The Throwback: 'My So-Called Life' lives on... on Sundance
July 29th, 2011
03:44 PM ET

The Throwback: 'My So-Called Life' lives on... on Sundance

If you miss wearing plaid flannel (even in summer), and harbor an urge to scour your local beauty supply store for some crimson glow hair dye, you may want to check out reruns of "My So-Called Life" on Sundance Channel.

If you blinked during the 1994-1995 television season, you might have missed the ABC teen drama which lasted a mere 19 episodes and starred Claire Danes as 15-year-old Angela Chase and Jared Leto as the object of her affection - Jordan Catalano.

Jordan. Catalano. Two words. It was never just Jordan. This was just one of the quirks that made "MSCL" so great - there were so many things just for the fans. Remember Tino? You couldn't possibly remember Tino - lead singer of Frozen Embryos/Residue - because you never saw him.

"My So-Called Life" dealt with serious issues, too: Rayanne's drug abuse, Rickie getting kicked out of his house for being gay, Jordan's illiteracy, and guns in schools.

But it wasn't a teen soap like "Beverly Hills, 90210." For one thing, the teen characters were played by actual teenagers - not actors in their late-20s. And the kids really did have limited wardrobes.

Speaking of "90210," in the book that comes with SHOUT! Factory's MSCL DVD set, Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," stated that when he pitched "Buffy" to networks, depending on the intelligence level of the executives in the room, he would either say that it was a cross between "The X Files" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" or a cross between "The X-Files" and "My So-Called Life." Whedon also said "'Beverly Hills, 90210' was a realistic view of adolescent life in the way that 'Finding Nemo' is a realistic view of clownfish." Not to besmirch "90210's" name, I have gushed about it here. And here. I prefer to live in a world where both series can exist.

Re-watching the series as an adult (incidentally, I was the exact same age as Angela and her friends when the series ran), I am now much closer to the parents' age. Heck, they were 40. I don't see Jordan Catalano as hot so much anymore as self-centered. I'm finding the dad much more attractive. Now, when I watch the episode that contains a scene in which Angela is freaking out over a zit (and rightly so!), I pay more attention to the story line in which her "hot" dad regrets the fact that he never went to chef school.

When Mr. Chase finally does begin to realize his restauranteur dream, he goes into business with a character by the name of Hallie Lowenthal. Yet another name in the show that is always two words. Hallie Lowenthal was the Jordan Catalano for the older set. This, and other relationships probably would have been explored had the series continued.

Series creator Winnie Holzman told SHOUT! Factory that fans sometimes tell her it's a shame that "MSCL" was cancelled. "To me it isn't a shame at all," said Holzman. "It's perfect. It all worked out perfectly."

The SHOUT! Factory book also contains an essay by Professor Michele Byers from Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia, who likened "MSCL" to the types of friends in high school "who breeze into your life for a year or two, change the way you think and then breeze out again, leaving only ripples in their wake." I couldn't have said it better myself, except that nowadays most of use have reconnected with those friends who breezed in on Facebook. Unless, like Rayanne, they slept with Jordan Catalano on a drunken bender. But curiosity gets the better of us and we usually contact our "frenemies" on Facebook, too.

Do you wish the series had continued, or was the cliffhanger ending apropos? [Executives at the time didn't know that "MSCL" wasn't going to get picked up for another season, and the show ended with Angela driving off with Jordan Catalano. After finding out Brian helped pen Jordan Catalano's love letter to Angela, Angela sees Brian in a different light. The cliffhanger is: Will Angela remain obsessed with Jordan Catalano, or will she pursue Brian?]

Do you agree with Winnie Holzman that it worked perfectly? What are your favorite "MSCL" memories, scenes, and quotes?

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Filed under: television • The Throwback

soundoff (51 Responses)

    Look, the show pushed envelopes, and sadly,still does.
    The true art of the show is it's honest reflection.
    Of life.
    It also is also a perfect time capsule. Look at the cover of the magazine with Kurt Kobaine's death, look at the hair and flannel.
    Then look, truely LOOK at the different state of mind.

    August 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |

    You represent the vast majority and you probably vote.
    No you probably don't.

