10 Must-Watch TV Shows To Get Your Cathartic Coming-Of-Age Fix Now That ‘PEN15’ Is Over

by Shadee Vossoughi

PEN15, the Hulu comedy series about two best friends navigating the ups and downs of middle school, will not be returning for a third season. Creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, who are both in their early thirties, play 13-year-old fictionalized versions of themselves. Witnessing and (often reliving) the trials and tribulations of 7th grade through the eyes of two adults was hilarious, heartbreaking, and ultimately cathartic. When I found out PEN15’s second season was its last, I felt like I arrived at school after summer break and found out my crush moved away– I was gutted. Fortunately, the show coming to an end was not forced on them by Hulu, or because of delays caused by Covid-19, but a careful and thoughtful decision made by Erskine and Konkle.

“When we first talked about making the show 10 years ago, we talked about it in three chapters. And even though [these episodes] are called [Season] 2B, this feels like a third season to us,” Konkle said as reported by IndieWire. “It feels like we did it. For now,” Konkle continued. “The other part of it is, we’ve learned that showrunning, acting, producing, it’s all the most creatively fulfilling experience I could ever imagine in my entire life and, like, a recipe for burning out.”

Although I am bummed that PEN15 is over, I am pleased to say there are plenty of brilliant shows that give me my coming-of-age fix. Teen TV shows are on another level right now. I was recently re-watching The O.C., a teen drama series from the early 2000s that showcases wealthy, white teens living in Orange County, California, and I realized how differently teens are portrayed now compared to 20 years ago. The teen shows I grew up on were mostly sexist, heteronormative, and white-centered. Though TV shows still fail to represent the diverse landscape of the US population, diverse representation on TV has seen an increase within the last decade. According to UCLA College of Social Sciences 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report, there has been a “steady increase in overall cast diversity across all three platform types [broadcast, cable, and digital TV].” Scripted TV shows with over a 50% minority cast share from 2011 to 2020 increased in broadcast TV from 2% to 32.1%, in cable TV from 8.4% to 28.1%, and digital TV from 9.1% to 26.8%. 

Even though I am approaching 32 years on this planet, and technically a grown-ass adult, I feel a kindred spirit watching these teen-centered shows. Modern day coming-of-age shows focus more on female friendships, diverse family life, and honest portrayals of puberty and sex. Watching these shows make me feel less alone, help me process my adolescence, and make me feel so seen. They remind me of how far I have come, and how far I still have yet to go. No matter our age, we are hopefully always growing, learning, and trying to understand ourselves and the world around us– it makes me wonder if we ever really stop coming-of-age. With that, here are 10 shows that serve up incredible, beautifully awkward, teenage-angsty, super sex positive, hilariously cringe and heartwarming coming-of-age stories that are returning for another season (with some exceptions), so get ready to get your binge on. 

1. Sex Education: Renewed for Season 4

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If you haven’t already started watching UK comedy-drama Sex Education, get to it mate! It’s feel-good, bingeable and heartbreakingly honest. Supported by a diverse ensemble cast of teenagers, Sex Education serves up inclusivity, badass feminist characters (hello Maeve Wiley), and a skillful and nuanced approach to important themes like sexual harassment. Set in a fictional rural English town called Moordale, the story centers around insecure teenager Otis (Asa Butterfield) whose wealth of knowledge about sex (thanks to his sex therapist mother, played by the brilliant Gillian Anderson) leads him to start an underground sex therapy clinic to help his fellow high school students as they move through their sexual misadventures and growing pains. Streaming on Netflix.

