I think that everybody has that one thing, whether it’s a book or a movie or a band or anything else, that they are so deeply infatuated with they simply can’t contain themselves.
The kind of thing that you think about, and die a little inside, because how is it even possible for anything that incredible to exist?
For me, this is “My So-Called Life,” completely and entirely, without a doubt.
For those of you who are not familiar with “My So-Called Life,” it was a television drama that aired for about six months on ABC during the mid-1990s. The show depicted the life of Angela Chase, a middle-class 15-year-old girl growing up in suburban Pennsylvania. I stumbled upon the show on Netflix during eighth grade, and chain-watched the entire series over a long weekend.
Angela (played by a young Claire Danes) had the perfect combination of adolescent cynicism and youthful naivete that made her possibly the most relatable television character of all time: her desperate desire for change; her ruminating, overly existential daydreams during English class; the way she articulated her feelings toward her mother — it was all too accurate. I remember watching some of the episodes for the first time and thinking “I swear to God I have thought this exact thought before.” I’m still partially convinced that I AM Angela Chase, reincarnate.
Angela wasn’t the only likeable character, though.
There was Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), Angela’s quirky best friend who more than filled the badgirl quota. She wore choker necklaces and brightly colored hair extensions, and was called out as potentially easy on the “Sophomore Girls List” at her school.
There was Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), Rayanne’s other best friend, who was timid at first but developed a close bond with Angela as the series progressed. Ricky was openly gay, and he spent a lot of time hanging out in the girls’ bathroom where, despite the uncomfortable glances he received from some of his peers, he felt most at home.
And of course, there was Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), the studly, brooding bad-boy type who Angela adoringly agonized over for much of the series. In one scene she vents to Rayanne after school, saying: “I have nothing else on my mind. How come I have to be the one sitting around analyzing him in, like, microscopic detail, and he gets to be the one with other things on his mind?”
All of the characters were extremely convincing, un-exaggerated versions of actual people. I knew Rayannes and Rickies in real life, and at the time, I thought I was in love with a Catalano of my own, if you will. I think the biggest part of what made the characters so realistic was the way in which they handled the difficulties that they were faced with. The characters dealt with real, serious, problems; things such as alcoholism, child abuse, adultery and homophobia, but nothing was blown out of proportion or sensationalized for dramatic effect. The show made it seem almost natural, and presented the topics in a way that hit close to home; these were things that could really happen to you or your peers. The dialogue also added to the accuracy in the sense that the language didn’t sound forced or scripted; it was littered with frequent “ums” and “likes” and awkward pauses.
Another great aspect of the show was how much the lives of Angela’s parents were intertwined within the plot. It’s rare to find a teen television drama that elaborates so extensively on the relationship between the protagonist and his or her parents, but doing this made the show SO much more believable.
When you’re 15, you’re a kid. Your parents still want to know where you are at all times and what you’re doing, or at least mine sure did (and do). They’re a big part of your life, and I’ve found that modern television dramas often fail to include this. From the very first episode when Angela dyes her hair “Crimson Glow” without her mother’s approval, “My So-Called Life” did a perfect job of capturing the tension and indifference that often accompanies a mother-daughter relationship.
It’s tough to capture in words the pure amazingness that is “My So-Called Life.” It’s honestly something that you just have to go and watch yourself to understand why it’s so incredible. It’s not just the characters or the plot or the dialogue or even the cinematography. It’s everything put together. The best way I can think to put it is that it offers a raw, yet refined and thoughtful take on adolescent life in a time where everything is constantly overblown, airbrushed and exaggerated. For me, watching “My So-Called Life” was, and is, like a breath of fresh air.
Katie Huntington is a junior at Oneonta High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk