30-Something High School Students

Today I want to talk about one of the defining issues of our times. It’s not health care or peace in the Middle East or climate change. No, it’s something much more serious than that. I want to talk about actors in their 30s who play high school students on TV.

When I was 15 the original Beverly Hills, 90210 TV series was in its heyday. I was a big fan. I tuned in religiously to see what Brenda, Brandon and the gang were up to. And what they were mostly up to was playing characters much younger than themselves. They pretended to engage in drama that really, for the adults they actually were, wasn’t all that shocking. When the second season debuted in 1991 everyone on the show was supposed to be around 16. However, the real age of the 8 actors portraying teenagers ranged from 18 to 30, with an average of 22.5. By graduation day 2 1/2 years later ‘student’ Gabrielle Carteris was 32 years old.

That was almost 20 years ago now. Surely things have changed, right? In the era of HDTV, can a 30-something actor really pull off playing someone in their teens? I’m not sure, but based on two current TV shows set in high school things just may have gotten worse.

I love Glee. I don’t have cable but I manage to tune in every week over the internet. My kids and I listen to the music and dance while we make dinner. But in order to enjoy the show I have to ignore the fact that the ‘teenagers’ are stretching the bounds of believability. The actors playing 13 of the students range in age from 19 to 27, with an average of 23.2. And my guilty pleasure, the embarrassingly awful new 90210 series, is even worse. On that show, the actors playing teenagers have actual ages of 20 to 31, with an average of 24. On the last episode that I watched one of the ‘high school students’ had wrinkles.

I have often thought that I was too old to play a 17-year-old on TV. I may look young for my age, but I certainly don’t think that I look like a teenager. But based on my research, that doesn’t matter. So maybe if this writing and speaking thing doesn’t pan out I should consider acting. And heck, you should, too. Because apparently it’s totally cool in TV high school if one of the students is actually 6 years older than his teacher.

OK, so maybe it’s really not one of the defining issues of our times. But still, it kind of cheeses me off. Call it a pet peeve, or a petty quibble. I wonder if I am the only one who feels this way. Tell me, what bugs you in terms of casting choices for TV shows or movies? Is it 60-something men with 20-something love interests? The way that pregnancy and childbirth are portrayed? Bad writing? Please share!

Photo credits: Fox Broadcasting Company and The CW

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  1. I guess for me it doesn’t really matter much. It’s tv, it’s supposed to be a little “unbelievable”.

    I was clueless about the whole 90210 thing until well after I stopped watching.
    .-= Carrie´s last post ..The Rogo’s are Moving!! =-.

  2. Thanks for drawing attention to this phenomenon! When I was growing up, I (too) watched the original 90210 and found it hilarious that there were 25 and 30 year olds playing high school kids.

    You’re right that the current 90210 (which I am also addicted too) has a younger populace. I feel like it’s a little more believable at least. What a great show!
    .-= Old School/ New School Mom´s last post .."Button Nose" Provides Zipper Practice =-.

  3. I was sitting here all calm and amused — oh hee hee, that’s so cute that it upsets her — and then you mentioned pregnancy and childbirth and it reminded me of Seventh Heaven, that sanctimonious drivellous insulting piece of crap. When one of the daughters was ‘pregnant’ and on bed rest, she would hurl verbal abuse at her husband all night so that no one could sleep on the other side of the wall and they all ended up sleeping in the parents’ bed — which was supposed to be cute and hilarious. Then she gave birth in an elevator (naturally) and when the paramedics got there, she walked out holding the baby, wearing her jeans. Insulting? Ludicrous? Imbecilic? Silly to get livid about? And yet I do. Sigh. And I love Glee, I don’t care if they’re all too old.
    .-= allison´s last post ..****************The first thing you need to know is that everything turned out fine. =-.

  4. I could barely stand 90210 the first time around. I’m surprised you are watching it on it’s second breath!

    I can’t say that I’ve really been too bothered by the ages of people in shows. They’re all over the place. The only thing recently that bothered me was when they had Taylor Lautner looking all sexy in New Moon and I know he wasn’t even 18 when that movie was shot. It creeped me out to find myself thinking that he looked pretty good. Yuck! I would of been more comfortable with myself if they had actually cast older for that movie. Then I can ogle all I want.
    .-= Marilyn @ A Lot of Loves´s last post ..Royale Reno-Cation: Win a Cruise and a Home Renovation and More!! =-.

  5. You know what cheeses me off? Okay, I LOVE the new show Community – love it. It’s hilarious, and we watch it especially because my husband went to high school with the guy who plays Abed.

    But “Abed” in real life is my age. But it’s okay, he totally TOTALLY looks 18. He can pull it off. But you know who CANNOT pull it off is Joel McHale. Now, Joel isn’t supposed to be playing an 18 yr old, but he IS supposed to be playing someone not too old to have a fling with an 18 yr old, which he did, on the show. Now, I’m sorry, but Joel McHale is 38 years old, and a 38 yr old having any sort of flirtation with an 18 yr old is, in my mind, far too close to pedophilia for my comfort.

    I know, I know… they’re just characters on a show. But every time I look at Joel’s balding head, and see them reference some flirtation he had with the 18 yr old “Annie”, it just makes me wanna hurl. I wanna yell “IN REAL LIFE HE’d BE HER DAD!!!!”

    Anyway, I digress. The rest of the show is awesome, and Joel McHale is the least funny of the characters.
    .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..L&D Staff Behaving Badly on Facebook =-.

  6. I have always been bothered by the age of the so called teenagers. Andrea on 90210 never looked like a teen.

    I am in love with Glee so I try to ignore the fact that they are much older than they want us to believe.

    My guilty pleasure is The Vampire Diaries. They are most definitly older than they claim. It is made worse by the fact that they aren’t supposed to age. I don’t think they show can contiue on much longer when the teenage vampires already have fine lines.

