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TV's Teen Class of '98

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There are exceptions, of course: The one show many critics point to as exemplary, a touchstone for good teen programming, didn't last long.

" 'My So-Called Life' got close to capturing teen life," says Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. "It was hard to watch because it was very good at dealing with the real angst of being a teen."

Shows like ABC's Boy Meets World, UPN's Moesha, and "Sister, Sister" take the broad comic view, avoiding realism, but presenting teens with good values and loving parents - though all are middle-class and good-looking. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch on ABC is really aimed at younger kids, as is The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, an import from Canada now on the Fox Family Channel. Sabrina is a sanitized Buffy, while Shirley, played by Meredith Henderson, is a charming 15-year-old, a loner who keeps herself occupied by unraveling mysteries - as her great-great-uncle Sherlock did.

"One of the things I like about the [teen image in the series] is that ... girls don't only care about their hair and clothes," says Ms. Henderson. "And they don't have to rely on popularity. They can do what they want."

Henderson adds, "A lot more girls are doing stuff now on TV." Indeed, even when a male heads the cast as in "Dawson's Creek," there are strong young women ready to give him a run for his money.

And one of the best shows in this year's teen roster is "Felicity." Its pilot, about a girl leaving home for college against her parents' wishes, garnered critical praise for fine writing and delightful performances. Its bright young characters are a trifle more articulate than most of their real-life peers, but the writers don't exaggerate teen problems by much.

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