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My So-Called Reruns

My So-Called Reruns

One fan says she?s glad the show said farewell

Fans of "My So-Called Life" now get to imagine their favorite futures for the characters.

By Sarah D. Bunting

Updated: 2:31 a.m. ET March 29, 2004

?My So-Called Life,? which begins running in reruns April 2 on The N, didn?t get a shot at a second season ? and that?s a good thing

It?s probably fair to say, 10 years after it first hit the airwaves, that ?My So-Called Life? is the patron saint of shows cancelled before their time. Whenever a critically praised program gets the axe prematurely ? Judd Apatow?s ?Freaks and Geeks? and ?Undeclared,? for example, or the WB?s ?90210? spoof ?Grosse Pointe? ? its fans will usually compare it to ?My So-Called Life,? sighing that TV execs just don?t recognize or reward quality.

At the time of the show?s cancellation, I couldn?t have agreed more. I?d first read about ?MSCL? (the standard abbreviation used by the show?s hardcore fans) in an issue of ?Sassy? and vowed to watch it, and I?d fallen in love with the show by the end of the first episode ?and so had my family.

My brother, like me, had never seen anything of its kind on TV before; we?d gotten used to shows that condescended to adolescents, caricaturized their parents, and tried to boil The Big Issues down to an easily digested moral in the space of a single episode. ?MSCL? didn?t do that. It left things messy; it looked and sounded a lot like real life; it hooked us immediately.

Our mom, on the other hand, didn?t like the portrayal of Patty Chase, especially when my brother and I pointed out the resemblances between Patty?s parenting style and hers. The three of us frequently got into arguments after the episodes ended ? and sometimes during the episodes (thank God commercial breaks only last three minutes). But when my bro and I settled in the TV room at the appointed hour, Ma would usually join us.

I loved everything about the show. The natural, often-hilarious dialogue, the insightful characterization, and the top-notch acting didn?t hurt. But mostly I loved the show because, in the end, it was about me ? about things I recognized, things I could remember. The friendships between teenage girls ? the intensity of them, often accompanied by pain and confusion; Angela?s struggles to relate to Jordan Catalano; even the way Angela consistently called him by his full name, something my friends and I had always done, something that made Angela real.

The meaning of ?Life?

I spent hours debating the finer points of the show with fellow ?Lifers? on an e-mail discussion list (and I do mean ?hours??remember, back in 1994, we considered a 9600-baud connection pretty darn zippy).

We debated everything about the show, from why we never saw Tino to whether Angela should have just slept with Jordan to Kyle?s sexuality. (Fans will remember Kyle as Sharon Cherski?s on-again off-again football-player boyfriend, and a small contingent on the list felt confident that he?d come out of the closet during the second season.)

So many of us loved MSCL, and believed in it, that we couldn?t understand why ABC didn?t give it more time to prove itself (especially after months of time-slot tomfoolery that wreaked havoc on our attempts to program the VCR). Ted Harbert, then head of programming for ABC, allegedly had his reasons, and rumor had it Claire Danes wanted to concentrate on her film career, but still ? critics adored it! We sent so many postcards to the network!

And in the season finale, Angela found out that Brian Krakow had written the infamous love letter, but she went off with Jordan Catalano anyway, and now we?ll never know what happened. And we?ll never know what happens with Patty and Graham?s marriage either because he almost kissed ?that Hallie Lowenthal person,? and it?s not fair!

On the e-mail list, we raged against Harbert, and continued to analyze and debate the tiniest nuances of What Might Have Happened In The Second Season. For almost a year afterwards. I still watched my tapes all the time. Looking back on it now, though, I think it?s good that the show got cancelled; in fact, I think it?s the best thing that could have happened to it.

One season frustrating, but best MSCL lived on in spite of its official demise ? on our list, and in reruns on MTV and ABC?s Family Channel, which brought tons of new fans to the show. But more importantly, it never had the chance to outstay its welcome and start sucking. It never had to contrive to keep the whole gang together when the main characters reached college age; it never had to drag in a Cousin Oliver, or dub in an ??and it was all a dream? voice-over.

All of the storylines live in limbo now, their outcomes forever uncertain, but in its own way, that?s perfect. If you want to believe Graham and Amber, Rayanne?s mom, would have hooked up and then adopted Rickie, hey, nobody can prove you wrong.

If another network had saved it, we?d all have celebrated ? but many viewers celebrated when UPN picked up ?Buffy the Vampire Slayer,? too, only to watch the show circle the drain for the next two seasons.

No, we never found out who Angela wound up with, how long Rickie lived with Mr. Katimski, if the Chases separated or Rayanne Graff stayed on the wagon or little sister Danielle got less annoying. We never got to see Tino (or the Chase family cat). But this way, we can argue until the end of time about how things might have happened for our favorite characters, and believe that it would have turned out that way.

If ?My So-Called Life? had gotten the second season we diehards had campaigned for, the writers would have tied up all of these loose ends. But no matter how they?d done it, a large chunk of viewers wouldn?t have liked the looks of the knot.

If Angela had gotten into a relationship with Jordan, the Brian fans would have freaked out; if she?d fallen in love with Brian, the Jordanites would have gotten bent out of shape; and then you had the people who didn?t want her with either of those guys.

Every other plot faced the same issue ? whether Graham should leave Patty, whether the show should introduce Rickie?s family, where the Rayanne/Angela and Rayanne/Sharon friendships should go. All of the storylines live in limbo now, their outcomes forever uncertain, but in its own way, that?s perfect. If you want to believe Graham and Amber, Rayanne?s mom, would have hooked up and then adopted Rickie, hey, nobody can prove you wrong.

I don?t doubt that the ?My So-Called Life? writing team, which went on to other beloved gone-before-their-time shows like ?Relativity? and ?Once & Again,? could have given the show more of their excellent work, had the show gotten renewed. On the other hand, it?s nice that they never got to prove me wrong.

Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of Television Without She lives in Brooklyn.

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

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