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Friday, April 09, 2010:
Television rewind: My So-Called Life
One of the most acclaimed series on TV during its brief run from 1994-1995, My So-Called Life pioneered the modern teen drama and made a star out of 15-year-old Claire Danes. Ostensibly centering around the trials and tribulations of high schooler Angela Chase, My So-Called Life actually expanded to include everyone in its protagonist's orbit, from school friends to extended family, and gave its stellar ensemble cast ripe material to work with during its too-short life. Produced by thirtysomething creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, MSCL evoked that yuppie-friendly show with its emphasis on finding extraordinary drama within ordinary situations, but was far more heartfelt and heart-wrenching, echoing the dizzying highs and lows of adolescence. As such, it developed a cult following among young viewers who identified strongly with Angela's high school traumas and followed her every move with rapt attention. (After cancellation, the show enjoyed a popular reprise on MTV.)

Avoiding the sensational, My So-Called Life tackled every teen hot-button issue imaginable (and pioneered the then-controversial topic of teen homosexuality), but with a clear-eyed perspective, never dissolving into soap opera-–even when Angela mooned over heartthrob Jordan Catalano (dreamy Jared Leto). Even as it mined adolescent angst, though, My So-Called Life never lost sight of its adults, with Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin both phenomenal as Angela's parents, whose marriage was one of the most complex seen on TV since... well, thirtysomething. Through it all, Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee Danes was a neurotic, touching, and funny center, whether obsessing over a zit or negotiating the rocky terrain of first love. Her funny, sobering, and empathetic portrait of teendom reminded us that in some ways, life was just an extended version of high school. --Mark Englehart

Okay, I admit it. This is one of those shows that I absolutely adored and it made quite an impression on me when I watched it back in the mid 90's, even though I was already in my 20's at the time. Yes, I am one of "those" girls who had an enormous crush on Jordan Catalano (though I can proudly admit not so much today). I anxiously tuned in every week waiting to see if Jordan would ever notice Angela or if she would continue to live my life and be ignored by the love of her life.

The reason I'm thinking of it now is because there just isn't a lot out there that affected me the way this show did. It was not a sugar-coated fantasy world, but an intense, darker, more complex show. I remember all too well the pain of teenage unrequited love, and this show positively radiated unrequited. Each character was made up of various shades of gray, so even when you didn't like one of them, you might have been able to sympathize. Angela was awkward, sweet, selfish, introspective. So while she's the protagonist of our story, that didn't mean I loved her every single minute. Sometimes the way she'd treat Brian bothered me. But she embodied the same type of behavior I had at her age. I know this because several times her reactions or comments hit awfully close to home several times. Even watching it years out of my teens, I still would get that curl of embarrassment when I certain scene would trigger a memory.

There's also the whole situation with Angela's parents and the cracks in their marriage, which was interesting because we're not only experiencing the pain of the teenagers, but also the trials of marriage and how things can get off-track. I didn't care much for Angela's mom, but how her husband dealt with his growing feelings of discontent isn't all that admirable either. I'm curious to see how far they would have taken things if the show had remained on the air.

And speaking of which, you had to love Ricky, Angela's openly gay friend. He was one of my favorite characters, so full of love and yet so vulnerable; he was a loyal friend. So ready to be loved. If the show can continued, I hope that eventually would have happened for him, and that it would have shown a positive storyline. Now we'll never know. I wonder what the actor who played Ricky is doing these days....

Now the show had it's occasional payoff. It couldn't be all angst and moments of mortification, how could it? I mean, who didn't get all excited when Jordan sauntered down that school hallway and took Angela's hand? I must have re-wound that scene 25 times to relive that long-awaited experience. (Yeah, I get a little obsessive). As I mentioned, at the time, I had a huge crush on Jared Leto. Looking back, I wonder if there's much going on beyond the pretty face, though I do love some of the song from his band 30 Seconds to Mars.

So tell me: were you a fan, or were you way too cool

to be into this self-aborbed but addictive drama?



  1. I still love watching My So-Called Life! I bought the series as soon as it finally was re-released on dvd. At one time both MTV and Nick would play episodes each day and I would get up way early so I could get my fix each day.

  2. Oh I was fan, I really loved that show. Actually when we first met my boyfriend looked just like Catalano :) now he doesn't wear long hair and flannel shirts, but those days he was a one hot shot

  3. Oh man, who WASN'T a fan of this show, seriously? And why I love my husband - he had the whole series set when I met him, and when I said I hadn't seen the whole thing, he wanted to watch it with me.

  4. I loved that show and was so upset when it was cancelled! I loved Angea's bob and loved it even more when she died it red. Around this time last year, Hulu was streaming My So Called Life episodes. I was in heaven!!


    I still have a crush on him..oh yes.

    Loved this show!

  6. Um, Jordan Catalano? YEAH. Loved the show. Now I want to see it again... I need to buy the series.

  7. It never made it here :( It does sound like a great show though. I'm currently hooked on Glee and hanging out for the second season...or the second half of the first season :)

  8. I was a fan :)

  9. Your story sounds very similar to mine! It really was one of the shows that just "got it." Remember when it was on MTV non-stop? *sigh* I was also in my mid-twenties when the show aired. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  10. LOVED My so called life. A few years ago I bought the whole series on DVD, it was really expensive. Then like a year later they released it again and it was waaaay more affordable. I was pissed! But I have my beloved My so called life.


    Going to dig out my dvds and watch a few..... :)

  11. Oh I was a total fan, loved MSCL to the max, even if I could never understand what Angela saw in Jordan. I hate floppy hair on men, and his seemed to have a life of its own.

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