• Esther Um

Grand Army: Teenhood is Much More Than The ‘Epic Highs and Lows of High School Football’

Featuring a diverse cast, the show covers many sensitive and timely topics in a refreshingly honest and respectful manner

(No Spoilers/ TW: Mentions of Sexual Assault and Racism)

I have always been fascinated by the paradoxical relationship teenhood has with pop culture. Pop culture loves to make money off teens. Yet, the teenage experience is often the target of many jokes. Everyone makes fun of Riverdale, yet it has had five successful seasons and a current rating of 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

I was not expecting too much when I began watching “Grand Army.” What drew me to it was the trailer featuring a diverse cast; something not too common, not only in the genre of teen drama but in Hollywood overall. I was curious to see how the writers had handled the delicate intersections of the experience of growing up with multiple identities. I dove in with a critical eye and was pleasantly surprised.

It was only after I had finished the first episode that I realized who the showrunner was and what the show was based on. Based on the plays SLUT and Now That We’re Men by playwright, and now showrunner, Katie Cappiello, “Grand Army” captures a raw, honest and nuanced version of teen hood that neither Riverdale nor Gossip Girl could ever offer. It understands that teen-hood is an enigma of beautiful and ugly things. The journey of self-discovery for most high schoolers is one filled with the joy of friendships and the sweetness of a first romance, but also the confusion and panic as we approach adulthood.

Much like the plays it is based on, the show covers many sensitive and timely topics in a refreshingly honest and respectful manner. The characters encounter issues concerning sexual violence, racism (at both interpersonal and structural levels), sexual orientation, and sexuality. As they do so, the characters are shown relying on their support systems—family, friends and teachers—in ways that we hope all teens feel safe enough to do so.

Image via What's on Netflix

The show features a diverse and talented ensemble cast of young actors, many of whom are in their late teens or early twenties. Their performances are just as honest, authentic, and nuanced as the writing of the show. Their portrayals of the characters make clear that each actor is working from a genuine place of empathy and understanding for their teenage character.

Shows like Riverdale and Gossip Girl have their place in the world of entertainment. They are glamorous for a reason. They are meant to be a fantastical escape from the awkward reality (braces, first kisses, bad school dances, etc.) of the teenage experience. But, if that is all we can offer the hungry and perceptive demographic, then we are doing them a huge injustice. Acclaimed writer Madeleine L’Engle once said "If it's not good enough for adults, it's not good enough for children.” As adults, we assume that adolescents are not craving substantive material or content that reflects the issues that they face every day because we do not want to believe they struggle with them. Creating work to reflect that may finally give them the permission to come to their own deep understanding of the world around them.

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