Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001–present, TeenNick)
For years as a child, I snuck in episodes of Degrassi while my parents were at the grocery store. I watched in a daze as Manny strutted into school with her whale tail proudly on display, Rick shot Drake (excuse me, Jimmy), and JT, the nerdy teen dad, bled to death after being stabbed by a malicious student from Lakehurst, the evil rival of Degrassi High. I thought Degrassi was the most exciting thing on television. Truthfully, it may have been. It may still be.
Degrassi has existed since the late ’70s, and while it’s not as scandalous or critically-acclaimed as its angsty counterparts Skins or My So-Called Life, it is very fun to follow, but also, important. This is a show which introduced the first regular transgender character to television, and has tackled the taboo of teen mental health time and again, with realism and regard. While lately it seems rape has become a plot point for television shows such as Game of Thrones, Degrassi has handled the sensitive and triggering topic with respect and nuance at least three times. Behind its sometimes laughably melodramatic storylines (see: the kissing twins, Fiona and Declan Coyne, Season 9 and streaking stoner goth, Eli Goldsworthy, Season 12), Degrassi teaches acceptance. Its tone avoids preachiness even as its plot lines display the wide variety in adolescent experience. Degrassi‘s tantalizing drama, realistic subject matter, and heartthrobs have had a massive impact on me (bad boy Sean Cameron singlehandedly awakened my sexuality). TeenNick canceled Degrassi earlier this year, but Netflix has picked it up: I am proud to say that I don’t think Degrassi will ever disappear. (Nor will my crush on Peter Stone.) —Simone
Fast and Furious movies (2001–2015)
If you’re into action movies, especially those with ridiculous car chase scenes, you’ll be into The Fast and the Furious. The films—currently seven in all—are nothing but a pure adrenaline rush. And if you’re not into action movies, you’ll likely appreciate the characters and the relationships between them across the Fast and Furious movies. In the first movie, which came out in 2001, a cop named Brian O’Conner (played by Paul Walker, RIP) goes undercover as a street racer to infiltrate a suspected team of hijackers. The team is led by a dude named Dom Toretto, who is played by the amazing Vin Diesel (have you seen his Facebook?). In a tale as old as time, these opposite personalities strike up a friendship and become like BROTHAS. So, even though FF seems like a total testosterone-filled, musclefest at first, you start to really appreciate the bromance and family theme of the entire franchise. FYI this is not a total dude party. There’s some really strong female characters, too, like Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who is SO badass, she’ll make you want to get behind the wheel of some fast vehicle and BURN RUBBA. Although, that’s very dangerous so I DO NOT recommend that for us. Obey the speed laws, plz.
It’s pretty remarkable that there have been a total of seven freakin’ films and that they keep getting more and more successful. Another reason for their popularity, besides the awesome emotional connections between the characters (and the real-life actors that play them), is that there has been an impressive evolution in the shorelines. The first couple of films were about street racing and hijacking cars, and by the time the fifth movie rolls around, FF has become like an old-school, heist film, complete with an ensemble cast of charming characters. Think Ocean’s Eleven meets fast cars with a splash of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. PURE ENTERTAINMENT. —Marie
Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996, CBS)
My memories of summer vacation are very proudly tied to two things: my couch and Jessica Fletcher. I would spend hours watching the same re-runs of Murder, She Wrote with my grandma when she was home from work and on weekends. We’d dive into the quaint, dangerous world of Cabot Cove where the queen Jessica (played by the incredible Angela Lansbury for 12 seasons and several movies) would write her mystery novels and casually solve VIOLENT CRIMES on what seemed to be daily basis in this tiny town. Fletcher Da Gawd played it so cool as she meddled in literally every criminal case that came through Cabot Cove that the sheriffs couldn’t even be bothered by the fact that this sassy older woman was way better at their jobs than they were. Murder, She Wrote is the perfect show to get lost in. Turn on the Hallmark channel at any hour of the day and a quick glimpse into Fletcher’s world—where locking away small-town New England murderers is nothing more than just another chillsitch between writing her successful mystery novels. For a bonus dose of Fletcher’s already super meta life: Fletcher is still publishing Murder, She Wrote novels (along with non-fictional person Donald Bain). —Brittany
Gossip Girl (2007–2012, The CW)
This is my first time admitting this: When I was 15, staying in a sleepy suburban town in Kansas one summer, I became completely obsessed with The CW’s Gossip Girl. During hours of tedious secretary work, I’d look forward to coming home and hearing Kristen Bell’s voice sassily announce, “Gossip Girl here. Your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite.” Too embarrassed to share my fandom with friends IRL, I took to the internet to discuss Dan Humphrey versus Chuck Bass and the significance of someone preferring Blair Waldorf to Serena van der Woodsen. (I know Blair’s headbands are cool but she was just so mean!) The love triangles, mischievous ploys, and dramatic plot combined to form my delightful guilty pleasure. Over six seasons, the series followed the characters as they transitioned from teendom to adulthood. Despite my fandom, I have to acknowledge that the show also gave me and my friends mad delusions as to what my social life/family life/high school experience should be. The characters place extreme importance on image and materialism, often participating in extravagant displays of wealth. Viewing the privileged lives of these fictional characters was incredibly entertaining, so long as I didn’t let the show distort my concept of reality. —Mads
