Do Over: My So-Called Life
If you want a sure-fire way to know if a fellow human being, or a female one anyway, is a potential BFF, there are only two little words you need to whisper in her ear: Jordan Catalano.
If her eyes film over and she emits a long breathy gasp, you know you’ve found a kindred spirit. For those of us who were awkward, never-been-kissed teenagers in that golden era we call the mid ’90s, My So-Called Life‘s Jordan Catalano was everything we’d ever dreamed of. That floppy bowl cut (honestly, this was cool in 1994), those doe eyes, the way he always leaned against stuff. The brooding nature and occasionally profound utterings that only barely concealed that fact that he was really a bit thick.
But while Catalano was the pin-up boy, our real crush was on the flame-haired Everygirl heroine, Angela Chase. We wanted to be Angela Chase, because she was just like us. Ok, so we could never work out how to look as good as she did in an over-sized check shirt, but somehow we knew that if Angela were a real-life character, we’d be best friends. She had a mother who was as embarrassing as ours were, friends who were allowed to do everything she wasn’t, an annoying little sister who secretly wanted to be just like her. There was crazy Rayanne, who we would never have dared to be friends with in real life, and sexually-ambiguous Rickie, who opened our eyes to life outside the mainstream, and geeky Brian Krakow, who walked around in a hormonal haze of unrequited love. And, of course, the frequently-referenced-but-never-seen Tino, whose band could never quite get it together.
My So-Called Life was a game-changer for those of us who were lucky enough to turn fifteen around the same time Angela did. For the first time, or so it seemed, here was a show about how it really was to be a teenager – or, at least, how we imagined it would be if we lived in suburban Pittsburgh, went to a school with boys in it and had friends who could drive. We knew exactly what she felt when she wondered if it was possible to actually die of embarrassment, and we all secretly agreed with her take on Anne Frank – that there was something kind of enviable about being locked up for years in an attic with a boy you fancied.
But My So-Called Life was more than just simple wish-fulfillment. It treated teenagers like real, thinking individuals. It had storylines that just involved the adult characters, which made us feel grown-up and intelligent, and also showed us that maybe parents have their own problems, too. And, of course, it showcased the best and worst of ’90s fashions, and led to a positive spate of DIY hair dye disasters, as teenagers up and down the country tried the recreate the ‘Angela’. In just eighteen perfectly imperfect episodes, it ushered in a new era of teen drama, and paved the way for more slick, commercially-successful teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Felicity - neither of which could ever capture quite so well the exquisite tragedy of just being fifteen. As Jordan Catalano himself would say, “uh…. like………. yeah”.