Wednesday, October 31, 2007
'My So-Called Life'
Two girls joking around in front of some shops. "So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff," the narrator, one of the girls, says. "Just for fun, just 'cause it seemed like if I didn't I would die or something.

"Things were getting to me," she continues. "Just how people are. How they always expect you to be a certain way -- even your best friend."

So begins the first episode of "My So-Called Life," the ABC show that lasted all of 19 episodes in 1994-95. Its ratings were poor, but its impact was deep -- a recent New York Times article refers to a bounty of Web sites devoted to the show, and a boxed set (quickly pulled) that now goes for up to $300 on eBay.

For those who couldn't get ahold of that old box, deliverance is at hand: Shout! Factory has just released a new box of six DVDs, including commentary from creator Winnie Holzman, producer Marshall Herskovitz, director Scott Winant, and cast members Claire Danes, Bess Armstrong and several others. The sixth disc is a group of featurettes.

I was a big fan of "My So-Called Life" during its short run. The Herskovitz-Ed Zwick producing team was the initial draw for me (you've heard the phrase, "I'd watch so-and-so read the phone book"? Well, I'd watch a Herskovitz and Zwick production of the phone book), but I was quickly sucked in by Holzman's wonderful writing, the pitch-perfect atmosphere and Danes' amazing performance as Angela Chase.

And, as a then 29-year-old male, I wasn't even the show's target audience, if there was such a thing. But it seemed like to watch the show was to love it.

I remember being heartened by a conversation with a friend of mine, the father of an adolescent girl. He and his daughter had hit a rough stretch, but watching "My So-Called Life" together -- and talking about all the issues the show dealt with -- helped heal their breach. It was that kind of show; it just got in your bones.

None of that was enough to save it, of course. As Joss Whedon points out in an essay accompanying the box, "It was before its time, not just in its quality, but in the way we watch TV." (Its final episode even ended on a crucial, unresolved plot point -- try THAT nowadays.) But it's lived on. That's a nice "Life" to have.
I was in my mid-twenties when My So-Called Life came out, and I can remember how the characters, the script, and the scenarios all resonated with me so profoundly based on my own teenage experiences. I'm not sure that any show before or since has so perfectly captured the drama of the teenage years and presented it with such dignity.

My daughter is almost 4 and I'm already thinking about how we'll watch the show together when she's old enough.
Great show. It hits those emotional american adolescent gag points the same way as The WOnder Years.
Finally, I've been waiting for this show on DVD. Can't wait for my box set.
I LOVED this show - who didn't have, at some point in high school, their own Jordan Catalano? It was real, the characters, the issues, everything about it. Thank god for the re-release on dvd.
I was 12-13 when the show was on air. I absolutely adored the show & how real it was. Angela captured exactly how I felt when I was in puppy love with a boy. Myself & my peers all had the same problems as the teenagers in this show.

I don't know if it would ever be as good, but I'd like to see this show, or something similar brought back. Even at age 25, I would definitely watch it.
Excellent Show, way before its time, it brought up real-life topics that had not been discussed in such detail before on TV.
I watched the show live when I was 13 years old, and loved it. It got some good critical reviews right away (which is how I heard about it in the first place), so I can't understand why ABC pitted it on Thursday night against Friends. Yet another show crushed by the incompetence of TV execs.
I remember when this show came out. I was the same age as the character Angela and felt I could relate so much to this show and was very disappointed when it was canceled. I even went so far as to tape every episode when MTV was showing it and I am ecstatic it is coming out in a box set. I will definitely get mine because all my tapes are wore out!
I think you're all missing the point. The show did not talk about themes or emotions that had never before been explored. And to say these producers were the first people to understand adolescence - particularly the slightly unpopular variety - prior to being able to present it on stage or television seems a bit prosaic.

What the show did do was to capture the atmosphere of the 90's. Viewers could live and breath the particular personality quirks of the day. Watching the show was about more than remembering how hard it was to grow up - and yes, it was no harder for Angela Chase than it was for our parents (let's not bring socio-economics into this today, shall we) - but it did so while allowing people to feel as if they were in high school, to hear being 15 again, to smell the world on a cool day after the last bell rang and we headed home or to sports practice or to jobs or to who knows where with friends.

