by Flora Tucker
It’s hard not to be familiar with high-school drama as a TV genre. In fact, it is immensely popular, and ever-present. But how do our relationships to it change as we age? And why do television shows tend to jump from teenagers to grown-ups happily settled into adulthood, with minimal questions of how they got there? We need something to bridge the gap in-between.
There are a number of reasons why the high-school setting is such a popular choice. Firstly, there is the pressure-cooker environment of high school, where everyone exists in such close quarters that there is no option for a character to simply remove themselves from unpleasant situations, be it third-period maths, or an unpleasant class-mate. Secondly, the content is easy to refresh: by adding in smartphones, and some current slang, the TV show has instantly seemed to make itself relevant. And finally, there is the perceived universality of the form: almost everyone either will go to, has been to, or is going through high school. In fact, the prevalence of the American high school on stream has gone past its actual universality, and it is truly remarkable how many British people will know what a ‘freshman’ is, simply through having experienced it enough through a screen.
However, aged twenty-two, watching a thirty-year-old dressed up as a cheerleader, worrying about calculus, the prom, and sex, is starting to feel a little perverse and inapplicable. With rousing graduation speeches, and the sense that by having completed high school, the cast has ‘come of age’. Though the shows sometimes take the characters to university in the next seasons, often they also simply stop there, and the watcher is encouraged to start again with another show that will cover the same time-period. So what are the alternatives? Throughout my degree, I have wondered why the romanticised, coming-of-age, story so popularly imposed against the high school background, is so much less often placed on a university campus. I would even be interested to know how a werewolf feels about the Wednesday-night sports socials.
Coming now to the end of my degree, I am keenly aware of the fact that this is where both Normal People and Gilmore Girls drew their conclusions. With the question ringing in my ears from every direction of, “What are you doing next?” I wonder why that question is never answered on TV. Stepping into the uncharted territory of graduation and beyond seems like it has great potential for a sit-com. Besides, purely selfishly, I want to see someone else do it first, even if it’s in a highly-fictionalised manner.
I’m tired of high-school, and the formulaic nature of the shows is becoming grating. We deserve to see people grow up across more than just their teens, and to see how people grow in different environments. There’s a real gap in the market for shows that take their characters through university and beyond, and I can’t wait to see what fills that space.