The Teen Shows That Defined The 2000s, Ranked

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If you grew up in the 2000s — and by “grew up,” I mean got braces, had your first pimple, and learned to drive a car — then you were hella spoiled when it came to good television. While critics continuously rave that this is the one of the best years of television ("peak TV"), I beg to differ. It's true that today there are more shows with insane budgets (The Crown, Game of Thrones) depicting all kinds of families (Atypical, Mom, black-ish) and that is fantastic. But there's a certain charm to the cheesy-as-hell and wickedly unrealistic television series of my youth. The most iconic of the late 1990s to mid-2000s-era shows have managed to withstand the test of time (though some newbies say otherwise), but one unanimously beloved fixture in the Land of Teen Shows was the one, the only: Dawson's Creek.
As we quickly approach the 20 year anniversary of Dawson's Creek on January 20, I started reflecting on all of the teen-centric shows that both paved the way for DC and also were born because of it. But rather than just collect a list of all of those shows, I took things a step further and ranked them for you. And you can trust my expertise: I was once a teen with extremely great (read: not great) style, and a wildly interesting (read: pretty normal) high school experience. So I feel more than qualified to give you the entire recent history of these teen dramas, ranked from the least definitive of the 2000s to the most. We'll touch on the timeless themes of spiteful townies versus jaded rich kids, exaggerated awkward moments in puberty, bad boys charming daddy's girls, ultimate heartbreaks, and more.
But first, a word. The biggest and most damning conclusion I had while ranking the pettiest, most delicious 2000s teen sagas was that the era was overflowing with white, horny teenagers. And still, in 2018, we still don't have very many depictions of horny kids from all backgrounds. I think that in 2018, it's time for a 90210 or Gossip Girl with a Black cast. Paging Issa Rae!
Alright, alright. In the meantime, I know you're dying for this list, so let's get started and see just how your 00's favorites fared on this valuable cornerstone of television writing.
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Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)

To fully appreciate all the gifts that the 2000s gave us in the teen TV department, we have to first start with two cultural milestones: Beverly Hills 90210 and My So-Called Life (next slide). For an entire decade, the former — Aaron Spelling's dramedy soap opera masterpiece — became brain candy for high schoolers and college students. With plot lines focusing on the basic ins-and-outs of growing up (relationships, peer pressure, jealousy), it also tackled more intense subjects like date rape, cheating, drugs, and even cults. The rest of these shows would not be possible without this (admittedly, borderline tacky) evaluation of what it meant to be grow up in the 90s and 00s.
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My So-Called Life (1994-1995)

While Beverly Hills, 90210 was making waves with its hilariously cheesy, over-the-top plot lines, My So-Called Life was nailing what it was like to be an average, confused, and completely overwhelmed teenager. Although the Claire Danes-starring show was only on for one season, it left some pretty distinct footsteps for future shows to follow — most notably another short-lived series, Freaks and Geeks, which also had a distinctly 90s vibe. But My So-Called Life also showed that teen shows can attract real talent, and feature some acting chops just as magnetic as adult shows.

The thing that both of these shows lack, however, is that specific air of the new millennium, when technology started to play a huge role in relationships, kids started getting smarter and more rebellious, and velour became trendy. In other words, when teen shows reached their irrefutable prime.

On a scale of one to Hollister, just how 2000s were the best 2000s shows? Grab your Juicy tubes and Sidekicks, because we are going back, baby!
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24. The Simple Life (2003-2007)

Although this series definitely featured its fair share of velour, Sidekick phones, and distinctly 2000s verbiage, it's a reality show starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as themselves trying to live "the simple life." The show basically just became a mockumentary of what it's like to work at a blue collar job (the show hasn't aged well) while the two tested out various tag lines, like "That's hot." So while it's technically not a generational soap opera, because of it's novelty as one of the first celebrity-centric reality shows, it just had to make an appearance at the tail-end of this ranking. After all, would Blair Waldorf even exist if we didn't have Paris Hilton? I think not.
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23. Beautiful People (2005-2006)

