Going a bit off-topic here. But everyone’s favourite ’90s primetime soap about a family of sexually charged teens (who also happen to find themselves orphaned) just hit Netflix. I’ve had some time to become reacquainted with the melodrama and feel far more judgemental now than when I was 13 when it comes to the Salinger siblings’ and psyeudo-sibling’ choices. 

What’s a psyeudo-sibling you ask? Throughout the series there are several characters, mostly former girlfriends/boyfriends of the Salingers, that just don’t go away throughout the five seasons. Considering how morose the core characters are, I cannot figure out why anyone would want to hang around well past their relationship’s expiry date.

I’ll start with a brief synopsis. The Salinger family is orphaned when their parents are killed by a drunk driver. We don’t actually get to meet the parents or bear witness to the car wreck that tears the family apart because the series picks up six months after the incident. The five siblings left to fend for themselves are Charlie (24), Bailey (16), Julia (15), Claudia (11) and Owen (1). They’ve inherited a beautiful San Francisco heritage home and their family’s eponymous restaurant Salinger’s. Considering how temperamental and unpredictable these kids are it’s a wonder they don’t lose either all series (or at least until season 4 where I am right now).

When the show initially aired I would have been about the same age as Claudia (played by the great Lacey Chabert) and a smidgen too young to tune in.

When the show initially aired I would have been about the same age as Claudia (played by the great Lacey Chabert) and a smidgen too young to tune in. I would pretend have seen it to talk about it with my friends the next day at school but the reality was it was on too late (9pm on Wednesdays!) and far too grown-up for me. So, I idealised the characters and remembered them unable to do any wrong. How incorrect was I. These kids are a mess:

Charlie

Charlie became the family guardian after his parents passed on. He didn’t make it through higher education – but back in the ’90s university wasn’t a prerequisite to run a small business. That said, he manages to lose several thousand from the siblings’ inheritance almost right away in an investment scheme. He then decides to smarten up by taking architecture classes at Berkeley. How pray tell does he manage to get in with only a high school diploma? Doesn’t architecture require engineering prerequisites like advanced calculus and physics? He drops out of said classes and either starts dating Owen’s nanny or is already dating her when he drops the classes. Irrelevant. Kirsten the nanny, is a post-doc student studying psychology or neuroscience. Again, irrelevant. But never have I seen one person emotionally destroy another the way Charlie does Kirsten.

He leaves her at the alter and then changes his mind at the last second, she loses her goddamn mind over the situation, they get back together because Charlie cannot bear to live without her, her PhD is revoked because she’s unable to focus and plagiarizes as a result causing further degradation to her sanity. She tries to marry once, leaves that fiancé at the alter for Charlie. Marries again, but wait. I’m not there yet. I’m only at the beginning of season 4. But I have no doubt she’ll leave him too for the sorry excuse for a human being that is Charlie. But this time he has cancer, so she must forgive him. I’m going to stop. This is exhausting. Send Matthew Fox to Lost land and leave him there.

Bailey

THIS guy. He’s definitely the cutest in the family but don’t let those dimples fool you. He’s also a total sociopath. In season 1 he tries to guilt his non-Jennifer Love Hewitt girlfriend into putting out. Prude-shaming gets a new MO on this cool teen soap whose main character doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. I think she puts out but I can’t remember. If she does he makes sure she thinks it’s her idea. Then he does the same thing to Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character Sarah who just won’t do it, until she relents and he then HE can’t get into it. What a standup guy.

Prude-shaming gets a new MO on this cool teen soap whose main character doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer.

He almost fails out of high school and is shitty to his best friend Will. Develops an alcohol addiction. Gets kicked off the wrestling team at college. Drops a class to avoid failing it. Moves in with his then ex Sarah after almost killing her in a drunken carwreck. Starts dating a neighbour (who is supposed to be “26” but looks closer to 40) that has a 7-year-old daughter only to have her alcoholic ex-husband resurface played by JOHN SLATTERY aka Roger Sterling himself (26 my ass). And that’s where I am now. Although, now that Charlie does have cancer he’s doing a bang-up job managing the restaurant.

I’m surprised this kid is still alive to be honest.