Carelessly.

I wasn't the biggest fan; I was too immature in high school to appreciate what she was going through, some of it I didn't live until college. But when I see it now, I understand it better and even better, it takes me back through time. The atmosphere lets me remember what it was like to actually be 15 and in high school with nothing but the future stretched out ahead.
I think it's fair to say that I was obsessed with this show. At 15 myself I felt like I was Angela. I knew every line in the show - even downloaded the scripts! I taped them on MTV and later bought the first dvd box set which I still have. They are timeless.

For those of you who want a bit more of Angela there was a novel published in '99 called "My So-Called Life Goes On" by Catherine Clark. It follows Angela into the summer.
This show came out when my daughter was not yet in middle school - still I loved it by myself and wouldn't miss it for anything. I agree the Claire Danes made the show, and I have been a fan of hers ever since. Not to mention that I am now in my 50's and still have a hopeless crush on Jordan Catalano!
I was in my 40's when "Life" was running, my daughter was just starting college. We were both completely taken in by this program. The cast -- on all levels -- was perfection, no one was "formula", but rather seemed to mirror composites of everyone we had ever known. It was never exclusively a Teen Show, but rather the best TV written since "East Side, West Side" starring George C. Scott thirty years ago...oh, that one lasted only one season also.
This show hit the nail right on the head with Angela's character. Being 15 at the time it aired I felt that she represented me and my friends closer to any character I had seen on television and have seen since. She epitomized the insecure teen who wanted to fit-in yet build her own nitch.

I miss Angela...but I do not miss being a teenager!
The show rocked. It presented teens as they truly were in the early nineties and for the last several years for that matter. "90210" was soapy trash. "Party of Five" was cooked the moment that Charlie showed up in the second episode with the same stubble from the previous episode. And, besides, no family goes through that much tragedy without being profiled on Dateline NBC or being turned into a Lifetime movie. "Saved By The Bell" was the crap that Dan Schneider would have produced if he weren't living down Dennis Blunden and sadistically preparing to unleash over a decades' worth of awful, young comedians via Nickolodeon (another Viacom outlet which sold its soul by moving away from "Pete and Pete" and toward the dookie-fests that were and are "All That", "Keenan and Kel", "Amanda", "Josh and Drake", the list goes on - apologies to Keenan who does a mean Bill Cosby).

