On TV: Everything wrong with the CW’s teen-oriented programming

Sometimes, when I’m working on my laptop, or cleaning my bedroom, or other stuff, my eye falls on the TV. And sometimes, ahem, it falls on the CW’s teen-oriented programming. The CW is characterized by its hot-color-looking, ultra-smooth moving series that try to look cinematic, very much like soap operas. And that says something already. It also has a penchant for objectifying and sexualising all of its characters, regardless of their gender, to the bone, often depriving them of any function other than “eye candy”. Even though now it is trying to work out a more varied schedule also in order to reach out to a broader audience, for many years it was dominated by television series aimed at adolescents which suffer(ed) from varying degrees of quality (mostly low quality, actually). While there are storytelling issues also with some of the network’s recent series targeted at adults (I’m looking at you, Hart of Dixie, starring that girl formerly known as James!), the past and present teen-centric programming comes off as particularly heinous for a number of reasons, and here they are:

  • Casting

It is not uncommon in the film and television industry to hire mostly actors over 18 to portray adolescents. That is mostly because underage actors cannot work full hours without being legally emancipated. However, the CW extends its employment of overaged actors as teens to a ridiculous extent as many of the network’s series star actors who are visibly well into their 20s and even in their 30s.

Robbie Jones was 31 when he portrayed high school basketball star Quentin Fields on One Tree Hill‘s fifth season. Michael Steger and Trevor Donovan were both 30 when they started playing characters aged 16 and 17 respectively on 90210. Matt Lanter seems unable of escaping high school: he started playing a character ten years his junior on 90210 in 2009, and continued his seemingly never-ending high school experience with Star-Crossed from 2013 to 2014 at age 30. Julie Gonzalo was six years her character’s senior when she joined the cast of Veronica Mars in its final season. Most of the actors who play the teens on The 100 are actually in their late 20s, and so was Nicole Fiscella from Gossip Girl. In 2011, The Secret Circle‘s Jessica Parker Kennedy was 27 when playing a character eleven years her junior.

Because they totally look like teenage kids

The characters’ ages compared to those of the actors who portray them become even more of an issue when you take a series like The Vampire Diaries, where the characters supposedly don’t age. Storywise, its first four seasons told a two-year-long story, and by the fifth season, you need to have quite a suspension of disbelief not to notice the actors’ actual ages: looking at Paul Wesley and Michael Trevino, you don’t buy them as kids in their late teens; in 2014, 27-year-old Candice Accola doesn’t look like a 17-year-old girl, she’s a fully grown young woman and it shows. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how many times you make them pronounce “like” in a sentence, they just don’t look right. But the silly casting decisions are not relegated to the kids only: TV’s David Anders – who had the luck to start playing age-appropriate characters at the very beginning of his professional acting career – played the protagonist’s biological father, when he actually is only eight years actress Nina Dobrev’s senior. Saving the best for last, 46-year-old actress Alice Evans, who played the Originals’ matriarch Esther, is a mere six years older than actor Caspar Zafer, who played her son Finn.

The CW’s obvious preference for wildly high age-inappropriate casting becomes even more unnerving once you realize that it does actually hire teen actors from time to time: Shenae Grimes and Jessica Lowndes were 18 and 19 respectively when they started portraying sophomores on 90210; Taylor Momsen was really 14 at the beginning of Gossip Girl, while her co-star Connor Paolo was 17 playing 15; Stefania LaVie Owen was 15 when The Carrie Diaries began; Malese Jow and Ashley Rickards were 19 and 16 when they began their respective runs on The Vampire Diaries and One Tree Hill. Willa Holland also had a recurring role on Gossip Girl at 17. So you get to ask yourself why this network keeps bringing in actors too many years older than the characters they portray when it is perfectly able to find cast members of the right age, or at least near it. When actors within the right age range are hired, the final result is more credible, such as in the case of Aimee Teegarden on NBC’s Friday Night Lights and even Mischa Barton on FOX‘s The OC. While E4’s Skins and Canadian teen drama Degrassi are not perfect examples of what always wholly believable teen dramas look like, they must be given credit for having a cast made up solely of actual teen actors (Degrassi also included Dobrev and Grimes).

