The 30 Best Teen TV Series Streaming Right Now

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The 30 Best Teen TV Series Streaming Right Now

It’s no secret Teen TV had a massive glow-up this past decade. Between the rise of the serialized YA adaptation, the excesses of Peak TV, and the onslaught of the streaming era, we’ve landed at the start of a new decade with more quality teen-centric television fare at our fingertips than even the most discerning fan could hope to get through.

To that end, we’ve combed all the major streaming services (and even a few niche ones) to point you in the direction of the best teen series currently available to stream somewhere. What with the complex and mysterious vagaries of licensing deals, the ongoing availability of any one of these series is at best tenuous. But as of publication, we can confirm that the series listed below—and all the teen dramas contained therein—are just waiting for you to queue them up and hit Play.

A note: With out ruthless curation, we know we might be missing some of your favorites. But so much better to have too much excellent teen television out there than too little. Still, we will continue to update and expand the list over time, so keep checking back! Meanwhile, you can also check out our lists of the best Teen TV shows streaming exclusively on Netflix and Hulu.

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Honorable Mention: The Society (Netflix), David Makes Man (HBO Max), Julie & the Phantoms (Netflix), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Netflix), Shadow and Bone (Netflix), Betty (HBO Max)

30. Outer Banks

Created by: Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, Shannon Burke
Stars: Chase Stokes, Madelyn Cline, Madison Bailey, Jonathan Daviss, Rudy Pankow, Austin North
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

No one actually says “Welcome to the OBX, bitch!” but the sentiment is definitely there in Netflix’s teen dream of a TV series. Created by Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, and Shannon Burke, Outer Banks explores the lives of the rich kids (called Kooks) and poor kids (Pogues) along North Carolina’s marshy coastal islands. Adults are scarce, school is out, shirts are practically sacrilege; it’s a high schooler’s fantasy.

Though the first episode establishes what seems like a very paint-by-numbers teen drama whose players are almost indistinguishably attractive, the series’ dynamic ultimately feels classic rather than rote. It’s a throwback, in some ways; the kids drink and hookup a little, but mostly the story revolves around the search for gold lost in an ancient shipwreck. There’s a mystery, young love, missing parents, and lots of general rabble-rousing.

Outer Banks isn’t exactly wholesome, but there is something about its sun-soaked adventure (least in its first season) that feels emotionally authentic to the teen experience. For a show whose first episode starts off with the Pogues all crashing at a parentless pad and nothing less dramatic than a hurricane, it’s surprisingly grounded—so much so that some may find it a little bland. But as it threads together the island’s various social orders in ways that continues to amp up the drama, the twists (emotional and plot-driven) manage to be both familiar and surprising—despite an overwrought denouement that threatens to overshadow its better parts. Outer Banks isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is, and that’s a respectable position to take. Welcome to the OBX, viewer. —Allison Keene


29. East Los High

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Created by: Carlos Portugal, Kathleen Bedoya
Stars: Vannessa Vasquez, Gabriel Chavarria, Danielle Vega, Alexandra Rodriguez, Carlito Olivero, J. D. Pardo
Original Network: Hulu

Watch on Hulu

In the grand tradition of so many teen dramas that came before, Hulu’s own East Los High, whose original run on the streamer lasted four seasons before it was cancelled in 2017, is pure soap. That said, having set itself up as one of Teen TV’s most notable groundbreakers of the last decade both by being one of Hulu’s first original series (only the miniseries The Confession preceded it) and by being the first to feature an all-Latinx cast and crew (a rarity across the greater television landscape as a whole), it’s at least soap of an elite vintage. Featuring a plethora of Very Attractive Teens, a raft of storylines developed in collaboration with public health organizations with the goal of encouraging Latinx teens to make healthy choices, and a lot of dancing, it’s a genuine 2010s teen classic. —Alexis Gunderson


28. Saved By the Bell

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Created by: Sam Bobrick
Stars: Haskiri Velazquez, Mitchell Hoog, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Mario Lopez
Original Network: Peacock

Watch on Peacock

A new Max is back, as the retro after-school hangout spot frequented by the latest Bayside High class—a class which includes not only a core trio of white kids from Bayside’s Pacific Palisades neighborhood (Zack, Kelly, and Jessie’s kids included), but also a trio of Black and and Latinx kids who are forced to bus in from a lower income neighborhood after their own school gets defunded following a $10 billion budgeting ruh-roh by that irascible bleach-blonde scammer, Zack Morris—these days better known as (sigh) Governor Zack.

Enter: Saved by the Bell. Well, Saved by the Bell 2.0. The original talent is (almost) all on hand—stars Elizabeth Berkley, Mario Lopez, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen and even Lark Voorhies all reprise their original roles (as does Ed Alonzo as the Max’s titular Max), while Berkley, Lopez, and Gosselaar join SBTB vets Peter Engel and Franco Bario as producers (the latter three as EPs). The dope af theme remix is here, too, rapper Lil Yachty putting a solid Gen Z twist on Scott Gale’s iconic surf-slacker jam. But while 90s-era Saved by the Bell was a goofball sitcom of the sturdiest variety, Peacock’s Saved by the Bell is pure 2020. Gone is the old school multi-cam format, the live studio audience. In their place is a slick single-camera comedy that—barring a smart pivot back to the original theme song and tone for the Homecoming/reunion episode halfway through the season—will feel far more at home alongside Peacock’s other high school sitcom, A.P. Bio, than anyone trying to imagine a post-Peak TV take on Saved by the Bell is likely to believe.

