An examination of the love one has for teenage dramas of yore that serves as an ode to a beloved family member and an acceptance of the fact that human beings are triumphantly complex…
by: Jianna Heuer
I‘m 40 and can’t stop watching the teen dramas of my youth. I’ve watched the Gilmore Girls in its entirety once a year for the last five years. I’ve seen Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, The Vampire Diaries, and The OC at least twice through in the previous decade. I recently researched why I am so drawn to these shows because, let’s be honest, it is a bit embarrassing. I found three scientifically-based reasons why people engage in this behavior: It makes people feel less lonely and rejected, they find emotional comfort in the familiar, and it helps them feel more in control of their circumstances.
My proclivity makes much more sense in this context. The major highlights in my life from the last fifteen years include, but are not limited to, my brother going to prison, ending my relationship with my father, and being a psychotherapist during a global pandemic. I’ve tried watching more timely shows centered on teen characters, like the new Gossip Girl or Riverdale. I even attempted a couple of episodes of Euphoria. None of them soothed me like the shows I watched week to week as a teenager. Luckily, science explains why the new couldn’t achieve what the old does.
Recently, Angus Cloud, the talented actor from Euphoria, died. My chest tightened, and my eyes filled with tears as I read the statement put out by his family about his passing. There is no reason this person’s death should mean anything to me. I watched one and a half episodes of Euphoria before giving up on it entirely. I try to avoid any TV that spikes my anxiety. I don’t need to watch a show about drugs and sex and bullying; it’s way too close to reliving my high school years. The girls on the show seemed all headed for disaster. Most of the boys on the show seemed like vapid, one-dimensional fuck-boys. But Fez, aka Angus Cloud, stuck out as something different. Granted, he is a drug dealer, but the caring type. Maybe it was his kind eyes or slow, stoned way of speaking. I liked him, not enough to keep watching, but I felt tender towards him. Now that I think about it, maybe it was his resemblance to my brother Tim, who, at twenty-five, went to prison for dealing heroin.
I know Angus wasn’t a drug dealer in real life, but I didn’t know him in real life; I only know his character from the show. Angus was continuously described as the drug dealer with a heart of gold, and that’s how I’ve always thought of my brother. Sure, he sold heroin to hundreds (thousands?) of people, and eventually started using it himself. He had an arsenal of guns and owned scads of drug paraphernalia. He dropped out of college, and, according to his lawyer, was making $30,000 a month from sales while still taking money from my mom for college. But he’s not a bad guy. I know him, He’s the kid who would always give me the last peanut butter cup because he knew they were my favorite. He would cuddle our dog Buddy before bed every night and pat him on the head, saying, “Good doggy, I love you so much, best friend.” He isn’t a monster, a killer, a pusher, or a criminal.
I’ve spent years trying to figure out who Tim really is. Is he the Scarface-loving mafioso criminal mastermind the police made him out to be? Or the kind, sweet kid I grew up with? As I puzzled over this quandary one night, my husband Sebastian said, “Can’t it be both? Tim is complicated. We are complicated. Everyone is right? There is so much nuance to who we all are. It’s not one or the other, or both, it’s all of it.” Of course! People are not all bad or all good; they are complex. It’s what my work is based on; it’s how I see all my clients; why can’t I see the people in my personal life this way?
The teen shows I rewatch provide comfort and a break from the complexity. The uncomplicated nature of the story arcs are soothing, giving me a sense of safety that the world rarely can.
Angus Cloud’s death makes me sad and contemplative. I want to know more. I will journey down an Instagram rabbit hole to understand what happened to him. I want to use him and his character, Fez, to understand Tim and whether I should still worry about him. He’s been out of prison for eight years, has a good job, and is married, but addiction is wily, popping up when least expected.
I still need to do my yearly watching of The Gilmore Girl, the coziest of all my teen shows. I will visit Stars Hollow tonight when I finish working. I can hardly wait for the rush of seeing my old friends, the twilight state of a good binge, and the ultimate release from the worry, sadness, and grief of what has been and may come.
Jianna Heuer is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. She writes Creative Non-Fiction that has been accepted by Hot Pot Magazine and Underscore Magazine. Her flash non-fiction has appeared in two books, Fast Funny Women and Fast Fierce Women.