Should Teen TV Use Real Teens?

TV Squad has just posted a great Q&A with Brian Elsley, producer/creator of MTV’s highly anticipated adaptation of Skins, due out in January. During the interview Elsley mentions one interesting tidbit that sets Skins apart from other US teen shows: the teens are played by real teenagers.

Now there’s an interesting concept! Teens playing teens! It’s not the normal casting choice – it’s only been done on the original Skins. Could it make the characters more relatable? More enviable? Better or worse role models? Well, there’s no survey from which to draw stats.

So let’s take a moment and think back – way back – to Buffy, The O.C. Now fast forward to the shows of today: Glee, Pretty Little Liars, One Tree Hill (now that its plot clearly takes place in another universe). Not one of these popular teen shows made a habit of having teens play lead characters.

The Buffy cast. "We totally look 17, right?" Totally.

Teen roles being played by people in their twenties was a hot-button issue, in the TV world, at the end of the 1990s, with hit shows using 25 year-old actors to portray 16 year-olds. The big question was this: does an adult playing a teen role skewer real life teenagers’ perceptions of what it means to be an adolescent?

Do teen girls wonder why they don’t have Blake Lively’s body? (I’m 23 and I wonder…) Do teen guys wonder why they don’t have Penn Badgley’s chest hair?

Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But it becomes confusing when you take into account something like the Glee/GQ sexy photos debacle.

These photos were over the top sexy – perhaps we should simply call one photo “sex.” You know, the photo that makes us all extremely uncomfortable; the one of Lea Michelle spreading her legs on a boys’ locker room bench in nearly see-through panties and heels. Parent organizations, teen magazines and church groups were outraged!

GQ's Glee cover (which uses an old Rolling Stone headline). Too hot to play teens?

“It borders on pedophilia,” said a statement from The Parents Television Council.

But do they really? After all, Lea Michele and Dianna Agron (who wrote a very tasteful apology & has a lovely blog) are 24 years-old. They’re consenting adults, nearly halfway to thirty. And as for Cory Monteith (who basically looked as if he came from the gym to grab some panty-clad derriere in the shoot) – he is 28 years- old! Monteith is nearly 30!

I’m not saying this to make them feel old. I’m saying this because they’re adults. And yes, adults should think things through before proceeding with an action. And yes, it is true that they play teens on television. But should they not be allowed to be sexy or risqué or violent or emote or any such thing because they play teens? If they’re old enough to vote, old enough to go to war, old enough to marry, buy a house, pay taxes and have graduated college, are they not allowed to do something outrageous? Or does the outrageous activity have to be parent approved when they’re playing children on television?

Would the issue be solved if their roles were played by actual teens? Maybe it’s high time for a 16 year-old to play a 16 year-old!

Let’s consider another case.

Take a show like Gossip Girl, which is overwrought with twenty-somethings as very adult teens who draw up contracts, never go to class and wear dresses with slits up to their uterus. But Gossip Girl also has Taylor Momsen, the now 17 year-old actress/rocker.

Taylor Momsen Then

Momsen is known for her goth style, crowd flashing, lack of pants and foul-mouth. Momsen is a constant in the debate of teen role models.

Is it better to have Momsen play teen Jenny Humphrey rather than Monteith play teen Finn Hudson?

The material for Momsen’s character is pretty mature and while there is no proven direct correlation between her taking on the role and developing her current persona, could the world have been spared some underage flashing and inappropriate garter wearing if Little J had been played by a 25 year-old instead?

Is it worse to have a real life out-of-control teen play one on TV too or to have adults play teens and do adult things in real life? Perhaps Skins will shed some light on the idea – maybe real teens will solve all role model issues…or not.

Taylor Momsen Now

Maybe teen shows shouldn’t have such mature and sexy plots? Maybe teen stars should be on a tighter leash? Maybe adult stars playing teenagers should consider their young audience when behaving their actual age? Maybe teens should just realize that TV isn’t real? Or maybe parents should talk to their children about what they watch and what it means?

Whatever the answer or preference, there is one fact: I don’t want to see your underwear. I don’t care if you’re 17 or 24, you should know by now that when you’re in public, you need to put on some pants. I’m looking at you Momsen and Michele.


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Filed under Let's Ponder, Throwback

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