  • Wardrobe

This topic goes toe-to-toe fairly well with the previous one. The issue with the CW’s ridiculous use of overaged actors is that it doesn’t even try to make them look like they’re at least close to high school age. While on FOX’s Glee the only teen actor in the cast when the series began was Chris Colfer, you don’t really grasp the others’ exact ages unless you look really close because they managed to take a few years off the older actors thanks to wardrobe. They are dressed authentically, very much like actual teens picked their clothes. And it is notable that they dress differently, some pretty well and others pretty bad, but the characters’ styles are all different from one another. Walking down school halls, you can see plenty of kids dressed like the Glee kids. I’m not saying deprive all the characters of any sense of fashion (God, that would suck). I’m saying find a balance.

You don’t find anything as such on the CW, where the teen characters sport a rather mature and sophisticated style – all of them – that does not often help concealing the actors’ ages, and sometimes even ages them (Gossip Girl here, your one and only source for learning how to age your cast through wardrobe!). It doesn’t help that in certain series such as 90210, The Carrie Diaries and even Reign everyone seems to walk the very same symbiotic catwalk. I guess on set they have two wardrobes, one for the men and one for the women, where the wardrobe people casually pick clothes and dress the cast members without bothering to craft a personal style for each character. I guess that’ll take too much time. While Gossip Girl does indeed try to retain some specifically teen-oriented trends such as that inane obsession with headbands and does actually give its characters separate styles, several critics have noted that anytime Blair (Leighton Meester) is shown at home, her wardrobe is unrealistic, being always overly elegant and elaborate, as if she were somewhere fancy. Sure, she’s also been called a TV fashion icon, very much. But no one, no matter how fashionable they are or how rich their parents are, dresses that elegant at home. On 90210, the young female characters’ expensive clothes are also quite inconsistent with their background: Silver (Jessica Stroup) is the daughter of an alcoholic who can barely provide for herself, let alone for a young daughter. She never even mentions to have some sort of job herself, but what kind of job can make a teen earn enough money to get a whole new fancy wardrobe? Similarly, Adrianna Tate-Duncan (Lowndes) once states she obsesses over winning professional acting roles so that she can pay the mortgage her mother can’t, making her the house’s main source of income. So you get to ask yourself how they bought their expensive dresses. But who knows, maybe their wealthy friend Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord) opted to make them her fashion charity cases by letting them have her leftovers. Such a good friend.

  • Love is a (quite often melodramatic) force to be reckoned with, yet so easily forgotten

Romance-themed fiction can be very good, hands down. It may not be my first choice but it can be very enjoyable. Yet, for every good romance story there are plenty ready to give the genre a bad name. A majority of the important plots and subplots on the CW have much to do with the aforementioned magic of endless love and how it is the one thing that manages to overcome and withstand any obstacle. Still, everyone falls out of love just as easily as they fall in love. It’s standard practice for the network to have a couple go up against insurmountable odds to be together, then have them break up a few episodes later. Then get back together. Then break up again. Then get back together. Then break up again. For good. To put it in simple words: everyone falls in love with everyone and completely forgets about their ex(es) by the season’s end. In every single series.

Also, sometimes you just don’t get how the characters become so enamored with one another so quickly. I mean, what’s the deal with having someone become so smitten with another through a single episode in spite of never having once expressed interest before? And how is it that everyone has at least six love interests per season? What’s their secret to attract so many charming suitors? Plus, how come everyone seems to find the great love of their lives in high school? IT NEVER HAPPENS! NEVER! DAMN YOU, CW! And why the hell do they all marry in their early 20s? Nobody should marry in their 20s! Or earlier! Haven’t we learned anything from the 80s?! Also, the relationships are just so melodramatic and mawkish they’re hard to stand. Regarding this, The Vampire Diaries very much mirrors the WB’s Charmed. While the latter had endless trouble at making the demon-fighting storylines thrilling, its portrayal of the four sisters’ relationship and personal lives was highly endearing and witty; on the other hand, the former crafted quite an impressive mythology and interesting supernatural plots that work within the series narrative, but it fails to portray its romances in a manner that isn’t overtly sentimental and thus cheapens the story.

