Some TV shows depict high school like the writers have never really been to one. Whether it’s teens that look like they’re in their 20s or ones that talk like they have a way too advanced vocabulary, there are some TV shows that show teens completely wrong. But others manage to really capture the look, feel, and behavior of regular teen kids. While they may be embroiled in typical TV drama, there’s an authenticity to these shows that manage to realistically look at life as a high schooler.
When you think of “teen drama,” you’re probably thinking of some of the more unrealistic shows. One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek come to mind as perfect examples of high school shows that probably should’ve taken place in college! But there are plenty of excellent teen TV shows that make teens feel actually represented on screen. And they totally nail how high schoolers actually act. Here are the most realistic teen TV shows of all time!
16. That ’70s Show
When it comes to the reality of what teens do behind their parents back, That ’70s Show totally gets it. These teens are smoking pot, stealing beers, and making out right under their parents’ noses as they try to enjoy their reckless teen years. We’ve all hid stuff from our parents, so this rings super true. But on top of that, they look like real teens! Okay, maybe not Ashton Kutcher, but he is a beautiful outlier here. The other teens look pretty normal, albeit possibly a little older. They aren’t super glam or always dressed up perfectly. They look and act like awkward, fumbling teens who like to get a little high!
No show captures the misanthropy and excess of sarcasm in high school better than Daria. Daria (Tracy Grandstaff) herself nails what it means to be a high schooler who utterly despises high school and feel above everyone around her. That mixture of superiority and hatred is basically what being 16 is. You feel like you’re better than everyone around you and so much more mature as you malign having to attend classes with these plebs. But, really, you’re a typical teen feeling just as confused and annoyed with life as everyone else around you!
14. As Told by Ginger
This one may be another animated show but it’s totally realistic. Ginger (Melissa Disney) and her awkward, gossip-y pre-teen friends encapsulate exactly how confusing and strange growing up can be. Whether it be the fear of shaving your legs for the first time or trying to apply makeup like a pro, Ginger goes through it all. It’s not a sugar-coated experience that we seen in the show, it’s true-to-life. It shows the good, the bad, and the embarrassingly ugly stuff that happens when you’re a teen girl!
13. Veronica Mars
Besides the part where Veronica (Kristen Bell) was a teenage private eye, this show is pretty true to the high school experience. The idea of a class-divided town with the “haves” and “have-nots” is an actual reality for many people. Having money to get the best clothes, cars, and gadgets is a huge part of being “cool” in high school. And if you don’t have that, you’re seen as nobody. Life in Neptune, California is like this, except x100. The struggle is so real for Veronica and it was relatable AF.
12. Beavis and Butthead
Stay with us here. These two dummies are actually a pretty realistic depiction of the crude, ridiculous, class clowns we all knew in high school. It doesn’t exactly inspire us to rewatch and relive those terrible jerks, but they also live in a dead-end town with no real prospects of success, like many small-town kids do, and turn to heavy metal music and absurd jokes to cope and deal with it. They aren’t polished teens trying to be their best. They’re silly idiots barely getting by and making friends, and enemies, along the way. Every high school has one, or a few Beavis and Buttheads!
11. The Wonder Years
Kevin Arnold’s (Fred Savage) life, coming-of-age in ’60s-’70s suburban America, is as nostalgic as it is realistic. Following Kevin through his pre-teen and teen years, the show depicts him falling in love and out of it, wrestling with keeping good grades, and the complications of friendship in high school. The on-and-off relationship between Kevin and Winnie (Danica McKellar) rings so incredibly true for anyone who’s ever even had a crush in high school. Nothing is always sunshine and daisies and sometimes you have to wait for a really long time before you end up with the one you love!
10. Friday Night Lights
Anyone who grew up in a town so in love with the high school football scene will realize how realistic this show is. In many towns, especially in the South, high school football is the be all, end all of basically everything. Futures ride on how teams do. Relationships are decided by the best players and how much time they have between practices. High school lives are shaped by a game and a ball. Friday Night Lights nails the dichotomy between being a teen and playing a game that will decide your entire future. Any high school athlete knows that one good game could get you a scholarship, and one bad one could dash your college dreams!
9. Skins (U.K. Version)
We know what you’re thinking. There is way too much drama on this show for it to be close to real life. And you’re right, but hear us out. In between big dramatic events, including murders and mental breakdowns, these teens are acting pretty much exactly like we did. Partying, hanging out, getting into trouble, and falling in love with each other. They’re reckless and irresponsible and their parents often don’t know where they are. It all rings pretty true to plenty of crazy teens who spent their high school years getting a little crazier than they should have. The downward spirals and messy breakups feel real when you strip away the dramatization. It also makes us remember our own disastrous high school parties and romances.
