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‘My So-Called Life’: Telling teen tales the right way

July 2, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI ( , The Mining Journal

Thanks to my friend Jodi, I have been reintroduced to Angela Chase, Rickey Vasquez and Jordan Catalano.

Who are they? Just three of the finest characters to ever share a television world.

Jodi loaned me her DVD set for "My So-Called Life," which to me isn't just one of the best television shows of the 1990s: It's one of the best shows ever.

Article Photos

Renee Prusi

The DVDs Jodi let me borrow are the complete series, which sadly, was just one season, 18 or 19 episodes, I believe.

"My So-Called Life" is beautifully written, wonderfully acted and superbly presented. It's the story of Angela Chase, a 15-year-old high school student, and her family and friends.

Angela, played by the amazing Claire Danes, obsesses over, well, everything. She does battle with her mother, barely tolerates her kid sister and longs for pretty-boy Jordan Catalano, who was left back twice and has a way of leaning against a locker that makes him appealing.

She's arguably the most real teen ever depicted on network television.

Angela's so-called life is set in 1994, but exchange the plaid shirt and R.E.M. for tie-dye and Steely Dan and it's 1974, and you could be looking at scenes from my so-called life. Or make it Abercrombie & Fitch and Katy Perry and it could be a teen's life today.

The styles and sounds may change, but so much of the angst remains the same as what Angela and Co. portray in this TV series. Be it trying to banish a zit or coping with a friend's betrayal, "My So-Called Life" captures the moment.

Of course, the show deals with topics current to 1994. But some, sadly, are just as relevant now, issues like bullying, substance abuse and self-esteem.

Rickey Vasquez, played to perfection by Wilson Cruz, is one of the most compelling characters ever written for television. He's searching for his identity as a sexual being and longing to belong to a family. He's also kind and witty, the sort of friend everyone needs. His complexity makes him fascinating.

For anyone who hasn't seen "My So-Called Life," the writing is superlative. Here are a few lines from Angela:

"Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart."

"People are always saying you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster. Like you know what it is even. But every so often I'll have, like, a moment, where just being myself in my life right where I am is, like, enough."

"When someone compliments your parents, there's like nothing to say. It's like a stun gun to your brain."

"My parents keep asking how school was. It's like saying, 'How was that drive-by shooting?' You don't care how it was, you're lucky to get out alive."

Kind of covers the anxieties, frustrations and joys we all go through in surviving our teen years, don't you think?

When "My So-Called Life" was first on, it went up against this little show you might have heard of called "Friends." "My So-Called Life" got its butt kicked in the ratings but not in quality.

For anyone who ever was a teen, it's achingly familiar, a blend of pathos, humor and reality not to be missed. It's not a simple world and it's not always pretty, but it's worth visiting.

Introduce yourself to Angela Chase and her friends some day. You won't be sorry.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is



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