Sometimes the romances even get somewhat patronizing, like when Prince Francis (Toby Regbo) held Queen Mary (Adelaide Kane, love her name… ADELAIDE) locked up for a month on Reign. I understand the series is set in a time when patriarchy was the norm, but come on, Mary Stuart was Queen of Scotland and was going to be Queen Consort of France, not some chick wrapped around the Prince’s finger. Her fictional self deserves better treatment. Plus, what’s the deal with the “Terrible Love Triangle Disease” that’s plaguing so many CW products lately? I mean, dude! Why don’t they get that putting love triangles where they’re not necessary (Reign, of course) sucks the oxygen out of the story (Hi there, Star-Crossed, which sacrificed making potentially interesting character development in favor of falling back into the bathetic, pointless love triangle hole!)?! By now it seems like it’s mandatory to insert love triangles into a series to make it get picked up by this network.

I also want to point out that several series brazenly exploit the fantasy that “the love of a good girl can turn a bad boy good (and vice versa)”. I’m not saying love can’t affect people in a positive manner, it most certainly can. But love is not enough to sustain a relationship and it is not enough to make one person change. Both things require hard work and dedication, and making series that contain such a simplistic fetishization of love is not a good thing regardless of the network or the target audience. As Stephen King put it: it’s “tween porn”, and it’s not particularly good fiction.

  • It’s asking us to root for the bully

Coming off endless love and starting to write about glorified bullying, we have to mention that giant elephant in the room: Gossip Girl‘s Blair and Chuck (Ed Westwick). They were endlessly popular with viewers and the writers always knew they were “endgame”. God knows why. He publicly revealed details of her sex life to an online blogger, called her names, manipulated her, subdued her, attacked her self-esteem, slut-shamed her, treated her more like a property than a loved one, and pimped her out to his uncle Jack (Desmond Harrington) for a piece of real estate. Blair did not want to have sex with Jack, but met him anyways because he threatened not to return Chuck his hotel if she didn’t. Jack turned her down by saying: “I prefer my women willing”. If this quote doesn’t make it clear, 19-year-old Chuck set his first and one great love to be raped. Disgusting. His behavior towards others isn’t exactly respectful, either: he treats most women merely as sex objects or as means to an end and looks down upon people of lower social classes. Actually, I think his relationship with Blair was written into the plot in order to make the viewers forget about the accidents in the pilot episode, when he tries to force himself both on longtime friend Serena (Blake Lively) and freshman and future bully Jenny (Taylor Momsen), as if he had no clue that what he was doing was wrong. And even if he didn’t understand it, it’s made crystal clear others like Blair did and acted as if it were normal. She tells Jenny that Chuck isn’t gossiping about her because he doesn’t likes to brag about his victims, while at the same time hinting that being in constant danger of being assaulted is a price worth paying for gaining higher social status.

This also shows the problematic side of Blair’s character. She has positive qualities for sure, but she’s also the girl you hated in high school, that psychotic prom queen bitch, and an insufferable, spoiled brat. Ironically, she’s also somewhat of an always jealous, attractive “Plain Jane” girlfriend to Serena who drips with insecurities. At first, she believes the only way she can keep Nate (Chace Crawford) from Serena is giving him sex, aggressively and desperately throwing herself at him not out love or enjoyment but out of insecurity. After discovering Nate and Serena slept together, she quickly forgives him, but begins an aggressive slut-shaming campaign against her. She ostracises her from her peers, forbids Nate to speak to her and tells Ivy League representatives that Serena’s a recovering addict, which is false (note: she pulls a similar trick in season two). Her insecurities and bratty behaviour could’ve been a starting point for the character to become a more mature young woman who learns from her mistakes, while retaining her essential bitchiness. But I guess making her grow up wasn’t an option, since a similar story arc is repeated in season three when Blair slut-shames and orders Jenny out of Manhattan Island – would I have such power if I had a rich designer mommy and two lawyer daddies, too? – after finding out about her encounter with Chuck, whom she treats with far more respect… Maybe that’s because he’s not from Williamsburg… Still, after three seasons, Blair hasn’t had her internalised misogyny-shaped tumor removed. Her previous treatment of Jenny isn’t awesome either. I mean, she appointed her as her “handmaiden” only to torment her, never reward her, and ultimately banish her from her clique for petty reasons. In season two, Blair also tries to bully a girl into not dating Dan (Penn Badgley) through intimidation, then tries to ruin her mother’s fashion show to get back at Serena. The thought that she’s messing with her mother’s career (and also Serena’s career in a season three episode) for bratty reasons doesn’t even cross her mind. Still in season two, she is expelled from school and has her acceptance to Yale revoked after falsely claiming Dan had been sleeping with a female teacher. Prior to this, the series doesn’t even imply that her actions could have had consequences far beyond the reach of a high school senior, nor that she’s acting like an idiot. Nobody is supposed to allow themselves to be noticed for their merits, the world must revolve around Blair and Blair only. She repeats the same mistakes season after season, and since she bases her own self-esteem on how others view her, she also accepts all sorts of shaming when directed at her. She is a wasted character whose only redeeming qualities are her quotable bitchy remarks and wardrobe. However, in the end it can be said that the biggest bully of them all is the titular Gossip Girl, who took every chance to torment the life out of everyone.

