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Real Life

Massachusetts Daily Collegian
November 1998

"At age fifteen, I thought I'd have a love life; I don't even have a like life"

And with those words, I remember feeling very excited, like I had just found a new friend who truly understood me. Just ten minutes into the series premiere, "My So-Called Life" could have been the title for a show about my life. The similarities between the protagonist, Angela Chase, and me were uncanny. Both of us were sophomores in high school and were battling and analyzing to death the faces we passed in the hallway, and those that stared back at us at the dinner table.

"My So-Called Life" was the first show that made it okay for teenage girls to have problems; especially ones that weren't solved in an hour, and forgotten about by the next week. It was unique because it revolutionized the portrayal of teenagers, especially girls, in a serious and realistic manner. Unfortunately, due to low ratings, the show was cancelled in the midst of only its first season. I cried when I heard about it. I wrote letters to ABC and urged my friends to do the same, begging them to put the show back on the air. But no such luck. It was until a year or two later when MTV, understanding how pertinent the program was to today's teens, ran the show in reruns.

Up until "My So-Called Life", the other show that I ignored the ringing of the telephone for was "Beverly Hills, 90210". This show was also about teens in high school, but Aaron Spelling style. In other words, beautiful people driving expensive cars, living in big houses, mixed in with the token episodes about race, sex, drugs, and alcohol. While I admit to being emotionally attached to these characters, I could never relate to them on a personal level. As time went on, I began to view "90210" as a farce. How many times would Steve, Brandon and Dylan refer to each other as "bro"? And wasn't Donna's hair two shades darker then in the previous scene? Could Val's shirt be cut any lower?

So what about a character I could relate to? As a television viewer, I have often felt it was "selfish" to want a show about a girl like me. Someone who didn't have it all, but was trying to figure out how she could. Ever since "My So-Called Life" went off the air, I looked to find a show and character who fit that mold, and came up empty every time.

It wasn't until last year that two female protagonists came on the scene that I felt were realistic. Maybe some things were a little far fetched. But what else could you expected from a medium that's purpose is to entertain and keep us tuned in every week?

Like "My So-Called Life", I feel in love with "Dawson's Creek" from the first episode. I immediately found myself rooting for Joey, the smart talking tomboy, instead of Jen, the all American blonde. Pretty in a nontraditional television way, Joey's tough home life was only more complicated by her crush on Dawson, her best friend. I was quite glad that Joey became the true star of the show, at times eclipsing Dawson. She is seen as smart, attractive and yet still struggling with the death of her mother, her low income lifestyle, and relating to the others at school.

For the more mature set, "Ally McBeal" took last year's television by storm. The strong female protagonist is a lawyer who works at a less than typical firm in Boston. While she experiences heartache and pain like a lot of other dramas out there, this show is different from the rest of the crowd because we get a look into Ally's true thoughts and dreams about what should would like to do or say to people. This show, according to Emmy standards, is considered a comedy, but it's serious and semi-realistic image and issues that face a female in a professional and personal setting separate her character and from all others out there on television today.

Perhaps it is too premature to count the new WB show "Felicity" among these shows, but from what I've seen of it, it seems to contain the formula that makes the others work. Felicity is no "Goody Two Shoes." She struggles, she cries, she's being faced with new challenges. As a college sophomore, I can look back and remember all of the emotions conjured up during my freshman year, and "Felicity" has touched upon many of them already. This isn't the first show about a girl living away from home for the first time - it is revolutionary in the realistic manner and problems surrounding a first year female college student.

Whenever I catch an old episode of "My So-Called Life" running on MTV, I always drop what I'm doing and watch. I always think how much I miss the show, and if there will ever be a show out there that will touch my life and fans like it did. With what looks like a recent trend of strong, realistic female protagonists, it looks promising.

(c) Massachusetts Daily Collegian via U-Wire

“Do we have to keep talking about religion? It's Christmas.”

Danielle Chase, Episode 15: "So-Called Angels"