Wednesday, 12 May 2010

My So Called Life

This was such a wonderful show and it is either a travesty or an absolute blessing that it was cancelled after one series. I can't decide which.

It remains one of the most accurate depictions of teenage life that I have ever seen on television. There was no rigid hierarchy, like in most teen movies or tv series. Yes, there were cheerleaders and jocks, but they were not depicted as demi-gods or mini all-powerful adults. They were just kids.

The dialogue was not a series of polished, post-graduate standard soliloquies, but the language of actual teenagers. Sometimes it was overblown melodrama; Angela: "School is a battlefield... for your heart.." and sometimes it was just completely inarticulate; Brian: "So maybe this is what people mean. When they talk about... you know ... life."

Whole episodes revolved around events like dances, gigs, a note passed around class or just a rumour. These small, yet enormous topics were explored fully in a wry yet completely unpatronising way. These characters were real people, not just ciphers.

Angela, the protagonist, begins the series defecting from her usual group of friends to hang out with the troublesome yet fun Rayanne and the sweet, sexually confused Ricky. Her ex best friend, Sharon, and her neighbour Brian are irritants because they know her so well and are therefore preventing her from being cool. Angela is in love with Jordan Catalano who is somewhat unaware, but not uninterested.

The character of Sharon is very interesting and is perhaps a key indicator of why this show is so good. She is very conservative in dress and ambition, close to her mother, active in school groups and hurt when she is rejected by her best friend Angela. But she is not a nerd. Sharon is one of the most confident and competent characters in the show. She is the one who ends up dating a popular boy openly, not Angela, and it is her who is sexually experienced and ends up giving the other girls advice. There is no convenient high school movie label for her.

Parents and family were just as important in this show as the friends and boyfriends. Sometimes, Angela was not allowed to go out and sometimes she stayed in with her parents to avoid facing her peers. The parents were not comedy characters, nor empty adult figures, they were real too! They were just as confused, frightened and inarticulate as their kids and often had no idea whether or not they were doing the right thing. The same goes for the teachers.

It was released on DVD a couple of years ago and is worth every penny.


  1. This was my favorite show when I was a teenager (I think I must have been around Angelas age when it came out)

    I heard they cancelled it because Claire Danes wanted to go into movies and quit.

  2. Hi Jessica,

    Really? I had always thought it was because the television network were getting edgy about the topics that they covered. Damn you Claire Danes!

    I was about Angela's age too which made it all the more involving.

  3. This is one of my favourite coming-of-age series too. (Although I guess technically, with only one season, they didn't come as far as viewers might've hoped.) I also really enjoyed "Freaks and Geeks" for a lot of the same reasons: have you watched those too?

  4. Hi! No I haven't watched that, but yesterday I was thinking that I should as people always seem to talk about the two shows together.

    Another series for my Lovefilm list...

  5. Oh, my goodness! I love this show. I used to watch re-runs all the time. The writing was so smart, I couldn't believe it went off the air after such a short time.

  6. Hi Lydia,

    I've been watching it again recently and it just gets better with time. It's maybe better that there wasn't a second series as it probably would have dropped in quality and, as it stands, it is perfect.

  7. It really was a perfect show wasn't it. I think in today's much more fragmented media world, this show would have survived longer.

  8. Thomas, I think that's so probable.

    It was cancelled in 1995 before people were really using the internet like we are now but there were still whole websites full of alternative endings and essays etc. If it had been on ten years later, there would have been a hundred times more online content.

    But then, it would not have been the same wonderful show I suppose.