It’s a well-known fact that high school students come in all shapes and sizes. While a few high school students may be able to pass for being in their early twenties, I believe the majority of students look too young to drive a car, let alone vote. This general rule doesn’t apply to every high school, though. You may find plenty of students who look like they should have graduated from college at least eight years ago on TV. You shouldn’t second-guess your first instinct, because there’s a good chance that the “student” you are watching on TV could not possibly be a sophomore, unless they flunked kindergarten six or seven times. Since middle school it’s been a pet peeve of mine that teenage roles have been handed to adults to play. I can’t help but wonder why the creators of some very popular TV shows find it so difficult to hire actors and actresses who are close in age to the characters they portray. The comedy/drama/musical show Glee has possibly the largest cast of over-aged actors and actresses playing high school students on television right now. Thirty-year-old Cory Montieth plays one of the main characters on Glee, high school student Finn Hudson. When Montieth was hired to play Finn (who was only a sophomore in the first season of Glee) he was already twenty-seven years old. The actors who play Finn’s classmates, Puck and Mike, also happen to be thirty. The actresses who play Rachel, Quinn, Mercedes, and Tina, are all twenty-six. Glee isn’t the only show, however, that has ultra-super seniors walking around in lettermen jackets. The actress who plays Spencer Hasting on Pretty Little Lairs is twenty-six (the same actress also portrays Spencer at age fourteen in flashbacks) and thirty-three year old actress Bianca Lawson portrays sixteen-year-old Maya St. Germain.
So why are casting directors giving the scripts meant for teenagers to adults? I don’t buy the argument that there is a massive lack of talented people between the ages of fifteen and twenty. Wouldn’t it make TV shows more engrossing and relatable if young people were cast for characters that were in high school? In Debbie Does Salad Kaufman mentions how the world that Sara Moulton cooks in is a little less then real. Kaufman notes how the stage Moulton is cooking on has “kitchen windows opened to a faux outdoors, and a side door left ajar to reveal the overburdened shelves of a glowing pantry.” Kaufman quotes Food Network programming VP Bob Tuschman as saying “We create a beautifully idealized world. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that world?” In order to create a more “idealized world”, are casting directors and producers looking to put older actors and actresses in teen roles?
I believe that allowing adults to play teens accomplishes the task of garnering higher TV ratings by manipulating two different viewer age groups. The first age group it manipulates is the twenty and thirty-somethings. I believe that if TV shows about high schools actually casted high school aged kids, thankidsthis age group would lose interest in shows about high school. However, since twenty and even thirty-something actors and actresses have taken on teen roles, the older age group more readily relates to the young characters and therefore becomes engrossed in these shows. The second age group being manipulated is the teen age group. Teens are watching an “idealistic reality” where high school students look and act older than their years. Well, that happens to be because the actors and actresses playing these characters are actually older than their years. Many others have noticed this trend and have commented on it. One of these commenters, Brianna Bell, mentioned in her article, I Have a Problem with Adults Playing Teens on TV, how watching adult actors portraying young people may make young people want to grow up faster. The only problem is, teenagers probably are not ready to handle the adult situations that these adult actors and actresses portray their young characters dealing with in shows such as Glee and Pretty Little Liars. Teenagers also compare themselves physically to these full grown actors and actresses. My friends and I bemoan the fact that we look like fourteen years olds because we are comparing ourselves to the fake teenagers we see on TV. Its not that we look like we are still in our early teens, its just that we don’t look like we are twenty-six.
While TV stations may be manipulating us into watching their shows by casting adults to play the role of teenagers, their actions have unexpected consequences. I for one wish that teenagers would be allowed to play the role of teenagers, because I just think its weird to see thirty year olds still in high school.