Revisiting a Previous Life

I remember watching “My So-Called Life” when it first aired back in 1994. In what seemed no time at all, it disappeared and I mourned the loss. It has been a while since I had given it any thought. The show has been available on DVD for some time.  In fact, it has had 2 separate releases; a bare bones one in 2002 and one loaded with extras in 2007. I remembered ogling the initial set when it was first available at my local video retailer, but it was priced around $100 and I could not justify the expense. Mind you, price is relative; back then, the X-files season sets were priced over $100; it seems shocking now. So, a couple weeks ago, when I saw MSCL on sale for $30; I couldn’t resist.

I figured it would be a perfect show to play in the kitchen while I did chores, cooked, cleaned, folded laundry, sorted through my tax paperwork, etc. I hoped my daughters would take an interest as well. It had been so long, that I could not have hummed the theme song if my life depended on it. However, as soon as I heard the music, it transported me back to my younger self.

The main story centers on Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a 15 year old high school student, her friends and family. It really is a slice of life show that has incredible, realistic dialogue. It deals primarily with Angela navigating the perils of high school, figuring out who she is and who her friends are. Along the way, the viewer learns about Angela’s parents and catches a glimpse of the challenges facing them as they get older. And then when their parents (Angela’s grandparents, that is) are introduced, we see how quickly a person can regress. Angela’s younger sister, Danielle, is a minor character who just wants to be noticed. Angela’s friends are a colorful crew, including exhibitionist, Rayanne, her new wild child best-friend; Rickie, her gentle, kind, gay friend and Brian the socially awkward, academically gifted boy next- door who carries a torch for Angela. Her estranged childhood best-friend, Sharon, re-enters the circle and then there is Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto). Jordan is the object of Angela’s affection, upon which she projects her ideals. He is a rudimentary reader with low literacy skills and he is in a rock band, but to Angela he is his potential.

I think the dialogue is written so well, enough to forgive the voice over that can be insufferable in some settings. When Angela’s mom is speaking, I can almost hear my voice, especially now that I have kids of my own. When Angela or her friends are talking, it sounds like real teenagers. Or as my eldest would say (she is not a fan) “it sounds like what grown-ups think kids sound like.” I think it is smart but not too smart (a la Dawson’s Creek). The casting is spot on and Clare Danes as Angela is radiant, regardless of the bottled Crimson Glow hair dye that she applied in the pilot episode. And Jared Leto as Jordan is a gift. He perfects the gorgeous deer – in – the – headlights look that is required of him.

The plots are everyday occurrences that are presented in such a compelling fashion; the emotions are real and raw. I have always said that there isn’t enough money in the world that would tempt me to return to high school for a do over. I could not imagine the cost to my soul and sanity of reliving the awkward painful scenarios, even with the knowledge that all would be ok, eventually. I have a pretty good life now, but the road to get to this point, I could not travel. So when I see Angela and her friends try to figure things out, I sometimes get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I feel like I am in high school again. The stories play out with ambiguity, the way life seems to be. The stories capture the self involved, yet communal world of high-school like few other shows have (maybe Degrassi? I am only familiar with the original series, not the next generation). It deals with issues such as alcohol, sexuality, loyalty and betrayal, family dynamics, social status, hero worship and mid- life crises. My younger daughter enjoyed watching episodes with me; my eldest, not so much. Although she did linger in the kitchen while it was on a few times and laugh on occasion. There is a gentle yet ironic humor in many scenes.

Some of my favorite scenes involved Rickie, trying to be true to his nature as a gay teen but protecting himself in a hostile environment. We never really learned why he was kicked out of his house, but we can guess. I enjoy watching Angela’s parents overcome their initial prejudice against this new friend who wears makeup and is like no teenage boy that they have ever met. It does not take long for Rickie to win them over.

The first season was cancelled after 19 episodes. It took me a couple of weeks to blitz through the season and again I felt sad it was over. It ended with some hope but I couldn’t help but wonder about what was to become of all those so called lives. This show really resonates with me and that is a quality that I struggle to explain. I expect it is a combination of great writing, compelling stories, awesome casting and personal veritas. This is an excellent show for the family. But my eldest didn’t take a shine to it; I expect it was because it is a bit slow and Angela is too broody (or in my daughter’s words “pathetic”) for her liking.  We shall see if she feels differently once she is in high school, LOL! So today I test drove the pilot episode of Veronica Mars (played to perfection by Kristen Bell), because she is sassy, brassy and smart as a whip. I am pleased that it was a hit all round, so I will enjoy revisiting that series, this time with my daughters.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. maroon5gurl88
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 01:07:37

    I’ve had this series on my Netflix for over 2 years and I feel bad I haven’t finished it (I got through the first disc and my Netflix just kept growing). I grew up during this show’s span and I’m sad my teenage years weren’t shaped by this, it’s one of the few shows I’ve seen that truly depict the teenage experience. In watching the few episodes I have I saw a lot of similarities to the Showtime/Disney show Ready or Not, another show about teens ahead of its time (and severely watered down by Disney) that still hasn’t seen a DVD release. Thanks for taking me back to the 90s!

    Reply

  2. maroon5gurl88
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 01:52:33

    The Sunshine Blog Award is going around and I’ve nominated you!! Here’s the post and I love your blog! http://journeysinclassicfilm.com/2012/04/15/blogathons-awards-and-other-musings

    Reply

    • annhall
      Apr 15, 2012 @ 13:17:00

      I am not familiar with the Sunshine blog award, but thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I am afraid your link above didn’t work.

      Reply

      • maroon5gurl88
        Apr 16, 2012 @ 01:18:24

        Ann, super sorry on that. Apparently WordPress didn’t publish the post yet and that’s why it didn’t work. If you check back Monday it’ll be there. Sorry!!

  3. Trackback: Veronica Mars, TV for Mothers and Daughters « What is Ann Watching?

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