Go, now, go: friendship, futures unknown, identity and performance in teen television
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This thesis is an examination of identity and the role of friendship in the formation of self and selves, within two under-examined areas of television studies: performance studies and critical analyses of Teen Television. As a journey through two serial television programs, My So-Called Life (1994-1995) and Pen15 (2019-present) with a brief exploration of Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), this thesis aims to position Teen TV as an ideal space for exploring the ways friendships alter the beings within them and might be exemplary at amplifying specific elements (the transient, the crucially temporal, the unsettled) of serial television more generally. Teen programs often reflect the “in progress” nature of the serialized medium itself, through narrative and characterization. By centralizing friendships as the crux of the thematic and dramatic stakes, and because teen characters are often presented on a journey of self-discovery (and because these two elements are necessarily intertwined), teen television may be particularly well-suited to the serialized televisual medium. Through a close reading of specific scenes and sequences, with particular attention paid to the performances of young actors on screen, one can uncover the connection that those performances have to other aesthetic elements of the production and narrative. Connectedly, examining the ways that performances accumulate and augment over time, one can, ever gradually, track a character that does not become solidified into a singular self, but rather – through these accumulations and augmentations (sometimes replications and inhabitations of others) – the ways that television characters (like real life people) are swayed and shifted, constantly, by those close to them. Simultaneously, these characters (through narrative and performance) are often shown learning and incorporating elements of others into themselves, developing a relationship language – through gesture, tone, costume, through improvisation and other forms of play, and through affective blending. These shifts may similarly be reflected by the viewer (multiplying the affective entanglements beyond the screen) whose relationship with characters and outward (often creative) expressions based on the characters, aesthetics, and narrative, may take on an element of friendship itself.