The 70 Best High School Shows of All Time

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10. The O.C.
Original Run:2003-2007
Welcome to The O.C., bitch. This FOX teen soap simultaneously celebrated and mocked the genre it brought back to life in the mid-2000. Full of inside jokes yet featuring a compulsively watchable story of two boys who become unlikely best friends and the girls who love them, the series quickly became can’t miss television. The show also brought good music—like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and The Killers—to a whole generation of high-schoolers, thanks to creator Josh Schwartz and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas. —Shaina Pearlman and Amy Amatangelo

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-boymeetsworld.jpg 9. Boy Meets World
Original Run: 1993-2000
What kid hasn’t imagined having a teacher like Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) or a best friend like Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong)? Only those who’ve never seen Boy Meets World. The show stretched far beyond the high school years, but those hallways are what we remember most. While the storylines grew from child themes to more complex ones (like Shawn’s absentee father), the show maintained its heart and commitment to accurate depictions of friendships and family life. The series is so beloved that in 2014, Girl Meets World (which also makes this list) featuring the daughter of Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) made its debut.—Rachel Haas and Shaina Pearlman

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-thewire.jpg 8. The Wire, Season 4
Original Run: 2002-2008
David Simon’s much-lauded HBO drama The Wire took viewers into the halls of a modern school during its fourth season. This run of episodes proved to be its most potent and haunting, for daring to look at how the education system in many cities can neglect and even destroy the prospects of its students. In and around the ongoing efforts by the Baltimore police to get the drug traffic in the city under its control, we follow the lives of four young men as they struggle with some very real concerns, including homelessness, indifferent parents, and the allure of a life of crime. Their hope is dimmed even more by a school system barely scraping by and with a majority of teachers who just want to shuttle the kids through to the next grade as quickly and quietly as possible. What happens to most of these characters will break your heart and, hopefully, incite you to take action to see some real change made in your own neighborhood.—Robert Ham

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-shows-veronica-mars.jpg 7. Veronica Mars
Original Run: 2004-2007
Equal parts witty and riveting, Veronica Mars followed the title character, an ostracized high-school student who moonlights as a private eye for her classmates. Kristen Bell uncannily portrays someone who is simultaneously smart, vulnerable, tough and injured. The series, which received a fan-funded movie reboot in 2014, is a thematically compelling, stylistically coherent and fully realized TV show. And now, we pause for a moment, to give a special shout out to Jason Dohring, who brings a nuanced combination of cockiness and hurt to bad boy Logan Echolls.—James South and Shaina Pearlman

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-buffy.jpg 6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Original Run: 1997-2003
It all started as a simple idea in the mind of a harried story editor on Roseanne. What if you followed a beautiful blonde woman down a dark alley where she is attacked by a monster? Instead of screaming helplessly as she is being overtaken, however, the blonde girl turns around and beats the monster to a pulp. Creator/showrunner Joss Whedon’s feminist subversion of this horror trope has since spawned a vast universe of TV shows and comic books as well as more Internet fan fiction than one could possibly hope to consume in a lifetime. There’s a reason why, in an episode of The Simpsons wherein Lisa decides to join a Wicca group, she discovers the most popular topic is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Greatest TV Show Ever.” Indeed, more than being a pop culture powerhouse, Buffy was a pivotal program not only in the development of horror on TV, but in bringing out genre storytelling from the fringes and elevating the “high school drama” to an art form. One only needs to look at the murderers’ row on display in the writers’ room (Marti Noxon, Drew Goddard, Douglas Petrie, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Steven S. DeKnight) to recognize the extravagant brain trust that went into constructing the show. Not that Buffy had a promising start by any means. The first iteration of Whedon’s ass-kicking, vampire-slaying Valley Girl was transformed beyond recognition into a campy 1992 feature film starring Kristy Swanson. Given a rare second chance when an executive at the WB approached him about redeveloping his concept for television, Whedon not only restored his original vision but employed the television format to dig even deeper. Using the monster-of-the-week premise, Whedon and his writers effectively Trojan Horsed deeper narratives involving puberty, sex, bullying, grief, redemption and, in the end, female empowerment. Just as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) the person saved the world a lot, Buffy the series saved its audiences from the doldrums of their daily lives.—Mark Rozeman

