Staying In(Stant): All You Need To Know About Life You Can Learn From My So-Called Life

EmbedPhoto: Courtesy of ABC.
Full disclosure: We love TV. So much so that sometimes we'd rather spend a whole weekend in front of the tube than dancing in da club. Is a lack of television service holding you back from feeling our joy? No problem! You can get by just fine on Netflix, Hulu, and the myriad other streaming services rapidly taking over the home-entertainment industry (thank you, Internet!).
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Some shows are just better when binge-watched. Whether it's the latest BBC comedy, a PBS miniseries from the '70s, or just that cultish show prematurely scrubbed from a network, we're hooked on the stream. Staying In(stant) is your guide to the best of streaming content. Each week, we bring you a show we're obsessed with and think you should be, too.
This Week: My So-Called Life, a.k.a. your entire adolescence in 19 episodes.
Where To Watch: Hulu, Hulu Plus
How I Got Hooked: See up there in the intro where we refer to "that cultish show prematurely scrubbed from the network"? THIS IS IT. Like the music of Kurt Cobain or the art of Margaret Kilgallen, My So-Called Life was a gem of ‘90s youth culture that was, sadly, not long for this world. Winnie Holzman’s series packed an impressive punch into its single season — following the lives of highschooler Angela Chase (played by the ever-precocious Claire Danes and her impeccable cryface) and her gang of friends and frenemies in suburban Pittsburgh. In its limited screen time, MSCL manages to chronicle all the pains and pleasures of awkward, awkward, so-awkward adolescence — because when you're 15, pain and pleasure tend to be pretty much the same thing anyway.
I arrived at MSCL on a bit of a delay due to my family's lack of a cable TV — but I was nonetheless smitten. Never before had I seen my own, weird, high-school psyche so accurately reflected on-screen. Angela was me; I was she. We were introspective, neurotic, overly analytic, not-quite-pretty (and prone to ugly crying), and boy, did we love us some plaid flannel crap. We always found ourselves depending on our mentally unstable more exciting friends to do our social interacting for us, and we were always falling for the smoldering douchebag wrong guy because don't you just love how he leans?
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Best Episode: I have to pick the underdog: "Halloween." This episode, much like "Depressing Holidays On The Streets," or whatever the Christmas episode was called, was criticized for going all magical-realism and breaking from MSCL's trademark hyper-honest reality of teen-dom. Sure, the episode features a ghost dude who died at a sock-hop in the '60s and may or may not be haunting Liberty High. (The kid's name is Nicky Driscoll and he's the second-best character-who-doesn’t-actually-exist on the show — after Tino, of course.) But, "Halloween" also features a high-school break-in, some solid Brian/Rayanne buddy comedy, an unnecessary parental-sex sub-plot, and the scariest Halloween costume of all: a Brian Krakow sweater vest (can we talk about how Brian Krakow grew up to be hot, by the way?). Plus, "Halloween" includes little-sis Danielle's spot-on Angela Chase costume/impersonation: "Mom, Sharon Chersky and I exist in, like, two different worlds, okay? I can't just hand her a dish, okay. I mean, it's just not that simple."
Meanwhile, Jordan Catalano is pissed off at Halloween and parties in general, but is still going to them, "Because, you think, what if something cool happened... And you missed it?" There you have it, folks: Jordan Catalano invented FOMO.
Why You'll Love It: Sure, C.Danes is the main character, but this show is really about The Everyteen, and it paints her/him in a far more three-dimensional light (well, with the possible two-dimensional prettyboy exception of Jordan Catalano — but even he has a learning disability! Nuance!) than any show had before. It’s not an overstatement to say that MSCL paved the way for every teen drama that followed it, from the '90s to the aughts and beyond. From its self-aware, talky teens (later taken even further down melodrama lane on Dawson’s Creek) to the tragicomedy of being uncool in school (later perfected by Freaks and Geeks) to its frank discussion of Big Issues like sex, drugs, and fucked-up families (which later got way fancier on Gossip Girl), MSCL does what few adults do, even today: It treats teenagers like people. And, in doing so, it shows the common threads that run through every coming-of-age experience — regardless of whether the awkward kid is clutching a Discman or an iPhone.
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