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?

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

  1. You’re right: this show captures adolescence like no other, I think. I’m biased, though: my aunt played Patty Chase:-) I’ll pass on the link to your entry to her. She’ll appreciate the appreciation!

    1. My mind is blown too! Another huge MSCL fan here! (And I wonder if my deep love for this show way back when is one of the reasons I’m a YA author today.)

      1. I was actually wondering the same thing! I still like a lot of teen shows (I sense an upcoming post on Degrassi in the near future), but not many have stuck with me like this one. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Jill! And YES, he is one of my favorite parts of the big Rewatch. So gorgeous but some of his dumb moments are SO funny in a way I’m not quite sure I got back then.

  2. “Seriously, he’s hotter than you remember. And dumber.)”

    Fantastic. Glad to hear it held up to your memories. I was obsessed with the show, too. I was a senior in high school when it aired, and I felt such a kinship with the characters. I still remember the opening voice over (“So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff

  3. Sorry, got cut off and hit a wrong button on my iPhone. I meant to add that I still remember the show’s definition of irony (“the component of weirdness in a situation” or something…) and other great quotes (“school is a battlefield for your heart”). Swoon!

    Anyway, thanks for this great post!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! And I totally agree that the voiceovers/quotes are keepers. I was watching the episode where Angela declares she’s finally gotten over Jordan Catalano and she said something like, “Sometimes you like someone so much it’s like they LIVE inside of you” and I was just like, THAT completely reminds me of a YA novel. So, so good.

  4. My aunt did indeed appreciate the appreciation! At our next LA Apocalypsie/Lucky 13 meet-up, we’ll chat MSCL.

    It’s funny — I was just watching the new Claire Danes show on Showtime and marveling at how long ago MSCL was. I’m hard-pressed to think of too many child/teen stars that have had such long careers without some series lows along the way, and I wonder if the quality of that show has something to do with it.

    1. YAY! So happy to hear that. And yes – must reserve MSCL talk for the next gathering. I shall quiz you on all things Patty Chase.

      I was thinking the same thing, about the longevity of her career and how long ago the show debuted (and ended – sigh). I’m still a huge Claire Danes fan to this day, probably most of which has to do with first seeing her on MSCL.

  5. Rickie. Oh, how I loved that kid.

    Brandy, I’ve been doing the same thing, not re-watching the series because I was afraid it wouldn’t stand up–that my adult self wouldn’t get it. But you have put my fears to rest. I’m ordering the dvds tonight.

    1. I’m glad that I’ve convinced you to rewatch it because this comment and our Twitter convo have convinced me to order them, too after years of wavering!

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