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990–2000, Fox)
The original Beverly Hills, 90210 ran from 1990 to 2000, a decade also known as My Teenage Years. I was 10 when the series began, and the basic premise— a family with teenage twins moves from wholesome Minnesota to ridiculously wealthy Beverly Hills—was enough to make me a devoted watcher from the very first episode. The twins, played by the eventually insufferable Jason Priestley and the high priestess of teenage angst, Shannen Doherty, quickly make friends with the coolest kids in school and, well, lots of hi-jinks and drama ensues: 10 years of it! Since this could quickly turn into 3000 words on 90210, here is a very brief list of topics the series covers: sex, sibling rivalry, drunk driving, drug taking (by both kids and parents), karaoke, death of a parent, divorce, love, cheating, rape, incest, fire, slumber parties, school newspaper politics, race, Santa Claus, Color Me Badd, diners, pie, talk radio, nightclubs, crop tops, houseboats, perfect eyebrows, terrible eyebrows, boob jobs, dye jobs, blow jobs, after school jobs, oh my god! There is one episode with angels! There is one episode with a rave! There are peaks and valleys. Shannen Doherty left after season four, and her former paramour Luke Perry left for seasons seven and eight, but returned in the end, thank heavens. Some of the writing is abysmal, but after 10 years, the characters were as solid as tree trunks, and I wept when it was over. —Emma S.
Harry Potter film series (2001–2011)
The film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series have A LOT to live up to, and they do an excellent job. Actually, it was the first movie that got me into the books. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard on his 11th birthday—and not just any wizard, he is “The Boy Who Lived.” Voldemort, a dark wizard obsessed ridding the wizarding world of any traces of Muggle (non-magical) heritage and taking over both the wizard and Muggle worlds, killed both of Harry’s parents, but when he tried to kill baby Harry, he only managed to leave him with a lightning bolt shaped scar. Voldemort vanishes, but the dark forces are beginning to stir just as Harry heads to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he spends seven years making talented witch and wizard friends, honing his magic skills, and fighting battles that lead to all-out war with Voldemort and his followers, the Death Eaters.
My friends repeatedly told me how awesome these films were, but I had to actually see Harry at Hogwarts with its gorgeous Great Hall and magnificent feasts; its ghosts and moving staircases; and especially the Quidditch matches to believe it. The first two movies stay very close to the books and do a lot of the initial world-building. Although the tone of the movies change depending of who is directing, overall, the movies stay true to the books. Of course, there are always some scenes that they have to lose which is a bit of a bummer since it would be great to see every last bit of Harry’s world on screen. What you do across these eight movies is most magical ride of your life—thrilling (every showdown with Voldemort), terrifying (OMG, the giant spiders), heartbreaking (as with any long quest story, we lose some great characters along the way), and above all, full of wonder. —Stephanie
Saturday Night Live (1975–present, NBC)
Saturday Night Live is a lot like a typical suburban dad: Funny (and sometimes not), 40 years old, loves to make fun of Sarah Palin, and underneath the aloofness, wise, thoughtful, and sweet. You can’t help but love it! Like many kids who aspire to be class clowns, I began religiously watching SNL around the age of 10. As someone who grew up watching Nickelodeon shows like All That, The Amanda Show, and Kenan & Kel, it was amazing to see the original sketch comedy program which had influenced them all (and that Kenan Thompson still had a job). Although SNL has maintained its format as a sketch comedy variety program, it’s been through dozens of phases, and featured hundreds of comedians. That’s the beauty of the show; its huge and ever-changing cast means that no matter your age or sense of humor, it has something to offer. Each member of the cast is different, like each sketch is different, and each season is different. And SNL pokes fun at nearly everything: political figures, sports scandals, celebrity gossip, even itself. Personally, I think the best sketches come toward the end of the night, when viewers are starting to fall asleep and the direction gets a bit loose. My favorite sketch is from the very first episode of SNL I ever watched, in which Fred Armisen takes his role in a pizza rolls commercial a bit too seriously. —Simone
Full House (1987–1995, ABC)
The ‘8os/’90s sitcom is a beautiful creature: canned laughter and static sets, hokey jokes and loud prints. Full House aired from 1987-1995, which meant that it was always on when I came home from elementary school. Now that it’s perhaps most famous as “where the Olsen twins came from,” it’s a little bit astonishing to actually go back and think about those two women as children on the show. If when you think of the Olsen twins now, you think of stone-faced fashion icons, then you really need to do yourself a favor and watch a few episodes. Mary-Kate and Ashley played Michelle Tanner, a goofy little kewpie doll who, as was often the case in shows like this, always had the best punchlines. They were comedians! Try to wrap your brain around that. The rest of the cast was equally bizarre and divine: dreamboat John Stamos as Uncle Jesse, goofy dad Bob Saget, and Candace Cameron and Jodie Sweetin as the older Tanner daughters, with the irritating Canadian comedian Dave Coulier as their stand-in Uncle who was there, I suppose, for still ADDITIONAL comic relief. They truly don’t make shows like this anymore….until very soon, when episodes of spin-off Fuller House will begin on Netflix. I can’t wait. Don’t hold your breath for the Olsens to make any guest appearances, alas. —Emma S.