    August 1, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tracie

    Claire Danes has a hot fire bush. I would like to also tonguepunch her fartbox. Please poop on me Claire! Okay bye.

    August 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |

    "It's like you agreed to have a certain personality, just to make things easier for everyone. But what if thats not who you really are?"

    Great quote.
    Great show.

    August 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lane17

    best show evuh.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JohnP

    The soundtrack to this series marked a very important shift in my musical taste growing up in the nineties. I was in 8th grade (I'm 30 now) when this series ran, and decided to get a hold of its soundtrack in order to hear a song that Buffalo Tom plays in one of the episodes. Unfortunately, the song (Late at Night) wasn't present on the soundtrack, but that fact was MORE than made up for with positively stellar songs from The Afghan Whigs, Daniel Johnston, Archers of Loaf, and Sonic Youth. The entire soundtrack is really brilliant. II will forever be indebted to MSCL for exposing me to this amazing music.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steener

      I also bought that soundtrack and that's where I was first exposed to Daniel Johnston and his incredible music. Definitely not for everyone, or even half, but for the right people, he hits the mark like no other. Complete vulnerability. But man, Buffalo Tom has some great atmospheric rock too.

      August 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dale griffin

    Winnie Holzman was probably correct – I can't imagine this series could have sustained the quality it carried through its one season – There are a lot of shows that could do with limited runs. The crime was her underrated ABC Family show, Huge, got cancelled before it could fully develop. The writers were just settling into an understanding of the characters and starting to build – she is a great writer of intelligent adolescent stories.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      Totally agree on "Huge"! That was a really good show and by the time you really started to know the characters and care about them, it was over. I hate when good shows get canceled too soon and idiotic ones go on indefinitely...

      August 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. KaosATL

    As a gay teen in the 90's. No other charecter on television mirrored my life like Ricki's on MSCL! Before there was LOGO, before it became "cool" to come out and before there were any images of gay teens, (good or bad) Ricki served as a realistic mirror image of my life and I could completely relate to his angst. Though I wasn't as flamboyant as Ricki and didn't have to edure the ridicule his charecter had to deal with, his storyline exhibited the familiar themes of being ostracized by the world just for being who he was. For that, I became a fan. Long Live MSCL!!!

    August 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Vested

    Oh please. The show was about a self imposed self absorbed whiny adolescent that that had no clue of what real angst and suffering is all about. Soft weakling American teens think they have problems in their coddled environment?. Good grief.

    August 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Beni Bolass

    I was a latino growing up in an apartment building in NYC. I was 14 when i used to watch this show, now i'm 33. I would watch this show and wish that I lived in a house in suburbs, and be able to have a friend to share my emotions with. I love the episode where she is walking in her neighborhood at night and the leaves are falling, and she is so carefree. This is the reason that when I started my own family I moved us to PA.

    August 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. c

    The fact that the show was cancelled is exactly what ends up making the show a classic today. You got nineteen raw and real episodes without the involvement of contracts, money, writer/director/network changes, ego shifts, and character changes, things that often ruin shows today. It was perfect.

    August 1, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  12. Boof

    There's a reason why this show was cancelled.

    August 1, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. paula

    I was 15 when this show came out and it was the best thing to happen to TV. A show made for people EXACTLY like me: alternative/indie rock listening, dr martin wearing, flannel shirt obsessed teen who had much bigger issues to deal with than what to wear to prom. These were REAL teens with REAL life problems that kids across the country could relate too. Honestly, years later and as an adult with my own kids I still think this was one of the best shows to ever be aired. . The great thing about it is how it is still 100% relevant today.

    August 1, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. ink

    I loved this show – and it helped me as a teenager. I actually recently rewatched the series on Netflix – and similar to you I found myself very interested in the parents dynamic. I never noticed the story line they had when I first watched the series. I was after all a self absorbed teenager – parents didnt actually have lives or emotions then. lol. I wish the story would have continued – the characters were great and they tackled real issues. Despite the sometimes cheesy acting – it will always be a classic to me.

    August 1, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. still love it!

