Not too shocking that a film in which two fed-up teens go on a popular kid killing spree did not go over well with audiences at first. What is surprising is this pitch-black comedy has become one of the definitive teen movies of the ’80s. Its scandalous nature lives on, however, as planned TV incarnations have been delayed out of respect for multiple mass shootings that occurred around each time it planned to air.
Beverly Hills, 90210
This Fox drama was the first of its kind, creating the blueprint for the modern primetime teen soap. While it went on to have many storylines dealing with then-taboo topics like the AIDS crisis, the first moment that had parents up in arms was when Brenda (Shannen Doherty) lost her virginity toward the end of the first season— a moment that happened offscreen, and has now become one of the tropes of any teen TV show.
Kids is just about as dark as teen movies can get, using mostly underaged, first-time actors to stage scenes that involved graphic depictions of sex and drug use. Even without showing any nudity, the film still managed to get an NC-17 rating upon release.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
While Buffy never strayed away from controversial topics, especially when it came to LGBTQ themes, it never caused as much of a stir as when its third season episode “Earshot” was shelved in response to the 1999 Columbine school shooting. The episode involves Buffy suspecting Jonathan (Danny Strong) plans to shoot students from the school’s watchtower, but learns he was actually planning on shooting himself.
With a reference to masturbation in the pilot, Dawson’s Creek came out the gate as one of the edgiest teen shows that had been on the air at that point. Still, the historical moment that caused controversy both inside and outside the writer’s room was the decision to air the first romantic kiss between men on network television in the season 3 finale “True Love.”
This film, co-written by its director Catherine Hardwicke and star Nikki Reed, startled some viewers with its frank depiction of self-mutilation, drug use, and sexual activity among teens. When asked by EW in 2003 if young girls should be allowed to see the movie, Reed said, “If girls are going through it, they should at least be able to watch it.”
Degrassi: The Next Generation
Degrassi is known for having covered just about every teen issue under the sun, but the one subject that initially got the episode “Accidents Will Happen” banned from airing was Manny (Cassie Steele) getting an abortion. After two years, it was eventually allowed to air in the US.
There had been lesbian kisses on television before Marissa and Alex (Mischa Barton and Olivia Wilde) finally kissed in the season 2 episode “The Lonely Hearts Club,” but none quite as passionate or pivotal to a teen show. While the storyline launched Olivia Wilde’s fame, it also put her into the history of stunt-casted lesbian and bisexual characters.
Skins is another project where every iteration has managed to offend someone. The show, which freely included teen sex and drug use, caused a scandal by airing unedited on BBC America, and almost caused a child pornography case when the Parents Television Council encouraged an investigation before it even launched.
Continuing the CW’s rich history of making parents worry about the teen shows their kids are watching, the network advertised the second half of the first season with shots of their teenage characters having sex. The posters, emblazoned with “OMFG,” were eventually replaced by posters advertising season 2 with quotes about how scandalous the show is.
A show that started as a satire in line with Heathers had calmed down a bit by the third season, but when it showed Kurt lose his virginity to Blaine (Chris Colfer and Darren Criss, respectively), it both broke barriers and ruffled quite a few feathers.
Thirteen Reasons Why
This Netflix series about a teen girl explaining why she ended her own life depicted graphic scenes of rape and suicide to the point where the network had to add more trigger warnings after the show’s premiere.
Before it even aired, the opening of the new HBO show’s second episode, in which around thirty penises appear onscreen, was used as an indication of just how risqué the show planned on being, much to the chagrin of parents everywhere.