The unrealistic life lessons we learned from American TV dramas

xoxo Gossip Girl

There were three main founts of knowledge for British teenagers: our parents, our teachers, and our favourite US teen dramas.

They were  formative – though these programmes didn’t necessarily set the best examples. Here are the most irresponsible lessons we learned from American TV.

The O.C.

Always go for bad boys

The bad boy is an established trope – there have been bad boys since those Greeks were banging out mythology. But The O.C. definitely packaged its 21st century bad boys as the hotties – boys over whom it was worth losing your proverbial shit. You like to think you’d land them and then dump them, and they’d be so heartbroken – for you’d cleaved open their heart so now they can feel things – that they’d run you off the road and you die.

For sure, we all loved Seth. But it was Ryan we really wanted. Ryan with those hewn arms and the chokers and the wife-beaters (and later, the slightly shiny shirts, like a bachelor uncle). Ryan was so sad, his life had been so hard. He was monosyllabic. He’d seen things. I just wanted him to open up to me. And open those arms to me.

Those arms. Fucking hell, those arms.


Mental health problems are actually really glamorous

It’s only retrospectively that you realise how much The O.C. glamourised mental illness. Oliver was clinically depressed, but he lived in a hotel – “like Eloise!” trills Marissa in one episode. Oh silly, naive Marissa.

Kirsten Cohen was an alcoholic who almost died in a violent car crash. Her trip to rehab almost ripped the Cohens asunder. But she was the best mum ever, right?

And Marissa: Marissa was suicidal, an alcoholic, depressed. She shoplifts. In the episode in which she is recovering from her suicide attempt, there is a reference to an eating disorder. But she’s also the anti-heroine, trussed up in Chanel, with  collarbones that could slice glass. On some level, we were invited to revere Marissa. Not love her, like Summer. But sort of venerate her, like a really thin China doll.

Even when your dad loses all your money, and everyone else’s money, you will still live in a big house in Newport Beach

Jimmy Cooper lost everything. So how did Marissa continue to live as a Newport Beach princess? We’re not asking for forensic, West Wing-style analysis of his financial situation. But it would have been cool if someone had – at some point – filled that plot hole. Maybe Marissa could have got a job at the Crab Shack too?

Being annoying/nerdy/clingy is cute

Seth is almost too neurotic to be believable.


Marisa’s little sister is like 13, but also the fittest person in the world

I mean that girl is not 13. That girl, in the Britney Spears-esque school uniform, is not 13. That girl, with the lace-up knee-high sex shop boots (season 4), is NOT 13.

Drawing comics is actually cool

Seth was the loveable nerd who taught thousands of teenage boys that you could spend your time doodling homemade comic books and still be a ladies’ man. Shame, then, when Rachel Bilson didn’t show up as you spent your lunchtimes having your crudely-drawn Spiderman sketches balled up and pelted at you by the bullies in Year 11.

One Tree Hill

Bumping into musicians is a weekly occurrence

Something’s in the water in One Tree Hill, and it’s turning everyone into a) a basketballer or b) a musician. So there you are just strolling along and suddenly there’s Pete from Fall Out Boy, oh, and there’s Kevin Federline. Why would they be hanging out here? In lonely, leafy, Wilmington, North Carolina?

Your dad can quite easily become a Major if he wanted to

Dads are awful sometimes, like when they moan at the waiter for serving steak too rare, or wash the car with their top off. But imagine if your Dad hated you and everyone else so much that he ran for Mayor to simply make your life misery, with little to no effort required. Yet another example of how America’s democratic system is fundamentally flawed.

English literature quotes can literally be applied to ANY everyday situation

Looking back, Lucas Scott’s voice overs are both nauseating and meaningless. Like this one:


Getting married and divorced and then married again in high school is no big deal

Who on earth let this happen? Where were Nathan’s squad to tell him he wouldn’t be able to sleep with anyone else ever again? Why didn’t Haley’s mum tell her to wait for a bit? They were 18, for God’s sake.

Actually, boys who play Basketball are hot

Say what you want about Chad Michael Murray but he looked fucking good brooding by the riverside court in a Tree Hill Raven vest.


You can become a fashion designer with absolutely no skill or talent

On what planet would a clothing line called “Clothes over Bros” ever take off? Brooke Davis woke up one day and decided she could sew, and design (very average) dresses. Skip a few years later and she is a multi-millionaire, who then decides, of her own accord, to move back to Tree Hill and set up a shop there – because obviously the economy is better than in New York.

They shouldn’t make US teen dramas after they leave school

Watch Season 4 onwards and tell me that isn’t true. At the end Peyton and Lucas get together when everyone knows he belongs with Brooke.

Gossip Girl

Even poor families can afford huge apartments in Brooklyn

Open plan, rustic brick walls and three massive bedrooms. It’s the kind of place established actors and models would live in New York, not poor Little J and Lonely boy.

Getting your dream job is surprisingly easy

Gossip Girl exists in a fantasy reality where every job can be achieved with ease. Lil J wants to work in fashion? Give her a vague internship. Dan wants to be a famous writer? Well he can just somehow write a Pulitzer-prize winning novel in about three months about literally just his group of friends. Nate wants to become the mayor of New York? Well, he can… wait, how the fuck did Nate become the mayor of New York?

Losing your virginity will be sepia-toned and set to epic music

You were led to believe you’d lose your virginity like Blair, in the back of a speeding limo with Chuck Bass to a soundtrack of Sum 41, or like Serena, covered in frothing champagne at a country estate while violins swelled in the background. In reality, you lost your virginity to your mate’s brother’s friend in his parents’ bedroom, and it lasted 30 uncomfortable seconds.