To that end, it’s nearly impossible to articulate just how impressive the high wire act is that showrunner Tracey Wigfield (Great News, The Mindy Project) is walking here. Not only has she managed, in the series’ short Season 1 run, to split the difference between a love letter to and send-up of Bobrick’s beloved original, but she’s also succeeded at updating the show’s vibe to hew more closely to the politically progressive, wryly self-aware tone endemic to contemporary Teen TV. I can’t count the number of times I squawked so loud I rose half off my couch each episode, including in the final minute of the finale, which features a pitch-black joke so contextually perfect I literally stopped and rewound, just to bask in its dark clarity. —Alexis Gunderson


27. Dickinson

Created by: Alena Smith
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, Adrian Blake Enscoe, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Jane Krakowski
Original Network: Apple TV+

Watch on Apple TV+

Despite all the mystery surrounding her long, hermetic life, it’s hard to imagine that the real Emily Dickinson (she of the poetic syntax so wildly removed from the style of her time that it wasn’t until 1955 that publishers stopped editing all her linguistic ecstasies into comparatively dull normalcy), wouldn’t get a kick out of Dickinson, Alena Smith and Hailee Steinfeld’s lovingly weird imagining of the poet’s young adulthood. Dickinson is so fun and so strange and so tireless in handing out little moments of character development, with wildly original mood setting, you could watch thousands of hours of television and still not think to expect, of course, the Dickinson who scrawled out “Wild nights – Wild nights!” and left behind thousands of scraps of genius in a locked chest would dig it.

To be clear, this is not me saying that rapturous anachronisms of Dickinson will be to everyone’s taste. Would Emily’s parents, in reality or as played here by Toby Huss and Jane Krakowski, be into it? Nah. Emily’s peers? Sue (Ella Hunt)—yes. George (Samuel Farnsworth)—yes. Everyone else—it depends. You? Who’s to say! Death showing up in the guise of Wiz Khalifa in a black silk top hat inside a ghostly black carriage to take Emily (Steinfeld) away from the funeral of her bosom friend/true love Sue’s last remaining sister (as Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” pulses underneath the dialogue almost too quiet to hear) will read to many as try-hard poptimist-adjacent gimmick, and it feels likely that Apple is trying to buy the affections of a Gen Z audience through clout rather than substance. But.

But with such gorgeous cinematography, costuming, and metatextual design, and with every actor putting in such fun, charming, deeply specific (read: often deeply odd) performances—and with Smith and Steinfeld, especially, so blazingly self-confident in their vision—Dickinson is one of Apple TV+’s brightest debuts. I genuinely want to be shut up in the prose of its walls, for as long as Emily will have me. —Alexis Gunderson


26. The O.C.

Created by: Josh Schwartz
Stars: Peter Gallagher, Kelly Rowan, Ben McKenzie, Mischa Barton, Adam Brody, Melinda Clarke, Rachel Bilson
Original Network: Fox

Watch on HBO Max

Welcome to The O.C., bitch. This Fox teen soap simultaneously celebrated and mocked the genre it brought back to life in the mid-2000s. Full of inside jokes, yet featuring a compulsively watchable story of two boys who become unlikely best friends and the girls who love them, the series quickly became can’t-miss television. The show also helped popularize several acts—like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and The Killers—among a whole generation of high-schoolers, thanks to creator Josh Schwartz and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, and it remains iconic. —Shaina Pearlman and Amy Amatangelo


25. Euphoria

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Created by: Sam Levinson
Stars: Zendaya, Maude Apatow, Angus Cloud, Eric Dane, Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi
Original Network: HBO

Watch on HBO Max

HBO’s Euphoria is bleak and deliberately provocative, saturated with drugs and sex and maladaptive decadence and rendered in beautifully lurid colors. Our tour guide through this dystopian high school landscape is Rue (Zendaya), a 17-year-old addict with… a nihilist streak? Her diffident attitude toward, like, being alive is understandable in context: she literally doesn’t know anyone who isn’t a drug-snorting, porn-swilling, lying, violent, self-harming glassy-eyed zombie. That’d get to anyone after a while, even if they didn’t have an anxiety disorder.

Euphoria is a confusing show in some ways. It seems like a total provocation, an endless barrage of existential misery and trauma softcore and shock for shock’s sake. It’s massively voyeuristic, a seeming peek into the veiled world of teen misdeed that’s not really intended for a teen audience; this show is for adults, and it’s designed to freak them the hell out, presenting a relentless universe of violation and self-destruction. It’s got a stochastic, vignette-oriented feel with relatively little in the way of plot deployment, which neatly—and I will add artfully— underscores the feeling of suffocating dread it offers with its misty, neon-light-in-fog tones and mumbling, voyeuristically screen-gazing characters. It’s not the first or the only TV show to have a very dark take on what teenagers are really up to and the layer of gauzy, bleary unreality it conveys is at once compelling and a little gross. It’s admirably unflinching in its exploration of our darker impulses. It’s got a dreary, miserable beauty to it.—Amy Glynn


24. The Vampire Diaries

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Created by: Julie Plec, Kevin Williamson
Stars: Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Candice King, Matt Davis, Joseph Morgan
Network: The CW

