[For my Redigi Throwback this week, I give props to the Generation-X gem ‘My So-Called Life’.]
The demands of school work, hovering parental figures, annoying siblings, finding someone who’ll make out with you today but love you for-ever, and trying to fit in in a cruel world where non-conformity can either be social suicide or a pass to the top of the food chain– it’s, like, incredibly hard being a teenager. No cultural force on television understood that better than the single season of the hour-long drama My So-Called Life.
Claire Danes was Angela, a fifteen-year-old breaking free from the wallflower she used to be with rebellious Manic Panic ruby red locks. Jared Leto‘s insta-crush blue eyes peered from the dim-witted soul of his character Jordan Catalano. Brian is a shy nerd with unrequited love for Angela. New frenemy Rayanne’s budding addictions stem from her dysfunctional family. Rickie struggles with his sexuality. And then there’s all those Doc Martens and flannel shirts the wardrobe department must have went through. But nothing captured that Generation-X essence of inexplicable loss and longing, uncertainty yet urgency, as well as My So-Called Life‘s song-scape.
R.E.M.‘s aching anthem “Everybody Hurts” closes the pilot episode, in which Angela is conflicted as she begins her journey away from her mundane middle-class upbringing. Indie rock ingenue Juliana Hatfield makes a cameo as a wayward homeless teenager in the Christmas episode. Even way-back pop idols Elvis Presley and Shelley Fabares (“Johnny Angel“) get in on the angsty-action in MSCL’s spooky Halloween episode, when a local urban legend of a 1950′s teen tragedy haunts Angela. Early in the series, Angela bonds with her pops over The Grateful Dead, a welcome connection while the gap between them grows as Daddy’s little girl becomes a young woman that he can’t quite relate to. In addition to their songs being sprinkled throughout multiple episodes, Buffalo Tom actually appear as themselves and Angela finally gets to see the concert she’s been dying to go to. The morning that Angela wakes up (so totally) over Jordan, dancing to Violent Femmes‘ “Blister in the Sun“, is pure bliss. All of the nineties alternative bands you’d expect can be heard: Live, Sonic Youth, The Afghan Whigs, The Cranberries, Urge Overkill, The Lemonheads, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and more.
Much like The Wonder Years before it, My So-Called Life provided a cross-section of not only what it felt like to be a teenager, but specifically what it felt like to be a teenager in that decade. Each was a time capsule of their era’s icons, issues, style, slang…. but most important to a teenager? Music.