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-mysocalledlife.jpg 5. My So-Called Life
Original Run:1994-1995
Surprisingly mature, critically adored, and canceled immediately, My So-Called Life was like a refutation of all the school shows that had come before it, both comedies and dramas. It seemed to have special disdain for the “very special episode” format, and instead took those social issues and wrapped them into the entire ongoing storyline. The problems faced by 15-year-old Angela Chase (Claire Danes) didn’t arise and get wrapped up at the end of the episode, they festered and spurred personal growth. The nervous hair-flip, semi-requited love and existential confusion of Angela made the world less lonely for the sort of artsy, grunge-era high school kids who would go on to rule the world—or at least work at indie magazines. We leave you with this quote that epitomizes the way the show so beautifully captured the high school age: “I’m in love. His name is Jordan Catalano. He was left back—twice. Once I almost touched his shoulder in the middle of a pop quiz. He’s always closing his eyes, like it hurts to look at things.”—Josh Jackson

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besthighschool-wonder-years.jpg 4. The Wonder Years
Original Run: 1988-1993
The Wonder Years was set in a perfectly evoked 1960s, but just hearing Joe Cocker’s take on “With a Little Help From My Friends” immediately makes me think of watching the show with my family in my childhood living room. The show featured some of the best-developed characters of any sitcom, especially owing to the trademark narration by Daniel Stern, which examined all the events with the knowledge of age. An episode like “My Father’s Office” is still a beautiful thing and such an identifiable nugget of childhood—the realization that one’s father is just a man and a worker bee, rather than a patriarch in all aspects of his life. The Wonder Years was filled with those kinds of revelations.—Jim Vorel

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-fnl.jpg 3. Friday Night Lights
Original Run: 2006-2011
Who ever thought football, a sport infamous for its meat-heads and brute force, could be the cornerstone of one of television’s most delicate, affecting dramas? Heart-rending, infuriating, and rife with shattering setbacks and grand triumphs—Friday Night Lights is all of these, and in those ways it resembles the game around which the tiny town of Dillon, Texas, revolves. “Tender” and “nuanced” aren’t words usually applicable to the gridiron, but they fit the bill here, too. Full of heart but hardly saccharine, shot beautifully but hyper-realistically, and featuring a talented cast among which the teenagers and parents are—blessedly—clearly defined, the show managed to convince week after week that, yes, football somehow really is life.—Rachael Maddux

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-daria.jpg 2. Daria
Original Run: 1997-2001
Significantly more influential than one would have expected from a Beavis and Butt-head spin-off, Daria is without a doubt the defining show of angsty teens of the late ’90s who couldn’t quite get over the death of grunge. It’s a paean to the lazy, the slackers, the cynical and the sarcastic, as Daria (Tracy Grandstaff) and her friend Jane (Wendy Hoopes) bemoaned the plight of a broken society by watching tabloid shows with titles like Sick, Sad World. Its fatalism was deep, dark and often hilarious, and one got the sense that few shows have ever actually captured the zeitgeist of their subjects more accurately. Every teen who ever shrugged their shoulders and sighed in frustration after being asked how their day at school was by Mom was clearly thinking, “My life is just like Daria.”—Jim Vorel

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BEST-HIGH-SCHOOL-SHOWS-freaksandgeeks.jpg 1. Freaks and Geeks
Original Run: 1999-2000
I wasn’t going to tell you about the green jacket. I wasn’t going to tell you about it because that jacket—the oversized, green khaki one I wore almost all through high school—is embarrassing, for a number of reasons: It was ill-fitting in a way I thought was cool at the time, but now can only cringe at. I’m pretty sure the pockets were Velcro. But most of all, it’s humiliating because it was Lindsay Weir’s jacket.

But high school is all about being mortified a lot and faking it till you make it, about copying other people’s identities until you gradually land on your own, and no show understood that better than Freaks and Geeks, so yes, fine, I wore a green jacket every fall because it looked just like the one Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) wore in every episode. When one of my friends told me, “You look like the girl from Freaks and Geeks,” I’d nonchalantly respond, “What? Oh. I guess,” while a giant MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner unfurled in my brain.

Freaks and Geeks was high school from every possible angle. Instead of a bunch of glamorous 20-somethings posing as teens making out at prom, the series showed us both a 14-year-old (played by an actual, prepubescent 14-year-old) whose friends are still grossed out by the prospect of French kissing (“What if she puts her tongue too far into my mouth? What if I throw up? What if I throw up in her mouth?”) and a 16-year-old jokingly threatening to withhold sex from her boyfriend (“Watch it, you’ll blow my speakers.” “Oh I’m sorry, grandpa, I’ll try not to blow anything of yours from now on.”). It was a show where some kids were still trick-or-treating and fretting over whether a girl “like likes” them, while others were sucking on fingers that didn’t belong to their boyfriends and having dramatic Streetcar Named Desire-style reconciliations. And that’s really what it all comes down to. The show is called Freaks and Geeks, but it’s just as easy to relate to if you were the jock, or the overachiever or the ABBA enthusiast with a crush on a guy like Nick Andopolis.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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