My So-Called Life
A Little History:
My So-Called Life is an American teen drama television series created by Winnie Holzman and produced by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. It originally aired on ABC from August 25, 1994, to January 26, 1995 and was distributed by The Bedford Falls Company with ABC Productions. Set at the fictional Liberty High School, it follows the emotional travails of several teenagers who are all in the social circle of main character Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes. The critically acclaimed but short-lived show ended in a cliffhanger with the expectation that it would be picked up for an additional season, but it was officially canceled on May 15, 1995.
The show was praised for its portrayal of adolescence and the commentary of its astute central character, Angela. My So-Called Life was named the second Best School Show of All Time by AOL TV. It placed # 33 on Entertainment Weekly‘s “New Classics TV” list of shows from 1983 to 2008, and then, in 2012, at # 9 in that magazine’s “25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years,” with the praise,
“It was the first teen drama that didn’t feel like an after-school special. No one ever learned a very important lesson or uttered the phrase ‘I love you, Dad.’ Angela acted like a real 15-year-old, with all the crying jags and Buffalo Tom concerts that implies. What’s even more impressive is that anyone who watched the show back in the ’90s, when angst and Manic Panic felt totally of the moment, can now enjoy it on a very different level. Suddenly, Angela’s parents are relatable.”
In 2007, it was listed as one of Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME“, and TV Guide ranked the series # 16 on its 25 Top Cult Shows Ever list. and ranked it # 2 on their 2013 list of 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon“.
My So-Called Life dealt with important social issues of the mid-1990s, including child abuse, homophobia, teenage alcoholism, homelessness, adultery, school violence, censorship, and drug use. Many shows at the time used these themes as a one-time issue (a “very special episode“) that would be introduced as a problem at the beginning of an episode and resolved at the end, but on My So-Called Life these issues were part of the continuing storyline. The title of the show alludes to the perception of meaninglessness that many teenagers experience and encapsulates the main theme of the series. The show depicts the teenage years as being difficult and confusing rather than a light, fun-filled time.
I have so many memories and so much personal connection to this show that I am actually finding myself choked up thinking about it. I am still so connected to things that came from the existence of the show, from my memories, to my writing, to my online presence, and to my best friends. This show marked my first encounter and experience with an online community and with a passionate fan base that spanned more than the company of a few friends. This was my first time experiencing how connection can form and fuse in a capacity that spread across the globe, yet felt like the closeness of a family. In many ways what the show led me to, in a fandom sort of way, changed my life.
I could write for days and days on the community I found through this show, the memories of times spent with them, the mail-list days and how we all connected over this one season show, and our own “so-called lives”, but I want to take a moment to write something about the show itself and what makes it one of my all-time favorites.
Adolescence and young adult stories have always been of interest to me. There is something about that time in life, with all its enormous emotional upheavals, changes in hormones and bodies and all of the stresses and self-confidence issues that come into play. It is that time where we all wrestle with who we are, what we like, who we like, and where we fit in. We may not all have the confidence to yell and shout about who we are, but we find it during that time, or at least we find the first bits and pieces of it. Hearts get broken, friendships lost and found, and our parents tumble from the hero-heights we have them on as children, a necessary fall in order for us to separate eventually and become our own heroes, so to speak.
My So-Called Life was one of the few television shows about teenage life to tell it like it is. There was no glossy sheen to the characters, the issues presented were not tied up in a bow and solved at the end of the hour, and everyone, without exception, had flaws. The characters were fully flushed out, well written, and realistic. I was not a teenager when the show came around, but I could see myself in Angela Chase, as well as in Rayanne and Rickie, and to some extent, Sharon. I was not old enough to be “the parents”, my oldest daughter was two years old, and I was a young Mom at that, but I still saw things in Patty and Graham that I understood (though admittedly, I relate more to them now then I ever did back then).
My point is, you could feel these characters, you could see yourself in them, you could understand them to the point of finding parts of you in them, which is not always the case with television. The show, lasting an unfortunate one season only, was powerful enough to stick with me, and with many others, enough so that on each and ever re-watch I am still experiencing the characters on an emotional level, and I still relate, often in different ways, as they evolve in my perception and consumption as I evolve in my own life.
There is humor here, sadness, heartbreak, giddy firsts, sexuality, religion, friendships, lovers, marriages, loss, love, fantasy and reality, in the series. The soundtrack is phenomenal, too, an musical snapshot of the mid-nineties that in itself will transport you back to flannel and baby doll dresses and crushed velvet leggings. That said, the show never really feels dated, as the characters navigation of adolescence resonates even as the years go by (much like some of John Hughes’ 80’s teen movies still hold true).
Who is my favorite character? My answer has changed, changed back, and changed again over the years. Today it’s Rickie. Am I a team Krakow or team Catalano? I have always leaned toward Catalano, but today I would want to say I am team Rayanne. Do I still wonder what would have happened if there had been more seasons, and thus more to the story? Always. But, in some ways, I think I cherish that like in our own lives, we never quite know.
The Book Song :: Frente!
Soda Jerk :: Buffalo Tom
Everybody Hurts :: R.E.M.
Dawn Can’t Decide :: The Lemonheads
Make It Home :: Juliana Hatfield