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Can the upcoming YA series ‘Senior High’ change the way we perceive teenage rebellion?


“Come on, just a drop and we’ll stop bugging you.” 

As a Gen Z scholar with relatively lenient parents, you have no clue how often I’ve heard this line throughout my university life and rejected every “walwal” invite from my friends. It somehow became a game of persistence for them, trying to crack my “abstinence” and introduce me to the wild side of student culture (or teenage rebellion, as others would call it).

In the end, I successfully stood my ground and navigated the treacherous halls of academia without succumbing to the allure of vices. But this was absolutely not because I saw myself as a better individual than those who partook—nor was it due to some self-righteous moral high ground. Nah, my decision was merely a matter of prioritizing my well-being and making choices that aligned with my values. I didn’t even deem it something to brag about, but simply a lifestyle that best fits me.

Besides, everyone has a different journey. Just as I decided not to engage in booze and recreational substance consumption, others may also have motivations that ultimately led them to indulgence. Not that I’m justifying these deeds, but it’s important to recognize that we are all products of our unique experiences and circumstances. Some might see it as a means to escape from their struggles while others as a way to explore boundaries. A complex web of factors affects these choices, and judging people sans understanding their individual stories isn’t fair.

Case in point? The characters of Dreamscape Entertainment’s upcoming YA series “Senior High.” Andrea Brillantes, Kyle Echarri, Elijah Canlas, Zaijian Jaranilla, Xyriel Manabat, and Juan Karlos are set to portray roles that will traverse the murky waters of senior high school. Its initial teaser hints at a narrative that delves into the illicit activities that the majority of Filipinos (go through the QRTs on Dreamscape’s tweet) have consciously avoided or just couldn’t relate to—such as alcoholism, sexual exploration, and use of illegal substances.

So, it wasn’t really shocking that viewers have varied opinions on such a provocative plot. Even I have questions and reservations about how it will handle these sensitive topics. Will it glamorize destructive behaviors, or will it present them in a more pragmatic and well-thought-out manner? Should the media strive for a realistic depiction of high school life? Or is creative license enough justification to touch on these themes (potentially) in a sensationalized way?

The dilemma between realism and creative freedom

Many skeptics argue that “Senior High” seemingly suggests an inaccurate representation of the typical Filipino high school setting, even calling it a subpar local rendition of the acclaimed international series “Euphoria.” They fear that the prevalence of these issues may be exaggerated, which can lead to reality distortion. To be fair, it’s a rational concern, especially considering that stereotypes perpetuated by the media can have huge effects on impressionable young minds. 

However, it’s equally crucial to realize that student experiences don’t fit into a single mold. School is a melting pot of diverse backgrounds. Sure, not every high school is a hotbed of substance abuse and sordid affairs, but it doesn’t mean that these cases don’t exist at all. By diving into the darker aspects of teenage life—no matter how rare or “unrelatable” it is for many of us—this series has the opportunity to decode the complexities faced by some students and spark conversations around taboos that are otherwise swept under the rug.

Fiction allows for the exploration of controversial topics without being bound to strict realism.

“Senior High” (with the right execution) can bridge the gap between those who have experienced them firsthand and those who haven’t. It can foster empathy and understanding—allowing us to see beyond the surface and examine the underlying factors that influence their behavior.

Furthermore, is it necessary for every form of art to mirror reality? Some proponents of the show contend that the media has the creative freedom to experiment and weave compelling narratives, even if it means deviating from reality. They argue that art shouldn’t always be confined to depicting the mundane and the commonplace; that not every story has to intersect with our personal experiences. As other online users pointed out, fiction allows for the exploration of controversial topics without being bound to strict realism.

Balancing responsible storytelling and artistic expression

While dramatic license should be respected, it doesn’t absolve creators of their responsibility to address complicated subjects with care. The impact of media extends beyond entertainment—it shapes perceptions, alters attitudes, and can challenge societal norms. This holds especially true for a series like “Senior High” which seeks to tackle matters that have real-life implications for its young audiences. 

Therefore, it’s imperative for Dreamscape Entertainment to tread carefully and ensure that the portrayals are thought-provoking and can contribute positively to the discourse. It isn’t about censoring or diluting the narrative, but rather about showing a nuanced and multidimensional perspective of the emotions and consequences that come with the characters’ decisions (without trivializing or romanticizing them).

But considering the decent amount of socio-political projects (their latest being “Dirty Linen”) the company has produced in the past, there is a valid reason to approach “Senior High” with cautious optimism. Their track record shows a commitment to responsible storytelling that promotes critical thinking and healthy decision-making among its viewers.

Subverting cliché tropes and embracing the fresh

Changes are often met with resistance, so the dichotomy between wanting something new in the media landscape and heavily criticizing them when they finally arrive isn’t necessarily unique to “Senior High.” Filipinos have long expressed their exhaustion with cliché storylines—yet when they are finally presented with creations that defy the status quo, they’re quick to nitpick. 

It’s a perplexing paradox highlighting the diversity of viewer expectations and the difficulty of satisfying everyone’s tastes. But at the end of the day, art is subjective—and what may appeal to you may not resonate with others. The best thing we can do as the audience is to treat new ideas with an open mind and give them a chance to prove themselves. After all, the industry can only evolve and improve if we welcome plots that embrace experimentation and push boundaries.

The importance of viewer discretion and/or trigger warnings

The media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you think that the responsibility lies solely on the showrunners, I need you to kindly reconsider. Viewers play a significant role in shaping the reception of any content, too. We can hold them accountable for any missteps or question the intention behind their narrative choices, but we also need to acknowledge our own agency in consuming and interpreting these stories. 

It’s okay to step away from things that counter your beliefs—and there’s no shame in being aware of your limits and protecting your peace.

While it’s vital for Dreamscape Entertainment to implement content labeling and provide resources and helpline information for those who might need it, viewer discretion and parental guidance are still highly encouraged. In an ideal scenario, “Senior High” would have measures in place to guarantee responsible viewing. Trigger warnings, advisories, and rating systems allow individuals to make informed decisions about whether or not they are ready to engage with the series.

So, if you find yourself uncomfortable with the themes it has initially presented, feel free to watch it with caution or opt out entirely. It’s okay to step away from things that counter your beliefs—and there’s no shame in being aware of your limits and protecting your peace.

Bottom line: Our looming questions can only be answered once the series is released in its entirety. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk on, but it can be a game-changer with the appropriate intentions, research, and collaboration with the right experts. Let’s not rush to make sweeping judgments based on a teaser alone; instead, it should be a reminder that human existence is a multifaceted tapestry, with each thread contributing to the overall picture. 

It is through productions like “Senior High” that we can begin to unravel the intricacies of adolescence, step on uncharted territories, and perhaps even find solace in the fact that regardless of our paths, we are all interconnected in this shared journey of growth and self-discovery.


Read more:

Stop beating yourself up if you’re not in your dream school

What I realized after re-reading my high school yearbook

On graduating university and why you shouldn’t take your college life for granted

Still from “Senior High” teaser



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