the angela chase chronicles or why My So-called Life should be mandatory viewing for all YA writers

In 1994, I was 15 years old, living in Springfield, Missouri where nothing ever looked like it did on TV. And then this came along.

It’s become almost cliche to hail My So-Called Life as “the best show about teenagers ever to grace television” or “the greatest show to be cancelled after one season.” And despite the fact that I am firmly in both of those camps, I still haven’t purchased the DVD set that’s been on my wish list since it was announced for pre-order. I never even rented it from Netflix. I love this show so much that the opening credits and theme song still make me a little (OK, a lot) teary. But what if I and every other fan was wrong all these years? What if this was something we loved simply because we were young and didn’t know any better?

After watching the show in its entirety while crashing at a friend’s place (thank god my 15-year-old self didn’t know how good it would look streamed through Netflix straight to a 55-inch flat screen), I am proud to say that it stands the test of time and lives up to the hype. MSCL was wonderful as a teenager but it’s downright fascinating as an adult (and I use this term very loosely).

As almost any YA writer can tell you, a question often asked is, “Why write for teenagers?” My answer is this:

And it is probably my favorite scene from the entire 19-episode run. Not only because I’m a dance fanatic and also still highly enjoy “What Is Love” (you’re only lying to yourself if you say Haddaway didn’t hit pure 90s dance gold with that song, so don’t talk to me about the SNL skit). I love this scene so hard because with nary a word it clearly sums up how terrifying, heartbreaking, and exhilarating it is to be 15 years old. The clip is from the episode “Life with Brian,” which is narrated by Brian Krakow (aka the sad-sack curly-haired dude watching from the side of the bleachers).

Television without Pity sums it up better than I ever could, but the gist of it is this: The new girl, Delia, crushes on Brian. Brian asks Delia to the dance. Brian dumps Delia to take Angela, his dream girl, instead. Delia is heartbroken and feels like an outcast. Rickie is lonely and misunderstood and [always] feels like an outcast. They take their frustrations to the dance floor and tear it up like none other. This scene is about letting go, about FINALLY getting to a place where – if only for a few minutes – you don’t care what others think about you. At all. This was incredibly difficult in high school. It can be difficult as an adult, still.

What works about My So-Called Life is that it was honest. Relatable. Teens (and adults) struggling with love, cheating, acceptance, guilt, ambition, sexuality, bigotry, and self-worth. Actual, real-life shit. It exposed the ugly parts of ourselves that we often try to hide. The characters wore the same baggy, grunged-out flannel clothes from one episode to the next, and can we talk about how believably filthy and graffitied the girls’ bathroom was? And of course for me, it all comes back to the writing, which was, without a doubt, phenomenal. Funny. Unapologetically emotional. Brought to life by an incredible cast.

So I think it’s safe to say that the My So-Called Life Rewatch of 2011 only reaffirmed why I write young adult fiction – because it hurts and it’s scary and raw and exciting. It’s full of moments you wish you could burn from your memory and those that you’d relive forever if you could. The Rewatch also reaffirms that I had EXCELLENT taste in television as a teenager. And that … well … it’s really never a bad thing when Jordan Catalano is involved. (Seriously, he’s hotter than you remember. And dumber.)

Were you a MSCL fan as well? What show do you think deserves the same cult status as this show?