Felicity and the Golden Age of Teen Television – Caroline Gill

Felicity-felicity-60218_500_739This past weekend, I started watching a show I had been meaning to watch for years: Felicity. Premiering on The WB in 1998, Felicity has an important place in the evolution of the teenage drama.

TV history remembers Felicity for two things: One, it made a star of Keri Russell (and her hair). Two, it began the television career of one person who would come to be kind of important: J.J. Abrams. (Yes, that one.)

Now revered for his innovative efforts in science fiction, Abrams (along with the eventual exec. producers of The X Files and Homeland) started out at the helm of Felicity, a show about a girl who forgoes her parents dreams and goes to college in New York, to follow a boy she liked in high school. It may sound unimpressive, but Felicity hooked me within seconds. Literally.

Felicity began in 1998, the heyday of The WB, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek, Charmed, and Felicity all on at the same time. Unbelievable, right? These shows, (although maybe not Charmed) were all innovative in that they aimed to tell stories that resonated with the modern teenager. Not stereotyping them, but rather portraying them as real adults with real problems. Perhaps they were the John Green novels of their day.

Each of these shows had their own angle and originality by which they portrayed teenagers. The trials of Buffy were seen as an allegory for high school life, basically saying that “high school is hell.”

On Dawson’s Creek, characters were treated as intelligent young adults who spoke, well, intelligently. Maybe more intelligently than you or your friends, but still. Joey (Katie Holmes)  was very mature and relatable. (Make no mistake, she was the real star, not Dawson.) At its core, Dawson’s was about the difficulty of navigating relationships with friends and family in the wake of the changes brought on by young adulthood.

And then there was Felicity. The shortest running of the three series, Felicity was unique in that it focused on college life, instead of high school. Even today, that seems rare. What struck me from the beginning with Felicity was how truthful it is. I identify with Felicity Porter and the difficulty she had adjusting to the massive change that is college. The new place, the new people, the new lifestyle. She broke free from her parents and did something for herself, and although it was reckless, it was the best decision she had ever made. Not because she got the guy (Ben), but because she started to learn who she really was and wanted to be. This is the kind of growth that can only happen in college. Also, the show is told from Felicity’s point of view, which makes it all the more relatable and intimate.

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I also liked how Felicity dealt with “difficult issues” in a way that seemed authentic. For example, Felicity, who’s really smart, makes the mistake of revising Ben’s paper without telling him, and then turning it in. Ben gets caught, and it creates a whole mess for both of them. In the end, if Felicity hadn’t revised Ben’s paper, he would have gotten a B. Instead, they both got Fs for their behavior. Doesn’t that just suck? But what a refreshing take on a stale trope.

In another episode, Felicity’s friend is forced sexually by a guy she’s been seeing, but not officially dating. This realistic take on the issue of rape was very valuable to me as a viewer. It also showed how other characters reacted–like Noel, Felicity’s RA, who has a handbook filled with what to do in situations like these, but who in reality knows nothing but the statistics.

On a lighter but still realistic note, one of my favorite episodes of Felicity so far is titled “Finally,” and it’s about, what else, finals. But the way the episode was constructed, with a countdown clock and library room location to mark the time left until finals, was all too relatable. Also, there were subtitles when characters were talking in the library, surround by a mass of obsessively studying students. I found it very clever. Also, I believe this was the episode in which Chuck from Supernatural (Rob Benedict) first made an appearance, so I was extra impressed.

10_felicity.w529.h352.2xLastly, since I’ve started watching Felicity, I feel obligated to weigh in on the whole Ben vs. Noel thing. It’s one of TVs most legendary love triangles, like Angel vs. Spike on Buffy, etc. I went back and forth a few times in the beginning, since Ben, Felicity’s high school crush, seemed kind of dumb, and Noel, her RA turned BFF, seemed more my style. But as the first season went on, I felt like Ben was really starting to have depth, while Noel is just kind of goofy. So for now I’m going to have to go with Ben.

I would recommend this show to any fan of teen dramas, for rarely has there been one as authentic and well-told as Felicity. 

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