Watch on Netflix

If ever a TV show moved the needle on bourbon sales, I’m guessing it was The Vampire Diaries. Vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore (Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder) have a seemingly endless supply of brown liquor and an impressive collection of glassware. And I’ll admit, never before has a show more inspired me to drink along with the leads. But I digress… What began as an angst-filled teenage supernatural drama has actually developed into a compelling and frequently gruesome foray into the world of vampires (and werewolves and witches and hybrids and siphons and …) alongside the men and women who love them. While CW shows are often painted as skewing towards melodramatic teen/YA fare, that’s an increasingly unfair assertion and one that The Vampire Diaries did a great job of dispelling, particularly once it grew out of its early “Dawson’s Creek with vampires,” phase. Season 1, while intermittently strong, was more or less one of those shows people refer to as a guilty pleasure. It was fun, but not really good. Once creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson (creator of Dawson’s Creek, not a coincidence) really got a feel for where they wanted to take the show, however, it took off, and over the past seven years the show has proven to be a reliably well-acted, creepy and ethically complicated hour of drama. The upcoming eighth season is the show’s last, and it’s still strong. In the world of TV, there’s nothing worse than staying on too long. We’re going to miss the gang but it’s time and hopefully some of them will pop up in other spinoffs from time to time. (And yes, you should be watching Legacies). —Mark Rabinowitz


23. grown-ish

Created by: Kenya Barris
Stars:: Yara Shahidi, Deon Cole, Trevor Jackson, Francia Raisa
Original Network:: Freeform

Watch on Hulu

Even when the process is kept entirely in-house, it’s hard to know what to expect when an established series spins fan-favorite characters off to anchor something new. For the resulting spin-off to not only shift its target demographic, but move to a whole other network, like Yara Shahidi’s college-focused grown-ish did when it landed on Freeform after breaking away from ABC’s black-ish? That was more than unexpected—it was bold. Happily, it also proved to be a savvy play, the spin-off’s charming young cast, sharp writing, and fourth-wall-breaking confessional tone combining to give it real legs. As the black-ish-exported lead, Zoey, Shahidi is of course a blast to watch (even as Zoey makes bad decision after bad decision, as young adults alone at college for the first time are wont to do), but truly no more so than the rest of the ensemble cast, any one of whom could be considered a particular standout, depending on the mood you’re in. For the purposes of this list, Francia Raisa comes to mind, as her character, Ana Torres, is so diametrically opposite of the one she played for years on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but pop phenoms Chloe x Halle might be who you’re most drawn to, or Luka Sabbat’s overly chill Luca, or Emily Arlook’s kinda-messy Nomi, whose most recent major arc saw her coming out to herself (and the professor she inadvisably made out with) as bisexual. There’s just so much going on on grown-ish, and while much of it is as awkward and painful as the growing pains of real young adulthood can be (especially in the age of social media), it’s never not a delight. —Alexis Gunderson


22. Riverdale

Created by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Stars:: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Madelaine Petsch, Marisol Nichols, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry
Original Network:: The CW

Watch on Netflix

This is the way I’ve been selling Riverdale to friends who have not yet wised up and started watching it: it’s Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks, but with the characters from Archie Comics. That alone should be enough to suck them in, but if they need more convincing, I add that the late Luke Perry plays Archie’s dad, Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom, Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead’s creepy hot dad (who is also the head of the local gang, the Southside Serpents), and for the first third of the season, Archie is boning his music teacher, Ms. Grundy—who, unlike in the comics—where she’s an elderly white-haired lady—goes around wearing heart-eyed sunglasses and picking up teen boys. It’s ridiculous and campy in all the right ways (hey, this is a CW teen drama, after all), but there’s also a compelling murder mystery driving the plot (“Who killed Jason Blossom?” is Riverdale’s “Who killed Laura Palmer?”), with new twists and turns peppered in along the way. —Bonnie Stiernberg


21. Sex Education

Created by: Laurie Nunn
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

You’re an insecure, bright, sensitive teenage boy (Asa Butterfield) with a wildly uninhibited sex-guru mother (Gillian Anderson), an absentee dad (the epically hilarious James Purefoy), a chronically foot-in-mouth bully-magnet best friend, a limited social life and a clinically interesting fear of your own penis. You have a stealth crush on your school’s official Way Too Precocious girl, who’s hard up for money. So, naturally, you open a sex clinic for high-school students in an out-of-service school lavatory, right?

Of course you do.

Netflix’s Sex Education is a decidedly raunchy and thoroughly adorable coming-of-age dramedy. While it’s not exactly afraid of well-worn tropes, it also doesn’t rely on them to a detrimental degree… and it has Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist, which would be enough for a lot of us even if nothing else about the show worked. Luckily, that isn’t the case: A testament to the power of character development, the series is riveting. None of its superbly crafted characters waste a single frame. —Amy Glynn


20. Stranger Things

Created by: The Duffer Brothers
Stars: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Cara Buono, Matthew Modine
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

