10 underrated teen shows you shouldn't miss out on
We've given you our list of the 50 Best Teen Shows of All Time. But what about some of the other teen shows that don't get enough love? The ones that never reached the same level of fandom as a Beverly Hills, 90210 or a Dawson's Creek? Now, as EW's I Want My Teen TV summer continues, we're looking to celebrate some of the underrated gems in the teen television genre.
Here are 10 series that we think deserve a watch.
Faking It (2014)
Right now a marker of teen shows geared toward Gen Z has been a very malleable conception of a character’s genders and sexualities, but MTV was way ahead on that front with this queer comedy from 2014. Through three seasons, viewers of course got a lesbian twist on a will-they-won’t-they relationship between leads Amy and Karma (played by Rita Volk and a pre-Bold Type Katie Stevens respectively), but also were treated to probably the only major TV storyline about an intersex character that one can think of, as well as a supporting cast from all across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum factoring into big roles. Enough with the pats on the back for representation though. The show still manages to have quite the edgy sense of humor that leans hard into the “keep Austin weird” part of Texas culture, rather than what’s customary of the Lone Star State on something like Friday Night Lights. —Marcus Jones
While Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks empathetically reveled in the heartaches of high school, his underrated follow-up was all about getting to the good stuff — the college years. Undeclared dabbled in the mundanity and inanity of campus life: finding a keg and setting a deadline to kill it; regretting getting the townie to write your paper (what’s up, Will Ferrell?); signing up for a credit card that bankrupts you, and being converted by the Campus Crusade for Christ guy (oh, hey, Kevin Hart!). Viewers enrolled at University of Northeastern California with gawky high-strung protagonist Steven (Jay Barchuel), but his roommates and hallmates were Dean’s List material, too, including: that knowing ladies’ man and drama major Lloyd (Charlie Hunnam); sardonic-and-savvy Ron (Seth Rogen); and chipper-neurotic Lizzie (Carla Gallo), who was torn between Steven and her overemotional high school sweetheart (guest-star Jason Segel). And as we mentioned, those guest stars were often comedy royalty. (Look, there’s early-career Amy Poehler as the RA who lusts after Lloyd and winds up dating Steven’s father-in-midlife-crisis, Hal, played by Loudon Wainright!). Launched the week after 9/11, Undeclared lasted only 17 episodes — one episode fewer than Freaks and Geeks — but just like those memories of your own freshman year, it’s forever encased in amber (lager), waiting to cracked open again. —Dan Snierson
Despite receiving critical praise in its first season, the MTV show isn't super well-known (and was ultimately canceled despite many involved saying they wanted a sixth season). The series follows social outcast Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) after she survives a freak accident that is misconstrued as a suicide attempt. She then starts a blog that helps her get through the many struggles of high school, from peer pressure to relationship issues, and more. The series tackles all the classic high school tropes with a comedic edge, and unlike many shows, maintained its quality throughout. EW even handed its fifth season the grade of A-. Although Awkward developed a devoted fanbase during its five-season run, it never quite reached phenomenon status. Nevertheless, the dramedy is worth checking out. —Samantha Highfill
“Gritty” isn’t something that usually comes to mind when discussing teen fare, but the television adaptation of Fame filled with streetwise, talented students from the New York City High School for the Performing Arts in roles designed for specific talents — leads Lori Singer of Footloose fame was already a cello prodigy, and both Gene Anthony Ray and Erica Gimpel had been a students at the school — have more than just typical teen worries on their shoulders. They want to be stars, and as dancer instructor (Debbie Allen) chides her class, “You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying, in sweat.” Bold musical numbers, wickedly funny teachers, Fame never shied away from treating the students as young adults in a big city. Just wish they would have kept Fran Drescher (in an uncredited role as a popular girl) beyond the pilot. —Sarah Sprague
The End of the F***ing World (2017)
A dark comedy about a teen boy, James (Alex Lawther), who thinks he’s a psychopath and kills animals for fun and the girl, Alyssa (Jessica Barden), who thinks she loves him and wants to run away with him doesn’t exactly sound like it has the makings of a touching love story that deeply explores trauma and healing. Especially since James decides to graduate to murdering a real human, setting his sights on Alyssa as his first victim. But Netflix’s short British series The End of the F***ing World is full of surprises as James and Alyssa embark on the road trip that will forever change their lives. Equal parts horrifying (like, deeply horrifying), hilarious, and heartfelt, Lawther and Barden make you empathize with these characters who, for all intents and purposes, you should absolutely hate. But you just end up rooting for their odd relationship to actually work — and for the police to fail in catching them. The second season stumbles a bit to recapture the magic of season 1, but overall this wacky, adorable couple is the pitch-black modern version of Bonnie and Clyde you didn’t know you needed in your life. That’s why Netflix canceling felt like the end of the f---ing world. —Sydney Bucksbaum