All English people have royal connections

Remember the duchess? Wasn’t she shagging her son? That was a weird storyline.

You can go out/fall in love with/shag every single person in your friendship group and it’s never awkward when they’re going out with your sister a few months later

Nate and Blair, Nate and Serena, Nate and Jenny, Nate and Vanessa. Dan and Serena, Dan and Blair, Dan and Vanessa. Vanessa and Chuck, Chuck and Blair, Chuck and Jenny. No awkwardness there, though.

You can try to rape someone and everyone will laugh it off

This literally happened in episode 1. “Haha, Chuck tried to rape Jenny but it’s fine cause he’s Chuck Bass.”

On that note, you can do anything sinister or malicious and people will just forget about it

Take Serena and Blair for example: they’ve slept with each other’s boyfriends, tried to stop each other getting into college, and jumped at ruining their happiness and reputation at every point. But once they’ve finished kicking and screaming (sometimes literally) they’ll kiss and makeup as if nothing ever happened.

And it’s not just those two – Chuck took Nate’s girlfriend’s virginity, Cece pretended to her entire family she had cancer, and Lily hid the fact that she had given up Rufus’ child for over 20 years.

There will be some dramatic music, you’ll think their relationships are over for a while – but suddenly all is forgotten and they’re all best mates again.


Blogs are impenetrable

It’s like no-one even tries. Why did it take them five series of their lives being torn apart to actually start looking for who Gossip Girl is? Had they never had a cyberbullying assembly? Realistically, if a Gossip Girl style blog was ever set up at your school, it would be shut down quicker than someone tripping down the Met steps.

School uniform means nothing

They all go to Constance Billard – one of the poshest, elitist schools in the city. Realistically, a school like that would be pretty strict and conservative about how much makeup the girls wear, the length of their skirts and the subtlety of their makeup.

Yet they come in every day in glittery waistcoats, teeny-tiny skirts and little heels. I mean, have you seen Jenny Humphrey’s late Season 2 garms?

Being a stalker will get you laid

Dan Humphrey crafting the whole Gossip Girl ruse is perhaps the creepiest thing ever committed to the silver screen. He refers to himself as “lonely boy” and documents his sister losing her virginity like the creepy little cretin he is, and what does he get out of it? Marriage. To Blake Lively. How is that fair?

It’s not weird to fancy your sister

Dan and Serena end up married, despite the fact that Lily and Rufus are together for the vast majority of the show. If their dinner table conversations aren’t awkward, then yours couldn’t possibly be either.

Even when your parents lose all their money for embezzlement, your grandparents cut you off and your dad is a fugative, you’re still going to one the most expensive school in the country

After Nate’s Dad left, he’s sleeping on the floor of his apartment – but still affording to go to Constance Billard.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If someone really good-looking fancies you, it’s probably because they’re trying to kill you

The entire first season is basically Xander and other nerds getting seduced by incredibly attractive women who end up being vampires/demons/preying mantises. Willow even falls in love with an evil computer at one point.

If your mother hasn’t told you this already, listen up: if it looks too good to be true, it’s probably an evil demon trying to harvest your organs. Don’t trust anyone better looking than you.


Be careful before you lose your virginity because it may/will turn the man you sleep with into a monster

What is the Buffy/Angel storyline if not a cautionary tale about handsome but tortured men and how they can turn nasty if you let them too close? The chilling sight of Angel leaving a note in blood afterwards reading “Was it good for you too?” should serve as a message: once you give them what you want, they might stop caring about you. Put another way: guys can be dicks.

(Side note: When they say Angel was turned by “a moment of true happiness”, did they mean love, or just an orgasm???)

Everyone has feelings – even people with no souls

No, I’m not talking about Angel –  we know he’s only good when he has a soul. But there’s a shitload of other demons, vampires and ghouls which demonstrate real kindness and emotion. Take Spike: his care for Drucilla, and his later love for Buffy once he’s prevented from biting.

Think about that next time someone’s horrible to you – they’re probably just insecure/have no soul.

Having an English accent makes Americans think you are either wise or dangerous

Giles is a sex god who beds attractive American women – but he’s also intelligent, sensitive and supportive. Tbf, they’v got English people spot on.


In America, high school students look like grown-ass adults

Have you seen Teddy? He’s meant to be 17 years old. He looks about 40.


All English people are dickheads

As an English person watching 90210, you felt hard-done by being represented by either Naomi’s creepy rapist teacher or Oscar, Ivy’s live-in mother-fucker who couldn’t even do his own accent properly. Speaking of, Mr Cannon’s defence fell apart because Oscar realised his accent was a Dagenham one, not an Essex one. Feel stupid yet?

Your family will not notice/intervene if you are in an incredibly abusive/psychotic relationship

Since the first episode, there was always so much emphasis on how close Annie and her family were. Surely they’d notice or intervene when they found out she was in a really dangerous relationship with Jasper – the manipulative, psychotic drug dealer. Yeah, Dixon suspects it a bit, but surely they’d have done something earlier? He sets fire to people’s boats, ffs.

Even hot girls date nerdy guys

A la the most unconvincing romance ever between Naomi and Max. Unconvincing on her part because look at her, and unconvincing on his part because he rejected her when she turned up to the cinema bodypainted as an Avatar and look at her.


Bipolar = dying your hair red

At the exact moment Adrianna takes away her pills, Silver dyes her hair red and sabotages her future – but the moment her meds are back, she’s fine. We’re not sure what course on bipolar the creators of 90210 took, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t work like this.

You will never again be able to meet someone called Ethan without hearing it in Annie’s voice


By superfans Phoebe Luckhurst, Grace Vielma, Bobby Palmer, Lizzie Thomson, Daisy Bernard and Jack Rivlin <3