Speaking of beautiful rich people, have you ever seen Beautiful People? No? Well, your loss — because this blink-and-you'll-miss it series encapsulates the adage "Old habits die hard." This ABC Family (now Freeform) series just couldn't help itself when it came to teen tropes. The description of the show on Wikipedia is literally: "A girl tries to fit in with her wealthy peers at a private school." It was also executive produced by the former EP of Dawson's Creek, but things didn't go as well for these beautiful people as they did for Joey and Pacey, since it was cancelled after only two seasons.
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22. Glee (2009-2015)

Glee enters this ranking pretty low on the list because I, personally, do not care for the show itself. It also premiered at the ends of the 2000s, which is the hard cut off for this ranking. But the high school-set (and later, college) musical series (which led to many of its cast members to be cast in other Ryan Murphy shows) was formative for the generation after mine. Thus, it has to be included. Glee entered the world at a time of glitzy teen shows, paving a new path away from the original low budget filmography that viewers saw in Degrassi or Felicity and more towards Gossip Girl and The OC.
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21. Summer Heights High (2007)

Bear with me on this one: Summer Heights High is perfect. The Australian show spoofing an all grades school touches on a few of the most stereotypical plot lines on teen shows in a way that is so bizarre it works. There's Mr. G, the over-the-top drama teacher, there's Ja'mie, the popular girl who is really just a bully, and then there's Jonah, the quintessential bad seed of the class. All characters are played by the same middle aged men, and SNL doesn't have shit on these bits. It will be included on this list even though it really influenced no other shows in this slideshow other than me replying to any request with "You guys are so random!" for way too long.
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20. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1996-2003)

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch was the show about a witty and mischievous witch living in the normal world with her two hilarious and supportive aunts. It also launched an empire and kicked of a trend of coming-of-age shows with a magical twist (Buffy, Roswell). In addition to paving the way for mystical teens of the future, it also sort-of inspired another lovable teen show trope: the sassy confidant. I like to consider Salem, the quippy feline friend of Sabrina's, the original Dorota, but even shadier, and without the common housecleaning skills.
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19. Secret Life of American Teens (2006-2013)

This ABC Family hit was a little preachy for my taste. But it makes sense, seeing as it was the brainchild of Brenda Hampton, the creator of literally the preachiest show of all time: 7th Heaven. For me, Secret Life was like a less interesting Degrassi. But it gave us Shailene Woodley's career, which gave us Big Little Lies, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
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18. Moesha (1996-2001)

Mo to the, e to tha! Moesha is the kind of girl that has to deal with her father's new wife, her annoying little brother, high school, and an on-again off-again boyfriend, all while figuring out what the hell she wants to do with her life. In essence, it hits every single teen trope square on the head. Not to mention it featured a rotating cast of famous guest stars; she even went to prom with Kobe Bryant! The only downfall is my personal peeve of any of pre-2000s show: a "laugh" and "aw" track.
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17. Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)

Gilmore Girls stands on its own with its loyal fan base (a fan base so strong that it resulted in a Netflix reboot just last year), but what it exceeds in fandom, it lacks in teen content. It's a great show about mother-daughter dynamics (we'd never before seen a duo like Lorelai and Rory Gilmore), but in the end, it's an at times lackluster show about being a high schooler.
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16. Everwood (2002-2006)

This show is like a slice of wholesome apple pie about a quiet boy relocated to a quiet Colorado town with his doctor father and younger sister. He finds himself falling in love with his classmate, who is in love with her boyfriend who's in a coma from a car accident. Yup. The show's blow-up moments still maintain a certain sweetness that is abandoned on shows like Gossip Girl or The OC, which gives it a certain charm more akin to Dawson's Creek.
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15. Life As We Know It (2004-2005)

Based on a book called Doing It, you can guess what activity is at the forefront of every character's mind on this series. Although it was only on for one season, it really nailed what it's like to navigate the halls of high school while being a sex-obsessed teenage boy. The trio at the center of series were basically the Dawson's Creek boys, if they had lived in Seattle six years in the future.
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14. Roswell (1999-2002)

While Everwood was grounded, Roswell was out of this world, literally. Aliens and high school is quite the mix, but would we have even gotten the weirdest show, ever, aka Kyle XY, without this hit? No way.
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13. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

As much as Buffy is about killing demons, it is also about learning how to deal with everything life throws at you, especially when you're a teenage girl. Perhaps more relevant now than ever, Buffy easily slides itself to the top ranked shows that defined a generation of TV.
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12. That 70s Show (1998-2006)