90210 has its fair share of bullies, too. Annie (Grimes) is ostracised by her friends and brother after being falsely accused of sleeping with Liam (Lanter), who receives far more lenient treatment from his peers and girlfriend Naomi, who later sends a topless picture of Annie to the whole school for revenge. Note: Annie is 17 at the time, a minor, and her semi-nude photo getting passed around is a form of distribution of child pornography. In the real world, those involved in such a situation would have had to deal with very serious legal consequences. But of course 90210 doesn’t even mention that possibility. Also, Annie’s mother Debbie (Lori Loughlin) tells her daughter she should’ve paid more attention because the world isn’t fair to women. Sure, Annie behaved recklessly, but what about the guy who took the picture, uh? Isn’t he responsible, too? Shouldn’t he be scolded and taught how to behave, too? And what about Naomi? She apologizes to Annie in the end, but there’s not one single scene where she is warned about the gravity of her actions. Later that season, she fabricates allegations of sexual harassment by a male teacher. Then comes Adrianna – who also sends a topless picture of Silver after discovering she’s the one her beloved boyfriend cheated on her with… Because sending topless pictures to get back at those who wronged you is so fetch… – who does by far the worst. Silver is bipolar and needs to take her meds to remain healthy, Adrianna knows it and substitutes them for revenge. Because, really, trading meds like that to play with an 18-year-old girl’s mental condition is an example of great maturity. Her actions aren’t even portrayed as villainous until the conclusion of that particular arc.

Sorry for trivializing bipolar disorder for some soapy enjoyment!

They’re not to be seen as gentle, but they are – wrongly – portrayed as somewhat legitimate given her heartbreak. Then, of course, there are also all those instances where affinity for physical aggression is portrayed in quite a chivalric and romantic manner both on the boys and girls’ sides.

These characters have the common sense of a four-year-old who can’t distinguish right from wrong. Well, writing that statement is actually an insult to four-year-olds.

  • Where the hell are their parents?

A boy’s best friend is his mother. Well, not on the CW… But that’s mostly because these boys don’t really have mothers. The lack of parental supervision is by far one of the most baffling issues. Any time order threatens to reign, the writers ship out the parents. If you watch the fourth season of One Tree Hill, you realize that while some parents of the main characters have appeared on screen, only three of them have had prominent roles in their children’s lives, and another parental figure was killed off the previous season, when the series still aired on the WB. Dan (Paul Johansson) is a borderline sociopath who belittles his sons while also constantly pressuring them, as well as competing with them. Deb’s (Barbara Alyn Woods) unfortunate descent into addiction undermines her parenting skills. Peyton’s (Hilarie Burton) father doesn’t appear in season four, even though that’s when she gets attacked by an obsessive stalker twice, and it’s not even made clear whether he knows about it. Brooke’s (Sophia Bush) parents don’t appear during her high school tenure, but she describes them as negligent and unconcerned for her well-being, and she and Rachel (Danneel Harris) start living together in season four. I wonder how they take care of everything all alone!

Teen spouses and parents Nathan and Haley (James Lafferty and Bethany Joy Lenz) have no “reliable adult” figure to rely on, especially on her side since her relatives hardly ever appear. The 100‘s plot revolves around a bunch of juvie kids living on dystopian Earth with little adult supervision while their parents live in the outer space. That’s quintessential CW, my dear people: attractive youngsters and adult guardians nowhere to be seen. While the plot is not implausible – after all, Australia used to be the place where European criminals were sent – and would’ve worked better if the protagonists were older, it is hard to buy the 100 kids would be given such free rein given that their detention on Earth is an experimental venture and, well, their age. On The Secret Circle, the more present witchy parents purportedly lead their children to commit acts that could get them killed so that they can get their nefarious witchy shenanigans done. And there’s also the too often drunk Ethan Conant (Adam Harrington). The Vampire Diaries rejoices in killing off parental figures. I guess that since they wrote off the possibility of permanently getting rid of the younger characters, they decided to get all killer-happy on their parents to compensate.

