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Updated on Jul 20, 2020. Posted on Jul 14, 2020

22 Teen Drama Storylines That Need To Be Retired

So. Many. Love. Triangles.

Teen dramas can be pretty formulaic — there are storylines you kind of come to expect.

The WB

There will probably be at least three car crashes over the course of the show.

But some of these storylines really just need to be retired, either because they're problematic, highly unrealistic, or both.

The CW

Teen dramas love to be edgy or shocking, but sometimes it just perpetuates unrealistic expectations and harmful ideals.

Here are some of the absolute worst teen drama storylines that I am sick of seeing on screen:

Universal Pictures

Warning: This post references sexual assault, abusive relationships, suicide, and self-harm.

1. Verbally and physically abusive boyfriends and stalkers being portrayed as romantic:

Chuck on Gossip Girl, Jackson on Teen Wolf, and Dan on Gossip Girl
The CW / MTV

As a teenager, I absolutely WORSHIPPED Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl, and I wasn't the only one. Presenting abusive, creepy, and toxic behavior as romantic is so damaging to young girls AND boys, and it's time to just give it up. Blair ending up with Chuck on Gossip Girl and Lydia saying she still loved Jackson on Teen Wolf were both bad, but Serena calling Dan’s incessant stalking and invasion of her privacy a “love letter” on Gossip Girl really took the cake for me.

2. Parents dating the parent of their child’s significant other:

Lily and Rufus on Gossip Girl, FP and Alice on Riverdale, and Chris and Melissa on Teen Wolf
The CW / MTV

I'm fine with inter-parent relationships on a show (Sheriff Stilinski and Melissa McCall from Teen Wolf SHOULD 100% HAVE ended up together, change my mind). But why is it always between the parents of two characters who are dating/previously dated (like Rufus and Lily on Gossip Girl, Alice and FP on Riverdale, and Melissa and Chris on Teen Wolf)?? It just makes everything weird and kind of incestuous, and it's completely unnecessary.

3. Two of the parents on the show sharing a secret kid together:

Scott on Gossip Girl, Charles on Riverdale, and Mark on 90210
The CW

Bonus points if these parents' other kids are dating and the secret kid means they share a half-brother (like in the case of Scott from Gossip Girl and Charles from Riverdale, shown above)...which is then super awkward. Also, do this many people have secret children with their high school sweethearts, then stay in their hometown and raise their other kids right next to said high school sweetheart without ever telling them about the secret kid?

4. And in particular, some creep PRETENDING to be that secret kid for nefarious reasons:

Sean from 90210, Chic from Riverdale, and Derek/Ian from One Tree Hill
The CW

Does this really happen that often?? If I ever find out I have a secret half-brother, I am going to make SURE he gets a DNA test. I also feel like Sean from 90210, Chic from Riverdale, and Derek/Ian from One Tree Hill were all super sketchy from the start and people should not have fallen for their stories.

5. A suicide-related storyline for shock value:

Nathan about to crash his racecar in One Tree Hill, Chuck about to jump off a building in Gossip Girl, and Cheryl about to drown herself in Riverdale
The WB / The CW

I am 100% here for a mental health storyline that's done well. Teenagers absolutely need to see depression and other mental illnesses depicted. BUT, so often we see a despondent (usually male, though Cheryl from Riverdale is a good female example) character attempt suicide (like Nathan on One Tree Hill) or threaten to attempt suicide (like Chuck on Gossip Girl). They're saved by a good friend or girlfriend, and then IT IS LITERALLY NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. We never see them getting help.

6. Suicide attempts and self-harm for supernatural reasons rather than mental illness:

Scott about to blow himself up on Teen Wolf, Elena about to let herself burn in the sun on The Vampire Diaries, and Caroline cutting herself because she's compelled on The Vampire Diaries
MTV / The CW

I feel like shows do this to avoid the problem I just brought up...aka so they can use a suicide attempt or self-harm for shock value without having to deal with the repercussions of a character with mental illness. It's super triggering and inappropriate, and even further glamorizes self-harm and suicide.

7. And along the same lines, unnecessarily graphic sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide attempts:

Hannah right before Bryce rapes her in the hot tub in 13 Reasons Why, Alex after she slits her wrists in One Tree Hill, and Tyler right before Monty sexually assaults him in 13 Reasons Why
Netflix / The CW

I obviously didn't include the actual triggering parts of the above scenes (that would sort of defeat the point of me calling them out), but the screenshots are from the scenes I'm referring to. From the graphic sexual assaults of Hannah, Jessica, and Tyler on 13 Reasons Why to Alex's graphic suicide attempt on One Tree Hill, teen TV shows often would rather show something for shock value than be mindful of their viewers who may have actually experienced these things.

