10 years "My So-Called Life"
Posted: Aug 21st 2004, 10:15 am
Entertainment Weekly -- TV season preview -- August 20, 1994
MY SO-CALLED LIFE
ABC, 8-9 p.m.
* CONCEPT: Life as seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old girl.
* THE SCOOP: The best new show of the season. As wide-eyed Angela, Claire Danes is adolescence, all awkward emotions and surging glands. "When you're at that age and you're trying to find your identity, emotions you feel are so huge," says coexecutive producer and director Scott Winant. "We were trying to tap that feeling. Television could stand to have a truthful, honest interpretation of what it's like to be a young person in America." Indeed. Problem is, as 8 p.m. fare, Life may be on too early for carousing teens to get serious, and smart adults may be committed to Mad About You.
* BOTTOM LINE: Rearrange your so-called life to watch this show; let's try to keep it on the air until Angela gets married.
Only a few days till the big anniversary - the first episode of "My So-Called Life" premiered on August 25th, 1994 at 8pm on ABC. But the reviews started to appear a few days earlier -- I found the original "Variety" review (which isn't yet in our media library) which was published a few days before the premiere...
My So-Called Life
((Thurs. (25), 8-9 p.m., ABC))
Filmed in Los Angeles by the Bedford Falls Co. in association with ABC Prods. Inc. Executive producers, Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick; co-executive producers, Winnie Holzman, Scott Winant; producer, Barry Jossen; director, Winant; writer, Holzman.
Cast: Bess Armstrong, Wilson Cruz, Claire Danes, Devon Gummersall, A. J. Langer, Jared Leto, Devon Odessa, Lisa Wilhoit, Tom Irwin, Nada Despotovich, Francine Riber, Amy Leland, Bianca Lawson, Stanley DeSantis, Margaret Nagle, Shane Powers, Tim Williams, Cameron Arnett, Devin Kamienny, Animalbag.
By JONATHAN TAYLOR
Angela Chase is a difficult but fundamentally good daughter. Her clothes are grungy and her hair's a weird color, but she's still pretty in an awkward teen sort of way. Her worldview is sufficiently gloomy that she envies Anne Frank, yet she can giggle at exchanging shoes with her best friend. If she sounds like any 15-year-old you've known, or been, that's because the central character in "My So-Called Life" feels so real. Like many adolescents, she -- and the series -- can be off-putting at first, but it doesn't take long to develop a deep attachment to her.
ABC will need to exercise parental patience in letting this child grow and develop, but the show looks to be a critical hit and has the makings of a ratings contender.
While "Life" faces stiff competition -- going up against NBC's "Mad About You ," which appeals to a similar audience -- the freshman series, centered around a high school sophomore, is armed with a dazzling pair of lead performances.
Claire Danes is subtle and magnetic as Angela, mixing gawky teenage insecurity (the actress, like her character, is 15) with an adult's inner strength. The series explores her troubled process of maturing; her first serious crush, on a remote older boy (Jared Leto); and her exchange of a parent-approved best friend (Devon Odessa) for the wilder, unpredictable Rayanne (A. J. Langer) and Rayanne's constant companion, the androgynous Rickie (Wilson Cruz).
The show's other standout is Bess Armstrong, as Angela's loving, conflicted mother, Patty. She is equally compelling and convincing as a woman still so in touch with her youthful idealism and values that she can't believe she's also a disapproving mother.
Through Armstrong's nuanced performance, we experience the first signs that Patty fears her youthful beauty may be slipping away (she may worry, but it certainly isn't noticeable to us) as well as the evidence of strain in her relationship with husband Graham (Tom Irwin).
Given the abundance of ambiguity and anxiety in all these characters, it's not surprising that "My So-Called Life" is from the people responsible for the late, lamented "thirtysomething": execexec producers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, series creator and writer Winnie Holzman and director Scott Winant (Holzman and Winant are also co-exec producers).
And as was the case with that previous show, simple-minded pooh-poohers will bemoan what they see as the new endeavorEndeavor's whininess.
That may be true of the show's pilot episode, where you do feel like reminding self-pitying Angela just how lucky she is. The tone lightens considerably with subsequent episodes, though without sacrificing the show's core strength: its unvarnished look at a handful of identifiable, interesting characters.
As the first show of the fall '94 season to debut, "My So-Called Life" sets a high standard -- particularly for an 8 p.m. series. Angela, of course, would probably hate it -- it would make her too self-conscious. The rest of us, though , can take heart in the existence of a quality drama.
Camera, Ernest Holzman; editor, Joanna Cappuccilli; production designer, Thomas A. Walsh; music, W. G. Snuffy Walden.
If you have other reviews/articles/thoughts from those days you would like to share, feel free to post 'em here.