She can still try out for Mother of the Year next time…

Poor Elena (Dobrev) loses six parental figures through three seasons, although one of them is resurrected in season five. The Lockwood parents are killed in seasons one and three. Granny Bennett (Jasmine Guy) dies in season one, Abby (Persia White) abandons her daughter – as well as her foster son – all over again in season three, and fellow master absentee parent Rudy (Rick Worthy) is killed off early in season five, too. Kelly Donovan (Melinda Clarke) wins the CW Absentee Mom Award, appearing only four times to date. Her 18-year-old daughter Vicki (Kayla Ewell) dabbles with drugs to cope with her absence, while son Matt (Zach Roerig) kicks Kelly out after she fails to act like an adult after Vicki dies. When a high school junior has the power to kick his mother out, you know the family’s got issues. There’s no Mr. Donovan or any other Donovan to keep an eye on Matt. I ask myself how he pays the bills… Maybe he gets paid for vampire slaying. They could’ve at least have the Lockwoods take him in as a family friend, but I guess having a lower working class teen living by himself heightened the small-town realism… Once season 5 premieres, the only parent still alive and kicking is Liz (Marguerite MacIntyre), whose ex-husband left his family after coming out, then died in season three.


Mom, it really pisses me off that you were never, not once in your life, not even a little bothered by my constant, incessant, excessive day-drinking right in front of you

Gossip Girl plays the same song, too: Blair was raised more by her housekeeper Dorota (Zuzanna Szadkowski) than her parents. Her mother sometimes commented negatively on her body in spite of knowing her daughter suffered from bulimia, while also avoiding honest talk with her on multiple occasions. Serena and Eric (Paolo) had to suffer through a number of reckless stepdads and an absent-minded mom. In spite of his son’s efforts to build a better relationship with him, Bart Bass (Robert John Burke) has no regard for him to the point of kicking him out once. Nate’s parents use him as a pawn so that his drug-addicted, embezzling-happy father can save himself from financial failure. Stepford mom Anne Archibald (Francie Swift) disappears through mid-season two (where? And why does she leave her son behind?). Nate also has good-looking and evil maternal relatives, ouch.

…Given Bart’s great parenting, I was waiting for the moment Chuck lost his mind, shaved his head and started hunting down Superman, dragging Nate and Blair with him in his Don Quixote-esque adventure so they could be his versions of Otis/Sancho Panza and Miss Teschmacher/Dulcinea. I’m not sure Dan should be Superman, also because I can’t really see Serena as a convincing Lois Lane…

Hidden Palms is full of fancy outdoor parties with open bars, distracted parents, and alcoholic teen girls and boys who just wanna have fun. On 90210, Harry Wilson (Rob Estes) is hardly ever mentioned after he divorces Debbie. Teddy (Donovan) has conservative relatives who shun him after he comes out of the closet. Omar Shirazi (Shaun Duke) abandons his family after it is revealed he deliberately used underage actors in his porn films. Naomi’s parents and older sister Jen (Sara Foster) desert her before she turns eighteen and seem to have no significant role in her life. So does Silver’s older sister Kelly (Jennie Garth), who is supposed to be her anchor, and it is strongly implied her father hasn’t been around that much for years. Only the dumbest kind of parents would really let their underage children live alone without having anyone to make sure they’re fine. But really, what kind of adult lets a teenager live like that?. But at least a teacher acts mature on this series and tells a barman not to serve Naomi alcohol because she’s 16. Good teacher!

The problem is not that they’re writing bad parents. Bad parents are everywhere and that blows. Big time. If they wrote only great parents, they’d be writing a cotton-candy reality far less believable than what they already are. Still, all of the CW’s damned series lack adequate parental supervision. Most of the time, it is not even explored why they are such unfit guardians, they are just unfit/AWOL for the sake of being so or for the sake of maintaining the kids’ idiotic behaviour. Making a series which features at least more than two reliable parents wouldn’t undermine its interest factor. Realistic parents. Good parents that won’t always do the right thing and won’t always agree with their children, or some that at least that will be a constant presence in their home life. The teen characters’ mutual lack of strong parental figures is never played as something they could bond over, which could be an interesting part of their story if well-done. And even if the characters have bad parents, don’t underplay them so much. At least show them once in a while.