The Secret Circle (2011)
With The Secret Circle, the CW definitely hoped to capture the same magic it did with The Vampire Diaries. Based on the L.J. Smith’s book series of the same name (like TVD), the dark supernatural drama follows Britt Robertson’s Cassie, who discovers she’s a witch and is destined to join a coven of other teen sorcerers (the titular secret circle) when she moves to a small Washington town after her mother’s death. It featured the tropes we’ve come to accept from this genre, like love triangles and untrustworthy parents, but its biggest selling point was its cast, which was comprised of favorites like Phoebe Tonkin (The Vampire Diaries) as bad girl Faye, Shelley Hennig (Teen Wolf) as circle leader Diana, and Jessica Parker Kennedy (The Flash) as the reserved Melissa. While the fact that it only lasted one season meant those actresses could go onto bigger and better roles, its cancelation is still disappointing because the first season ended on a great cliffhanger that promised an even better second season. —Chancellor Agard
Looking for Alaska (2019)
After more than a decade of attempts to adapt John Green’s award-winning young adult novel Looking For Alaska, teen drama aficionados Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage stepped in to beautifully bring it to life in eight episodes. The earnest, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring story of love, loss, and finding meaning in life set in the early '00s had a quiet premiere on Hulu in 2019, but its timeless story of teens grappling with heavy issues deserves more love than it initially got. There’s a reason why it wasn’t abandoned after 10 years of development purgatory! Schwartz and Savage once again proved why they’re forever in the teen TV show hall of fame with this limited series, but it's the young stars (Charlie Plummer, Kristine Froseth, Denny Love, and Jay Lee) who delivered the lightning-in-a-bottle magic to the small screen that fans of the book always knew lived in the pages. In one perfect, short season, Looking For Alaska captured all the raw, pure, untethered emotions of being a teenager better than most teen TV shows could in hundreds of episodes. —Sydney Bucksbaum
Finding Carter (2014)
Finding Carter, which centers on a teen who discovers the woman that raised her actually abducted her as a child, unfolds like a true crime story as it explores her family’s reality. Yes, there were shocking twists, but often it focused on the complexities of the Wilson family’s drama and trauma. As the show went on, that family grew to include Carter’s (Kathryn Prescott) new friends, surprise siblings, and eventually even the woman who kidnapped her. Carter feeling attached to the woman who raised her, how her twin sister was determined to be perfect and play it safe because of Carter’s kidnapping; those arcs are what set it apart from similar fare. The storytelling balanced the high school drama and dark reality of what happened to the Wilson family to create something that tried to explore new territory. —Alamin Yohannes
Back in 2013, an article on this very website declared Misfits “the best Hulu show you’re not watching.” Nearly a decade later, it’s still worth wondering why the show never crossed over into the U.S. mainstream, despite running for five seasons in its native U.K. The series boasts a compelling premise — a group of young delinquents develop superpowers after getting caught in a mysterious electrical storm while performing court-mandated community service — and featured stars like Iwan Rheon (who went on to play Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones), Antonia Thomas (The Good Doctor, Lovesick), and Robert Michael Sheehan (a.k.a. Klaus from The Umbrella Academy). Luckily, you don’t have to have Curtis’ (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) time-bending powers to check it out: All the episodes are still streaming on Hulu. —Jessica Derschowitz
Dare Me (2019)
The fight to stay at the top of the cheer pyramid is ruthless on Dare Me. Based on Megan Abbott’s 2012 novel, the drama centers on the Sutton Grove High School cheerleading team and its new Coach Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald). The dynamic between the central trio of Coach French and cheerleaders Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy, best friends played by Herizen Guardiola and Marlo Kelly, is cutthroat and loving, often switching quickly between the two. All they want is to win cheer championships, but Coach French and Beth have their own ideas about how, and Addy is stuck in the middle. Herizen stands out as a young woman of color who will push herself to excel, get out of her small town, and have the life she wants for herself. It’s an addictive binge, which is why it found an audience again when it hit Netflix. —Alamin Yohannes
Read more from I Want My Teen TV, EW's summerlong celebration of teen shows past and present.