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Angela's World

1.1. My So-Callled Life: The New Novel

"They were more like, introductory kisses." -- Angela

Truly, MSCL has the appeal of a well-written novel. As we read a novel, the characters, even minor ones, become real to us. We begin to see ourselves in the characters and to care about them. When we put the book down, we wonder what will happen next: "Okay, tomorrow is another day -- so what will Scarlett (or Holden Caulfield) do tomorrow?" We seek out others who have read the novel and talk about it, and, in doing so, reveal and discover some of ourselves. But there is more. The truly great novels have a way with language that makes small phrases significant. Symbols and motifs help us discover and understand the meaning beneath plot dialogue. We reflect on how the subtext connects what we are reading to what we have already read and have yet to read. And because it is not only true, as Graham says, that "everything means something," but also that everything may mean more than one thing, we find we can re-read a novel and get more out of it the second time. Written novels communicate through words on paper, and all the text and subtext must be conveyed in the writing. Television, however, can communicate through spoken dialogue, visual images, music and combinations of these resources.

When Winnie Holzman created "My So-Called Life," she exploited the resources of television to tell us about Angela and her world through dialogue (what the characters say, what they don't say, and what is said about them), action (visual images, seeing the characters act or not, react or not), and the underlying music (which conveys the unspoken, unseen mood and feelings). For example, nearly every episode subsequent to "Guns and Gossip" contains a scene between Brian and Rickie. Quite apart from their relationship to Angela (one sexless, the other sex-charged), Rickie and Brian develop a man-to-man relationship, founded in mutual respect and trust, which evolves to where each can tell the other their innermost feelings: Brian loves Angela, (by confessing to having written Jordan's letter), and Rickie is gay (a fact he shares with Brian prior to his scene with Delia Fisher). Other relationships evolve apart from Angela: Rayanne and Sharon, Brian and Rayanne, Graham and Hallie, Graham and Brian, Brian and Jordan. There are symbols and motifs which aid to understanding, such as the food metaphor. There is a certain amount of "ritual" wordplay, such as the "hi/hey" exchanges, which broaden in Jordan's confusion of "Brian" and "Brain."


The compendium which follows attempts to shed light on the relationships, but it is not comprehensive. It explores the relationships broadly, and will neither examine every scene where we see those relationships develop, nor analyze every symbol, metaphor, or nuance. Rather, it notes the important events in the relationships, and leaves extrapolation to the reader. As you read, fill in any gaps you perceive with your own knowledge and opinions of MSCL. But a dry, "technical" analysis of MSCL is only the beginning. We know the elements are there. We know that they make us feel. But ultimately what we feel, and why we feel it, is what counts. And that is the point of this book, to try to explain the feelings. Ultimately, our bond to MSCL is a bond to characters and relationships. Through the "literary" and "technical" resources we come to know Angela's world. We discover that it is a world filled with human beings -- not the stereotypes that fill so many television shows. We learn that Angela's world turns on a series of relationships with other human beings. We learn that Angela's world is truly ours.


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“Lately, I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"