  7. Degrassi tends to cast appropriately. I used to catch it at the gym and always thought they did a good job letting teens look like teens.

    Truthfully, I don’t tend to watch those shows at all, even though I did, yes, watch 90210 way back when (dreamy boys, oh my!) I tend to watch shows where adults play adults.
    .-= Caroline´s last post ..Phases =-.

  8. See! It’s all about age this week – a huge conspiracy of blogging!
    I don’t watch enough tv regularly to kvetch about age-inappropriateness so I’ll just fire up my usual rant about using pre-teen models for wrinkle cream ads in magazines and so on …….. grumble grumble
    .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..Friday forte: the old edition =-.

  9. Oh it’s so nice to read my thoughts flowing out of someone else’s mind! We don’t have cable anymore so we don’t catch a lot of those shows, but I remember the original 90210 and thinking how kids in high school never looked that way. No wonder kids want to rush through childhood. But then again, maybe it’s the non-teen crowd watching the shows so they’re putting in actors they can relate to (like reliving high school now versus going back and reliving it in your teens).
    .-= carrie anne´s last post ..Why I love shopping in the US =-.

  10. Lack of diversity in prime time.

    Gender stereotypes played out thoughtlessly.

    Poor role models for youth.

    Unrealistic presentations of medicine and science codifying biomedical model.

    Essentializing diverse regions of the world (i.e.: “Africa”) as if describing a single country or culture.

    For starters…! 🙂
    .-= Cold Spaghetti´s last post ..Where the water heater exploded, part two. Bad poetry edition. =-.

  11. I remember the Harry Potter cast being interviewed about whether they would be “too old” to finish up the series. Daniel Radcliffe laughed it off, saying that he’d be 20 (playing an 18 year old) when they finished the last film, and that was nothin’ compared to 90210.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Container Awesomeness =-.

  12. Working with real high-schoolers has turned me off of those shows. I get to see real high school drama, why would I want to watch it on TV?
    .-= abbie´s last post ..We’re going to watch, are you? =-.

  13. It does seem pretty ridiculous, but I guess I prefer it to real teenagers acting out some of those plotlines! A lot of those shows I would definitely not let a high school kid watch if I had one! Disney channel mostly has actual teenager actors, except for the oldest Jonas brother, who is married and balding…

  14. I goes back even further Amber! And btw, L-O-L.

    Stockard Channing was apparently 35(!) when she played high school baaaaaaad gurl, Rizzo in the 1970 musical megahit Grease with Johnny T at his goofy sexiest and Olivia at, well, yes, her peak as well.

    Greased Lightening!

  15. I worked 12 years in the film business and I can tell you, there’s a reason they cast adults in teen roles: shooting with kids is a pain on several levels. Most notably, they’re kids. Maturity levels are not what they need to be to put in a week of 12 hour days.

    Also, for anyone under 16, unless they have themselves declared an emancipated minor (they’re legally blowing off their parents, not the easiest thing to accomplish) there are strict limits to the number of hours they can work, legally. And (in Vancouver, it may vary in other jurisdictions) of the 8 hours they’re allowed to be on the clock, 3 of them must be dedicated to school work, which is vigilantly tracked by an independently hired tutor. That’s just an example, there are other limits too, depending on the age of the child. Given that the average hour-long TV show is shot in 7 or 8 days, having at most 5 hours a day with a lead actor (which includes at least an hour in hair and makeup, so really only 4 hours), it isn’t possible to get everything done in the time available.

    So you cast adults, who can suck it up and work 12-15 hour days just like everyone else. 🙂
    .-= Alexis´s last post ..Things I’ve Learned – Earth Hour =-.

  16. My pet peeve is most definitely the portrayal of childbirth in tv/movies. Most notably, in the film Children of Men, one of the characters is traveling with a man & a midwife..the midwife disappears and she ends up giving birth with the man present. He’s no doctor, yet she lies down on a dirty, horrible mattress on the floor with himself at the end telling her when to push!

    I wonder whether the writers of this screenplay were even aware of the differences between natural/instinctive birth and medical birth, and who makes these kind of decisions in hollywood? Do they portray birth like this because they think women won’t recognize it if it’s not portrayed in the same way they experienced it in the hospital?

  17. I’ve never seen any of the shows you’re referring to, and I’m kind of confused about the issue here … all I can say is that, as someone who hasn’t had a TV in over twenty years, I can’t fathom TV shows as anything else but TV shows: fiction, not reality. Seeing TV as anything else would seem to me a bit like asking how it’s possible that a pumpkin turned into a carriage for Cinderella – it’s a fable, it’s fiction, it’s TV.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Creating biodiversity in your garden =-.

  18. I came here to say what Alexis already said. Also, I think it’s probably a good idea to not cast such young kids. These types of vehicles have the tendency to turn the stars into teen heart throbs and thrust them into the spotlight and the fast Hollywood life, which includes lots of sexs and drugs. I don’t think the average high school kid could handle the kind of temptation that comes with that level of fame and access to tons of money.

  19. Johanne says:

    It has always stroke me as slightly funny too! I certainly noticed it 😉
    I don’t think it necessarily bothers me (although, to a limit I guess) – but I do sometimes find it strange.

  20. Well, besides childbirth in the media, my pet peeve is the unrealistic couples on everything from movies to commercials. The men are finally being cast somewhat realistically – average looking, slightly overweight, pastey skin, even kind of nerdy or awkward. But they always have these gorgeous, thin, I-have-20-stylists, bombshell wives/girlfriends. Talk about unfair standards!
    .-= BluebirdMama aka @childbearing´s last post ..Balancing Needs When Baby Trumps Mama =-.

  21. dennis teel says:

    much ado about nothing..really

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