If I have a point, it is that MSCL destroyed all of those shows in quality. It was probably too realistic for the folks that flocked elsewhere. Too painful to see people who were living as they too were living. This show spoke to me. I was 4 years removed from high school and 8 years older than protaganist, Angela Chase when I started watching the show. I moved schedules around to catch it. If DVR's had been around then, 19 hours of this program would still be protected on the hard drive. If you haven't watched the show, if you've blown it off before, put it into your Netflix cue and smoke it.
I was in college when this show came out and my best friend and I never missed it on Thursday night. It spoke to me, and I felt as though all of a sudden all the angst and heartache and, yes, even fun I had at fifteen was being lived out for me to watch. It was cathartic for me, and probably for a lot of others, too. Now, in my mid-thirties, I am lying in wait for my chance to own it. I miss this show! And, for the record, I loved the way the series ended!
The Hallowe'en episode with the parents and the return of "the torn bodice" was so funny. What a great series it was.
When this show came on I had just started my sophmore year of high school and all these years later when I manage to catch an episode thats playing somewhere it still touches me. It is truly amazing that such a short lived show could have such a huge impact on so many people so many years later.
I was at a party one night and ended up the last one awake. Saw a "Mt So-Called Life" marathon and it was either that, infomercials or try to sleep next to someone who snored at high decibels so I watched the first episode, thinking that would make me bored and drowsy. I watched the second one thinking, "surely that first one was a fluke - it can't be that good."
They found me the next morning with red eyes and no patience for talking over the dialogue. I was hooked.
Now, I am still wondering if it was actually that good. I still praise it as some wonderful little morsel of goodness, only I and a select other few have gotten to realize.
I was just shy of 30 when the show aired and I didn't catch it in its original run but later on in reruns on other networks. And my goodness, what an impact it had on my life. Sure, I was long past high school age at the time and I was not into the 90's music or fashion scene but good, realistic storylines know no boundaries. Never before could I feel a characters pain, heartache, excitement or even embarrassment like I could with Angela Chase.
My so-called life is the only show in television history that has ever really "gotten" teenagers and life in high school. I consider myself lucky for having had the opportunity to view the show when it was new , and pity all those who are forced to view any teen drama since. All others portray teenagers to either be mindless Paris Hilton clones, or overly evolved college scholars (Dawson's creek anyone?) They are all dreadful replicas that do not hold a candle to My-so called life's intelligence, sincerity, grace, and heart.
Remarkably enough, this show made it to South Africa around the same time it was first screened in the U.S, and even more remarkable was the fact that a it was screened by the state broadcaster here. I was the same age as Claire Danes's character at the time, and it's interesting how similar unhappy aspects of a 90s American teenager's life are to that of a South African teenager's. Loved the show!
Like alot of of gay youth, i related to Ricky's Character. This show was a gem for the youth of the 90's. It was sad to see it go, but nice to see it lives on.
I was one of those people who missed this show when it aired. I was in my mid-20's and lived in Chicago. I don't think I even owned a tv at the time. I did, however, go on to watch a marathon of it on MTV once and I have that original box set that came out. I think it was by far the most realistic show ever produced about the teenage experience. The acting was top notch and this show just really resonated with me. My mother and I had the same relationship that Angela had with her mother. We still pretty much do. I have to say that my all time favorite episode was the Christmas episode where Ricky is homeless and Angela gives her boots to (who I think is) Juliana Hatfield who turns out to be an angel. It had this amazing quote about YOU not having the fight, it was the kind of fight that had YOU. Man, did that resonate with me. What a great show. I'm 39 years old now and single, but for anyone with kids, this is a great show to watch with them. John Hughes made some great movies about teenagers in the 80's, but he never even came close to this kind of realism.
This box set was never pulled. It has always been available. You can purchase it on Amazon.com for $45
oh i loved that show so much. i still have a vhs with the mtv marathon on it...lol. even though i was sad to see the show go i think that it was so perfect just the way it was and how it left off. it kepy us wondering, you know...??? im definitally gonna get it on dvd
I loved this show too. It was rich and creative and the genuine article. They weren't "hollywood-ized" characters that played HS students, they were like the real thing for a change. Also, the soundtrack from artists like Juliana Hatfield and Afghan Whigs didn't hurt either.
My Mother and I would watch this together ever night it was on. At that time I was 13-14 years of age. It did start many good conversations between the two of us. I was "Angela" and I did have a friend who was like "rayann". Whom I did not know how to help/deal with. It help my mother and I talk and help me understand friends who where "out there". We where so disappointed when this was cancelled. I hope a show just like it comes out soon. Parents now-a-days need it now more then ever.
Fantastic show. They ran it commercial free in the middle of the night on Bravo and I was able to record them onto DVD.

This wasn't a one trick pony show. Sure Claire Danes was bang on (is anyone else desperate for her to reach her postential again?), but everybody was prefect. Down to the parents, uncle, little sister etc. There was not one missed point, not one in the 19 episodes.

Calling Brian "Brain" because of a literacy problem. Hillarious.

The invisible yet seemingly magical "Tino", "two words, Ti No."

Every subtle point better than the last.

As mentioned, nobody was too smart like the Creek and other garbage teen shows. They fumbled for words and got frustrated by their own limitations. It basically hit the nail on the head. So simple yet seemingly impossible by TV standards. I generally watch it through once a year, get stuck on the Jordan and Angela love story, and go back to my favorite episodes one more time. Sad, I know, but so what.

