10. My So-Called LifeWhen this show premiered in the mid '90s, people weren't quite sure what to make of it. The most popular high school show before it had been Beverly Hills, 90210. And the two shows couldn't have been more different. Sure, those fancy-zipcode kids dealt with "real" issues (teen pregnancy, drugs, yaddah yaddah yaddah), but main character/angsty princess Angela Chase, played with raw sweetness by Claire Danes, actually felt things. She was one of the first teenagers on TV who seemed so real, you'd swear you saw her in the halls at your own school, hugging the walls between classes.
Angela's teenage adventures were served up with real pathos. She did what kids did and still do: told her parents everything but how she was actually feeling. Dyed her hair and felt it was an act of extreme rebellion. Snuck out at night, and felt bad later. Pined for the beautiful blue-eyed boy in class.
My So-Called Life has aged extremely well. It still holds up, maybe because some things about adolescence simply do not change. Watch it and see. Just be prepared to have your heart broken several times when you do.--Didactic Pirate
9. SmallvilleBecause it lasted for ten seasons, Smallville obviously didn't spend its entire existence as a high school show, but it did start out that way. Depending on your point of view, Smallville was either Dawson's Creek with super powers, or The Adventures Of Superman under the effects of Teen Angst Kryptonite. One of its most effective aspects in the first few seasons was that it dealt with all of the typical problems of high school and puberty that everybody faces and showed you how much more difficult those problems are if you happen to be from Krypton and all of your super powers started developing along with everything else. (The episode where Clark's infatuation with a sexy substitute teacher causes him to inadvertently discover his heat vision is classic.)
Obviously, the show evolved along with the characters. Arguably (after a rough patch around Season 6), the show evolved into a much better superhero show. But it also lost its original focus a bit: exploring Clark Kent's life before he becomes the world's greatest superhero, and how his close friendship with Lex Luthor turned into one of the greatest rivalries in comic book history. Sure it got a little sappy and soap opera-y... but, for its first few seasons, Smallville was definitely one of the most unique high school shows ever
8. DariaI would've loved to have dated Daria in high school. Partially because I've never gone out with an animated character before, but mostly because I know we could've been great friends. She was sarcastic, witty, and intelligent and could see her high school classmates and the cliques around her for what they really were. I wish some network would show reruns of this show. Even though it's been a long time since high school, I can still relate to Daria.--Chris
7. 21 Jump StreetIt's hard to believe, but the FOX network has only been around for twenty-five years. Along with Married... With Children and three years later, The Simpsons, 21 Jump Street brought a new network to the eyes and ears of the American public. 21 Jump Street was about a bunch of baby-faced cops forced to go undercover at area high schools to deal with drug dealers, gangs, cults, and even murder. It was a little over-the-top, a little heavy-handed, and at times laughable, but damn it, it was our cop show. Hell, it even begat a spinoff, Booker. And of course, it also launched the careers of Holly Elizabeth Robinson Peete and Johnny Depp. God, why can't they show reruns of this as well?--Chris
6. GleeGlee is, at the same time, one of the most accurate portrayals of high school life and one of the most outlandish.
I have to admit that what first drove me to watch this show was the singing. I'm not a fan of all musicals--I find the sappy '50s musicals like Oklahoma and Carousel intolerable--but I've always felt that life might be a little more fun if everybody spontaneously broke into song 2-3 times a day. Nothing clears the head and gets the blood pumping like a good production number! And that's exactly how it is at William McKinley High. Whether performances by the glee club on stage or in rehearsal or fantasy musical numbers in the characters' minds, there's plenty of music in every episode. It's fun! (Plus, because I stopped listening to new music somewhere around 1989, it serves as my only insight into what people who aren't stuck in a time warp like myself are listening to.)
That, of course, is the outlandish part. What makes Glee really work is not the music, but its grounding in actual high school life. The characters, despite the fact that they participate regularly in lavish musical numbers, are portrayed as real teenagers with real teenage problems. Without this dose of reality between songs, Glee would probably have crashed and burned after less than a season. But these are characters that the audience can identify with.