  • Storylines

Saving the best for last, the biggest problem on the CW’s teen-oriented series are the storylines. As far as series aimed at mostly young audiences go, I can count on my fingers the ones that bear any resemblance to everyday life and even those praised for their realism can have some truly batshit crazy moments, like that awful Tyra/Landry (Adrianne Palicki and Jesse Plemons) murder plot on NBC’s Friday Night Lights… Sure, anything on the CW is far more entertaining – and milder – than most of what airs on MTV, but it also produces content devoid of any sense of the reality of teenagers’ lives and fails to maturely handle the serious issues it presents.

What troubled me the most about 90210 in season two and three was how they handled Naomi’s rape at the hands of Mr. Cannon (Hal Ozan). I remain of the opinion that a television series as shallow and tongue-in-cheek as 90210 should never ever, ever, ever, ever carry on a rape plot simply by virtue of lacking the nuance in writing and maturity to justify its existence. That’s the number one reason I hated it to the bone. There was one thing about it that surprised me, however, at least in the very first episodes of season three. They were presenting this serious plotline with empathy, showing us the way Naomi spent her summer isolated, tried to behave as nothing happened even though it was clear something happened, her fear of telling the truth before she decides to speak out to a cop, and overall avoiding typical, horrid soap opera tropes.

It seemed too good to be true that they were being sensitive. It didn’t last long. 90210 being 90210, they had to get their soapdish on and write one of the most mind-numbingly and dangerously inappropriate subplots ever. After her friends learn about her assault, they decide to get revenge by… Guess what?… Cannon has a thing for Silver, so they decide to have her suggestively invite him at a hotel so that they can film him being inappropriate with her. I can’t even describe the anger I felt when I saw that they were trying to make the plan look like it was the right thing to do when even the person with the least common sense possible would understand that endangering her like that, leaving her alone in a hotel room with a rapist who would definitely hurt her if he had the chance, is the worst and most irresponsible plan ever. When that plan backfires, Silver confronts him at school to put him in his place in a scene that makes you wonder whether the writers were writing the episode as if it were the last chance they’ll ever have in their life to write a PG-13 version of a recklessly exploitative, disrespectful rape revenge flick. Whoever wrote it should never be allowed to write any kind of fiction again. Instead of writing plots that cheapen Naomi’s ordeal, it would’ve been far more interesting if she was portrayed as going at a rape clinic/hospital or to the police immediately, and later dealing with the trauma with the help of a therapist. It may not always happen in real life, but at least it would’ve put her on the path to recovery faster and quite frankly, plotwise, it would’ve been more original. It must also be noted the season never truly explores the way Naomi readjusts to intimacy after being raped, when it would’ve been a good storyline.

Several series feature characters aged 19 who own lucrative businesses such as hotels and bars, as well as music video production and party planning companies, 20150802_112747and they’re wildly successful and good at it! Sometimes even without having to go to college! I would understand if the characters were some sort of girl/boy geniuses or kids who spent years observing the business world, thus gaining some sort of advanced skills for business deals. But they didn’t. Things just get handed to them without them having to make any effort. I get having one character go through an incredibly lucky journey of success one year out of high school without higher education. But again, it’s all of them. And why in the world would a girl who doesn’t have much money, who hasn’t even gone to college yet, who is only 19 and who could have cancer decide to have a baby? A baby she couldn’t raise. It’s misguidedly selfish and juvenile. Plus, how many teens do you know who take their private jet out for a date or have a birthday party that looks like a scene from My Super Sweet 16? How many pass from hosting fashion shows to becoming drug dealers in a mere two years? And I don’t know many – any? – kids who can juggle high school in Connecticut and fancy internships at fancy magazines in New York City. Sure, most kids are no Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb)… Still on The Carrie Diaries, a teenage boy got kicked out of school for sleeping with a female teacher. Not the other way round. Absolutely credible. And not traumatising at all. Also, at an art show people start yelling at 16-year-old Carrie to show her vagina… Awkward…

