The other day, I logged into Netflix and saw that one of my favorite television shows, Californication, was back on – in its completion. Given that I do not have premium cable (seeing as how I only bought a TV for the first time a year ago), I had been a few seasons behind, so I promptly spent an entire weekend watching seasons six and seven.
I will be honest and say that I watch that series primarily because it’s more Mulder for when I don’t feel like watching The X-Files (that is a rare occasion, because The X-Files is always excellent). But the second reason I watch it is because I love how Showtime does adolescence. If HBO is the network of gratuitous breasts and vajay (can we discuss sometime the illogic of totally naked girls, mostly clothed men, and the impossible quickness during which Game of Thrones characters go from having sex to not having sex and vice versa?), Showtime is the network of teenagers who both seem like real people and who are also impossibly cooler than teenagers on anything else. And cooler than lots of people in real life.
This is true of Californication‘s Becca, and it’s also true of House of Lies‘ Roscoe, and, to a lesser extent (at least on my subjective determination of what makes a person “cool”), Silas on Weeds (Shane just scares me). Perhaps it’s true of other characters, but remember, I’m on a time delay with Showtime, unless you want to pay my cable bill, so I’ve only seen these three shows.
Recently I’ve been having conversations with friends and coworkers about how much cooler it is to be a teenager these days than even 10 years ago when I was in the middle of my adolescence. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want those days back for anything, and I’m also not a fan of the helicoptering and over-attention on scholastic achievement and college admissions that are such a thing lately. But I am a bit jealous of teens these days because of the internet.
I had internet as a teen. We got dial-up when I was 10 and DSL sometime during high school, I think, and I was an avid user of Livejournal, Myspace, et al. But the internet was not, at least in the spaces I was inhabiting, this progressive space where nerding out was not only okay but also brought out into the real world (we can all talk in meme now), where people in their teens knew words like “patriarchy” and “problematic” and could not only use them properly and astutely, but also sarcastically and humorously. People on the internet these days engage with media in entirely different ways than we did 10 years ago, and it’s amazing, because it’s both this totally Millennial-defined method of communication but also just a Web 2.0 version of academia and scholarship. It’s awesome, and I wish I had had the opportunity and self-awareness (I admit I was very repressed, very angry, and very scared as a teen of being myself, even though I knew exactly who that was) to participate earlier than the end of college. Identities are forged so differently now, it seems. And it’s cooler to have one and be okay with it than it was when I was a teen…or is it just easier to see now that I’m not one?
Anyway, that is somewhat the quality I see in so many of these teens on these TV shows, and I love them, because they’re just so much better than the 30-somethings playing teens on the shows I was watching in high school, and they’re the kind of characters I wish I had met in books back then. Also, I appreciate that they tend to be from alternative families and mature fast, which isn’t necessarily good or bad and is mostly due to the necessities of TV production and the fact that Showtime trades in dysfunctional families in the same way that HBO trades in fucking inappropriate people. So yes, these teens are over-the-top in their portrayals, but they’re also really good representations of teens who are less clean cut, less traditional, less teenybopper, less status quo-y.
Take Becca Moody for example, whom I once compared to Stephen Dedalus at the dinner table in Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man (don’t ask me to go into detail; we were assigned the first couple of chapters and I have never read on past that). She is ALWAYS around adults. She is an only child, and her parents are the kinds of adults who did not let having a child change who they were as people, but they’re also not the kinds of adults who let other people do their child rearing for them. I have known some adults like that and been friends with both them and their children (I myself being right smack between their two ages), and I want to be that kind of parent someday. Becca is constantly the elephant in the room, privy to all sorts of adult conversations that are either inappropriate or just strange to have when your own offspring is in the room, and she fields it SO WELL, both when she is being ignored and when she is being called out, as in “You guys, stop it, there’s a BABY here; we have to stop talking about this stuff!” which is almost as insulting and insensitive as ignoring a child’s presence altogether. Because she’s been a little adult her whole life, Becca not only knows how to deal with her parents’ immaturity, but she is more…not self-aware, because it’s insulting to assume that teenagers aren’t usually, but it’s like she’s more comfortable seeing herself and analyzing herself the way an adult might, while also still totally being a teenager and herself.
Then you have Roscoe Kaan on House of Lies, who I think is television’s first openly genderfluid and not-yet-confirmed-as-a-particular-sexual-orientation preteen. That’s pretty much all you need to know to love that he exists, because since when does media acknowledge genderfluidity, and since when does media acknowledge that even younger children and preteens know who they are and how they feel about their sex and gender identities, and I just love how Roscoe’s relationship with his father, Marty, seems totally idyllic but realistic. Is his dad perfect at things? No. Does Marty totally accept Roscoe for who he is? Yes. Does he do that while doing problematic things and struggling with the patriarchal ideals that are a part of the society he was raised in, and does he grapple all the time with his missteps? Yes. Does Roscoe love his father anyway? Yes. Does Marty defend the shit out of Roscoe’s choices to other adults in Roscoe’s world who are less supportive and understanding? Yup. Also, is Roscoe awesome and not a gay caricature? Hell yes. He likes sports and makeup and dancing and girls and boys and music and is, you know, a totally normal kid in all the ways, except at the same time he’s also a sorely needed image of the diversity of normal kids out there. Winning! (Also, I have seen up to the second-to-last episode of season 3 – no spoiling, please.)
Silas Botwin. I struggle with him a bit, and with that show a bit, because privilege, but overall, something I find interesting about him is that he is really fucking smart, as can be seen as he slowly becomes the family business manager and the only person who retains decently healthy relationships with himself and with people outside of his insane family life. He also never goes to college. Originally a wealthy, privileged white kid with no troubles, his privileged white mother also gets him into a lot of trouble – mitigated, of course, by the fact that they are privileged and white and also that it’s a television show – but at a certain point, he becomes the kind of person who really doesn’t turn out to be college-bound, and it’s actually okay, because college is not the be-all, end-all, and not going doesn’t mean you’re not smart. I think that is as important a thing for privileged teenagers to know and see on TV as it is for less privileged teenagers to know that if they want to, they can go to college. Both are valid things. Neither is possible for everyone.
Anyway. I just think Showtime is neat, you guys. It’s also batshit crazy, don’t get me wrong. But there are interesting things to pick out, for sure.