Like any high school-based show, the characters are getting older and moving on and, as a result, Glee is losing its focus a bit. But, even so, I has established itself in the ranks of the best high school shows ever made. With songs.--Dave
5. Friday Night LightsI don't throw around the phrase "best show on television" lightly. But for a couple years, Friday Night Lights made a case for that title that was hard to refute. Set against the backdrop of a small Texas town's obsession with the Dillon Panthers, its high school football team, Friday Night Lights was a complex, poignant exploration of the trials and tribulations of growing up and grappling with the transition to adulthood. At the show's fulcrum was coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tami, for my money the most perfect realization of a married couple ever committed to screen (that neither Kyle Chandler nor Connie Britton ever won an Emmy is one of the great crimes of the century). Friday Night Lights definitively showed that you don't need crazy antics or far-fetched plot lines to have compelling, heart-felt drama, and understood that it's not just our dreams that define the human condition, but the struggle to overcome our very real limitations in achieving them.--CroutonBoy
4. That '70s ShowThere are a few shows I can put on at any point at night and simultaneously giggle and sleep to. This is one of them. I've probably seen every episode three times over by now, given how much this show repeats on about 10 different networks, but love it every time. It's still funny to me how much of it is still applicable to today (I'll let you determine that as you'd like), despite being a literally dated concept. I can throw this on with friends, my mom, anyone, and still laugh and enjoy. Plus, the Hardy Boyz were guest wrestlers on an episode. Even if they hadn't been, I think I would still enjoy just about every quirky, awkward moment of watching my mom's generation on the small screen.--J-Hawke
3. Freaks And GeeksThis much beloved proto-Apotow project escaped my notice when it first aired. Apparently I wasn't the only person that happened to, because it was cancelled after only 12 episodes. But that's how cult followings are born and sure enough, Freaks and Geeks has since emerged as one of the definitive high school TV shows. Set around 1980, Freaks And Geeks sidesteps the kitschy-ness of other period pieces (I'm looking at you, That '70s Show) and embraces it with respect and sincerity. But the era isn't the star so much as the incredible cast, who imbue their characters--squarely positioned on the fringe of the "cool" crowd--with intelligence and authenticity. Having been a geek myself, story lines around being perpetually exiled in deep right field or unable to express your feelings to someone except through Styx lyrics strike a chord. And for the ladies? Young James Franco. No more excuses.... go watch it now.--CroutonBoy
2. Saved By The BellThis is one of those shows that they always use the theme song of in trivia games on TV themes, and you shake your head when anyone under 18 doesn't recognize it. This was also one of those shows I used to get up just a little early for school in order to lay in bed and watch at 7 AM while TBS played reruns. I always wanted to see what happened next, how I could compare myself to Jesse, and if Zack and Kelly were finally going to get together. Think of it as the half-hour long, comedic version of Dawson's Creek with slightly worse/better clothes. This was a high school show, through and through, and we're all better people for having seen it.--J-Hawke
1. Buffy The Vampire SlayerIf I'm loyal to one and only one TV show years after it ended, it's Buffy. Every couple of years, I watch the entire series again, start to finish. Sure, the early episodes were fairly thin, as our beloved Slayer battled some relatively rubbery monsters during her after-school hours. But the Buffyverse evolved quickly. Show Creator and Über-Genius Joss Whedon crafted a world where life imitates nightmares, where a high school girl with a silly name is suddenly plucked out of a shallow teenage existence by Destiny, chosen to fight scary monsters (vampires, demons, giant reptiles) at night while fighting more realistic ones (tough teachers, mean cheerleaders, demanding moms) during the day. In Buffy, Whedon created an Everygirl who may have saved the world a lot... but would've been perfectly content to spend her time looking for the perfect prom dress.
Promise me you'll go watch Buffy on Netflix. Be patient with the abbreviated first season -- you'll be rewarded. Especially when you see what happens in Season Two when Buffy finally decides to have sex for the first time with her boyfriend. (Hint: he turns evil. Not just in the regular Guy Way.) And that's only the beginning.--Didactic Pirate