TV’s teen love stories are getting the ‘grid treatment’ on social media. Here’s what that means.

Arriving at a big ceremony, viewers watch as the young female protagonist onscreen steps out in a formal dress and heads into an event. There, in a beautiful gown that merely enhances her inner beauty, we watch as the male lead is stunned by her presence upon first glance.

He sees her in a different light, maybe even the way she wanted to be seen by him all along.

Meanwhile, he is coming to the realization that he is falling in love with her. As the chorus of a big love song kicks in — perhaps something by Taylor Swift — our young love interests, with their pounding hearts and sweltering emotions, begin to dance with each other.

For shows like Maxton Hall The World Between Us, The Summer I Turned Pretty and My Life With the Walter Boys, this particular moment happens across the board. All three streaming series involve characters in high school who are figuring out who they are, who they love and whether they’ll be loved back.

These shows feature young female characters who are down to earth, ambitious and charismatic, opposite young leading men who are brooding, standoffish and emotionally closed off to everyone but her.

Eagle-eyed fans have drawn parallels between key moments on all three shows, giving them the “grid treatment” on social media, where they splice and share stills from the trio side by side to show how visually similar the scenes are.

The formal event moment was the first to receive the grid treatment on social media. Another “gridded” moment is what’s best described as the “hidden gift” scene, where the male protagonist has a gift for the female protagonist that symbolizes what he can’t say out loud yet.

When each of our heroines discover the gifts — in these cases an infinity necklace, a reconstructed teapot and a portrait — they immediately realize their feelings have always been reciprocated.

According to Veronica Fitzpatrick, an adjunct assistant professor of modern culture and media at Brown University, it’s the act of posting screenshots of mirror image stills across platforms like Twitter and Instagram. While popular in their own right, this crop of modern coming-of-age shows — referred to by fans online as “the big three” — aren’t exactly unique. That’s not a bad thing.

“You could look at these tweets and use them to think about the shows themselves — to judge them as redundant or homogeneous, for example — but I think it’s more interesting to contemplate how these forms enable viewers to draw out, or further participate in, the specific fantasies these shows activate,” Fitzpatrick told Yahoo Entertainment.

“Moments that get ‘gridded’ are highly economical,” she continued. “They refine an entire story to a few key images less for their formal memorability (meaning, they don’t look particularly special) than for what they symbolize: critical emotional flashpoints that, taken together, constellate the fantasies that shows like [these] reflect and cater to.”

That’s why fans love them.

Lyric Walker, 20, who lives in Memphis, told Yahoo Entertainment that comparing Maxton Hall, The Summer I Turned Pretty and My Life With the Walter Boys is “thrilling.” Watching these types of scenes induces butterflies and a giddiness Walker likens to reading romance novels.

“I think these scenes are so important because who doesn’t want to experience these moments in real life for themselves? To walk down the staircase and see the one you’ve started to unintentionally fall for, look at you like you placed the stars in the sky … There’s a large group of us [fans] that enjoy seeing those feelings portrayed onscreen,” she said.

Amanda Craggan, a 21-year-old college student in New Jersey, created the “hidden gift” discovery scenes post. She felt compelled to point out the visual similarities between these scenes because they felt like a turning point for the characters’ relationships.

“All of the gifts represented something important between the two characters and to the main story,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “These gestures strengthened the relationships between all three couples because they represented more than just a gift. They symbolize deep understanding and care, showing that one character has been paying attention to the other the whole time.”

Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told Yahoo Entertainment that coming-of-age stories in particular resonate deeply with audiences.

“The coming of age story does allow you to tell some very basic stories deep in the American heart,” he said. “You’ve got people who have one foot in one life, which is childhood and another foot in the life of adulthood. And it’s all about making that transition, which anyone who’s been through it knows it’s a highly dramatic transition.”

These aren’t the first coming-of-age shows to explore the complexities of growing up and falling in love.

“There is an iconography of teenagehood,” L.S. Kim, founding chair of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s department of film and digital media, told Yahoo Entertainment. “School, friendships, hangouts, a romantic ‘first kiss’ moment, often a makeover scene, and almost always a dance/prom dress moment, along with moments with parents in a house. These all signal a mainstream ‘American’ experience.”

Shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and My So-Called Life, according to Thompson, ushered in an era of authentic, emotionally driven teen shows that featured these touchstone moments.

“It really wasn’t until we [got] into the ’80s and ’90s that we really started getting breakthrough shows. One of them that gets laughed at a lot but I think deserves some credit is Beverly Hills, 90210. Yes, it was a leathery soap opera … but it got into a lot of the details of being that age and of coming of age,” he explained. “Then the great masterpiece [that] only went one season, 17 episodes on ABC called My So-Called Life [with a] young Claire Danes. That show was really ahead of its time. Where Beverly Hills, 90210 cleared the [coming of age] territory, My So-Called Life really got into it in detail.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another hit series that comes to mind for Fitzpatrick.

“Where my generation had Buffy Summers falling for her mortal enemy against her best judgment, only to find there was more tenderness to him than thought possible, Maxton’s Ruby discovers hidden depths in her school’s vapid heartthrob [James],” she said. “We love hidden depths; we love the intimate ecosystem of a school; we love to imagine being treated gently by someone initially very remote or even dangerous; we love to assert our principles yet selectively indulge upwardly mobile experiences like an extravagant gift.”

The continued inclusion of these key scenes of a shared teenage experience is a testament to our fascination with how multi-layered characters can be. More than anything, these “gridded” moments appeal to viewers that want to feel seen — that hope to identify themselves in these characters, even if it’s a fantasy.


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