8. My Mad Fat Diary
Rae (Sharon Rooney) has severe mental health and body image problems and that’s all you need to say to get us convinced this show nails high school thoughts. While her issues may be a bit above most people’s (a stint in a mental health facility secures that), her self-esteem issues and problems with herself ring so incredibly true for so many of us. High school is a vicious landscape of body image landmines and people capitalizing on those issues to make you feel terrible and themselves feel better. Rooney’s performance as Rae is an open and honest portrayal of a high schooler who is struggling with her mental health. There aren’t the many cliches you see on TV about mental health and body image issues. It’s real and unflinchingly accurate about life with mental illness, and how it’s a facet of life and not what entirely defines you.
You guessed it, this show perfectly shows how awkward high school can be. The series begins with Jenna (Ashley Rickards) falling in the tub and her entire school thinking she tried to commit suicide. From there, the tone is set that this will be a show full of rumors, overblown misunderstandings, and #awkward coming-of-age experiences. Just like in real life! Jenna’s forays into finding love and finding herself are usually full of mistakes and embarrassing moments and we can’t help but relate hard. Rounding out the cast are other teens struggling with their faith, popular girls who have self-image issues, and boys who have no idea what they want. Sounds like high school to us!
6. 13 Reasons Why
This is one of the few high school universes that feels lived-in. Sure, the circumstances surrounding the premise of the show are a little out-there (and not entirely positive). But the characters and their reactions to the events happening feel incredibly real. The fear and tense atmosphere that fills the high school after the suicide of a classmate is as scary and realistic as you can imagine. The show doesn’t avoid the tough topics and instead confronts head-on the darker side of high school. High school isn’t always fun or awkward, sometimes it’s downright painful and this show captures that.
5. Boy Meets World
Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) thoroughly meets the world in this series about a teen boy coming of age. The show documents everything from puberty to his wedding with his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong) at his side through it all. Cory deals with a crazy family, academic struggles, and dealing with finding the love of your life in the second grade on this series that shows all the awkward bumps of growing up. It’s not easy to find who you are, but having some good friends by your side is key. While Cory had a bit of a charmed life, his experiences with friends are just like ours were in high school.
4. My So-Called Life
Angela (Claire Danes) is the epitome of teen angst. She’s riding through her tumultuous teen years not knowing what she should do, who she is, or what she should be. She dyes her hair, falls for the bad boy, and makes friends with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. So, she’s basically all of us as we explored life outside the bubble of being a good kid and a good student! But Angela and her friends aren’t just ruffians causing trouble. They deal with real issues, like negligent parents and unaccepting families. Jordan (Jared Leto) goes through so much as a child he can barely read! They’re real, raw, and just trying to survive high school.
Degrassi, every iteration of it, may be the most dramatic TV series of all time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not realistic! Each episode depicts hard topics like teen pregnancy, suicide, and bullying. And when watched together, it may seem like this high school never has a moment to catch its breath (and may or may not have a curse on it). But when watched as each individual episode, it’s apparent how realistic these depictions are. The reactions, behaviors, and feelings associated with common teen issues are on full display here. And the best thing? These teens, for the most part, look like teens! Many are plain-faced and normal, reminiscent of the faces you saw in the halls in your own high school. These teens may go through a whole lot, but they’re doing it authentically!
2. Freaks and Geeks
Freaks and Geeks nails what it feels like to be an outcast in high school. The titular “freaks” and “geeks” are the kids that were more common around school than the popular and pretty jocks and cheerleaders. The kids who experimented with drinking and drugs or spent Saturday nights watching Monty Python movies are the true heart of American high schools. Very few people had an idyllic high school experience like the ones we saw in Beverly Hills 90210. They were just trying to make it through and find their tribe along the way. Here, the characters are trying to find themselves and where they belong. It gets messy, but it’s totally real.
1. American Vandal
This mockumentary-style teen TV drama is all about who drew the dicks… the dicks on teachers’ cars, that is. Everyone thinks they have their man — jokester Dylan (Jimmy Tatro) — but anyone could be the true culprit. This show depicts high school hyper-realistically. The students look like real kids. The way they talk is exactly how kids actually talk. And even the prank, drawing dicks on faculty cars, seems so ridiculously plausible in any high school in America. The authentic vibe of how this would all really go down in a high school is hard to ignore. Aside from hitting the true-crime genre on the head, the show really got high school so totally right.