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My So-Called Life airs on Family Channel Canada

My So-Called Life (Family Channel, 11 p.m.), which first arrived 10 years ago, remains one of the outstanding dramas of American network TV in the last few decades.

The show is about Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a quiet girl who is just coming out of her shell because she has made friends with the tough, outgoing Rayanne (A.J. Langer). But this isn't a teen drama about high-school cliques and high jinks. The pilot episode airing tonight -- the series will be on Family, Monday to Thursday at 11 p.m. -- is a masterpiece. The series made Danes a star, and rightly so.

The strength of My So-Called Life is the ability of the writers and producers to lend dramatic and moral grandeur to the apparent vacuity of teenage concerns. As Angela, Danes, with her pale, blank face, epitomizes adolescent uncertainty and self-absorption, registering every teenage trauma. She is also an emblem of fragility. The show's subtext is the slow revelation that her world, especially her family, is painfully fragile. In tonight's opening episode, when Angela sees her dad talking to another woman, she literally staggers backward, as if struck in the face. Then she runs past the white picket fences of suburbia, half-falling, because, she says, "These aren't my shoes." The shoes, whose physical or metaphorical importance has been unnoticed until now in the drama, belong to an older, shrewder friend.

Then when she gets to her home -- to a house that is, significantly, dark even in the daytime -- she feels a rush of sympathy for her mother. "My mother's adopted," she says in the voiceover. "For a while she was looking for her real parents. I guess that's what everybody is looking for."

The show is about panic and pain -- the panic that comes when an adolescent first begins to understand the dynamic of the adult world, and the pain that comes with trying to adapt to that world. One of the first statements we hear from Angela is this: "School is a battlefield, for your heart. So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. 'Cause she wasn't just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life."

“And, you know, with your hair like that? It hurts to look at you.”

Rayanne Graff, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"