Twenty-five years later and people are still talking about My So-Called Life. It’s interesting how a low-rated drama that only lasted one season has gone on to become so iconic and gain cult status. Obviously, it struck a chord with the few viewers that did find it.
MSCL followed teenager Angela Chase (Claire Danes) as she navigated through high school, trying to find herself and where she fit in. She grew apart from her best friend, made new friends who shook up her world, and fell for a guy that she wasn’t quite sure even knew she existed. At home, she couldn’t get on the same page with her parents, Patty & Graham (Bess Armstrong & Tom Irwin), and couldn’t get away from her little sister Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit) fast enough.
Along with Angela, the show had an amazing group of characters. Rayanne (A. J. Langer) could easily be written off as just a wild party girl. But she was coping with deeper issues at home and growing alcoholism. Rickie (Wilson Cruz), one of the few gay teens on TV at that time, struggled with others’ reactions to his sexuality. Brian (Devon Gummersall) was the socially awkward nerd who pined for Angela. Sharon (Devon Odessa) was Angela’s former best friend who had to find her footing after being dropped. And Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) was the complex, extremely good-looking love interest.
I think a lot of teenagers, myself included, related to Angela and her friends. Yes, there had been plenty of teen shows up until that time, but this one felt more real. These looked like any other kids in my school and they were going thru similar experiences. Plus, they articulated things we had thought before. Like when Angela says, “And, I mean, this whole thing with yearbook – it’s like, everybody’s in this big hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened. Because if you made a book of what really happened, it’d be a really upsetting book.” That doesn’t mean everything Angela said was so profound. As much as I loved her, there were a few times when she needed to get over herself. But most teens are a little too preoccupied with their own perceived dramas. That made the Halloween episode where Danielle dresses up as Angela, mocking her teen angst, so funny.
My other favorite moments included Rayanne and Sharon reluctantly becoming friends, the “Weekend” episode with Danielle providing voiceover, the Christmas episode with Juliana Hatfield, Rickie finally finding a home, and Patty’s evolution. Even when the show did something not-so great, like the Rayanne/Jordan hook up, it led to a rich fallout.
Maybe getting cancelled was a good thing for My So-Called Life. It never wore out its welcome or jumped the shark. We didn’t have a bad “college years” season. And it’s probably best that we’ll never know if Angela chose Jordan or Brian. Those 19 episodes will remain a time capsule of a fleeting moment in the 90s. When the teenagers were funny, smart, authentic and didn’t have to be perfect. They definitely had a time.