Missing My So-Called Life
Still, though there’s enough room in my heart for a sick amount of network, cable, HBO and Showtime programming, only a certain handful of those shows can actually shut my little ticker down and make it bleed pure joy and sadness all at once. My So-Called Life (ABC, 1994-1995, may she rest in peace) is one of those heart-rending shows.
Detailing the life and times of Angela Chase, a 15 year old overly-introspective, über-analytical rebel-dreamer, this show was my first TV crush. A crush aches, throbs, yearns, kills, cleaves—it crushes you with the weight of how much you want/love something or someone that is just close enough to be painfully out of reach. The perfect thing Angela (and me and every girl) wants to hear from their crush is a reciprocal expression of this love-is-pain equation: “You’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you.”
Even now when I re-watch My So-Called Life on Hulu, huddled on my grown-up couch or in the darkened hallways of the university where I work, I ache and hunger. It hurts to look at it.
If there were an angel of puberty, Angela Chase would be mine. Patron Saint of Adolescence. Our Lady of Perpetual Angst. She is my sister, my self reflected back to me, the guardian of my youth.
Angela’s face is a pale moon that can’t control its contortions. She can’t deny the plumpness of her cheeks when a shy smile bursts from her insides out. She can’t soften the collapse of her features into an ugly cry when Jordan Catalano so casually stands her up and lets her down.
Her body slumps at odd angles. Head cocked, feet crossed, she’s ever poised in contemplative awkwardness. Her bobbed burgundy hair brushes her shoulders (it smells like an orange grove Brian Krakow once passed by as a child).
My face remembers how it always betrayed my desire to appear cool, nonchalant, powerful. I can still taste the ball of tears welled up in my throat because I thought I was ugly or stupid, lost or alone. The ridiculously embarrassing things I’ve said still hang in immutable bubbles above my head; haunting, they refuse to corroborate my current portrayals of confidence and control.
I both am Angela and long to be her. Her boys are my boys and not.“Jordan Catalano” is synonymous with that boy you loved so desperately, who didn’t quite love you back. You know the one. Mysterious. Broken. Kinda hot. Wearing jeans from the thrift store, hair slightly rumpled and you loved the way it was “soft in the back.” The kind of guy who could never be interested in you in one hundred years, but he was. . . sort of. Maybe. The kind of guy who was absolute perfection, glorious in small doses and completely missing in action for the other 98% of the time. I didn’t meet my Jordan until college. He wore beat-up maroon retro Adidas sneakers. Le sigh.
(Unfortunately for me, unlike Angela’s Jordan, mine knows how to read. So, if he sees this, I’m so like gonna lock myself in my room and die. )
“Brian Krakow.” Textbook definition? The other guy. *Sadface* The one who was a little strange, a little awkward (just like you, ahem). That boy who was always there for you, cared for you, made you skull bracelets and awesome mix tapes (like mine did) or helped you with geometry (like Angela’s version). Poor Brian. He’d do absolutely anything for you. You don’t even know what kind of shoes he wears.
This love triangle drives the show. It’s so basic and simple and real that it makes the show belong to me and every other 90s kid swathed in a bubble of flannel and angst. It performs that tear, that rift, the essential crushing feeling between you and what you want, a chasm you only truly begin to register and recognize in adolescence. Canceled after only one season, my favorite show will always leave me yearning and wanting, missing and needing. Yet that lack is kind of perfect. It’s the beautiful lack of all those firsts that can only happen one time. It’s the lack of nostalgia—Greek for the pain and grief of coming home.
Watching and missing this show hurts in the best way. That’s (so-called) life.