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17 Times Teen TV Shows Did A Really Good Job Of Handling A Serious Subject

That’s So Raven understood the assignment.

Teen TV shows are famous for being lighthearted and upbeat – it’s why we love them! But here are some of the times they’ve handled serious subjects particularly well.

🚨 Spoilers ahead🚨

Trigger warning: Some of the shows include topics of sexual assault, domestic violence, and self-harm.

1. In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when Will and Carlton were arrested by police officers who believed they were car thieves.

NBC

While driving a family friend’s Mercedes, Will and Carlton get pulled over by the police. The cops are convinced that they stole the car and arrest the pair. Philip and Vivian come to their rescue and free the boys from jail, which leads to an uncomfortable conversation about why the incident happened. While Will is aware that the officers’ bigotry is what led to their arrest, Carlton is in denial. By the end of the episode, Carlton finally realises that he's been racially profiled and goes through a range of emotions that are extremely relatable to those who have experienced racism first-hand.  

2. In 90210, when Silver was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

The CW

While 90210 was partial to an overdramatic and unrealistic storyline, when it came to the portrayal Silver’s diagnosis, they did a pretty stellar job. Her behaviour became increasingly erratic over the course of Season 1, with her moods ranging from extreme happiness to deep lows, and everything in-between. They really didn’t shy away from showing the reality of living with the condition, especially before being diagnosed.

3. In Sex Education, when Aimee was sexually assaulted on a bus.

Netflix

Sex Education is no stranger to a serious subject, and one storyline that was handled perfectly was when Aimee was sexually assaulted by a man on the bus. While her immediate reaction was to make light of the situation, we watch as she painfully comes to terms with what has happened to her. When she eventually admits that she can no longer get on the bus, her friends rally around her, share details of the times they’ve also been sexually assaulted, and help her overcome her fear. It is a reminder of the strength and resilience that women display on a daily basis and is easily one of the most powerful moments in television history. 

4. In Glee, when Finn’s mum explained that she has to relive Finn’s death every time she wakes up.

Fox

Finn’s tribute episode was one of the most gut-wrenching episodes in any teen TV show to date. Mourning both the actor, Cory Monteith, and the character made it all the more tragic. Arguably the most heartbreaking part of the episode was when Finn’s mum explains that she has to relive Finn’s death every day when she wakes up and momentarily forgets that he is gone. Often in teen dramas, deaths are glossed over but this scene really conveys how unthinkably painful it must be for a parent to lose a child. 

5. In My Mad Fat Diary, when Rae broke up with Finn because of her mental health issues.

Channel 4

Despite being completely infatuated with Finn, Rae ends their relationship in Season 2. It is ultimately the insecurities that Rae has about her body and the struggles she has with her mental illness that lead to the break-up. It shows how mental illness can play a pivotal role in a relationship’s demise and that unfortunately, love is not always enough to overcome these obstacles. 

6. In Euphoria, when Nate physically abused Maddy at the carnival.

HBO

Euphoria shook the world with its graphic portrayal of teen life. One thing I have to give them props for is their ability to capture the nuances of abusive relationships. Shortly after Nate violently chokes Maddy at the carnival, he becomes affectionate and somewhat loving towards her, which is a very common pattern in these dynamics. Maddy then denies that Nate hurt her when confronted by the school and the police. While unsettling to watch, this is a very accurate portrayal of how manipulative some abusers can be.

7. In The Fosters, when Lena and Stef got married.

ABC / Freeform

The Fosters rarely shied away from addressing important issues, and thank God they don't. Lena And Stef’s wedding was a beautiful display of love, with heartfelt vows from the brides and an equally moving speech from Lena’s dad who officiated the ceremony. Through different characters’ responses to the big day, the show acknowledged how divisive same-sex marriage can be in our society but emphasised that love always overcomes hate. This episode also happened to be filmed on the same day that the Supreme Court overturned all laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in California!  

8. In On My Block, when Ruby suffered from PTSD after being shot.

Netflix

In season 2 of On My Block, we watched as Ruby struggles to adjust to life after being shot by a gang member. He suffers from PTSD after the shooting and the show dedicates a number of episodes to revealing the many ways that his trauma manifests. Instead of swiftly moving past the traumatic event as shows often do, Ruby questions his faith, has flashbacks, and goes through a period of depression – all of which are common for PTSD sufferers. 