The subplot concerning Blair’s bulimia on Gossip Girl was underdeveloped. It was a shout-out to the novel, which also failed that storyline by using the eating disorder merely as another source of mindless gossip rather than to shape Blair’s character. On the TV series, it was not made into gossip material, but it wasn’t even really explored how Blair felt about it or how she was able to get over it so quickly after she relapsed in season 1. Since I’m speaking of Carrie and Blair’s bulimia storyline, it must be said there are many storyline-related problems when it comes to adaptations on the CW. Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie and Sex and the City are iconic in American television. While Sex & the City didn’t reveal that much about her backstory, the spin-off manages to ignore everything that was said. I mean, I suppose I can cut it some slack because it is actually based on the eponymous novel series that portrays Carrie’s upbringing differently from the way it was described on Sex & the City, but still, they could’ve bothered trying to find a healthy balance between the two…

A blast from the past

The prequel’s main problem lies in the discrepancies between teen and adult Carrie’s characterisation, as it portrays her as growing comfortable among the glitz of the uber-rich very quickly. On Sex and the City, at times, it even felt like she resented her richer friends for being so rich, feeling out of place among all these rich people in those rich places due to her humble origins. Sometimes the changes are for the better, e.g. The Vampire Diaries novels have a very silly, non-horror-ish mythology. The series makes it better, but the plots and characters bear little resemblance to the novels aside from certain parts. When adapting a novel into a TV series, the writers try to find the balance between remaining faithful to the book and adding things to keep things fresh, but not here.

Same for Gossip Girl, which presents the first novel’s plot in the pilot episode, then heads off to whole different directions for the remaining seasons, except for a few half-hearted shoutouts. The major TV characters have the same names as the novel characters, and most of the time that’s all they share. Nate Archibald was the male lead in the novels and he was still the guy the girls fought over, but at least he was more individually developed than he is in the series. TV Nate’s only purpose is to be the eye candy the female characters can lust over and hardly ever gets interesting storylines that don’t involve brooding over some girl. Even the characterizations are different: Georgina Sparks (Michelle Tratchenberg) and Eric from Gossip Girl and Cassie Blake (Britt Robertson) from The Secret Circle are far and away from their novel counterparts when it comes to their personalities. Reign‘s utter lack of historical

This guy (Nostradamus as played by Rossif Sutherland) is 54 but looks like he’s 35! Wanna discover his secret for eternal youth? Ask Reign’s casting directors

accuracy – and its plain awfulness – should be enough to get the series canceled. The ENTIRE SERIES is inaccurate. From the characterizations and events to the clothes and the names, it is so inaccurate it could be set in a fictional land and nobody would ever even guess it has something to do with history. Hell, I even wrote an entire article about how inaccurate it is. One Tree Hill romanticizes Haley’s pregnancy a bit too much. Hell, she manages Advance Placement classes and cheer practice with morning sickness up until joyously going into labor during her valedictory speech at high school graduation! And it’s unbelievable her oh-so-supportive parents don’t show up to help her after she decides to keep the baby. The tacky way the Clean Teens are initially mocked just feels weird, especially since Haley wasn’t made fun of when she was abstinent herself… So, basically, abstinence is tolerated only when a main character chooses it? That’s not very consistent… And there’s that awful subplot where Brooke becomes involved with a male teacher… Why thou so soapy?…

On The Vampire Diaries when obviously older dudes show up to social gatherings as the dates of minors, no one bats an eye. And you always get grown men at school dances. I get Alaric (Matthew Davis). He was a teacher after all. But the omnipresent Damon (Ian Somerhalder)? Klaus (Joseph Morgan)? Isn’t there any supervisor who may think it is a little suspicious that these grown dudes hang around so much? At the aforementioned gatherings and at bars, kids may mention that they can’t drink because they are underage… and then they drink and no one says a thing… I mean, you’re serving a kid! Don’t you know that it can get you fired?! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID FICTIONAL BARTENDERS!

Gimme a drink! I’m a teenage vampire slayer who lives alone and somehow still manages not to fail the school year!

Also, underage Matt Donovan is shown serving alcohol from time to time when underage waiters cannot actually serve it… I mean, even The O.C. acknowledged it. And of course, another thing that must be noted is that all these series focus on the popular kids. It’s always the popular kids. It’s always the 1% of high school population. What about the rest? Where are you, average kids? Where are you, kids who aren’t stalked/uber-rich/uber-popular/uber-perfect? The uber-perfect is so nice, so kind, so supportive, so sweet, so sensitive, so harmless, so caring, so girl/boy-next-doory, always either smiling or crying. The ultimate final girl who never really gets to be a final girl, her affinity for self-sacrifice so big and her self-preservation instinct so not there. Sure, they can be developed into stronger, more three-dimensional characters over the seasons, but that aura of out-of-reach perfection is still there.

