The perils and plights of adolescence have long been a source of fascination for television audiences. That’s particularly apparent nowadays with Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, FX, and others vying for zeitgeist dominance with teen-focused dramas playing to a variety of creative strengths. As narratives have gotten more sophisticated overall across the TV landscape, it makes sense that the ways in which we look at stories about young people have also evolved. From “Never Have I Ever” and “Love, Victor” to “Yellowjackets” and “Stranger Things,” TV teens in 2022 are among some of the most rich ever written.
Because life as a teenager is equal parts happy and sad, hilarious and tragic, horny and horrifying, the following curation does not limit selections by genre, meaning: These picks range from animation to sitcoms to murder mysteries to science fiction. That said, there are also a fair number of picks that are entirely focused on the dramatic ups and downs of this turbulent time in peoples’ lives. Sometimes that’s all the drama we need.
Liz Shannon Miller, Hanh Nguyen, and Michael Schneider contributed to this list.
35. “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (2008-2013)
ABC Family/Everett Collection
Molly Ringwald and 17-year-old Shailene Woodley shine as mother and daughter in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”: an ABC Family drama so soapy it might as well come equipped with a loofah. What starts as a very “Teen Mom”-esque portrait of a (fictional) pregnant high schooler blooms into a betrayal-laden neighborhood saga when a love triangle turns love square turns love…octagon? A marvel of multiplication, “Secret Life” set itself apart by hitting the same coming-of-age beats as countless shows before it at a scale and speed that was nothing if not over-the-top entertaining. Sure, it’s practically impenetrable “message” was all over the place, as Woodley has since pointed out. But you just can’t beat “One Night at Band Camp.” —AF
34. “That ’70s Show” (1998-2006)
Nostalgia has never gone out of style. Running from 1998 to 2006, “That ’70s Show” invited audiences into the Nixon-era home of one Eric Forman (Topher Grace): a sarcastic stoner who mainly spends his smartphone-less adolescence goofing around with friends Donna (Laura Prepon), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), Hyde (Danny Masterson), and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) in the Forman family basement. Upstairs, Eric’s parents Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (a career best Kurtwood Smith) deliver similarly snarky antics to spectacular effect. Not only did “That ’70s Show” boast a comedy style yet to be matched by another teen series, but it bridged the gap between adolescent and adult humor so well the show remains a strong watch for a wide audience. —AF
33. “American Vandal” (2017-2018)
32. “Andi Mack” (2017-present)
Disney Channel/Fred Hayes
“Lizzie McGuire” creator Terri Minskey turned her Midas touch to this Disney Channel series that blends socially progressive messaging with the silliness that comes with being a young teen. The adorable Peyton Elizabeth Lee plays the title character Andi Mack, a girl who learns that the person she thought was her older sister is actually her mother (and that her mother is actually her grandmother). It’s heartening to see that unique storyline, particularly when paired with thoughtful, detailed Chinese-American representation. The family-friendly series explores time-honored teenage issues, such as crushes and dating, as well as issues that haven’t ever been addressed on a Disney Channel sitcom before, such as one character’s coming-out story, being the child of a military parent, and battling anxiety. Fortunately, the series exhibits a deft hand with these issues, addressing them sensitively and beautifully without ever losing its sense of humor.
31. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (1996-2003)
Many shows about teens center around people trying to be something that they’re not, but few shows took that setup as literally as “Sabrina.” Anchored by a couple of iconic performances — Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina, Nick Bakay as the eternally funny Salem, and Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick as Aunts Hilda and Zelda — “Sabrina” followed wherever the zaniness of its magical misadventures took it. Blending all the pitfalls of high school life with the occasional dip-in from the spirit world, Sabrina broke free from a certain kind of multi-camera restriction to offer up a comedy that was timeless for more reasons than the immortality of its characters.