2. Naomi: Season 1 currently airing

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From the critically acclaimed Ava DuVernay (Queen Sugar, When They See Us) and writer and producer Jill Blankenship (Arrow), comes the new teen superhero drama series, Naomi. Based on DC comic books of the same name, this coming-of-age story follows the cool, confident, and comic book-loving Naomi McDuffie (Kaci Walfall), a Black 17-year-old girl living in the small town of Port Oswego in the Pacific Northwest. After a supernatural event jolts her town, Naomi sets on a journey to figure out its genesis. Along the way, she begins to unravel her past and uncover her hidden destiny. Naomi has always been a fan of comic books, Superman in particular, but she never would have guessed that she may have superpowers herself. We don’t know if the show has been renewed yet, but we are crossing our fingers! Watch on The CW on Tuesdays at 9 | 8c. Streaming on The CW app or website on Wednesdays. 


3. Reservation Dogs: Renewed for Season 2

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We can’t talk about representation without talking about FX’s half hour dark comedy Reservation Dogs. Co-created and executive produced by Academy Award-winning writer, director, and actor Taika Waititi and the Seminole and Muscogee Creek award-winning filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, Reservation Dogs follows four Indigenous-teenagers living on reservation in rural Oklahoma. After their friend Daniel died a year prior, the rebellious teens steal, scavenge and save in hopes of leaving their reservation and moving to the “exotic land” of California, a dream Daniel once had. This breakout series is a major first in Indigenous representation as all the writers, directors, and series regulars are Indigenous. The foursome includes Bear, portrayed by Oji-Cree First Nations Canadian actor D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai; Elora Danan, played by Devery Jacobs who was born and raised in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory in Quebec; Cheese, played by Creek-Seminole and Caddo newcomer Lane Factor; and Willie Jack, portrayed by breakout star Paulina Jewel Alexis, a Stoney tribe member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta, Canada. Reservation Dogs nabbed a 2022 Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Series. Don’t sleep on this one! Streaming on Hulu. 


4. Never Have I Ever: Renewed for Season 3

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 Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher (Brooklyn 99, The Mindy Project, 30 Rock), teen comedy Never Have I Ever centers on Indian-American teenager Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who is grieving the sudden death of her father while navigating high school, her Indian-American identity, and her relationships with her friends, foes, and her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). Not only does Never Have I Ever give insight into the Indian immigrant and first-generation Indian-American experience, but when Devi’s seemingly perfect older cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) moves from India to live with them to get her PhD, audiences are also exposed to the experience of being a non-immigrant visitor. The show has received high praise for its focus on female relationships, its South Asian representation, and its ability to offer different perspectives of a shared background. Streaming on Netflix.


5. The Sex Lives of College Girls: Renewed for Season 2

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Mindy Kaling has really been banging ‘em out lately, and I’m not mad about it. Co-created by Kaling and Justin Noble (Never Have I Ever), The Sex Lives of College Girls is about, well, that. The story centers around four 18-year old college freshman roomies at New England’s elite (and fictional) Essex College, navigating love, friendships, and you guessed it, sex. The dorm-mates include booksmart and ambitious Kimberly Finkle (Pauline Chalamet- yes, Timothée Chalamet’s sis); confident comedy nerd Bela Malhorta (Amrit Kaur); bold and athletic Whitney Chase (Alyah Chanelle Scott); and wealthy and preppy Leighton Murray (Reneé Rapp). In my opinion though, the breakout star of the series is the dynamic, witty, and fearless character of Jocelyn, portrayed by actress, influencer, and disability advocate Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer (Give Me Liberty). Audiences rarely get to see authentic disability representation in Hollywood, especially ones that showcase the character’s body-confidence, sexuality, joy, and humanity. Thankfully the show has been renewed for a second season! Streaming on HBO Max


6. Big Mouth: Renewed for Season 6

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Comedy kings and real life besties Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg co-created the clever and heartfelt animated series Big Mouth. The show masterfully rides the wave of raunchy and wholesome as it deep dives into the horrors and marvels of puberty. The show is loosely based on Kroll’s life, and perhaps for that very reason the series so skillfully captures the reality of being a pubescent teen. The cringe-y content is served up by a painfully funny group of artists, like the raw, Emmy award-winning writing talent of Patti Harrison, Jaboukie Young-White and Ayo Edibiri, making it a gut-busting and deeply cathartic watch. After Jenny Slate stepped down from the role of Missy in 2020 (because Missy is Black, and well, Slate is not) Edibiri took over as Missy’s new voice actor. The transition elevated both the character and the show. Streaming on Netflix.