Even Hidden Palms‘ main character understands how fucked up the storylines are when he admits: “It’s not horrible, Mom. It’s just unrealistic”. Sorry, man… But your series is also horrible. It’s the series where kids have to deal with their teen angst while also processing that their fathers killed their boyfriends…

Still, while the CW’s reality is heightened for the sake of entertainment, does it really need to be so, so far and away from reality? The teen characters shouldn’t be given – often unrealistic – adult problems, they should be treated like kids and act like kids and do what kids do.

  • Verdict:

Sure, not all of the CW is bad. It’s far and away from making great, realistic series about teenagers. The ones it is famous for are mostly preposterous and exponentially ridiculous (and unfortunately, the showrunners know it and don’t give a damn). But it is also less dependent on them. As of late 2014, only The Vampire Diaries, The 100 and Reign are still airing, and all three of them are genre series. The first two are actually nice escapist horror and sci-fi in spite of their flaws. Gossip Girl‘s first thirteen episodes are also pretty sweet and mantain a good balance between the crazy and the more grounded stuff, and The Carrie Diaries is arguably the best of the CW teen dramas. Still, if you really want to tune in to the CW, then tune in for more adult-centric fare such as their comic book adaptations, which are actually surprisingly good.


5 thoughts on “On TV: Everything wrong with the CW’s teen-oriented programming

  1. Hi! You made some very good points about the problems with CW shows and basically why no intelligent person ever takes them seriously. I especially like what you said about the way they glorify bullies. Like all the shit Damon did whenever Elena (or Katherine) broke up with him. And we’re supposed to think that’s romantic? Call it the power of true love? I love(d) Damon to death, but that’s just stupid. But in a way, I think dysfunctional relationships and families are what make CW appealing, to tweens anyway. When you’re that young and naive, you don’t really notice plot holes and flawed characterization and bad casting. All that matters is drama: what’s going to happen next? Is he actually her brother? And who cares if those high school boys look 34 if they’re hot as hell? I think what appears ridiculous and stupid to us is what thrills them. So I suppose with regards of pleasing little 13 year old girls, CW’s actually doing a pretty good job. But I agree, if they wanna make shows that rate higher and last longer than 3 seasons, they need to get rid of some pretty serious problems. Good post 🙂


  2. I like how professional and accurate this post is, not just some lame criticism for the sake of it. Although one tree hill is my favourite tv show, I still agree with the flaws you’ve mentioned and I think of some of them while watching too. I start to overcome them when I relate to it, maybe not all of it is real but at least a huge part is. You are a great critic that I believe you could do it for a living, seriously.


  3. Pingback: (Looking back at) Fashion/Photography: James King (is a Girl) | The Photography Blog

  4. The age thing is not that big of a deal, mostly because I’ve accepted that it happens everywhere. Russell Crowe once complained about women going for roles of the Ingenue while in their 30s and while artistically he might be right, the problem is that NO ONE is writing roles for women in their 30s as prominent roles. Sex and the City and Golden Girls are exceptions for female characters older than 30 being front and center. So on that front, I get it and so long as we get a good performance, that’s all I care about. I’d rather an older actress play the role of a younger one than a younger one take the role meant for an older actress (the ones playing Susan Storm, anyone?). Imelda Stanton has been campaigning for more good female roles being written in general, but especially roles for older actresses. It’s gotten a bit better, but it’s still scarce.

    So, that point is one that is not solely the CW’s fault, it’s a problem regarding the industry in general.

    Also, the problem with using teen actors is the money. Not only do you have to pay more to your crew since they can only work certain hours, but you also HAVE to pay the set-teacher that accompanies the teen actor. ALSO, you have to be really careful about stunts since insurance for those kinds of actors is much HIGHER than for adults…. In other words, having the lead actor be an actual teen is very expensive and some producers would have a hard time justifying using a teen actor when an adult has more experience, more discipline, can work longer, and won’t cost the network as much money. So they might use actual teens for one-offs and guest characters, but not for the leads. I get the logic behind it, though 30’s is pushing it a tad.

    But aside from that, I do agree with your points. So much


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