Say what you will about the finer points of its storytelling, Stranger Things continues to be an unabashed celebration of the 1980s, from its own filmic references regarding style and story to a cavalcade of literal references from the era. Its plucky set of kid and teen characters battle monsters (real or within themselves) and go to the mall. It’s a nostalgic dream and a creepfest nightmare. But whether it’s set during Halloween or in the throes of a mid-80s summer, the show’s carefully crafted aesthetics always serve to augment the joyful nature of the series’ non-monster moments. And that, really, is where Stranger Things shines. The creep factor is important (and occasionally actually scary or super gory), but it acts as an almost funny juxtaposition to the otherwise happy-go-lucky look at suburban life. Mainly, though, it’s the friendships and coming-of-age stories, the relationships and family bonding, that really make Stranger Things great. For better or worse, the Netflix horror series is as tasty, messy, and fleeting as an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. Ahoy!—Allison Keene


19. My Mad Fat Diary

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Created by: Tom Bidwell, George Kay
Stars: Sharon Rooney, Ian Hart, Jodie Comer, Nico Mirallegro, Dan Cohen
Original Network: E4

Watch on Hulu

There are so many reasons why everyone needs to watch the U.K.’s excellent My Mad Fat Diary. Rae Earl (Sharon Rooney in her first role) is the fat teenage protagonist of our dreams. She weighs 16 stone (224 pounds) and has a dirty mouth, which she uses to describe all the things she would like to do to her crushes. It’s hilarious and riveting, raw and honest. But the emotional tone of the show (set between 1996 and 1998) is defined by the knowledge that Rae’s attempted suicide landed her in a mental hospital for four months. Much to her dismay (and luck), she is then reacquainted with her oldest friend, Chloe (Jodie Comer). In the first season, Rae has to straddle between her two worlds: the mental hospital and a new group of friends. The characters deal with abortions, parental abandonment, sex, body issues, and the difficulties of friendships and relationships with an imperfect protagonist who continuously hits rock bottom. But, somehow, hope is felt throughout. Teenagers and their mental health issues are rarely shown, especially with this much realness. But the dark comedy and our desire for Rae to win consistently provide relief. Oh, 90s Brit-pop, we love you so! —Iris Barreto


18. Élite (E L I T E)

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Created by: Carlos Monte and Darío Madrona
Stars: María Pedraza, Itzan Escamilla, Miguel Bernardeau, Ester Expósito, Danna Paola, Miguel Herrán, Jaime Lorente, Álvaro Rico, Arón Piper, Mina El Hammani, Omar Ayuso, Jorge López, Claudia Salas, Georgina Amorós
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

A spiritual (though sexier and more diverse) successor to both The O.C. and Gossip Girl, with just a touch of SKAM thrown in for good measure, Netflix’s Spanish-language Original Series Élite (most often styled as E L I T E, because of course it is!) is a teenage-class-warfare-lover’s dream. Featuring a sprawling ensemble cast of attractive Spanish twentysomethings, Élite follows a trio of working class public school kids—one of them, a hijabi from an immigrant Palestinian family—as they transfer to Las Encinas, an academically elite (and extremely expensive) private school on a kind of “whoops, my bad” scholarship sponsored by some of the rich parents whose cost-cutting construction business was found to have been at fault for their public school literally collapsing. The class tensions and psychosexual dramas this move provokes would be more than enough to fill any sexy, A+ teen series with (Riverdale truly wishes). Élite, however, is nothing if not expert in raising the stakes, each season framing these more quotidian (if highly stylized) teen dramas with a more explosive mystery—a brutal murder of a central member of the ensemble in Season 1, the bloody disappearance of another in Season 2, and the even bloodier death of a third in Season 3. By the end of the most recent season, alliances have fully swapped, ‘ships have been thoroughly mixed up, and allegiances have been pinned in every possible configuration. With two more seasons officially on the way—and who knows how many more possibly beyond those—the only thing we can really be certain of is that nothing at Las Encinas will ever be boring. —Alexis Gunderson


17. The Owl House

Created by: Dana Terrace
Stars: Sarah-Nicole Robles, Wendie Malick, Alex Hirsch, Tati Gabrielle, Issac Ryan Brown, Mae Whitman
Original Network: Disney Channel

Watch on Disney+

When I say that little more than the bare-bones structure of Dana Terrace’s animated coming-of-age series, The Owl House, makes sense as a Disney Channel property, fans will recognize that for the tongue-in-cheek compliment it is—not because the series features as its protagonist a bisexual, neurodivergent Dominican-American girl so obsessed with magic that she crashes her way into a witchy alternate universe (though that’s definitely part of it). Rather, it’s because said witchy alternate universe is literally built atop the bare-bones structure of a long-dead, demonic titan. That’s right: This newest addition to the atlas of magical Disney kingdoms includes such landmarks as “The Knee,” “Forearm Forest,” and “Cuticle Valley,”  throughout which vicious sorcerers and unsettling demons practice a particularly grotesque variety of magic. Honestly, if at some point in its final, truncated season Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles) ends up on a romantic picnic with her golem-making girlfriend Amity (Mae Whitman) in “Tongue-in-Cheek Park,” I wouldn’t be surprised. Tickled? Absolutely. But not in the least bit surprised.