7. Derry Girls: Season 3 Coming Soon…

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Okay I lied to you all. The critically acclaimed comedy Derry Girls is not renewed for another season. Sad. Creator and writer Lisa McGee said it was always the plan to end the show after three seasons. Set in Northern Ireland in the mid-1990’s, when the area was gripped by political violence (known as the Troubles), this comedic series follows five teenagers who attend an all-girls (with one exception) Catholic school. The series showcases melodramatic dreamer Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and her ragtag group of friends including rule-following and booksmart Clare (Nicola Coughlan); foul-mouthed and fearless Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); straightforward and unique Orla (Louisa Harland); and the always dependable and soft-spoken James (Dylan Llewellyn) as they navigate teen angst amidst sectarian violence. The show is loosely based on McGee’s life, and because McGee has lived these experiences herself, the show has been praised for its authenticity and its ability to serve heavy history with humor and lightness. Season two of Derry Girls is currently streaming on Netflix. Though the release date for season three has not been announced yet, filming wrapped in late December 2021. I’m crossing my fingers for a 2022 arrival! Streaming on Netflix. 


8. Euphoria: Season 3 TBD…???

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Sex. Drugs. Social Media. HBO’s groundbreaking and steamy series Euphoria gives you all the Gen-Z drama with a “viewer discretion is advised” warning label. Based on an Israeli miniseries of the same name, the show centers around a group of high schoolers navigating issues like trauma, addiction, and the hardships of growing up. The show is led by Zendaya, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of troubled teen Rue. The series is brought to life by an ensemble cast of epic talent including Sydney Sweeney, Nika King, and Barbie Ferreira. The season two premiere just dropped and the rest of the episodes will be trickling in every Sunday. Although the show has not been renewed for a third season yet, Euphoria broke records with the largest viewership (2.4 million!) of any HBO Max premiere to date, so it sounds like the series might not be going anywhere. Streaming on HBO Max.


9. The Baby-Sitter’s Club: Season 3 also TBD…???

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Based on the best-selling book series by Ann M. Martin, tween dramedy The Baby-Sitter’s Club follows five middle-schoolers navigating friendship, and their babysitting business. Creator, showrunner, and executive producer Rachel Shukert, who previously wrote for acclaimed shows like GLOW and Supergirl, has received praise for remaining true to the source material while including issues that The Baby-Sitter’s Club may face today. When fierce fashionista Claudia (Momona Tamada) discovers her grandmother was once held in a Japanese internment camp, Claudia and her sister Janine (Aya Furukawa) dive into conversation about oppression. When the timid Mary Anne (Malia Baker) witnesses the transgender child she is babysitting being misgendered, she steps in, uses her voice, and advocates for the child. Season one was nominated for seven Daytime Emmy Awards, and with season two receiving high marks as well, word on the street is that there is a good chance this show will be renewed for a third season. Streaming on Netflix.


10. We Are Lady Parts: Renewed for Season 2

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Last but absolutely not least I am pleased to bring you my new favorite show, We Are Lady Parts. Creator Nida Manzoor (who previously directed episodes for Doctor Who and Enterprice), is the writer and director of this British sitcom about an all-female, all Muslim punk band and their mission to make it in the music business while staying true to themselves and not selling out. The show itself is trying to do the same by being gutsy, and unapologetic. It doesn’t try to cater to a Western audience by teaching them what it means to be Muslim. Conversely, it doesn’t try to bear the burden of representing an entire religious group. Manzoor shows a nuanced (and underrepresented) kind of Muslim woman: the feminist kind, the queer kind, the punk kind. And yes, okay, I am cheating a little bit by adding this show to this particular list, as the characters are roughly in their late twenties, but hey like I said before, do we ever stop coming-of-age? Streaming on Peacock TV.

header: image courtesy of Hulu

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