that's relatable to you. I think also just we've come a long way in TV shows where there's more diversity now, but I think there could be even more, especially with body shape or size. I just think it's helpful to see examples of real-life people on TV shows. 

    Jade: I agree with Cloe. The first thing that comes to mind is like more realistic representation of what being a teenager looks like. I think that again, a lot of these shows, they cast adults that are not only just adult people that are like 18 or 19, but like literally mid-to-late 20s. There is like a very noticeable physiological difference in any individual's development between age 15 and 25. And so I think that's important. 

    It's understandable for a plethora of reasons to want to employ people who are adults — there are less barriers with that as far as it goes for production — but try to get people that are closer to maybe 18, 19, 20. And also, again, with more diverse-looking people. So not only just having a diverse cast in terms of background, but also in terms of like what they look like. And I think one thing in particular that I always think about in terms of representation of teenagers is in pretty much any production, you will not see a character that has any acne, like, ever. And that is such a central point of the teenage experience for so many people, including myself. I remember being like, "This isn't normal, no one else is experiencing this." And then that wasn't helped by like the way that it's portrayed on media. 

    We also talked about Beanie Feldstein's confusion over all the tweets about Lea Michele, after she was cast in the Broadway Funny Girl revival.

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    In an interview with Andy Cohen on SiriusXM, Beanie said: "I didn't even know that any of this was happening. ... All of a sudden, people started explaining it to me and I was like, 'Wait, what?' I didn't understand." 

    She added that while Lea Michele quote “very sweetly” congratulated her on Instagram, she doesn’t quote “know the woman whatsoever.”

    Beanie’s not the only member of her family to make news recently. On Wednesday, her brother Jonah Hill made a very reasonable request of his fans: to stop making remarks about his body.

    As always, thanks for listening! And if you ever want to suggest stories or just want to say hi, you can reach us at daily@buzzfeed.com.