Features and Columns · TV

‘Life As We Know It’ Was the Best Teen Drama No One Watched

Maybe they were too busy watching ‘The OC’ and ‘One Tree Hill.’
Life As We Know It
By  · Published on February 25th, 2020

Welcome to Petition Worthy, a biweekly column that revisits canceled TV shows that we wish had a longer lifespan. In some cases, we’ll also make a plea for them to be given another chance.

Teen television was booming in the 2000s. The OC and One Tree Hill led the charge, but there were a few gems that never reached the same level of popularity or critical acclaim, even though they should have. One of these shows was 2004’s Life As We Know It, which boasted all the hallmarks of a good teen dramedy, albeit with more adult humor and an honest point of view.

Created by Freaks and Geeks alumnus Gabe Sachand and Jeff Judah and based on writer Melvin Burgess’ novel Doing It, the story centered around three Seattle high school students, Dino (Sean Farris), Ben (Jon Foster), and Jonathan (Chris Lowell) as they navigated life and love. They were also a bunch of horndogs, with sex on their mind “every five seconds.”

Rounding up the cast was Sean’s girlfriend, Jackie (Missy Peregrym), and her friends Sue (Jessica Lucas) and Deborah (Kelly Osbourne). Marguerite Moreau also starred as Monica Young, a high school teacher who was having an affair with Ben, which was perhaps a poorly timed storyline as the show debuted two weeks after the 20/20 interview with Mary Kay LeTourneau, a Seattle teacher who got pregnant by her 12-year-old student.

On paper, Life As We Know It comes across like a sex comedy about some obnoxious teens, but that wasn’t so at all. Sex has often been used as the driving force behind the motivations of some gross or annoying characters, but that wasn’t the case with these dudes. They were vulnerable, awkward, witty, and just an interesting group of people to spend time with as a viewer.

Of course, there were moments in which the teens were obnoxious. Take Dino, for example. In the pilot episode, he told Jackie that if she didn’t put out then he’d just find someone else who would. Moments like this made the characters unlikeable, but there were more scenes that depicted them like decent people. They just messed up sometimes.

But the appeal of these characters was the fact they weren’t always likable or admirable. They were teenagers who acted like dipshits from time to time, and while other shows have presented their young protagonists as flawed people, Life As We Know It was more unapologetic about how stupid they could be.

The show also presented realistic conversations surrounding activities of the carnal variety. They were non-judgmental and nuanced, with the pros and cons of the deed discussed in a way that was just honest and natural. The show made sure to add some salaciousness and drama to the subject; otherwise, it’d be boring. But its message was truthful and frank.

Sometimes the awkward adolescent experience was played for humor, though, most memorably in a storyline where Jonathan developed a temporary medical problem down there because he was playing with it too much. He thought he had “penis cancer.” This also just so happened to coincide with him dating Deborah, who really wanted to jump his bones and he was too terrified to do anything.

That was the thing about sex in this show: just as the characters found themselves on the verge of losing their virginity, something would come up that ruined their plans. Whether that was Jonathan developing a temporary bout of “penis cancer” or Dino being distracted with his mom boinking his hockey coach, you could always bet on the sexy stuff not being a smooth ride. It was frustrating to watch, as it was a case of witnessing people getting in their own way and not being able to tell them to get a grip.

If given the opportunity to find an audience, Life As We Know It may have found popularity as a show that spoke to teenagers and adults alike. Unfortunately, ABC aired it on Thursday nights at 9 pm, opposite CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Apprentice at the height of their popularity. It was doomed from the start.

Life As We Know It should have succeeded as it contained all of the elements that made other shows of its ilk ratings sensations while throwing in just enough realism and sex-positive themes to make it stand out from the pack. But the series was canceled before anyone had the chance to see it, and it was so under the radar at the time that it failed to attract a cult fan base.

That said, it’s never too late to discover an old show and fall in love with it. Life As We Know isn’t as risque or progressive as Sex Education, but its nuanced exploration of relationships among young people is very similar. Fans of that Netflix series who also appreciate more standard teen drama fare will probably get a kick out of it. Give this one a chance, and don’t let its legacy be just another series that got lost in the ether.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.