8. Student-teacher affairs:

Aria and Ezra on Pretty Little Liars, Ms. Grundy and Archie on Riverdale, and Pacey and Tamara on Dawson's Creek
Freeform / The CW / The WB

I'm not sure why teen shows still find this "edgy" (looking at you, Riverdale). It wasn't when Pacey slept with his teacher in Dawon's Creek, and it's not now, either. It's creepy and gross, and the actors playing 16-year-olds sleeping with their teachers are never ACTUALLY 16. That makes these relationships look like they're between two consenting adults and obscures the true creepiness. If Lucy Hale had been an actual 16-year-old, seeing her with Ezra on Pretty Little Liars would've been a lot more disturbing.

9. Along the same lines, characters having affairs with their bosses:

Mouth kissing his boss at the TV station on One Tree Hill and Serena hanging out with her congressman boss Tripp on Gossip Girl
The CW

Tripp and Serena on Gossip Girl were problematic, but the One Tree Hill example pictured above was particularly bad. Alice was super abusive toward Mouth, and then Skills suggested it might be because she had feelings for him, so Mouth kissed her out of the blue. Then it turns out Skills was right and they started sleeping together. I'm not saying these things never happen, but there's just such an inherent power structure in the boss-employee relationship, and it makes these examples just gross. The idea that people are looking to their employees for sexual partners is disturbing.

10. Sexually charged moments between two same-sex friends that exist only for queer-baiting:

Veronica and Betty kissing on Riverdale, Derek pushing Stiles up against a locker on Teen Wolf
The CW / MTV

Veronica and Betty's kiss on Riverdale was 100% unnecessary. It was literally just to give viewers something to GIF, and to tease them with a relationship that would never happen. And Teen Wolf played up Stiles and Derek's relationship so much because the viewers loved it, but never took the logical step of verbally acknowledging any sort of attraction between them because that could turn off some viewers. Either don't make the relationships sexually charged or just put them together!

11. And the only actual queer relationships being toxic:

Eric and Adam about to kiss in Sex Education, Paige about to push Emily's head underwater in Pretty Little Liars, and Kurt and Blaine kissing in Glee
Netflix / Freeform / Fox

Adam literally bullied Eric on Sex Education and later was ashamed to be with him. Paige tried to drown Emily for swim team–related reasons on Pretty Little Liars and then they DATED for most of the show. Kurt and Blaine became so toxic, but Glee presented them as their token gay couple. Queer representation is great, but it feels like there are very rarely any positive couples to root for, and that reinforces the idea that queer couples are wrong or don't work.

12. A female character having a relationship with a girl, then their sexuality never being addressed again:

Adrianna kissing Gia on 90210 and Marissa kissing Alex on The O.C.
The CW / Fox

I really loved both Adrianna and Gia on 90210 and Marissa and Alex on The O.C., and both were cut too short. That's fine — not every relationship needs to last forever. But having these relationships never mentioned again made it feel like Adrianna and Marissa were just going through a "phase." The shows acted like they were finally going to give some great pansexual or bisexual representation, and then they completely backed away and pretended it never happened. Even though these were actual queer relationships, it still felt like a form of queer-baiting to me.

13. Queer characters dying for absolutely no reason, often just when their relationship with a same-sex character has started (aka #BuryYourGays):

Nora and Mary Louise about to die on The Vampire Diaries, Tara dead with Willow crying over her on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Lexa dying while Clarke watches in The 100
The CW / The WB

I've talked a lot about how teen dramas do queer couples dirty, but the #BuryYourGays trope is the absolute worst example of this. Queer couples (often ones viewers love — like Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — or have just gotten started, like Clarke and Lexa on The 100) have their relationships ended by one or both parties dying suddenly and unnecessarily, in a way that often doesn't further the plot. It's almost as if queer characters are expendable or the show doesn't actually know how to write a queer couple.