Julia

I’m just going to say it. There is NO WAY a girl that works in a bar at the age of 15 in straps and leather with a fake ID, gets pregnant by her equally idiotic boyfriend at 16, dumps him for a total loser with a bike at 17 and skips a bunch of class at 18 would EVERRRR be admitted to Stanford. But that’s not the whole story. Not only is she admitted by early acceptance, she then DECLINES said acceptance to do nothing indefinitely with the loser with the bike. Poor Sarah has to settle on Berkeley locally because of the spot at Stanford Julia wasted.

Julia is perhaps the most flawed character of them all. She’s deeply unlikeable, shockingly selfish when it comes to just about everything and throws tantrums on the regular whether Claudia is borrowing her stuff or she has to babysit Owen. She gives up Stanford to decide what she wants to do with her life but ends up GETTING MARRIED while still in her teens to that deadbeat Griffin. This is why you go to college. To figure out what you want to do with your life and not do stupid shit like this! Then she works at an art gallery for less than minimum wage. At the gallery she’s sexually harassed by her boss and quickly dismissed.

She gives up Stanford to decide what she wants to do with her life but ends up GETTING MARRIED while still in her teens to that deadbeat Griffin…

She’s affronted by this and then even more affronted when she has to work at Salinger’s as a waitress because she feels above it all. Well honey, that’s why people go to college. To be justified in feeling affronted by waiting tables. Then she throws a fit over Charlie not telling her about his cancer himself. I can’t even…

Neve Campbell was teen royalty back in the ’90s having appeared in everything, so she gets some sort of pass. But not Julia. She sucks.

Claudia

Pretty much the only reason to watch this show is to see Lacey Chabert smart mouth the big people, get drunk at the age of 12 and shamelessly chase Andrew Keegan around school. Not only was she the best Mean Girl, but she’s also the most likeable Salinger sibling (Owen’s a brat, everyone knows that). I won’t go much into her character because there’s nothing to gripe about, but I will say this about Lacey as an actor: The then pint-sized star was born in Mississippi, played young Cossette on Broadway’s production of Les Misérables and went on to own Mean Girls (and Lindsey Lohan) as Gretchen Weiners in 2004. She also plays the violin which was perfect for Claudia. Way to save a whole series, Lacey!

Kirsten/Sarah/Justin

Ugh, the never-ending parade of exes. I’ve left Griffin off this list because he genuinely looks like he never wants to be there even at his own wedding to Julia. Who can blame him? Also, why did James Marsden play Griffin in season 1 and then that sad Jeremy London take over in season 2 onward? Disappointing.

Also, why did James Marsden play Griffin in season 1 and then that sad Jeremy London take over in season 2 onward? Disappointing.

Anyway, these three. Kirsten fully and completely loses her mind because of Charlie, but every time she’s about to get married or is married she re-enters Charlie’s life and the never-ending cycle of shame. For someone with such low standards, it’s amazing her husbands are such catches.

I cannot figure out why Sarah is still hanging around after Bailey emotionally abuses her into oblivion with his drinking rages. Why would anyone want to keep that sort of toxicity in their lives? Having dated an addict of sorts myself, I speak from experience when I say sometimes you just gotta put yourself first.

Justin. The guy that knocks Julia up. And wanted to keep the baby. Somehow, even he gets into Yale. What is the moral of the story here? Make questionable choices in high school and you’re sure to be accepted by the Ivy League? Did I mention he left his Harvard-bound girlfriend for Julia and then she commits suicide? Yes, because the sadness of losing a boyfriend and the stress of getting accepted to the most prestigious school on the planet is far too much to bear. Way to underestimate the smart people, PO5. Anyway, this guy sticks around season after season and his hair somehow manages to get progressively worse as well.

I’m not sitting here railing on this poor teen drama for no reason. It was never going to be the original 90210, which it followed on FOX’s Wednesday primetime lineup. But what it should be is responsible for the impressionable audience entrusted in its care. This isn’t just light entertainment. The Salinger kids are cool. It shows them smoking, drinking and having promiscuous sex. When other characters choose not to join them because they have to, you know, STUDY, they seem square or selfishly putting school first. Because school is uncool.

According to Party of Five, you can do the bare minimum, party, chase boys all high school-long, hell even get pregnant and still get into the very best universities in the country. It sends a terrible message without even realising it. From my hazy memories of Dawson’s Creek, those kids did their time. They did shitty things, got shitty grades and paid the price. It’s like the death of this family’s parents has given them carte blanche to do whatever they please and their co-dependent exes rarely if ever hold them accountable.