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Lost and Found: ‘My So-Called Life’

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In this Funkhouser installment, I rummage through a hodgepodge of television shows and films, some of which are so obscure, you might be discovering them for the first time, others, simply forgotten about, several possibly mothballed and finally a few that just vanished into the ether altogether.  This is Lost and Found:  Episode 3.

As I conclude this back-to-school trilogy of Lost and Found, I flashback to 1994, an ambivalent epoch to say the least.  On a positive note, it was a year which saw the release of so many perennial movies:  Forrest Gump, The Lion King, The Shawshank Redemption, and Pulp Fiction.  In retrospect, that era also had equally memorable, yet undoubtably bizarre events as well, including:  an infamous car chase, jealousy on ice, and a celebrity sham marriage, involving the gloved one.  Sadly, the world learned Kurt Cobain, the troubled, pop-culture wonderkind, committed suicide that year at the age of 27.  I remember exactly where I was when Kurt Loder broke the news.  On a less somber note, the era marked the demise of Saved by the Bell and the birth of a soon to be sitcom behemoth, called Friends, but somewhere in the middle of that television landscape, existed a poignant, coming of age show, which many consider one of the great, yet overlooked, old school television shows of all-time.

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You’ve heard the old saying which goes, “I guess you had to be there”, and while you might be familiar with that phrase and its connotation, with all the events taking place in ’94, you may have overlooked the one-season-and-done series, the teen drama My So-Called Life, when it premiered on ABC, and subsequently in reruns on MTV soon thereafter.  Maybe you weren’t old enough to recall the fleeting series or just too old or apathetic to care–ugh nobody understands me!  Whatever, nevermind.  Regardless, the reality is, you probably have a lot more in common with the series than you realize.  Despite being a time capsule, My So-Called Life, is still a relatable show, and if it was successful at anything, it would be that it epitomized teen angst, in a real and honest way, while many teen dramas of that time had not.

Most of the stripling shows pre My So-Called Life tackled common teenage struggles such as:  body image, peer-pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, underage sex, bullying, relationships, etc.  However, the approach was highly-sanitized, and the effect was often pandering to its younger audience’s sensibilities.  Look no further than the farcical shows Beverly Hills 90210 and to a lesser extent, Dawson’s Creek which used this basic formula, in which, seemingly complex “facts of life” problems were solved by adult archetypes conveniently by the end of each episode, resulting in the crying, the hugs, the laughter…aaannnddd cut.  Roll credits.  Troubles were never heard from again.  The series, surfaced real issues, such as many of the aforementioned ones, in addition to some rarely talked about on tv at the time, like:  depression, child abuse, homophobia, divorce and even homelessness.  Having watched the show when it premiered, I wanted to see if it still resonated with me, so I binge-watched the throwback series again on Hulu this weekend, and while I didn’t run out and put on my Doc Martens, after finishing the 19 episodes, I immediately reconnected with it all over again.  My So-Called Life is charmingly nostalgic–that’s so in right now–even for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 90’s.  The characters are genuine and fully developed, and deep, vastly different than the caricatures typically depicted in other shows.

Each episode follows the life of a brooding, self-conscious narrator, a 15 year old high school sophomore, named Angela Chase, played by newcomer, Claire Danes, who is absolutely brilliant in her first starring role.  Audiences become acquainted with other substantive people in Chase’s life, including:  Jordan Catalano, Angela’s on-again-off-again crush, misunderstood bad boy with a secret, played by Jared Leto, Devon Gummersall, a socially awkward young man, played by Brian Krakow, Rayanne Graff, a rebellious young girl, played by A.J. Anger, Sharon Cherski, Angela’s childhood friend, played by Devon Odessa and troubled teen, Rickie Vasquez, played by Wilson Cruz, whose character was the first openly gay teenager to appear on network television.

My So-Called Life is all that and a bag of chips, and isn’t a show you can just pick up an episode here and there.  It’s a bonafide binge-worthy series that you need to watch from beginning to end.  Ironically, the show could not foresee its own cancellation and the last episode ended with a cliffhanger, thus audeinces never know what eventually happens to the beloved characters.  What My So-Called Life got right was the notion that your life’s nothing like what they show on tv–far from it–and unlike your tv, you can’t turn off your problems with the click of a remote control.

Article written by Matthew Mahone

Follow me on Twitter @M_E_Mahone