It’s not just the gruesome landmarks and queer romance that have made The Owl House such a teen fandom mainstay, however. It’s how much fun Terrace and the rest of her creative team are clearly having, taking the most tired of Teen TV tropes—high school sports rivalries; warring social cliques; suffocating parental expectations—and turning them (often viscerally) inside out. On the Boiling Isles, competition can be deadly, parents can be killers, and close, intimate friendship can be a literal nightmare. Add in an ancient punk grifter (a delightfully chaotic Wendie Malick) as Luz’s cursed would-be mentor, a cuddly skull-capped demon dog as her closest friend (Alex Hirsch, reprising some of his most grating Gravity Falls voices), and a generations-old mystery as to where the demon’s bones they all live on even came from, well—Disney branding notwithstanding—you’ve got a recipe for a true cult teen obsession. —Alexis Gunderson


16. Wayne

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Created by: Shawn Simmons
Stars: Mark McKenna, Ciara Bravo, Joshua J. Williams
Network: YouTube Premium

Watch on Amazon Prime Watch on YouTube Premium

I have praised Wayne enough in Paste’s digital pages that I worry people might start to suspect me of being on the series’ payroll, but truly, I just fucking love Wayne. To that end, let me just quote myself real quick:

To get you interested in YouTube’s new original comedy, Wayne, all I really need to say is that it’s basically John Wick meets John Hughes, with Wayne (Sing Street’s Mark McKenna) as a kind of magnetically angsty cross between Ferris Bueller and Cameron Frye—you know, if instead of middle-class Chicago affluence and deep wells of self-interest, Ferris and Cameron had grown up in Brockton, Massachusetts with shit luck, no money, and a violent desire to make bad people pay, and if instead of a day playing hooky with cool girl Sloane in Cameron’s dad’s borrowed sports car, they’d helped a no-shit-taking neighbor girl (Del, played with deadpan genius by Ciara Bravo) kidnap herself away from an oppressively scary home situation by whisking her off on the back of a dinky motorcycle to Florida to steal a stolen sports car back.

I mean, seriously! How can you not be shelling out for a free 30-day trial of Premium THIS INSTANT! Fucking do it, man. Wayne is great. —Alexis Gunderson


15. Derry Girls

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Created by: Adam Lee
Stars: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn
Original Network: Channel 4

Watch on Netflix

The lovely, silly, funny and emotional Derry Girls is a brief series (each of its two seasons only run six episodes) focusing on a group of schoolgirls in Northern Ireland in the ‘90s, during the last days of the Troubles. But in Lisa McGee’s series, that darkness is relegated to the background. Instead, the more traditional teen conflicts of school life and being boy crazy take center stage, along with lots of incredibly specific language and jokes about both that region and that time (you will definitely want to watch with subtitles on). Derry Girls is a warm and funny time hop carried by a dreamy 90s playlist and the gigantic charisma of its wee leads. —Allison Keene


14. Reservation Dogs

Created by: Sterlin Harjo, Taika Waititi
Stars: Devery Jacobs, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Lane Factor, Paulina Alexis
Original Network: FX on Hulu

Watch on Hulu

FX has found its niche in telling close-up, intimate stories extremely well, and Reservation Dogs is no exception. It focuses on four friends—Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—who accidentally form an unofficial “gang” dubbed the “reservation bandits,” because of their penchant for light crime. Their hope is to get enough money to get to California, an ideal that’s always just out reach.

The lived-in, slightly surrealist comedy is a low-fi exploration of an Indigenous community in Oklahoma, whose leads shuffle around the “rez” among other misfits and sundries, and stumble into a variety of adventures that range from stealing a chip van to dealing with a snarky and overworked healthcare system. FX has touted Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, as revolutionary. In many ways it is; it features an all-Indigenous writers room, for one. But the show makes its boldest statement by not feeling like it’s making a statement at all. It’s an easy-going show, foul and funny, specific and accessible. It’s not about the kids being noble heroes or crime-loving villains; they’re just people. But they are also Indigenous people, which does mean something, and is all-too-rare to see on television—especially portrayed in such a wonderfully casual way.

But more than anything, Reservation Dogs is a perfect summer series, one that takes places on languid afternoons and moves at an unhurried pace. The kids make plans, scrounge for food, wander around, get into fights. They don’t talk or act like adults, and they’re not beaten down by cynicism. They have hopes and dreams, a love for family, an un-ironic embrace of community, and make a lot of silly mistakes. To say there is an innocence or even wholesomeness to Reservation Dogs would not be to quite hit the mark on how casually crass the show can be (it is ultimately a comedy for adults); but like its leads, it has a good heart. The friends are trying their best and hold each other close, even as they rib one another for their choices. It’s this balance that the show gets so right; not overly precious nor incredibly vulgar, just truth with an edge. Or as they would say, “Love ya, bitch.” —Allison Keene


13. Teen Wolf

Created by: Jeff Davis
Stars: Tyler Posey, Crystal Reed, Dylan O’Brien, Tyler Hoechlin, Holland Roden, Colton Haynes
Original Network: MTV

Watch on Amazon Prime

When MTV announced they were making a series based on the ridiculous 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy of the same name, I was less than excited. It would be like someone suggesting that it was a good idea to make a series based on 1992’s execrable Buffy The Vampire Slayer film. Oh, wait… What I mean is, it’s hard enough to make a good show out of a good film and for every Friday Night Lights or Fargo, there are a dozen Ferris Bueller or Clueless debacles. But using a bad film as source material? You damned well better tweak the hell out of it. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Jeff Davis did just that and has pulled a particularly fearsome were rabbit out of his hat. Teen Wolf is a genuinely terrifying and unapologetically sexy piece of work. (While I’ll admit to a teenaged crush on Boof from the original film, the series raises the lascivious lupine bar a few dozen notches.) Of course with a series, one runs out of source material rather quickly. But Davis and his team have done their homework and created an intriguing and well thought out world, complete with magic, banshees, were-coyotes and even kitsune, populated by a surprisingly talented group of young actors. Like Sunnydale and Mystic Falls before it, Beacon Hills seems to be a magnet for mystical happenings and things that go “Grrrrr” in the night and thankfully we’ve got Scott (Tyler Posey), Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest to at least try and make sense of it all.—Mark Rabinowitz


