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Created by Winnie Holzman (1994)
Without Molly Ringwald as John Hughes' confused, realistic, awkward teenage muse in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, we wouldn't have Angela Chase, the over-thinking, constantly questioning lead embodied by Claire Danes in the short-lived TV series My So-Called Life. The two girls even share constant pouts and fire-engine red hair, even if Chase hit the Manic Panic dye in the pilot episode since her hair was holding her back...
My So-Called Life is simply one of the best shows about teenagers ever (alongside the late, great Freaks and Geeks), and what made it so wonderful was that it was sensitive, well-observed, and strikingly ordinary. It follows a 15-year-old girl, Angela Chase (a luminous Danes in the role that made her a star), in her sophomore year, in a suburban town outside Philadelphia (the time period? very plaid-and-grunge 90s). Things are changing; she's moving from her childhood friends, good girl Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa) and neighbor nerd Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall), to a new crowd consisting of bad girl Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and sweet, bisexual Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Meanwhile, she pines for the dreamboat stoner Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).
Like a John Hughes film, My So-Called Life respected the thoughts and ideas of teens, never talking down to the characters. The episodes deal with difficult topics—guns, alcoholism, beauty issues, illiteracy, and, don't forget, the sensitive treatment of Rickie's sexuality was radical for its time—and they're all woven together with Danes' voiceover: simple, honest, and terrifically quotable, like an old rock album where you still know every word. It's hard to pinpoint what, exactly, makes this show so special, because frankly, there's no particular hook that makes it stand out, Simply, it's a window on an average girl at an extraordinary point in her life, and the effect is one that makes you empathize, painfully and happily, with all the characters. That's all you need, sometimes, for art to stick.
Watch the whole series now for free on Hulu: