A long time ago, I was a teenager in a time period we historians like to call "The 1990's." It was a strange time, that era. One of the top singles of 1990 was Poison by Bel Biv Devoe, a song which included this wonderful piece of advice about women: "never trust a big butt and a smile." But within just a few years, the grunge explosion happened in Seattle, and 60 miles south in Olympia, the Riot Grrl movement was blossoming. By the middle of the decade "girl power" became relatively mainstream, and marketers started to notice that women and girls were surprisingly interested in cultural products that didn't patronize them. Weird, right?
In 1994, Winnie Holzman, a successful television screenwriter, created My So-Called Life. The show told the story of 15-year-old Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes (who, unlike most actors playing teens, was actually 15 when the show was made). Angela dealt with pretty normal teen stresses: growing apart from old friends, crushing on unattainable boys, feeling like your parents will never ever understand you. But the show was groundbreaking in so many ways- it had a female main character but was popular with both guys and girls, it was the first series to feature a gay teen as a main character, it treated the teen experience as real and important, the parents stories were just as vital as the kids, and it never sensationalized any of these experiences. Plus, the 90's fashion and music can't be beat. (Oh my god, there is. So. Much. Flannel. On this show!)
The show had an instant cult following among teens. I fondly remember my own obsession with My So-Called Life. I was in 7th grade, and I had to ensure I was home every Thursday night to see it, since this was long before you could catch up on TV with a DVR or the internet. I was still trying to figure out who I was, but I was pretty sure I wanted to be exactly like Angela Chase- or maybe even Rayanne Graf, her really cool, new best friend. Everything on the show seemed to be exactly mirroring my own experiences- it was the rare example of media that actually helped me understand my world better. A decade later, during my senior year of college, a boy named Peter bought the DVD box set, and for a few months, a group of about 20 people gathered late at night in an empty lecture hall to re-watch what had been a formative piece of our collective adolescence.
Despite My So-Called Life's popularity among it's target audience, it didn't last very long. It aired opposite four of the most watched sitcoms on TV and the ratings stunk. After only 19 episodes, it was canceled, and it ended in a cliffhanger! The teens of America shed a silent tear in protest. Four years later, Dawson's Creek went on the air and the explosion of teen dramas began, and it continues today. Maybe if Angela Chase had been a tan, muscular boy on a fledgling network that never expected very high ratings in the first place, My So-Called Life could have stayed on tv a couple more years.
If you've never seen My So-Called Life, I cannot recommend it to you enough. Or, if you enjoyed it as a teen, I emphatically propose re-watching it- it's even better than you remember. Lucky for you, it's all available for free on Hulu!