12. Daria

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Created by: Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn
Stars: Tracy Grandstaff, Wendy Hoopes, Julián Rebolledo, Marc Thompson, Alvaro J. Gonzalez
Original Network: MTV

Watch on Paramount+

A perfect distillation of ‘90s goodness, Daria holds up as an animated series that both understands and lampoons high school life. The whip-smart and misanthropic Daria Morgandorffer was a heroine for a generation whose favorite refrain was “whatever,” as she navigated the suburban town of Lawndale, the irritation of her uber-popular sister Quinn, and her clueless work-obsessed parents. She couldn’t have done it without the help of her artist friend Jane, though (not to mention her iconic crush on Jane’s rockstar brother), or the help of a jaded, cynical view of this “Sick, Sad World” (as one of the show’s news programs is called). Daria is the poster child for Gen X and early Gen Y culture, and the series remains a delightful time capsule that still holds many truths. —Allison Keene


11. Never Have I Ever

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Created by: Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher
Stars: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

Being 15 sucks. You’re not sure who you are or what you’re doing or who you should be doing it with, but you’re 100% certain that everyone around you is always laser-focused on every embarrassing mistake that you make. Mindy Kaling’s new coming-of-age sitcom taps into the painful awkwardness of figuring it all out with the same mix of earnestness, realism and humor as Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years, but filtered through a cultural lens not often seen on American TV. Devi Vishwakumar isn’t just grappling with typical teenage drama, but is stuck between two cultures that she never quite feels like a full member of: the American life she was born and raised in, and the Indian heritage of her family. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan captures this anxiety and charm beautifully, that weird mix of constant shame and unearned confidence, in what is shockingly her first professional acting role. If you’re looking for a teen comedy that reflects the ups and downs of real life and is actually funny, here’s your chance. —Garrett Martin


10. Friday Night Lights

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Created by: Peter Berg
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett
Original Network: NBC

Watch on Peacock Watch on Hulu

Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meatheads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show manages to convince episode after episode that, yes, football somehow really is life. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. —Rachael Maddux


9. The Fosters

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Created by: Bradley Bredeweg, Peter Paige
Stars: Teri Polo, Sherri Saum, Jake T. Austin, Hayden Byerly, David Lambert, Maia Mitchell, Danny Nucci, Cierra Ramirez, Noah Centineo
Original Network: Freeform

Watch on Amazon Prime Watch on Hulu

Premiering in 2013, The Fosters, about Stef (Teri Polo), her wife, Lena (Sherri Saum), Stef’s biological son, Brandon, and the couple’s four adopted children—twins Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus (Noah Centineo), Jude (Hayden Byerly) and his half-sister, Callie (Maia Mitchell)—checked all the social progressive boxes. Over the years, this show about a gay couple raising ethnically diverse teens took on took on immigration, the foster care system, adoption, abortion, eating disorders, gun control, and LGBTQ rights. (And that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head.) When Jude realized he was gay and embarked on several romances that were treated the same as the show’s other teen romances. The series regularly featured transgender characters, one of whom (Aaron, played by Elliot Fletcher) became Callie’s boyfriend. The show did all this while always being an entertaining, well-executed family drama that educated viewers without being pedantic. —Amy Amatangelo


8. The Wilds

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Created by: Sarah Streicher
Stars: Sophia Ali, Shannon Berry, Jenna Clause, Reign Edwards, Mia Healey, Helena Howard, Erana James, Sarah Pidgeon
Original Network: Amazon Prime Video

Watch on Amazon Prime

On paper, The Wilds sounds like a ripoff of Lost, but with teenage girls: after a plane crash, a group of girls land on a mysterious island where they have to not only endure the unknown, but also each other. Like Lost, each episode explores the backstory of one girl, weaving in their pre-crash struggles with identity, heartbreak, abuse, and more with their on-island battle to survive.

The Wilds’s plotting makes for a strong thriller that lends itself to an easy binge, and the characters are well-drawn and multilayered. But the true triumph of the show is how it portrays the peaks and valleys of being an adolescent girl—they are angry at the hands they’ve been dealt, confused about values they’ve been taught to believe, and determined to reach their goals by any means necessary. They are strong but not impervious; they are catty, they are suspicious, and they are loving. 

The Wilds is a show I absolutely wasn’t checking for, but after the first episode’s surreal beach-funeral-at-dusk acapella rendition of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” you’ll be hooked, too.  —Radhika Menon


7. All American

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Created by: April Blair
Stars: Daniel Ezra, Taye Diggs, Bre-Z, Greta Onieogou, Samantha Logan, Michael, Evans Behling, Cody Christian, Karimah Westbrook, Monét Mazur, Jalyn Hall, Chelsea Tavares, Da’Vinchi
Original Network: The CW

Watch on Netflix

More or less the Platonic ideal of the American High School Drama, the CW’s All American is a bright spot of explicitly diverse near*-realism (*I’m looking at you, all you unreasonably fit twenty-something Adonises) in a still mostly white network sea of superheroes, the supernatural and the comically stylized.

