Remember Season 4, Episode 14 of Dawson’s Creek where Joey finally gives it up to Pacey in a log cabin? How about the 90210 where Brenda returns home from Paris to discover that her boyfriend — the all-time ’90s hottie — Dylan and her soon-to-be ex-best friend Kelly hadn’t been missing her so much after all? And who could forget Buffy’s soul-changing decision to make love to her vampire boyfriend, of just 200 years her senior, on her 17th birthday? Remember how you were nervous, aroused and moved by these characters’ monumental experiences? If you don’t, it is probably because you didn’t have older siblings who were fortunate enough to be teenagers in the Golden Age of the Teenage Soap Opera.
In the ’90s and even during the early part of our current decade, plots unfolded over multiple episodes, relationships evolved in real time and characters didn’t sob while shooting their boyfriend’s felony-convicted brothers. The audience had to earn their moments of revelation, and the writers had to build up to their dramatic events. If you, the writer, wanted to kill off a character or send someone to rehab, you had to plant the seeds at least a few episodes in advance. The belief used to be: “less is more.” If you had one, well-built, justified event, you didn’t need ten subpar, unrealistic, would-be life-altering catastrophes from which your teen heroes are saved just in time. We, the audience, were more patient back then. Things have changed.
Nowadays, soaps that can’t live up to the speed and appetite of the Google generation are never “picked up” or are cancelled. When the characters break up or discover their fathers were members of secret gentleman’s clubs or don’t get into Yale, we gasp, but we don’t care. Some may feel entertained, but we are not being given very much bang for our buck. I must admit, I watched Gossip Girl for the first season or two believing that it possessed the antibodies to fight the instant-melodrama virus that plagues the CW. As soon as Georgina returned to threaten Marissa — I mean Serena — with exposing the truth about a night they spent getting naughty in a fancy hotel and ultimately abandoning their dead-from-overdose ménage-a-trois partner, I was forced to sever all ties from the show. I am not satisfied and you shouldn’t be either.
I am not saying that teen drama should not be fun, but where is the trust between audience and writer? Where are the Joss Whedons and Darren Stars of our generation? Teen dramas today cover every possible human emotion and situation in just two or three seasons. Isn’t it self-destructive to truly invest in shows that cannot survive? After all, ask any of your i-banking friends: it’s all about investment.