Try finding an actual teenager on a US television drama. Oh sure, there are lots of teenage characters but – and correct me if I’m wrong – most of them are sporting enormous bazookas, five o’clock shadows and zero acne. Teens on shows like Glee (which I love) don’t actually look anything like the high school kids that occasionally heckle me when I give high school writing workshops. And with good reason.
Glee’s Lea Michele is 24 playing 17-year-old Gleek, Rachel Berry. Her on-again, off-again par amour, Finn (Cory Monteith) turns 30 next year. That’s right. THIRTY. No wonder that show has so much angst – the cast are each in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. Not that Glee’s casting is rare, by any means. When Tom Wellings was cast as 15-year-old Clark Kent on Smallville, he was already the ripe old age of 24. I’m sorry but when Wellings was striding around Smallville High he looked less like a school kid and more like my optometrist. Then there’s actor Benjamin McKenzie who was 26 years-old when cast as the 16-year-old brooding Ryan on The OC. Charisma Carpenter was 29 when cast as 16-year-old Cordelia on Buffy. Scott Wolf was 26-year-old when he played 17-year-old Bailey Salinger on Party of Five.
Watch repeats of Beverley Hills 90210 and you’ll see Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) – one of the first teenagers I’ve seen with a receding hairline (Perry was 25 playing 18). And it’s a wonder 90210 didn’t do a “I wonder if I should freeze my eggs?” Very Special Episode featuring Andrea since actress Gabrielle Carteris was a spritely 34-years-old when she played the sixteen-year-old school nerd.
And don’t for a second go thinking that ‘faux-teening’ is a new phenomenon. Whack Grease in your VCR and you’ll realise that Rydell High was more like an Adult Community College. When this movie about a group of high school kids was filmed in 1978, Olivia Newton John (Sandy) was 29, John Travolta (Danny) was a more youthful 24 but Stockard Channing was (like Carteris) a ridiculous 34-years-old when she played Rizzo.