Inspired by the life of professional American football player Spencer Paysinger, All American tells the story of Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a star football player from South L.A. who’s recruited by a coach (Taye Diggs), an expat of the same neighborhood to come play for him in Beverly Hills—a plan which necessitates Spencer moving in with the coach and his family in order to get around the school’s hyper-strict zip code requirements. Much of the drama that follows, both in Beverly Hills and back in South L.A., is what you’d expect: The rich kids have expensive pill addictions or are spiraling into depression after being left alone in their mansions for months on end by their oblivious jet-setting parents, while the kids in South L.A. are trapped in a school that is chronically underfunded and over-policed, and are at risk for falling into gang life.

But the compassion and grace with which All American handles all of these problems, matched with the grounded performances each of the young actors puts in, gives the show ample opportunity to transcend primetime melodrama. As the lead, Ezra is excellent, as compelling in tender moments of private vulnerability as he is in athletic feats on the field, but equally arresting are Bre-Z as Spencer’s fast-talking, bar-spouting queer best friend Coop, and Samantha Logan as the fragiley sober Olivia Baker, Coach’s daughter and the first friend and confidante Spencer makes in Beverly Hills. Throughout the real-time run of each of its first two seasons, All American hasn’t made much of a splash, but given how immediately it rose to the Top 10 in Netflix’s new internal ranking system once its latest season was added, and how long it held a spot there, even weeks after first being made available, it’s clear that teens streaming at home know exactly where the good shit’s at—and now you do, too. —Alexis Gunderson


6. Pretty Little Liars

Created by: I. Marlene King
Stars: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, Sasha Pieterse
Original Network: ABC Family/Freeform

Watch on HBO Max

Pretty Little Liars, which premiered in 2010 on what was then called ABC Family, a Christian-slanted, conservative basic cable channel that has since embraced an older, more progressive audience under the name Freeform. The show was created by I. Marlene King, who’d go on to be showrunner for all seven seasons, but was known at that time mostly for writing the coming-of-age Now and Then, the Lindsay Lohan vehicle Just My Luck and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. Based on the series of YA novels by Sara Shepard—from which the show’s plot would eventually drastically depart, in a Song of Ice and Fire vs. Game of Thrones kind of situation—PLL follows four teens living in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood as they navigate both the rigors of pubescence and an all-seeing, malevolent force known as “A,” who has something to do with their murdered best friend and erstwhile leader, Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse).

Despite lasting long past the point at which it could’ve cleanly bowed out, Pretty Little Liars stayed compelling (and very lucrative) throughout the better part of a decade, able to balance its teen soap opera tendencies with smart character development and a genuine affection for the world it’d created. That tight-rope walk extended to the many genres it tipped between, helmed by such serialized television veterans like Norman Buckley, folks who’ve stuck around seemingly forever because they’ve got an inherent agility to the way they put together an episode. It helped that Pretty Little Liars was so adaptable to an array of fans, each watching for very different reasons. This was partly due to the series’ overarching mystery, which eventually became an eternally forking mess of mysteries: Who is “A”—but also why is “A,” and what really happened to Alison, and what kind of juicy corruption lies beneath the shiny veneer of the Liars’ suburban hometown? —Dom Sinacola


5. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series

Created by: Tim Federle
Stars: Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett, Matt Cornett, Sofia Wylie, Larry Saperstein, Julia Lester
Original Network: Disney Channel

Watch on Disney+

What a title to launch one of the flagship series of a new streaming platform with! To crib the rhythm of a waning TikTok trend: Does it flaunt the platform’s corporate reach(™)? Yes. Is it unwieldy as hell? YES. Who’s ready to crown it a self-aware heavyweight champ? Me! Is that because this Disney+ defining teen series is coming out of the gate so extremely self-aware that it blazes right past the meta event horizon that would incinerate all other attempts at such a vertically integrated creative experiment, rolling instead to a victorious stop in the land of what I am, of this moment, going to be calling post-cringe? Ah! (Translation: Yes.)

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, which follows the fictional students of the fictional version of the real Salt Lake area high school where the real High School Musical was filmed, as they embark on staging the first production of the fictional High School Musical: The Musical at the real (that is, fictional) East High—if your brain’s not broken yet, then I suspect you’re already doubled over with how chaotically genius this is.

The corporate behemoth that Disney has become is literally the only operation in town that could produce something as vertically integrated and as a richly and winkingly self-referential as High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. And for all that, it’s both fun and fascinating to see the company use its new Disney+ platform to send up its own fairly conservative cable television past. —Alexis Gunderson


4. Cruel Summer

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Created by: Bert V. Royal
Stars: Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith
Original Network: Freeform

Watch on Hulu

I had to give up taking notes on Cruel Summer, Freeform’s 90s-set teen mystery series, about 2,000 words in. That said, the very density that prompted me to get 2,000 words deep in a meticulous kind of madness before changing course is precisely the thing that’s likely to turn Cruel Summer into the internet’s next big generation-spanning hit. Truly, from its complex, triple-layered timeline to its compellingly intimate POV-flipping narrative structure to its viscerally accurate mid-90s details, Cruel Summer is custom-built to be an object of social media obsession.

