We need realistic TV series

Reading time: 5 minutes

In a television panorama so interesting for the 'teen fiction', with recent successful TV series such as For 13 Reasons, Riverdale or Skam, one of the great stereotypes has been introduced: why are adults always playing teenagers? What does this means to young people and how they see themselves?

Working on a job during the Summer change your body as if you've been training at the gym for ages, but only if you live in Riverdale (bye, I am moving there tomorrow!). One of the funniest moments of this popular TV soups, Riverdale, is when in the first episode, we discovered that the charming Archie, aged 15, has become as muscular and stringy as Schwarzenegger in just one summer. Impressive Archie... 

There is no miraculous trick or magic 7 minutes trainings: he is KJ Apa, a 20-year-old actor (19 in that episode) who had been conquering youthful hearts in his native New Zealand for the last years. The reactions to that great body will probably be divided between laughing and finding out what teens can do to have in the changing rooms of the institute and then go out with the beautiful girl of the class. Riverdale, which image of prototypical American teenagers has become quite critical and ironic, is not the most frustrating example at all as the age difference between the actors and the characters they play is a cliché of the 'teen fiction' (Once Upon a Time, Pretty Little Liars, Kyle XY, True Blood and Beauty and the Beast among others).

KJ Apa is 20 years old but Matt Lante (Timeless) was around 30 when he got into the skin of a teenager in Still Star-Crossed and Fran Perea was 24 when he played a young teen in the Spanish TV series Los Serrano, John Travolta was also 24 years old when he led the cast of Grease, Sissy Spacek 27 when Carrie started and when The Notebook and Mean Girls was launched Rachel McAdams was 25 years old and she played a 17-year-olds girl.

The beginning of the Autumn and the TV season, with Riverdale in full swing and the return of the Spanish TV series Merlí, which has become a small phenomenon, the debate is on. 

Another recent example is, to say one, the talented Nick Robinson, 23, who played a 17-years-old boy in the must-see Love, Simon.

The reason of this it is easier than what it seems to be. If the auditions for a movie or TV series already have to pass some filters (interpretation and physical appearance) we must take into account legal issues when we speak abut the teen fiction: it is easier to hire an adult than a child/under 18.

But of all this, what most worries in some sectors of television analysis, even experts in psychology, are the referents of beauty that are imposed on such a young audience. It is true that talent and charisma when playing a character is extremely important but it is also absurd to deny that there is a very strict canon and this worries because adolescence is not just a time of physical and hormonal changes in which a simple pimple or a somewhat rebellious fringe can ruin your weekend expectation, but also emotional, personality and self-esteem. We speak of a vital moment in which feeling comfortable with yourself and others it's very important. Sometimes you look as Archie or you are nobody.


We need realistic and authentic series where characters are tall, low, thin, stuffed, fibred, healthy, freckled, with white skin, gingers... We need more series like Orange Is The New Blac where there are all kinds of people and more advertising  campaigns as the Benetton ones.

In addition, the difference between television and real referents can be so implausible as to lose the authenticity component and expel the audience from the story. In certain cases we have seen famous actors playing characters of their age shortly after having been 16 or 17 years in fiction. Some people see something positive in this: seeing their favorite protagonists in more mature situations can give them some confidence and inspiration to face theirs.

If we look at successful adolescent series such as For 13 Reasons or the Norwegian Skam the young audience is looking on VOD services for what is not found in mainstream television: realism and complicity. It is true that Netflix fiction about suicide maintains some stereotypes of the 'teen fiction', but also that its view of bullying has incredibly connected with the audience.

The example of Skam is beautiful and special: it is so linked to the concerns of its faithful that it has been a huge and unexpected success in Northern Europe, and, in part, it's because the age of his cast is much closer to that of his characters.

For all this, we need realistic TV series that show young people that adolescence is more than popularity and abs.


Some people also wonder why do we have under 18 years old/children playing roles in movies rated for 18+ or 21+ audience viewership? Easy answer then: life is not a Disney film, and so to depict life, in a film with children, there may necessarily be situations were the grey beards of the BBFC (UK) or similar rating body of the countries where the film would be released, will give the rating of 18+. As a note, in the other than X, which is not an BBFC rating, and usually is self given to a film by the promoters, the UK rating system goes to age 18 (Suitable only for people aged 18 or older) and "Restricted 18" which can only be shown at licensed adult cinemas or sold at licensed sex shops. 

Self-designated X rating (such as Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris, both rated "18") doesn't carry any legal status. They are guidelines used by the industry. In the case of explicit sex, there are criminal laws which prohibit providing minors with such material.

In the UK, there has been considerable relaxation since 1999 onwards. The relaxation of guidelines has also made hardcore pornography widely available to adult audiences through the R18 rating. Films with this rating are only legally available from licensed sex shops, of which there are about 300 in the UK. They may also be seen in specially licensed cinemas. There are also examples of films with stronger sexual content, some including real images of sexual intercourse, being approved at '18' level. Recent examples include the passing of Irreversible9 SongsAntichrist, and numerous other films uncut for cinema and video viewing. Despite this trend towards liberalisation, anti-censorship campaigners are still critical of the BBFC. Films under 18 rating do not have limitation on the foul language that is used. Portrayals of illegal drug misuse are generally allowed and explicit sex references along with detailed sexual activity are also allowed. Scenes of strong real sex may be permitted if justified by the context. Very strong, gory and sadistic violence is usually permitted and strong sexual violence is permitted unless it is eroticized or excessively graphic, in which a work will require some cuts.

The Adrian Lyne adaptation of Lolita in 1997 was held up in its USA release until 1998 because of the subject matter of an older man and a teen young woman involved in a romantic relationship. Oddly, the 1962 Stanley Kubrick version of the novel, did pass the then dying Hays Code, but did get an X rating in the UK, which at the time, limited the audience to 16+. This rating has now disappeared.

Currently in the UK 1962's Lolita and Psycho (1960) both have "15" ratings where as the Lyne version of Lolita is 18.

And of course... any school child can check out Nabokov's classic novel Lolita.

1967's  Lolita

1967's Lolita