My So-Called Life 20 years later

I decided that my teenage daughter was just the right age to be introduced to the ultimate teenager of the 90’s, Angela Chase.  As a family we watched the first two episodes of My So-Called Life.  I have not watched this show since it aired in the 90’s.  I was and am a huge Thirtysomething fan so this show never lived up to that bar for me.  I was always surprised that the show became such a huge hit once it aired on MTV a few years after it later.  Watching it again I was blown away by Claire Danes performance.  It has to be the single best teenage acting job, sorry Sarah Michelle Gellar, I think Claire might have edged you out.  What struck me most about this pilot was the directing.  Scott Winant was always my favorite director on Thirtysomething.  I am sure that Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick didn’t ponder for very long about whom to give the pilot episode to.  The way he sets up scene transitions are amazing.  I think the idea of trying to do stylized directing has totally vanished from television.  Breaking Bad did a lot with color but I am talking about transitions and camera movement.  Scott must have spent hours with the script figuring how to fade from one scene to the other.  At one point, in the second episode, they fade from a poster of apples and oranges to a vending machine containing apples and oranges.  This was a shot that pasted over the heads of my children but it impressed me.   I realized how rare it is for a show to be viewed on two levels anymore.  A program that parents and kids can watch and enjoy at the exact same time. My youngest daughter liked how everyone ignored the youngest daughter.  My older daughter liked that it showed how people are left out when one person changes in a group.  My wife enjoyed how the mom tried to get the husband to play the bad guy at least once in awhile and I loved the directing and writing.  Winnie Holzman (writer of Wicked) focuses in so perfectly on the teenage experience.  The monologue about how everyone chews their food is such a small piece of personal writing.  This show truly has everything for a family show.  I will admit that when they started to deal with the affair and lack of sexual intrigue for the parents, I wondered if maybe the 11 year old was a bit too young for this show.  But I think she mostly focused on how cute Jordan Catalano was.

I was amazed at how well the characters were defined.  I rarely hear about the social impact of the Rickie Vasquez character played by Wilson Cruz.  This character is so nonchalantly introduced in the show that it feels like a modern program.  I wonder if all those teenagers back in the 90’s who just accepted Rickie were the same adults who easily accepted gay marriage this year with no issues.  Maybe that is putting too much importance on a show, but I like to think that it might be.

I will be interested to see how I feel about the 17 episodes of this series and if this show will rise in my memory of great shows. I know at the time, I wanted something as great as Thirtysomething, which I guess I have wanted for the past 20 years.  It has never happened and most likely never will.  You can never achieve that excitement of your first love again, which I guess, is exactly what the show is all about.

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Buy or Rent A Voyage To Twin Peaks at Amazon. It is the documentary Scott directed about the 25th Twin Peaks Festival. See the actors, the set locations and interviews with the fans.

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