In the one corner, you have Aurelia’s Jeanette Turner, who at any given moment is a sweetly awkward 15, or a recently popular 16, or a universally despised 17, and who may or may not be guilty of compounding another girl’s trauma. In the other corner, you have Holt’s Kate Wallis, who at any given moment is a universally beloved 15, or a freshly traumatized 16, or an acidly angry 17. In between them, you have a gulf of not-knowing—a not-knowing that at any given moment might come from one character’s inherent duplicity, the natural gaps in another’s first-hand knowledge of a situation, or the fundamental unreliability of memory even before intense emotion is involved. There are some truths that are more real for some characters, and less for others; some realities that are more tangible in one moment than they are in the next.

The likelihood that one girl is lying and the other telling the truth hangs over Cruel Summer like a thundercloud, but in giving the audience just one walled-off chunk of each girl’s side of the narrative at a time, the possibility that they’re both telling a story that’s true to them is just as present. In floating the mid-90s media’s take on Jeanette and Kate to the top of its story over and over again, Cruel Summer adds an important third perspective on the nature of reality, and all the ways in which it can be warped in the name of “truth.” —Alexis Gunderson


3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Created by: Joss Whedon
Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, Marc Blucas, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, James Marsters, Anthony Stewart Head
Original Networks: The WB, UPN

Watch on Hulu Watch on Amazon Prime

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had it all: Romance, drama, tragedy, suspense. The show took the teen-soap formula and elevated it to an art. It was a unique combination of tragic romance, apocalyptic fantasy and the clincher: emotional realism. It also featured the most serious and realistic depiction of human loss ever witnessed on the small screen (in “The Body” dealing with the death of Buffy’s mom by natural causes). Humor? The writers understood the campy sheen that must accompany any show named Buffy. They also knew how to use snappy dialogue and uncomfortable situations to full effect. Complex characters? You’d be hard pressed to find another program that had the same range and consistency of character development. Everyone matured (or devolved) at his or her own realistic rate. As some feminist writers have argued, TV had never before seen the complexity of relationships among women that you saw with the likes of Buffy, Willow, Joyce, and Dawn. Plot? The writers employed elaborate multi-episode, multi-season story arcs. People and events of the past always had a way of popping back up, the way they do in real life. Philosophy? Series creator Joss Whedon was all about the meta, the ideas and story behind the story. He succeeded, creating a WB/UPN show that bears closer resemblance to the works of Dostoevsky and Kafka than 90210 or Dawson’s Creek. —Tim Regan-Porter


2. SKAM Austin

Created by: Julie Andem, Sara Heyward
Stars: Julie Rocha, Till Simon, Kennedy Hermansen, Austin Terry, Shelby Surdam, La’Keisha Slade, Valeria Vera, Aaliyah Muhammad, Pedro Castenada, Giovanni Niubo, Sophia Hopkins
Original Network: Facebook Watch

Watch Free on Facebook

As heartbreakingly excellent as Sorry for Your Loss is, it isn’t inherently a Facebook show—it could, if it had to, find a comfortable home on any number of other networks. The wallop that the equally excellent and differently heartbreaking SKAM Austin packs, on the other hand, derives directly from its Facebook (and Instagram) roots. SKAM Austin, as I noted in my review of this American adaptation of Andem’s original Norwegian public television series when it first hit Facebook’s digital airwaves in 2018, is less a series than it is an “obsession-inducing transmedia experience” that uses the subtle teen-speak nuances native to both Instagram and Facebook to follow the lives of a cadre of fictional Austin teens in excruciatingly real real-time, clips of their quotidian dramas posting daily as the production team maintains live, interactive accounts belonging to each character for fans to follow in between official “episode” drops. Sure, the plot of Megan and Grace and Kelsey and Jo and Shay and Zoya and Marlon and Daniel and Tyler’s overlapping stories might be able to live on in a purely linear form on another platform, but for good or ill, it is literally impossible to imagine the immersive entirety of the SKAM Austin experience existing anywhere else but within the Facebook ecosystem. And if that isn’t the maddeningly unsolvable problem of Facebook in 2019, I don’t know what is. Anyway, here’s a love letter to Season 2. May an equally beautiful Season 3 (and a more robust American democracy) find us eventually. —Alexis Gunderson


1. On My Block

Created by: Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez, and Jeremy Haft
Stars: Diego Tinoco, Jason Genao, Jessica Marie Garcia, Ronni Hawk, Sierra Capri, Brett Gray
Original Network: Netflix

Watch on Netflix

Netflix’s South Central L.A.-set dramedy On My Block is one big, irreverently cocksure nod to all the (whitest) parts of the modern cultural canon one would least expect to find in a coming-of-age story about brown 14- and 15-year olds just trying to survive daily life on their gang-ruled streets. For the first couple of episodes, the series’ slangy allusiveness makes for a story that feels shaggy at best, and structurally unsound at worst, but when the final credits hit, it’s clear that not one second of the show’s episodes were wasted: Every line was measured out, every background track meticulously calibrated, every initially jarring tonal shift set up precisely for a singular cumulative effect that lands in the season’s final moments like a punch to the chest you realize too late you should have seen coming from a mile away. —Alexis Gunderson



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