My So-Called Life, 25 Years Later

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Every person alive since TV became mainstream has a show that they would hand to aliens to show them what it was like to be a teenager. Okay, maybe not, but I’d wager most Gen X’ers and early Millennials, and those of us, like me, who exist in between, do. For me, that show is My So-Called Life, which turns 25 this year. The ABC show that perfectly illustrated teen angst in the grunge era is now old enough for its own quarter-life crisis.

If fashion weren’t cyclical and all of the clothes from the show weren’t back in stores, it would be easy to write this show off as another anachronistic look at the teenage experience. Revisiting it as an adult, I can safely say that it holds up completely. No matter the era, teenagers still have to deal with their parents. They still have to fight through their hormones to figure out who they are, or who they think people want them to be. Maybe teenagers don’t have the stresses of adult life, but it’s undeniable that being a teenager can be tough on the body and on the heart.

I was 15 when the show debuted back in 1994, the same age as our protagonist, Angela Chase. I remember watching the first episode and thinking, “Wow. Somebody out there gets me.” Of course, my dad hated it. Of course, it prompted me to argue with him because he just didn’t understand. And then, the next week, I retreated to my room to watch it. I mean, sure, I had to position the rabbit ears just right so it would come in, but I did it. I kept coming back. I loved Angela immediately. She dyed her hair red, something I desperately wanted to do but wouldn’t get the courage to do until well into my 20s. She dressed the way I wanted to dress. She was smart, but she didn’t necessarily want to be because of the social implications. I was probably more like her friend Sharon, but Angela was who I wanted to be. I can definitely see Angela’s influence in my journal entries from that era. I felt deeply, even when it wasn’t practical or necessary. I had a crush on a boy that definitely didn’t like me back.

The show was escapism rooted in reality. I had similar arguments with my mom as Angela and Patty. My dad said corny things that made me smile. I saw myself wanting to be someone that people didn’t expect me to be, or not knowing who I wanted to be. I felt the pressure of high school and adults telling me I had to know who I wanted to become, even though I could see they didn’t know who they were really.

Sadly, the show only made it a single season, but it paved the way for shows like it. It was a beautiful drama in direct contrast to the sitcoms ABC anchored itself with, like the TGIF lineup. It never felt like something that belonged on network TV, and I guess the network execs agreed. It found new life in reruns on MTV, where I watched it again. It was the show that introduced us to Claire Danes and her incredible talent. She’s gone on to have an amazing career, and though she’s played many roles I enjoy, she’ll always be Angela Chase. Jared Leto got his start on this show as well, and he’s an incredible talent. I was excited when I started watching Star Trek: Discovery and saw Wilson Cruz on the screen. I may or may not have yelled at the screen, “Rickie!”

Though it only lasted for 19 episodes, it’s a show worthy of celebration and praise. Most people can watch it and find some character or situation they relate to, whether they’re the mom trying to hold their family together, the daughter who can’t seem to live up to anyone’s expectations, or the boy next door who has a crush on the girl he’s known his whole life. If you haven’t watched it or if it’s been awhile, you can catch My So-Called Life on Hulu.

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