I’m not good at TV reviews. I struggle to think of intellectual commentary. Most of the time, my reactions to shows are similar to that of a child; if a show elicits a strong emotion and causes me to think about it a lot afterward, I generally consider it good. When I don’t like something I get petty, hateful even. I feel like I’ve wasted my time.
But lack critical thinking skills aside, I am nothing if not consistent as a viewer. My favourite teen dramas are more realistic in style and possess a slower pace. They each have a unique, established tone and personality. They validate adolescent feelings that I didn’t know how to articulate when I was younger. They make me, a 23 year old woman, feel seen, even though it’s been 6 years since I finished high school.
As much as I eat up classics like The O.C and Skins, what I find really great is the increasing availability of quality, modern international teen dramas. In the slightly altered words of Bong Joon-Ho: Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing teen dramas.
Here are four poignant, entertaining, emotional rollercoaster international teen dramas that I would like to force everyone to watch at gunpoint.
Lisa Ambjörn is my new screenwriting crush. Young Royals (2021–) is a Swedish queer romance teen drama that thoughtfully portrays a delicate intersection between classism, monarchical duty, grief and falling in love for the first time.
It follows Wille, the repressed and anxious prince of Sweden, who learns he’s being sent to the elite boarding school Hillerska after he fights someone at a party and causes a mild social media scandal.
Wille is immediately thrown into the fucked up world of boarding school prefects, secret societies and grades which can be bought. At the helm of all of this mess rooted in entitlement and tradition is his second cousin and older brother Erik’s problematic best friend August.
Wille is immediately drawn to Simon, a non-boarder choir singer from a working class family who attends with his autistic sister Sara.
Simon is unsubtle in his critiques of the Swedish monarchy and Wille’s inherited complacency in all that it represents…which kinda turns Wille on. They find unexpected solace in one another, and it’s one of the most beautifully complicated and nuanced portrays of young love I’ve ever seen.
Young Royals is bubbling with gorgeous, subtle performances. Seasons one and two are available on Netflix. If there isn’t a season 3 confirmed soon I will personally burn down the Netflix headquarters.
Prisma (2022-) is an exquisitely shot, naturalistic Italian teen drama which explores the relationships and identities of 2 reserved twins, Marco and Andrea, in the city of Latina. It is directed by Ludovico Bessegato, director of SKAM Italia.
While Marco and Andrea look almost identical…they literally are both acted, rather phenomenally I must say, by first time actor Mattia Carrano…their mentalities, dilemmas and approaches to life differ quite a lot.
Marco is shy, insecure, angry, crushing on a girl more popular than him and just generally struggling to assert himself in life.
Andrea is rebellious, conflicted and secretive, navigating a palpable crush on a straight-presenting guy and exploring expressions of gender-fluidity.
The story ebbs and flows, flawlessly cutting from present to past and back again as Marco and Andrea navigate their family life, love lives and mental health challenges, forming meaningful connections and struggling to keep certain parts of themselves hidden from the world.
Prisma is available on Amazon Prime. It’s a slow, sensitive and unconventionally romantic treat from start to finish. Season 2 or I will commit arson.
SKAM (2015-2017) is a Norwegian teen drama web series created by Julie Andem for NRK (a government owned broadcasting company…basically Norway’s version of TVNZ).
NRK saw 16 year old girls as an untapped market and underrepresented demographic, so commissioned a show for this audience with Julie at the helm. Julie had a decent history of writing and creating content for and about young people, but SKAM was her first foray into stories about teenagers. And fuck, did she excel at it.
It was highly innovative in form, released not as traditionally rigid episodes, but as lots of small, cumulative real-time clips that were spread throughout the week, which viewers could watch with spontaneous ease on their phones. Texts and messages between the characters would be posted on SKAM’s website, and each character had their own hyper-real Instagram account managed by producer Mari Magnus.
Integral to SKAM’s authenticity are the interviews Julie and Mari conducted in order to craft the stories. They spent a long time gathering anecdotes, talking and listening to actual teenagers about their experiences and concerns. From this they were able to create highly realistic storylines, characters and dialogue.
Kind of like Skins, each season focused on the daily lives of different character from the same social circle at a high school in Oslo.
Season 1 follows insecure and lonely Eva as she navigates a broken friendship with ex-bestie Sara and turbulence with her boyfriend Jonas.
Season 2 (problematic fave) follows self-assured feminist Noora as she develops unexpected romantic feelings for a guy she once hated.
Season 3 (my favourite) follows shy Isak as he meets the guy of his dreams and battles coming out to himself, his Christian family and his heteronormative mates
Season 4 (my second favourite) follows the frank and sarcastic Sana as navigates being a modern Muslim teenage girl in Norway.
After devoted Norwegian fans began publishing the clips on Tumblr in English subtitles, it quickly went viral in its own niche way, spawning 8 international remakes so far (!).
I love SKAM to death and I cannot recommend it enough. Hit me up if you want links to watch.
Voltaire High (2022), also known as Mixte, is a French teen drama set in 1963 that reflects on the sexual revolution via a small group of girls who break tradition by radically join a high school previously reserved for boys only.
Naturally, their presence shakes the school to its core, and most of the boys behave like horny animals 50% of the time and condescending immature misogynists the other 50%.
The integration of girls is a trial period, but the principle is steadfast in making it a permanent thing. He is a soft, compassionate character, an unlikely ally for the girls who, while very witty and hard-wearing, are a vulnerable minority constantly intellectually underestimated and violated by the male gaze.
The costume design and modern vintage-inspired soundtrack compliment the story well, providing a thoughtfully curated backdrop to a diverse range of characters’ difficult patriarchal experiences.
Another thing which stood out to me is the balance of darkness with humor; it’s tricky to make fucked up situations equally funny and heartbreaking.
Voltaire High, as well as capturing a lively youthful spirit, has an inherent French stylishness to it. You can watch it on Amazon Prime.
Sadly, it’s been cancelled after only one season, but the creators are open to continuing the story through other channels.