14. Mental hospitals being depicted as dangerous, creepy places with evil doctors:

Lydia in Eichen House on Teen Wolf, Alison with her mouth clamped shut on Pretty Little Liars, and Effy in a facility on Skins
MTV / Freeform / E4

Look, I get it. Creepy mental hospitals run by evil doctors (like Eichen House on Teen Wolf or Radley on Pretty Little Liars) make fun storylines! But only having these, and not good hospitals and doctors, perpetuates ugly stereotypes about mental hospitals that could prevent teenagers from seeking help. Effy's example was particularly bad because Skins was just a show about normal teenagers, and her psychiatrist ended up being evil and killing her boyfriend. We just...don't need that.

15. The male protagonist being depicted as morally superior, when they’re really just as bad as everyone else:

Clay from 13 Reasons Why, Stefan in The Vampire Diaries, and Lucas in One Tree Hill
Netflix / The CW / The WB

God, Clay really started to piss me off in later seasons of 13 Reasons Why. And in The Vampire Diaries, Stefan acted like he was the good brother, when in reality he’d killed hundreds of people, likely more than Damon. And don't even get me STARTED on Lucas Scott from One Tree Hill. Boy was a serial cheater and pretended he was so wise, when he was actually calling a different girl "the one" every week. These characters exist to be the moral compass of their shows and teach us lessons, which means that when they do bad things, the show seems to present them as "right" or "okay." Even when they're definitely not.

16. Characters always ending up with their high school (or even childhood) sweetheart:

Dan and Serena getting married in Gossip Girl, Lucas holding Peyton in One Tree Hill, and Navid and Adrianna kissing in 90210
The CW

Does this actually happen? Of course it does! But does it happen as often as teen dramas depict? No!!! Teen dramas make you feel like if you didn't fall madly in love in high school, you're just never going to find love. Or that your toxic high school relationship was actually the most romantic pairing you'll ever experience. Let the characters branch out for once!

17. Love triangles that go on way too long:

Brooke, Peyton, and Lindsay answering the phone and saying "hello?", then Lucas saying "hey, it's me. Look, I'm at the airport and I've got 2 tickets to Las Vegas. Do you wanna get married tonight?" but you don't know which he's talking to.
The CW

Look, love triangles are a staple of the genre, and sometimes I even enjoy them (shoutout to Damon, Stefan, and Elena from The Vampire Diaries). But most of the time they go on WAY too long. If a character is still deciding which of two people he or she wants to be with five seasons in, maybe he or she shouldn't be with either of them (cough cough, LUCAS SCOTT, cough cough). One Tree Hill really needed to give it a rest.

18. "What if?" episodes:

Ryan in jail with a man dressed as Santa Clause in The O.C. and Lucas confronting Nathan on the River Court in One Tree Hill
Fox / The WB

I already mentioned that car crashes are a staple. But for some reason, after those car crashes, teen dramas love to put characters in comas and have them hallucinate what their lives would’ve been like if the events of the pilot had been different. Like on The O.C. where Ryan imagined his life without the Cohens, or on One Tree Hill when Nathan imagined his life without Dan raising him. Has this ever actually happened to anyone???

19. Along the same lines, dream/decade episodes:

Aria and Hanna in a car in Pretty Little Liars's black and white noir episode and Lucas protecting Peyton in One Tree Hill's 1920s episode
Freeform / The CW

HAS ANYONE EVER HAD A DREAM IN BLACK AND WHITE AND/OR SET IN THE 1940S?? NO?? THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT! Teen shows simply do not have the budget to pull these off well.

20. Everyone getting into Ivy League schools:

The CW

NO ONE is a shoo-in for Harvard. It always pisses me off when characters who are never shown studying, and are involved in maybe one school club, get into schools like Yale. Also, there are more schools than just the Ivies, and a ton of people don't go to college. Stop setting unrealistic expectations!

21. And then having careers RIGHT out of college, or even before it's over:

The CW

Bonus points if they started their company/book/career in high school, like Brooke and Lucas from One Tree Hill. It often takes people a while to get a job, ESPECIALLY their dream job. Maybe it's because a lot of the characters are rich and have connections, but still: A 22-year-old is much more likely to be working at Target than being CEO of a business.

22. And finally, characters coming back from the dead:

Jim in 90210, Bart in Gossip Girl, and Alaric in The Vampire Diaries
The CW

When a character comes back from the dead in a non-supernatural show (like Jim on 90210 or Bart on Gossip Girl), it's just way too unrealistic. It's definitely more acceptable on a supernatural show (like when Alaric came back to life on The Vampire Diaries), but still: If we think people can just come back from the dead, then deaths on the show lose any impact.

What are you sick of seeing in teen dramas? Let me know in the comments!

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