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My So-Called Life turns 25: ABC's groundbreaking teen drama was too good to die young

  • Vox

    The Winnie Holzman-created ABC teen drama starring Claire Danes, Jared Leto and Wilson Cruz ran for just 19 episodes between August 25, 1994 and Jan 26, 1995, yet it's influence on teenage storytelling is still being felt. "A fairly common complaint that critics level against shows about teenagers is that 'no teenager would talk that way,'" says Emily Todd VanDerWerff. "What we usually mean is that teens on TV are often hyper-literate and incredibly articulate, possessed of witty quips and the ability to deliver exactly the right response in every moment. But if you remember your teen years at all, you’ll remember that, uh, you rarely knew exactly the right thing to say. The best of these teen shows with stylized dialogue — Buffy the Vampire Slayer, say — use their articulate teens to get at how it feels to be a smarter-than-average teenager, hanging out with your friends and feeling the way your brain seems to expand a few inches more with every passing hour. Adolescence is such a wild ride for even the best-behaved kids that hearing Buffy Summers and her pals’ heightened dialogue serves as a metaphor for that very journey. My So-Called Life takes the opposite tack. It depicts the awkward fumbling of adolescence, but because Angela’s voiceover is present, the show never lacks for thoughtful perspectives on what’s happening. (Occasional episodes also hand over the voiceover action to her nerdy next-door neighbor and her little sister.) And the stories the show tells remain small-scale — what happens when you dye your hair and your mom flips out? That sort of thing. My So-Called Life broke some new ground with this approach. The character of Ricky (Wilson Cruz) was the first gay series regular on a teen TV show. And the show was unique among teen TV offerings of the era for taking the travails of Angela’s parents just as seriously as it did those of Angela and her friends."


    TOPICS: My So-Called Life, ABC, Claire Danes, Jared Leto, Wilson Cruz, Winnie Holzman, Retro TV, Teen TV