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Back to School Viewing: SheWired's Favorite School / Girl TV Shows

Back to School Viewing: SheWired's Favorite School / Girl TV Shows

To herald that transitional time of year that is the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite school-themed TV shows, many of which feature lesbians, or at least strong female characters – whether they are the outcasts or the popular and/or mean girls. Update your Netflix queue to include a few of these queer-friendly favorite series that compliment the back to school spirit just right.

To herald that transitional time of year that is the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite school-themed TV shows, many of which feature lesbians, or at least strong female characters – whether they are the outcasts or the popular and/or mean girls.

Hollywood’s fascination with girl culture in the hallowed halls of education, or its fascination with girls in plaid skirts, has a long history thatcan be traced back further than The Facts of Life of the early 80s and is well alive today on Glee, Skins, and Pretty Little Liars, to name a popular few.

Enjoy a look back through the best back to school girls ever on TV and if you ever find yourself needing a pop culture security blanket to get you through the new school year, update your Netflix queue to include a few of these queer-friendly favorite series.

Also, check out our our School Girl Movies from last year.

Skins - UK: E4, 2007-present; US: MTV, 2011 

A talented cast of young actors and the frankest depiction of teen sex and drug use on television yet launched the award-winning college drama to major popularity in the UK. Created by a father and son writing team, past stars Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel indulged in graphic storylines covering religion, homosexuality, dysfunctional families, mental illness, eating disorders, adolescent sexuality, substance abuse, and death.

The 2011 MTV American version of the series only lasted 10 episodes, catching controversy at every turn. Specifically, the scenes and storylines for Tea (Sofia Black D'Elia), the “sex-crazed lesbian cheerleader” college student (who replaced gay teen character Maxxie Oliver from the Brit version) caused sponsors to drop out from the program.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The WB and UPN, 1997–2003

Anyone who’s been through it can relate to the “high school really is Hell” premise of BTVS. It might have been enough just to give the world one of the greatest (and strongest) female pop culture icons ever in indomitable blond slayer, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). But creator Joss Whedon went beyond when the LGBT-inclusive show runner had main character Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) fall in love with Tara (Amber Benson) and the two developed one of the sole and first real lesbian relationships on US primetime television changing LGBT depiction in media forever, for the better.

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Once and Again - ABC, 1999-2002

Once and Again, a family drama that featured Evan Rachel Wood as the teen daughter Jessie, whose travails at school were frequently aired, made history when Jessie's relationship with her best friend Katie (Mischa Barton) developed into more than friendship. The groudbreaking drama featured two primetime lesbian kisses in the episode "Gay Straight Alliance," garnering critical praise and landing it in the annals of lesbian pop culture history.

My So Called Life - ABC, 1994–1995

A true outsider’s perspective on the pain, humiliation, and hormonal magic that is high school as movingly told through the eyes of ‘ugly duckling’ Angela Chase (a young Claire Daines). Angela’s best friends were dangerous, binge-drinking Rayanne Graff (A.J. Hanger) (with whom I would argue Angela had the obsessed-best friends vibe Jennifer’s Body aimed for [and missed]), and primetime’s first-ever gay teen, Rickie Vazquez (Wilson Cruz). Unlike almost every other teen series, the real problems (child abuse, homophobia, teenage alcoholism, homelessness, adultery, school violence, censorship and drug use) introduced in the lives of the young characters do not resolve and disappear at the hour’s end.

South of Nowhere - The N, 2005-2008

South of Nowhere is just one of those gems that has something to offer every viewer. The show revolves around a group of teens in Los Angeles trying to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be. Probably the most famous storyline is that of Spencer (Gabrielle Christian) and her best friend Ashley (Mandy Musgrave). Their relationship, which blossomed into an enduring love that spawned the mash-up "Spashley."