All this talk, guess I know what to watch this weekend. Come to think about it, it has been about a year.
I'm so glad MTV had marathons of "My So-Called Life" few years after it was dropped from ABC. It was such an awesome show, esp. the soundtrack.
I was only 11 when the show first aired so I didn't get to watch it during its original run. A few years later I saw Claire Danes in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and began looking into her career. I was terribly excited to discover MTV was airing the reruns of MSCL and I watched it every day. Every single episode of that show resonated deeply in me. Angela's response to her mother in "The Zit" when she says that when her mother suggests ways to get rid of zits it makes her feel like she's trying to "fix" her was EXACTLY how I felt when my own mother would draw attention to my break-outs. In the pilot episode, Angela has the realisation that teachers are people who eat lunch and fix their bra straps; that echoed the type of thoughts I had on a daily basis as a teenager. I remember wishing my mother would watch the episodes with me so that she'd understand me better.

When the VHS boxed sets were released I snatched them up...imagine my distress when they never released the third box with the final seven episodes in it. Each tape came with a collector's card for one of the characters on the series and to this day they are still pressed firmly on my closet door with poster putty, proudly displaying my love for the show. I stayed hopeful, though, and was able to buy MSCL on DVD the week it was released. I realised a few years ago that the DVDs were going for around $350 on Ebay and Amazon but I could never bring myself to sell them because I absolutely adore them. I will, however, be first in line to purchase the newest dvd release of the series and I'll probably even memorise the commentary. MSCL perfectly encapsulated both the 90s and the teenage mind-frame, and I can't wait to have my own children so I can sit down and watch it with them when they hit puberty.

I do, however, wish Winnie Holzman would reveal what would have happened to the Jordan/Angela/Brian love triangle in the second season. The two books that were based on the show did not portray all events as they occured on the series so I've never trusted them enough to search for real clues to the outcome of the cliffhanger. Still, the show was amazing, and if it had to end so soon I'm glad it went out with a bang.
I was the same age as Danes character was when the show was on air. I completely identified with the characters and the issue that she dealt with because I was going through them too. I just hope my daughters enjoy watching them when they get old enough.
The show was ok. I was a year or two younger than Angela when the show came out but even at my age I found the character a bit whiney and overly dramatic. I know I am in the minority here but I could really care less. I did appreciate a young gay character in a show though.
"My So-Called Life" will always be one of my favorite tv shows. Hands down. I have that original box set, and I still cry in frustration at the end of the series because it was canceled. It still just breaks my heart. I was in middle school when the show originally aired, and I admit I *was* Angela Chase. It was eerie just how much her thoughts reflected mine. I will always cherish that moment in time, when being jaded and idealistic all at once wasn't seen as being contradictory.
I blame ABC on the show's demise. First of all, they did not offer MSCL the benefit of reaching a larger audience. How? By airing the show on Thursday night, the birth of "Must See TV" with Friends and Fox's rising (later fading star) in Martin Lawrence's "Martin". Secondly, not allowing the Herskovitz and Zwick team and the writing team to have creative control full time. Let's not forget the H&Z also brought us the incredible "Thirty Something" and "Once and Again" with the amazing Sela Ward and Billy Campbell. Im no Hollywood business executive, but this is an unfortunate example of playing the numbers game and losing. Long live MSCL...the show as Joss Whedon said, "A show ahead of it's time".
I just finished the dvd set borrowed from a friend. I loved the show...it was brief, but the impact was so great. I could totally relate to the show!
Unfortunately, it seems as though the more realistic a teen drama/comedy is, the quicker it disappears from the TV lineup. The same thing happened with the oustanding "Freaks and Geeks." I'll never understand why unrealistic shows like "The Hills" and "The O.C." have fared better. Maybe the execs think teens relate more to the characters in those shows. (the plastic, 'looks more like late 20s than teens' actors) "My So-Called Life" was a show that teenagers in the mid-90s could relate to without it being 'dummed-down' or exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. It's a shame shows don't exist like that today!
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