    Still love this show! i was 16 when it aired, so it was perfect, so much better than 90210. and I loved jordan catalano! best scene ever (and I think of all 90s tv) is when jordan got the cojones to hold angela's hand in public. total teenage awesomeness!

    July 31, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Dd

    I was 24 when the show first aired and newly married and the realistic portrayal of teen angst was pitch perfect! I was so upset that abc cancelled it that I wrote to the network. Alas, it's now a memory and at least it went out great and didn't fizzle and die the way many other shows do. Still, one more season would have been nice...

    July 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  17. GreeneK

    I was already grown up and married by the time this show came on, but my husband and I both watched the whole series. Loved the Angela character, and Rickey and Rayanne too (memorable scene: her freezing on stage in the middle of I Wanna Be Sedated) but could not stand the fact that the thoughtful intergity-filled Angela was obsessed with shallow pretty-boy Jordan. I will only kiss you when my friends aren't around. yep I knew guys like that.

    had to laugh.....Marcheline is absolutely right about Hallie always snarfing food.

    July 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  18. McLuhr

    What a great show. I am a 40 yr old white dude. When this show was originally aired I was frsh out of high school. I also loved Northern Exposure. Heck, even the Cosby Show. I really miss when our world seemed so mellow..even if it was only for a few years. TV reflected our society as society reflected the art from the time. I am glad they are rea iring this show. I see that Freaks and Geeks airs also on that chickie in the army jacket : )

    July 31, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry p.

      Damn. Northern Exposure?? Really? You takin' it way back. Lol.

      August 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • LadyJ

      OMG I absolutely LOVED Northern Exposure...never missed an episode!! 🙂

      August 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  19. kailash

    I loved this show. Why did they cancel it if it had so many followers?

    July 31, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  20. Beth

    I LOVED that show and immediately connected with it. I was a flannel wearing red hair dyeing alt pop girl who gratuated in 1993. I had the destructive druggie friend that my parents hated and thought she would lead me down the path to ruin, I had the gay friend who was bullied. I had the crush on the hot reckless guy but was too shy and awkward to talk to him- just admired from afar. My mom watched the show and one night I remember her saying 'they made this show about you'. I wish that it hadnt ended, so much hung at the end. I grew up and moved on, but watched it on MTV and then Teen Nick a few years ago. I have teenaged kids now and think that if they sat down and watched it, they'd see a teenaged version of their mom on the screen.

    July 31, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  21. Charlotte

    oops, I don't think I was supposed to put my last name on this site...that's what happens when you are almost 60 years old and don't quite get this internet craze. : )

    July 31, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  22. Charlotte Yearout`

    I was 42 years old when I got hooked on the show...why??? Because it brought back the exact feelings of when I was a teenager and in love for the first time. I alao loved the fact that her parents were not perfect. I could not believe when ithe show was cancelled. A few years ago I bought the DVD and have shared it with my neice. That show is still very relevant. I feel it was very brave in the issues it tackled at that time. I would have loved to see what happened to the family. I still watch anything that Claire Danes is a part of....I think she is a great actress.

    July 31, 2011 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • robin mallernee

      My daughter was 15 and I was 50 when we watched each episode religiously. It was one of our closest times together. I loved the parents too. We were devastated when it ended too soon. I have watched CD develop into a beautiful woman in almost every movie she has made. I still miss Angela .

      August 17, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  23. Joe

    Couldn't stand the show. It was just another example of a girl going after the bad boy, while the parents were treated as wimps, and the nice guy was left out in the cold.

    July 30, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Sunny

    I remember the bit where Angela talks about the way time is divided into "Kissing" and "Not Kissing". For some reason that always stuck with me and it's what comes to mind whenever I see Claire Danes.

    July 30, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Sammy

    I Watched this show with my mom. It became one of our favorites, so this is why I still watch it on hulu. It takes me back to a time when I was in here shoes with friends just like her's.......

    July 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  26. gloria

    i love this show been watching it for a long time still see claire danes for grow your lases longer and wilson cruz in noah ark on logo chanel dont see any one else doing movies lately like to see any cass members in a movie

    July 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Marcheline

    I just bought the entire series on DVD. I"m 44. It's still great. I still love Jordan Catalano, and I still HATE Hallie Lowenthal. Watching her eat makes me sick. Why is she always eating?

