During our month of Summer Fun, each member of the CultureMap team will give their personal pick for the TV series on DVD worthy of you wiling away some of those (often forced) indoor, air-conditioned-exiled summer hours on. Sarah Rufca's selection kicks off the couch fun.
"Don't you love how he leans?"
With one line, a teen heartthrob was born. Jordan Catalano was dim, distant, and definitely trouble, with piercing blue eyes and hair that hung oh-so-appealingly in his eyes. And yes, the boy could lean.
But My So-Called Life was so much more than a meditation on teenage love or infatuation. It was the first show to take teenagers seriously as they navigated school, parents, siblings, sex, friendships, relationships and tried to figure out who they were in the process.
Angela Chase (played by a brilliant 15-year-old Claire Danes) lusts for Jordan while mostly ignoring geeky neighbor Brian Krakow, ditches perky friend Sharon for slutty slacker Raeanne and troubled Ricky. Drama of both the high school and real variety swirls, with school lessons providing interesting thematic continuity.
Senior boys rate the top 40 sophomore girls, while the English classes read Kafka's Metamorphosis; watching a speech by JFK in history class, a gun goes off in the school — don't worry, the only thing tragically shot is a bottle of soda.
These aren't the pretty, vapid teens of 90210 (seeing characters in the same clothes adds a lovely touch of realism) nor are they the hyper-literate kids from Dawson's Creek. They struggle at expression. "Why are you like this?" Angela asks Jordan when he acts hot and cold towards her. "Like what?" "Like, how you are!"
Deeper insight is reserved for Angela's voiceovers — "Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart."
But My So-Called Life touched on much more than high school politics, showing sexual pressure, adultery, homophobia, drug overdoses and teenage homelessness. Before Ellen came out and Will & Grace hit prime time, MSCL had one of the first gay characters on TV in Rickie Vasquez.
This was a beautiful series that wasted not a single line or movement. But as it aired on ABC before Fox and The WB found a way to market the demographic power of the 12-34 age bracket, My So-Called Life was cancelled after one season. While some of the fashion and music haven't aged well — good riddance to grunge, flannel, and baby-doll dresses! — MSCL still resonates with new generations looking for a realistic take on the complicated and emotion-filled years between childhood and adulthood.
And reliving teen crushes through Jordan Catalano doesn't hurt, either.