9. In Skins, when Chris unexpectedly died from a brain haemorrhage.

E4

While Skins was an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, Chris’ death was particularly heartbreaking, and truth be told I’m still not over it truth be told The transition from Chris laughing and joking around with Cassie to ultimately dying in her arms was painfully quick, and is a reminder of how fragile life can be. This moment resonated with people all over the world and sparked a wider discussion about adolescent mortality. 

10. In Love, Victor, when Victor comes out to Felix.

Disney+

Love, Victor is the very first major Hollywood studio TV production to focus on a gay teenage romance, and it’s about bloody time! Victor coming out to Felix was an incredibly touching moment and was a great example of how to be a supportive friend in this situation. Felix immediately embraced Victor with a massive hug and explained that his sexuality doesn’t change anything between them. The relief on Victor's face is truly heartwarming and the show does a great job of conveying just how nuanced and terrifying coming out can be.

11. In Grown-ish, when Jazlyn and Skylar discussed racial biases in the dating world.

Freeform

In this epic Grown-ish episode, Jazlyn and Skylar candidly discuss the struggles of dating as Black women in a predominantly white institution. Throughout the episode, a series of men enter the bar that Jazlyn, Skylar, and their friends are hanging out in and completely avoid the two dark-skinned women. Instead, they make a b-line for the non-Black or lighter-skinned women in the venue, highlighting how racial biases significantly affect the lives of Black women. 

12. In Degrassi, when Ellie struggled with self-harming.

CTV

Degrassi were pros at handling serious subjects and we have to give credit where it’s due! One issue that stood out for me was when Ellie started self-harming. In series 3, Ellie finds herself battling depression, struggling to cope with her dysfunctional home life. Completely overwhelmed, she starts cutting herself and continues to self-harm as matters worsen. This episode did wonders for raising awareness around mental illness and starting a conversation about self-harm.  

13. In One Tree Hill, when Jimmy incited gun violence at the school.

The WB

One Tree Hill did a fantastic job of offering an earnest depiction of a school shooting. After being religiously bullied by his classmates for years, Jimmy brings a gun to school and fires it in a crowded hallway. After injuring a student and entering a state of panic, Jimmy eventually ends his own life. Despite Jimmy’s horrific actions, the series was able to humanise him by showing the impact of the alienation, isolation, and humiliation that he faced at the hands of his classmates.

14. In That’s So Raven, when Raven wasn’t hired because of the colour of her skin.

Disney Channel

Arguably the most iconic episode of That’s So Raven is when Raven sets out to expose a racist manager. After wondering why she hasn't been hired for a job, Raven has a vision where she watches the manager admit that she doesn’t hire Black people. Even with a younger audience, this show never shied away from addressing pertinent issues and always did them justice.

15. In Sex Education, when Eric was the victim of an anti-gay hate crime.

Netflix

Eric endures a brutal anti-gay attack on his birthday. We watch as the most vivacious character on the show draws into himself, exchanges his colourful attire for more muted clothes, and questions his identity altogether. This was devastating to witness but an accurate representation of how hate crimes can affect members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

16. In Friday Night Lights, when Becky had an abortion.

NBC

Friday Night Lights handled the subject of abortion extremely carefully and respectfully. After a night with Luke, Becky finds herself pregnant and terrified. While she weighs up all of her options, she comes to the conclusion that she is too young to have a child. She eventually decides to terminate the pregnancy and the apolitical manner in which the abortion was handled on the show was a breath of fresh air. 

17. And finally, in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, when Buffy found her mum dead on the couch.

The WB / UPN

While Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, the show actually covered a number of important issues. The most notable one perhaps, was when Buffy came home to find her mum dead on the couch. For a show that is usually very chaotic and loud, this episode was noticeably quieter, with minimal dialogue throughout. This slower pace allowed viewers to witness a more authentic emotional response to the death of a parent and is one of the most moving portrayals of grief on television I’ve ever seen. 

Which shows do you think did a great job of covering serious topics? Tell us in the comments!

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