In April, 2011 I had my then-16 year old cousin, Claire, over for a marathon viewing of My So-Called Life. The show and the marathon were both delightful from start to finish. Below is the review that I wrote of that weekend.
My So-Called Life came out originally in the fall of 1994 when I was fresh out of high school and still going through many of the emotional tribulations that all teenagers do. It spoke to me on an intensely personal level, as I know it did many other people my age, and it continues to feel like a part of my own life experiences in a way that no other show does.
I know that for all the ways that times change, the basic struggles of growing up remain pretty consistent through the generations, but I wasn't sure if the show would resonate with Claire the way that it had with me. I didn't know if the dated fashions and music and cultural references would take a new, young viewer out of the moment and make the show seem old and out-of-touch. I needn't have worried because Claire adored it.
At one point, when Angela's voice over is making a resolution to be less introspective, Claire told me that the show was almost hard to watch because it was as though it made all of her inner-most, uncomfortable thoughts public. That is what happens when this show is at its best - it gets inside of you to that place where your insecurities and your neurosis live and it makes you see that they're not just yours, they belong to all of us.
There are still so many moments that get to me - when Sharon and Angela mend their fractured friendship; when Rickie confides in Angela outside of the dance about feeling like he doesn't fit anywhere; when Jordan crosses the hall to hold Angela's hand; when Rayanne thanks Patty, for her life - these and so many more are tied to my heartstrings so tightly that just thinking about any one of them brings a lump into my throat and a tear to my eye.
A lot of us rabid fans have seen every episode dozens of times. I watched the original run on ABC, then on a near-constant loop on MTV for a couple of years after that. I watched it again several years ago when The N aired it in the middle of the night, and I've watched my DVDs many times through. While a lot of fans single out "The Weekend" as the "worst" episode in the run, I personally think "Halloween" takes that title. I'm not sure I can pick a single favorite episode as six of them spring to mind immediately and there are only 19 total.
There's a perfection to the show, to the way they speak and the relationships and the way experiences are shared between people, that, to paraphrase Angela, fit in a tiny place in your heart. The unlikely friendships between Rickie and Brian or Rayanne and Sharon or Brian and Jordan. The way everyone on the show has dumped and been dumped in some capacity by one another. The struggling Chase marriage and the changing relationships between children and parents. These are all things that look familiar to people. Even when the show took liberties with realism (Nicky Driscole in "Halloween" and Juliana Hatfield in "So-Called Angels"), it was really just about ordinary people with ordinary lives. These people could be us.
The end of the series left a lot of unanswered questions, just the way life does. Would Angela and Rayanne ever be friends again? Would Rickie continue living with Mr. Katimsky? Would Graham have an affair with Hallie Lowenthal? Would Graham and Patty divorce? And would Angela get back together with Jordan even though she knew that it was Brian who wrote the letter? I used to wish I knew the answers to those questions but now I'm glad I don't. We can all have the ending we want as long as no one tells us any differently.
It doesn't matter if you went to high school in the '90s, in the '70s or yesterday - the show is timeless. If you haven't ever seen it, I encourage you to give it a try. The writing is pitch-perfect and the acting is effortless and real. If you're afraid of the emotional weight of it (because, for real, this isn't a fluffy teen soap, this is capital-D Drama), there are light and sweet moments as well. Claire particularly enjoyed the running gag of the mysterious Tino - who she started calling "Tino the cat" since both he and the Chase's cat were talked about on many occasions but were never seen by anyone ever.
When our marathon ended and I drove her home, I asked what she thought. "We had a time," she told me. We did. We had a time.