The Best Tv Shows Set in High School

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By Emma Grimes

Last week I watched a documentary about Freaks and Geeks, Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s short-lived series set in a high school in Detroit in 1980, which aired from 1999 to 2000. This week there was news of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot that seems to have polarised the opinions of fans. There is also a re-imagining of Sabrina the Teenage Witch called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina coming to Netflix, starring Mad Men’s Sally Draper, Kieran Shipka, as Sabrina and Ross Lynch (who recently played serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer) as Harvey Kinkle. It’s set to be a darker iteration of the nineties series similar to Riverdale, as it was also created by Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. 

All of this nineties nostalgia got me thinking about the television shows that I watched as a teenager based in, and around, the high school years of the characters and how it was the perfect escapism from attending Catholic secondary school in Ireland.

Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

Freaks and Geeks is one of the first tv shows I remember loving as a teenager. I watched Sabrina and Saved By the Bell like everyone else, but this was different. I would have been about 14 when it aired here and just finished my first year of secondary school. It felt like such a real depiction of what high school was like, something I’d never seen before. It was more grown up and I loved that. When I found out it was cancelled I was devastated, I just wanted more. Sadly, there hasn’t been anything that’s come close to it over the years. I’ve since watched the single season countless times and I am forever grateful to this show for launching the careers or some of my favourite actors, writers and directors; without it, there are so many series and films we wouldn’t have today.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

My mam wouldn’t let us watch Buffy when it was first aired so I started it a couple of seasons in but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment. It’s been a while since I last watched it but it’s one of those shows that has such a huge and dedicated fanbase for a reason. If you haven’t yet seen it, I urge you to give it a try. It’s like any other high school drama except as well as studying and going to class, the characters have to deal with a Hellmouth under their school. My mother watched the entire series a couple of years ago and completely fell in love with it and found it hilarious that she wouldn’t let us watch it for years.

Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003)

You either loved this or found it insufferable. I was clearly the former and have since rewatched it multiple times. In the late nineties/early noughties, Pacey Witter was every teenage girl’s (and I’m sure many a teenage boy’s) dream boy. Yes, the characters were sometimes incredibly annoying, using words that I still don’t know the meaning of but there was something so heartwarming about Capeside and its inhabitants. It gets major points for being one of the first shows of its kind to have a main character that was gay. It also gave us one of the best real life friendships of all time; that of Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps. 

Popular (1999-2001)

Popular is the first television show created by Ryan Murphy (Glee, Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story) and it’s his best if you ask me. It had the same basic premise as Freaks and Geeks (and most of the other titles I’ve mentioned), set in a high school and followed two different groups of students, the popular and not so popular. That’s where the similarities end though. Popular couldn’t have been more different, it was hilarious with a heightened sense of reality but it also had heart. My sister an I still quote it to each other today. 

The OC (2003-2007) 

Just as Buffy and Dawson’s Creek were ending, The OC came along and filled that melodrama hole in my life. It coincided perfectly with my last years in school and first years in college. This is another one that I have rewatched and will always have a special place in my heart because it introduced me to a lot of great music (and the deliciousness of bagels for breakfast).

Gossip Girl (2007-2012)

Where The OC left off, Gossip Girl took over. The characters were just as beautiful but even more wealthy, which inevitably lead to lots of sex, drugs and gossip. It was basically a pimped-up soap opera but that’s what I loved about it, pure escapism with an incredible designer wardrobe. 

What were your favourite high school shows? We’d love to know!

If you’re looking for more things to watch check out Emma’s list of her favourite movies about serial killers or the HBO shows you may not have seen

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