Revisiting: My So-Called Life

my-so-called-life’s Sonia Clarke embarks on an emotive journey through her teenage televisual experiences:

It saddens me to tell you that a lot of the films, books and TV I loved as a teenager have not aged well.

A recent viewing of Empire Records horrified me. Catcher in the Rye makes a lot more sense when you think no-one understands you, and a lot less when you realise you’re basically very easily understood and to get over yourself. Dirty Dancing has never been the same since an ex-boyfriend sat through the whole thing shouting ‘paedophile’ at the TV whenever Johnny came on the screen.

So it’s difficult to understate the joy of discovering that one of your favourites (perhaps even THE favourite) is just as wonderful as you remember.

I speak, of course, of My So-Called Life.

In a teenage breadth of TV that ran the gamut from Tiffany and Zac’s improbably long-lasting relationship on Saved by the Bell to the smack storyline on Grange Hill (ah, good old-fashioned British gritty realism), My So-Called Life was the only thing that seemed to actually resemble our lives, just a little.

Watching at a time when it seemed as if my parents had been placed on earth for the sole reason of runing my life, the relationship between Angela and her mother is amazingly well-observed. From teenage drinking to homophobia and the universal pain of falling out with a friend, there were no easy answers. Characters were good and bad, they made mistakes and didn’t learn, they overthought things and still weren’t sure of the answers.

Favourite character? Yes, Jordan Catalalo was beautiful. Yes, I almost cried when he took Angela’s hand walking down the hallway. Yes, he called Brian ‘Brain’ and still I swooned. Rayanne was the cool girl you wanted as a friend and Rickie had a heart of gold.

But Angela! Angela Chase, for me, essentially invented the notion of a girl crush. Her actions and relationships perfectly encapsulated so many of the worries of a teenage girl, in a realistic and compelling way. You care about all the characters, but none so much as Angela. Her crush on Jordan Catalano felt like all our crushes. Her feelings of betrayal after he sleeps with Rayanne were like a knife to the heart (perhaps I am being a touch melodramatic, but in case you haven’t realised yet I REALLY loved this show).

I even dyed my hair red like hers. Sadly, by a cruel genetic twist of fate, I don’t look like Claire Danes. The result was therefore not ideal.

Cancelled after only one season, the speculated reasons include Danes’ reluctance to return and poor ratings despite widespread critical acclaim. Much like some of the best TV (from The Office to Fawlty Towers), I think the brevity potentially adds to its appeal. My So-Called Life is like a time capsule of how I felt as a teenager, warts and all. I’m so glad I like it just as much today as I did then.



Words by Sonia Clarke.