When Fifteen (known in its native Canada as Hillside) hit Nickelodeon’s airwaves in 1990, I was all agog to learn the ropes of adolescence before the real deal came along. From the minute that killer synthesized credit sequence came on, I was hooked on this 30-minute textbook of teenage life that addressed tough-as-nails issues like divorce, alcoholism, and the shark-infested waters of teen dating. (Remember, we didn’t have Degrassi: The Next Generation back then — though its forebear Degrassi Junior High was a nice companion piece for Fifteen).
So what did I learn about almost-adulthood from Fifteen? How well have those lessons held up? And how does Ryan Reynolds factor in? Click through for the 15 takeaways my seven-year-old mind learned from Dylan, Billy, Matt, Ashley, Brooke, and the gang; plus how they stacked up against my real world experience nearly 20 years later.
1. Love thyself first. This was the motto of Brooke, Hillside’s proto-Regina George, and it’s not all bad… in moderation. Just make sure you’re not wrapping up your over-inflated confidence in a Cosby sweater because the joke will eventually be on you.
2. Diligence and kindness will triumph over trickery. Ashley always seemed to come out ahead of scheming Brooke and her manipulative friend Kelly. Unfortunately, the adult world is blind to such hard-and-fast justice. See: Reality TV. Also, Politics.
3. Honor your commitments. Brooke really let her sister Theresa down by forgetting to take her to a friends’ party. Today, as then, nobody likes a flake.
4. The louder and more emphatically you talk, the more you’ll get your way. Perhaps this “lesson” can be pawned off to bad acting, but that doesn’t mean that some people haven’t taken it and run. See again: Reality TV. See again: Politics.
5. When you don’t have a snappy comeback, a steely gaze will suffice. Sad to say, the fallback expression of soap operas is a one-way ticket to Weirdo-ville in the real world.
6. Want to make a new friend? Dress just like him (or her)! While bad boy Dylan may have appreciated baby-faced rock star wannabe Billy copping his style, grown-up copycats don’t fly. See: Single White Female. Also, The Roommate.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ashley was always stressing over something, from Brooke’s insinuations about Matt’s fidelity, to leaving her gym clothes at home. By mid-day, she was skipping school and seeking solace in the arms of Dylan. Moral of the story: Worry will make you crazy. True to this day.
8. Everything important happens at the soda shop. Like their contemporaries at The Max and The Peach Pit, the kids of Hillside needed a place to gather and regroup. This doesn’t change much as you grow up. Just replace the word “soda shop” with “Starbucks” or “dive bar,” and you’re all set.
9. Drinking more than once a week makes you an alcoholic. Well… maybe at 15, but as a 20(coughcough)-year-old who likes a glass of vino, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.
10. Puppy love is tough. Cougar-bait Billy really went for it with his sister’s BFF Ashley even though she was dating BMOC Matt. We can all guess how that turned out. And we’ve all been there. This is a lesson for the ages.
11. The word “hunk” is a surefire way to impress your crush. Even in 1990, Brooke’s use of that word caused BMOC Matt to do a double-take. File under: “Hunk” is bunk.
12. Nobody likes a prankster. Billy learned this the hard way when he shook up his sister Courtney’s soda. Her revenge? Blurting out that their parents were getting a divorce. That was way harsh, Court. Still, this one actually holds up. Pranks and the people who pull them are a bane… unless the prankster’s name is George Clooney.
13. Exchange students are funny, especially ones with names like Olaf. Having dated one or two in my day, I must agree. Timeless.
14. The boring, polite guy never gets the girl. Matt’s dependable, everyman friend Jake constantly landed in the friend zone with Courtney. Never fear, Jake! This is strictly a high school phenomenon. Just wait until college.
15. Don’t discount a potential mate just because (s)he’s not dreamy, athletic, or rebellious. Okay, to be fair, this is something I’ve learned since the show. Who would ever have imagined that someone as lame as Billy would become the Sexiest Man Alive? (Yep, in case you didn’t recognize him, that chipmunk-cheeked little rascal is 14-year-old Ryan Reynolds in his television debut.)
The learning doesn’t have to stop here, Fifteen fans. The entire show is now available on iTunes. To whet your appetite, check out the complete first and second episodes. But first! Take our poll and tell us what you think was the greatest thing about Fifteen.