Looking Back on ‘My So-Called Life’

The memory is vivid even 18 years later. I was hanging out at my friend Shannon’s house one afternoon. We were seniors in high school, finally at the top of the adolescent food chain in our small town in Central Florida. I slid the newspaper on the kitchen counter over to me. That moment would influence me for years to come. That’s when I found out about My So-Called Life.

Yesterday, New York Magazine’s Vulture blog asked “What One-Season TV Series Do You Most Wish Had Continued?MSCL was my instant answer. The post’s author, Matt Zoller Seitz, agreed.

I’ll be honest: MSCL was a show for teenage girls. The creator has said as much. But I was drawn in since I saw that short listing in the TV section of the Tampa Tribune. And since I’m on an honesty kick, I’ll admit that I was interested because I thought Claire Danes was way fine (to use a word of the era) in the promo shot (above).

I dutifully tuned in to see Ms. Danes at work, and I was hooked, not because of the cute redhead, but the whole package. Unlike the other teenage fare on TV, MSCL felt real (according to whatever I thought was ‘real’ as a 17-year-old). I mean, the show was based in a suburb of Pittsburgh. It was gritty and didn’t shy away from issues like drug abuse, homelessness, and school violence – not that I had any experience with any of those (though I did kick one of my friends in the shin during a band trip). It was the Anti-Saved by the Bell.

So, if the show was so compelling, why did it only last a season? Wikipedia tells me that the ratings were low since it was pitted against popular sitcoms Mad About You and Friends (NBC) and Martin and Living Single (FOX) in its time slot. To complicate matters, Claire Danes wasn’t really on board for a second season. The show was cancelled, and brooding teens across the nation had even more reason to brood.

The grittiness of the show drew me in, but the characters sold me on it. I felt like I could relate to each of them in different ways, like

  • Angela Chase – the every-woman trying to fit in. I think we all relate to her.
  • Rayanne Graff – a good-natured soul who makes dumb mistakes.
  • Brian Krakow – the nerd and neighbor who longs for Angela’s attention. This was mostly me.
  • Jordan Catalano – the gorgeous rebel who leads a rock band and is too cool for school (literally). This was who I wanted to be.

The kids were cynical, moody, contemplative, and they all lived life on the fringe somewhat. I don’t think I’d ever been exposed to thoughts like that in such concentration, played by people that I felt akin to. Even in the show’s death, I learned a lesson: the world will disappoint you.

Those attitudes lasted through my college days, where I excelled at being an outsider. I don’t think I started to change until the start of my Christian rock band, when I went from the back row to onstage. And recently I’ve started winning battles against my cynicism, quashing ugly and unproductive thinking before it takes root.

But I feel like there will be always something in me that will want to look at the world through the eyes of Angela Chase – with wonder and suspicion and a guarded hope. I don’t know why; it just makes me feel like a so-called cool.

Did you watch My So-Called Life?

2 notes on “Looking Back on ‘My So-Called Life’

  1. Sarah at 32Flavors

    I LOVED THAT SHOW. I felt so incredibly wronged when it was canceled. I remember writing an email to ABC. You know, on AOL, which was costing a zillion dollars per minute. Not only did AOL charge by the minute, but we lived far enough in the boonies that the number for it was long distance. But I was sure that an ABC exec was going to read it and see the error of their ways. And yes, I did dye my hair the same color as Angela.

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  2. Shannon

    Uh…. no. Between my illiteracy (no newspaper articles for me, thank you) and the lack of recommendation from my friend (probably caused by either his desire to hoard his coolness or his evaluation of me as someone not ready to taste such rich culture) I wouldn’t have even known about it!

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