I pretty much missed the 90s as far as TV is concerned, so once in a while I “discover” a show that other people raved about back then, but I’ve never seen. That was the case with My So-Called Life.
The first thing you notice is all the darkness and slow-mo. That’s how this show paints high school—full of deep feelings and crucial choices. It’s easy to laugh off, but if you think back to how life looked through teenage eyes, it’s pretty accurate. I knew I was interested in this show when, two minutes in, the main characters says, in her deep, almost bored voice-over: “Cheerleaders… can’t people just cheer… on their own?”
Angela Chase (Claire Danes) is the poster child for grunge-era angst, a teenager who ends sentences with “…because if I didn’t I would die, or something.”
As the show begins, she has just changed best friends, a sea change moment in a teenage life, from a quiet, mousy, yearbook club type to a loud, nervy, club-going type. On advice from the new BFF, Rayanne (A.J. Langer), Angela has dyed her hair red. Her new hair color stands for her new outlook on life, rebellion against her mother, and her determination to get The Guy, the gorgeous Jordan Catilano (Jared Leto).
The use of narration, which sounds so realistic, eliminates the need for a lot of exposition. (Too much exposition sinks a pilot fast than anything. Case in point, the new Jenna Elfman show that premièred this week. I couldn’t make it past the first two minutes, let alone remember the title.) Since teenagers have this self-reflective inner monologue running a mile a minute anyway—at least I did—the voice over thing works perfectly.
“Lately I can’t even look at my mother without want to stab her repeatedly,” thinks Angela. The show is great at capturing familial awkwardness. Mom tiptoes awkwardly around Rayanne and the apparently gay Ricky. Dad mutters awkwardly at the sight of his pubescent daughter emerging from the bathroom in a towel. “My boobs have come between us,” Angela observes.
There are so many quote-worthy lines in this one episode, I could just transcribe the whole thing. It’s so edgy and honest, even 15 years in retrospect.
“My parents keep asking how school was. That’s like asking, ‘How was that drive-by shooting?’” I don’t know if they hired actual 15-year-olds to write this or what, but I love it. Seriously, though, Winne Holzman was the creator, and she went on to write the book of the musical Wicked, about the ultimate female misfit.
And god, the clothes. Flannel and plaid everywhere. Big, dumpy dresses with boots. I had these clothes. Maybe it’s better that I’m enjoying this in retrospect, as a piece of nostalgia. Maybe in 1994 it would have seemed blasé. Who knows? But in 2009 I’m glad it’s available on Hulu.
UPDATE: This show begins airing on the Sundance channel April 25, 2011