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Square Pegs - CBS, 1982-1983

This short-lived series follows two awkward, teenage girls who try to fit in at Weemawee High School. It had a huge LGBT following and not just because it starred Sarah Jessica Parker. These two freshmen are desperate to be popular, they find comfort and support in one another (something a lot of us closeted kids wanted as well), and never quite realized just how strong they already were. Plus, it had one of the greatest characters in TV, Muffy Tepperman, who was played by the beautiful Jami Gertz. Muffy was head of the Morals Club, captain of the pep squad, and was always trying to raise money for Weemawee High School's adopted Guatemalan child. If you know the show, you know how genius she was.

Sugar Rush - British Channel 4, 2005-2006

The less censored British version of South of Nowhere, Sugar Rush, only aired for two seasons, but made quite the impact on viewers. Each episode is a journey through 15 year-old Kim’s (Olivia Hallinan) world as she moves from London to Brighton and discovers the thrill of forbidden love for the first time. Upon arriving in Brighton, she meets Sugar (Lenora Crichlow) who becomes her new best friend. It isn’t long until Kim develops an earth-shattering, hormone-surging lesbian crush on one of Brighton’s wildest teens. Sugar Rush deals with alcohol abuse, STDs, coming out, getting clean and the overwhelming power that is teenage lust, all within the first season.

Freaks and Geeks - NBC (aired 12 of 18 episodes) 1999–2000

A bevy of future stars made up the refreshingly real ensemble of this cult-favorite series, set in the dawn of the 80s following two siblings, new freak Lindsay Weir (a bewildered, adorable Linda Cardellini), and her brother, freshmen geek Sam (John Francis Daley) in high school. They’re friends, "freaks" Daniel Desario (James Franco), Ken Miller (Seth Rogen), Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel), Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps), and "geeks" Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) are beyond believable and endearing. The short-lived, acclaimed series picked up a GLAAD Nomination for the episode “The Little Things,” in which Rogen’s character wonders whether he’s homosexual after his girlfriend, Amy, reveals she was born with both male and female genetalia. Though the complex situation is shown with a lot of humor, Amy is never once the butt of a joke and the heartwarming conclusion hits home.

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Degrassi - CTV and The N, 2001–Present

An eclectic, diverse, and inclusive cast of real teens play the rotating students on this Canadian TV institution. Degrassi: The Next Generation has featured characters from every area of the LGBT rainbow, including FTM trangender teen Adam Torres (Jordan Todosey), lesbian Fiona Coyne (Annie Clark), out gay teen Marco Del Rossi (Adamo Ruggiero), and Paige Michalchuck’s (Lauren Collins) lesbian relationship. There’s a reason Degrassi lives on, you won’t find equally rich LGBT storylines on any other teen melodramas.

Popular - The WB, 1999–2001

Some refer to Ryan Murphy’s first foray into the TV high school halls with Popular as the pre-cursor to Glee, but the tale of two gals from polar opposite ends of the popularity spectrum at Jacqueline Kennedy High School stands all on it’s own. Cheerleader Brooke McQueen (Leslie Bibb) and journalist Sam McPherson (Carly Pope) star in the irreverent and touching satirical series. It also offers a lesbian buffet in awesome supporting female characters: take your pick from the deliciously devious Nicole Julian (Tammy Lynn Michaels), activist out cast Lily Esposito (Tamara Mello) and bigger beauty Carmen Ferrara (Sara Rue), along with the gender bending science teacher, Roberta "Bobbi" Glass (Diane Delano).

90210 -  The CW, 2008-present

The original 1990s series stayed away from gay plotlines (they left that for their older cousins on Melrose Place), but the new series has tackled it on more than one occasion. School jock Teddy Montgomery (Trevor Donovan) has struggled with coming out and had plenty of flings with various guys along the way‹which proves stereotypes exist for a reason. But the big lesbian plot hit when raven-haired beauty Adrianna Tate-Duncan (Jessica Lowndes) met Gia Mannetti (Rumer Willis, daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis). During these ten-episodes Adrianna explored her feelings for Gia, which included the obligatory (and attention-grabbing) kissing scene. Adrianna eventually went back to her boyfriend, but nothing is set in stone. So whether or not she reveals herself to be lesbian, bisexual or a "hasbian" who just wanted to live on the wild side for a few weeks remains to be seen.