More sitcom-y than soap-y, it's still worth it to include this emblem of high school humor on the list just for those iconic stoner circle conversations. Not only that, but it also launched the careers of Laura Prepon, Ashton Kutcher, and Mila Kunis. See? Aimless teens can find purpose.
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11. Popular (1999-2001)

The forgotten child of all of Ryan Murphy's creations, Popular was a series about two high school girls forced to coexist after their parents marry each other. Less Brady Bunch and more Scream Queens, this show delivered on the confusing feelings that come with teenage angst. Although, according to one of the show's stars, Popular was really written for one niche group, and one niche group only: 35-year-old gay men.
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10. Veronica Mars (2004-2007)

This Kristen Bell-led teen series about a high school girl who spends her evenings acting as a local detective to find out who killed her classmate proved that shows about high schoolers can be smart, provocative, and even tackle social issues.
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9. Felicity (1998-2002)

In a way, this show is "Dawson's Creek Graduates," but it also totally made a class of young women desperate to move to New York City to follow in Felicity's own (boy crazy) footsteps, which is a pretty formative moment in TV history, in my opinion.
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8. Freaks and Geeks (1999)

Pre-Hollister, post-My So-Called Life. This show is nearly perfect, which is exactly why it was prematurely cancelled. From the minds of Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, Freaks and Geeks shifted the attention from the stereotypical jocks and cheerleaders and focused its gaze on the kids experimenting with pot, staying up all night playing Dungeons & Dragons, and living their nerdy lives the only way they know how. It also features young James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel as the freaks, and Busy Philipps as their queen bee. Wonderful.
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7. Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2015)

The Canadians knew what they were doing; just ask Drake. This show featured the most diverse and eclectic depiction of high school, in addition to being one of the firsts to tackle the darker side of a teenage minds. It even managed to accurately mirror the intensities of being ruled by your hormones — without mocking it.
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6. Friday Night Lights (2004-2011)

Friday Night Lights is about so much more than just a group of high school football players figuring shit out, which is exactly why it was a great example of what a show centered around the youth could be. It can be about love, loss, and struggles, without being a soap opera. FNL had the kind of nuance that was instantly replicated time and time again since its premiere over a decade ago in shows like Parenthood and The Leftovers.
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5. Gossip Girl (2007-2012)

Being an iconic teen show of the 00s has nothing to do with being realistic and everything to do with being as glamorous as possible. We all wanted to be Blair, Serena, Vanessa, or even Little J at some point or another. And that in itself is a major part of creating a hit series.

We're not all born legacies like these silver spooned New York private school kids, but we've all been a gossip girl at one point in our lives.
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4. Dawson's Creek (1998-2003)

The pure innocence of the pilot episode of Dawson's Creek could never happen today. The fictional town of Capeside is an unadulterated version of the world as it was in 1998, from its white beaches to its girl-next-doors. But in its predictability it has become one of the most beloved and epic teen shows of all time. (One of, as we aren't to #1 yet, honey.)
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3. One Tree Hill (2003-2012)

One Tree Hill is Dawson's Creek 2.0. It came out the year Dawson's wrapped, and it picked up its fanbase by appealing to the good hearty teen drama lovers, but this time in a new town. The shows aren't related in any way, but watch them back to back and you'll see the immediate influence with those opening credits. Not to mention the formative hotties that each had (hello, James Van Der Beek and Chad Michael Murray).
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2. Skins (2007-2013)

While we were watching Dan Humphries worry about rubbing shoulders with Manhattan's elite on Gossip Girl, the kids on Skins were getting into some real ass shenanigans. For the unfamiliar, Skins is one of the rawest, edgiest, and most interesting shows about teenagers, ever. (It was only on in the UK, but you can find it on Netflix now.) Straight up, it's so good that MTV tried to copy it (as in, copy it nearly scene-for-scene) and completely failed, thus proving that it is definitely as irreplaceable as it is influential.
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1. The OC (2003-2007)

And now, we've arrived at our number one pick. It took 25 near-perfect shows to make one perfect one. This is the show that defines the 2000s. There's Hollister, there's brooding teens, there's alcoholic moms, there's impressive character arcs, there's a great soundtrack, there's a Paris Hilton cameo, and there's the greatest and most tragic high school love affair of all time.

Welcome to the OC, bitch.
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