    July 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Loni

    Maybe Minne Holtzman was right. Those 19 pefectly done episodes are frozen in time, bringing me back to the 90's in a way that only full pint of Ben& Jerry's, clove cigarettes and a blasting Nirvana CD can. The show reminds me of GLEE's first 13 episodes-clever, well acted, well written, brilliantly executed. But look what happened to GLEE as it went on. It became a parody of itself. The same could have happened to MSCL, especially since Claire Danes wanted out of the show.

    July 30, 2011 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  29. Mick

    I confess , even in collage at the time would catch an episode here or there talked to the few who watched it., what struck us right off was realism of course, but also not making one feel brain dead after watching, how rare is that these days .Being from Canada only show can think of is Degrassi J. High 1987-1989. funny thing is it never connected to me story wise. ( younger when that came out) . like MSCL.

    July 30, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • AJ

      I used to love Degrassi Jr High and Degrassi High. It seems as though the best shows of that era was made in Canada. 21 Jumpstreet was also filmed in Canada. 90210 heavily copied both. It is a shame that MSCL was cancelled. I did kind of relate to the character. Although I couldn't understand why her parents were always so uptight about everything.

      August 1, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  30. MissyLynne

    Definitely a great show. I remember watching it when I was 13/14. The best part was that it introduced me to Jared Leto, whom I still follow today in acting and as the lead singer for Thirty Seconds to Mars. Both he and Claire Danes are extremely talented and I would have loved to see the show go on longer!

    July 30, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  31. Steener

    Here's a man who loved MSCL as a teenager and still loves it today in memory. Sometimes when I drive around town at night, I remember the feeling of Jordan Catalano driving around his town on that Christmas episode, contemplating, just the streelights, the radio, and the night before him.

    July 29, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Elizabeth

    I was crushed (as only a teenage girl can be) when MSCL was cancelled. Although, I do still echew my natural blonde locks for red hair , and occasionally drool while watching 30 Seconds to Mars videos.

    July 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  33. charlie crack

    @boof- I laugh everytime I see your name. Stefon on SNL. Cracks me up....classic

    July 29, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boof

      That one's a poser. I'm the original. I wish people would find their own nicks.

      August 1, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  34. Caru

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this show! I own it in DVD.
    What's so terribly sad is that this was taken off the air after 19 episodes and great TV has been replaced by the Bachelor and Survivor.

    July 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lacey

      Exactly! The definition of "good TV" has changed SO much in the last 20 years. I was obsessed with this back in the day, and was SO upset that it went off the air. I was just having this conversation with my mom about how they're showing it on the weekends on Teen Nick, along with Freaks and Geeks, another GREAT show that was cancelled WAY too soon, and how much TV has changed. About how a lot of good shows end too soon, and we get stuck with the stupid crap.

      July 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  35. boof

    It's on netflix streaming

    July 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leslie

      AWESOME!!! THANKS I LOVED THAT SHOW. I was only 9 years old when it aired.

      July 29, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • EyeheartBoof

      THANK YOU! I am going to rush home today and watch it. 🙂

      August 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  36. kt

    I identified immediately with Angela. It was like watching myself on tV during those awkward teen years.

    July 29, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Nat

    I was obsessed with this show! I watched it as an 18 year-old and found it to be so much more realistic and interesting than shows like 90210. I remember getting my college dorm floor into it too. I loved Angela's character, and yes It was a huge shame that the series was cancelled. They could have given us at least one more season!

    July 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Wannabe

    I watched this show from the beginning after dying my hair a hideous shade of purple. The connection with Angela was immediate!! I taped every episode when MTV picked it up and still have all the videotapes (yes, VHS!). I hated that it ended, but it was a fulfilling end in that it led you to believe that anything can happen; be it getting your dream man, or knowing that nerds stand a chance.

    July 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • LadyJ

      Completely agree. Brian..aka..Brain...was beginning to look much cuter to me towards the end of the series...oh how he pined for clueless Angela. Loved that show then...still love it now. Need to get it on DVD instead of watching clips on You Tube..LOL

      August 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |

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