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Glee - Fox, 2009-present

In case you’ve yet to get hooked on the musical/comedy/drama Ryan Murphy series, it’s not too late to share your back to school blues with the “losers” of McKinley’s Glee Club. Aside from the (mostly) phenomenal musical performances, rad guest stars (Cheyenne Jackson, Idina Menzel, and Kristin Chenoweth have all appeared in multiple episodes), and the amazing, out Jane Lynch’s Emmy Award-winning performance as mean cheer coach Sue Sylvester, the burgeoning lesbianism of Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) is one of the most honest and moving depictions of lesbians on TV ever (Sorry, PLL fans).

Fame - NBC, 1982-1987

Long before Glee took the title of "Gayest Show Ever," little gay and lesbian outcasts would tune in every week to hear Debbie Allen's mantra: "You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying... in sweat!" Actors like Nia Peeples and Janet Jackson were featured in regular plotlines, giving us a couple good reasons to tune in each week. And while being gay was never a major storyline even though characters like Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray) were so obviously gay we still knew they were there. We sensed it. And it was great to see these characters on equal footing with everyone else. More than that, we knew that these fellow outcasts had a shot at being huge successes, which gave us a sense of hope in our own lives.

Dawson's Creek - The WB, 1998 – 2003

Youngsters may not remember, but Dawson’s Creek set the bar for verbose, precocious, teenage angst on TV in the 90s. From Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, the series fictional lives of a closely-knit group of teenagers through high school and college with plenty of hook ups, broken hearts, and believe it or not, was considered super racy at the time. Just two years after Ellen Degeneres came out on her sitcom (and in real life), Creek-er character Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) came out — a week after confidently vowing to girlfriend Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) — that he wasn’t gay. There’s also future dramatic darling Michelle Williams playing sexually-charged Jen Lindley.

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Greek - ABC Family, 2007-2011

ABC Family's Greek is perhaps the best show about Greek life on campus ever produced. Well rounded, funny and flawed characters traverse college life while discovering who they are and who they want to be. The show featured a gay male character, Calvin, for its run but only dipped into on-campus lesbian shenanigans once when the lovable snob Rebecca (Dilshad Vadsaria) tried her hand at a Sapphic fling. Still, the story was told with sensitivity rarely seen on primetime. Plus, Greek really turned on the loving friendship between its central character Casey (Spencer Grammer) and her BFF Ashley (Amber Stevens).

A Different World - NBC, 1987–1993

The bolder spin-off of hit series The Cosby Show followed Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) to Hillman College, a fictional historically black Virginia college. After Bonet left, the show relied on Southern belle Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and nerd Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). Challenging hot topic issues of the day like race and class relations, the Equal Rights Amendment, and feminism, ADW was one of the first American network television episodes to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1990.

Daria - MTV, 1997-2002

Daria Morgendorffer, the animated (sort of) character who came from MTV’s Beavis and Butthead, and is just trying to survive high school in Lawndale with as little human interaction, except for her friend Jane, as possible. After five seasons, she manages to get through high school with her sense-of-self uncompromised. Daria and Jane’s deadpan and sarcastic banter has lost none of its incisive edge, and kids (and adults) of all ages and stereotypes can get a good laugh out of the crazy adventures in Daria.

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Facts of Life - NBC, 1979–1988

Under the care of housemother Mrs. Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey(Kim Fields), Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), and tomboy—and total favorite of lesbian viewers— Joanne "Jo" Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon) tackle the troubles of dating, gender stereotypes, and growing up at the fictional prestigious all-female boarding school. What young lesbian didn’t want to room with Blair and Jo?

Pretty Little Liars - ABC Family, 2010-present

Do we even have to elaborate on why Pretty Little Liars made the cut? Rosewood High has turned out one of the best developed / written lesbian characters in TV history. Shay Mitchell's Emily Fields is a fully lesbian character exploring her sexuality even as she's being hounded by the little liars blackmailer "A." Amidst a fantastical plot PLL manages to tell a gay storyline that is at once tender, touching and humorous, a feat that is due in no small part to its gay creator / producers Marlene King and Oliver Goldstick.

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