Thanks to my wonderful best friend, I am now in temporary possession of the complete series of My So-Called Life, recently re-released on DVD by Shout! Factory. The set includes all 19 episodes plus a disc of bonus features, and contains a deluxe booklet with essays written by creator Winnie Holzman, Joss Whedon, Janeane Garofalo, and more. Prepare yourself for posts full of “like” and ellipses.
Before I start devouring the DVDs, I wanted to remember what I could about the show. Most of it is hazy, but certain things rise to the surface: Buffalo Tom and hand-holding, Jordan Catalano singing “I Wanna Be Sedated,” the Our Town speech, Brian thinking about how Angela’s hair smells like oranges, the episode in which Patty finally meets Jordan and realizes he’s just like the first boy she fell in love with, and … although I’m not quite sure why … Shelley Fabares.
And, because I’m a huge nerd and obviously it struck a chord, there is one particular bit of dialogue that I remember almost verbatim. I think. I guess we’ll find out when I get to that episode. It is as follows:
But that’s the part that’s so unfair! How come I have to be the one analyzing him in, like, microscopic detail, and he gets to be the one with ‘other things on his mind’?
And now, some background courtesy of Wikipedia, amended by me:
My So-Called Life aired on ABC from August 1994 to January 1995 [I was 15, just like Angela]. The critically acclaimed show was short-lived and ended in a cliffhanger, cancelled in May 1995 due to low ratings and to the reluctance of star Claire Danes to return for its second season [I never knew that!]. MSCL predated the explosion of youth and teen programming, though the culture of television would change significantly in the years that immediately followed its demise, most notably with the rise of The WB and UPN networks.
MSCL depicted the teenage years as difficult and confusing as opposed to light and fun-filled. The show brought up issues that were usually not mentioned in family series at the time, including child abuse, homophobia, teenage alcoholism, school violence, and same-sex parenting, among many others. While a lot of shows brought up these themes as a one-time issue that would be resolved at the end of the episode, in MSCL they were just part of the world. Additionally, I remember MSCL being different from other teen shows in that it focused just as much on the parents as the kids.
Let’s re-familiarize ourselves with the major players:
Angela Chase (Claire Danes) is a 15-year-old sophomore. As she grows up and tries figure out her identity, she distances herself from her parents and her childhood friends in order to move in a new direction.
Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) is a super cute, super clueless boy who drifts aimlessly through life. His behavior hints that there may be a great deal below the surface, though he is ill equipped to fulfill this potential. He is the textbook definition of the boy a girl thinks she can “save.” Angela is obsessed with him.
Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) is Angela's new best friend. She is wild, promiscuous, irresponsible, and yet fiercely loyal [with one major exception, you’ll see]. Rayanne is a teenage alcoholic with a semi-checked-out mom, but to Angela she represents freedom and independence.
Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa) is Angela's old best friend, dropped with no warning once Angela befriended Rayanne. For Angela, Sharon represents convention and boredom.
SIDE NOTE: Rayanne and Sharon are more alike than Angela realizes, and I always perceived each girl to be the external representation of the other’s inner desires.
Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) is Rayanne Graff's other best friend. He is a gay, bi-racial boy raised by his uncle, who physically abuses him. The overt, tangible alienation that Rickie contends with mirrors Angela’s internal alienation.
Patty Chase (Bess Armstrong) is Angela's mother. She is opinionated and kind of judgmental, often clashing with Angela.
Graham Chase (Tom Irwin) is Angela's father. He is mellow and sweet, acting as the parent that Angela “likes.”
Danielle Chase (Lisa Wilhoit) is Angela's younger sister, largely ignored by the rest of the characters including her own family.
Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) is the geeky boy next door. He is desperately in love with Angela, but due to his supreme social awkwardness he comes across as self-righteous or disparaging in most of their interactions.