The Simpsons (1989–present, Fox)
The eponymous cartoon family of knuckleheads at the center of this wondrous TV program is responsible for so many crucially transformative aspects of my life. Herein: A list of five of the myriad ways in which Marge, the blue-haired mom, Homer, the doltish dad, Bart, the cut-up brother and also me, exactly me, and Lisa, the bookish sister and also totally me, have added worth to mein leben:
1. The show is committed to jokes and other goofiness ranging from the lowest of the low—burps, physical blunderings-around, et al—to high-falutin’-ish, wry literary references (usually delivered by our girl Lisa, the little herbette!) that lampoon people like Gore Vidal, the longtime Paris Review editor George Plimpton, Helen Gurley Brown, and many more of my heroes. Outside of their subject matter, the jokes are tight as fuck when they’re meant to be—the payoffs can be meted out over the course of a single punchline or entire episode—and pleasantly goony when they’re one-offs, like when the family forms a conga line in protest of a dish Marge has proposed making for a social engagement and sings, “You don’t win friends with sal-AD!” (Also, that life lesson, in and of itself, has been immensely valuable to me.) Regardless of how the writers choose to do it within each episode, they always make me laugh, even during times when l was disinclined, mostly, to do that: I first got into the show when I lived in this grim little basement with the windows kicked in when l was 11 or 12 years old. I slept on a fold-out couch facing a TV with basic cable, and because Simpsons reruns began every night at 11, I fell asleep grinning almost every night.
2. The town the show takes place in, an all-American suburb called Springfield, and the people in it, comprises a completely realized world. You get to know its bartenders, convenience stores, religious figures, doctors, TV shows within the show, and all the other regular stuff you can also find in real life. I know Springfield like I do my hometown, and I am happy to have been visiting it with regularity for 13 of its 24 years now. (The show was born one day after me, so we very truly came up together!)
3. Every single Lisa-centric episode is my favorite episode. Our girl takes on the beauty-industrial complex by protesting Barbie-inspired dolls and critiquing her own participation in a Little Miss Springfield pageant, avidly pursues her interests and passions, like academics and her saxophone, despite the other characters’ jabs about their aforementioned “nebbishness,” and provided me with one of my all-time heart-anchors in the episode “Lisa’s Substitute,” which I do not want to ruin outside of telling you that if you are ever feeling down ‘n’ out on yourself and your abilities, you will probably feel those ways FAR less after watching it.
4. The drawing style and animation, especially from the earlier seasons, look cool as hell. For every single episode (ALL 574 OF THEM, SO FAR), the animators variegate the opening credits in iterations that are often hilarious or artistically beautiful and innovative—like this march through the history of time, as portrayed by Homer’s evolution from a prokaryote to a fully-formed human lazybones.
5. The Simpsons directed me to where in the country I wanted to go to college, and that I wanted to go at all. Although for much of the series, it isn’t specified where in the USA Springfield actually is—an intentional joke, because so many states have a town named Springfield—The Simpsons was still something of a compass for me. After becoming obsessed with Matt Groening, the show’s creator, because of my teenage-to-current love of his comic strip Life in Hell, I read mad interviews with him. In some of them, he waxed rapturous about this freakfest of an institution called the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Apparently, if you hated grades (the school doesn’t give them) and LOVED self-discipline, ambitious personal projects, and structuring your own labor-days (“Go ahead, make your own major!”—this rad place), this was where you (I) needed to be. Before hearing about it, I was iffy about higher learning. All of a sudden, I wanted so rabidly to apply to the same place that spurred the mind of a dude who came up with “Marge vs. the Monorail,” an episode of the show which includes a traveling-salesman huckster, musical interludes, a healthy dose of skepticism about futuristic innovation, and poking harmless fun at the elderly (aka Abe Simpson, Homer’s crank of a dad). The next thing I knew, I was thinking, Why not apply other places, too, as long as I’m filling out the Common App? Even though I decided on a different school, I now have a degree because of some fictional, animated yellow weirdos, which is too rad, when you think about it. —Amy Rose