Two critically-acclaimed but low-rated TV dramas targeted at teens premiered in 1994, and I loved both of them.
I didn’t actually watch ABC’s My So-Called Life until MTV endlessly reran the series in its entirety, but it grew on me instantly. We first meet Angela Chase (Claire Danes) when she’s at a crossroads in her high school life: she’s drifting from her old best friend Sharon, she’s cutting class with new pals Rayanne and Ricky, and she’s developed a mad crush on a guy named Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto). I can’t tell you that any other series captures the awkwardness of adolescence and pulls on the heartstrings in quite the way that My So-Called Life does. The amazing opening credits do a better job of capturing this than I ever could.
One of my favorite quotes from the series came from an episode in which Angela’s mother is insistent that they continue their tradition of participating in a local mother/daughter fashion show. Angela whines and eventually gets out of it, and her little sister gladly takes her place. In the end, Angela, Rayanne and Ricky wind up having a ball dressing up themselves and temporarily forgetting the pressures of their lives. As the show comes to a close, Angela takes a minute to reflect and says this:
“Sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison. And the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It’s good to get really dressed up once in a while. And admit the truth: that when you really look closely? People are so strange and so complicated that they’re actually… beautiful. Possibly even me.”
It’s a shame that the series only lasted nineteen episodes. Scheduled at 8pm on Thursdays, My So-Called Life was up against NBC’s then-powerhouse “Must See TV” lineup. To make matters worse, megahit Friends premiered in the same slot in 1994. Rumor has it that ABC was willing to take a gamble on a second season but that actress Claire Danes did not want to return. At least the show lives on in reruns and on DVD. I highly recommend the 2007-released collection; it features commentaries on almost every episode along with some original artwork and other extras.
Also making its debut in 1994 was FOX’s Party of Five, a series that began six months after five siblings lost their parents in a car accident. (They were hit by a drunk driver.) Charlie Salinger (a pre-Lost Matthew Fox), the oldest of the group, always seemed to be messing something up – spending all the family’s money, running their parents’ restaurant into the ground, ditching fiancée Kirsten (formerly the family’s nanny, who everyone loved) at the altar….the list continues. Bailey (Scott Wolf) tried to take some of the weight off Charlie’s shoulders, though he was sidetracked with girlfriend Sarah (Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s big break) and a drinking problem. Julia (Neve Campbell) was constantly bursting into tears; “God Charlie, you just don’t understand!” would come out of her mouth at least once an episode. Claudia (a pre-Mean Girls Lacey Chabert) was a goody-goody violin prodigy who, along with Baby Owen, held up the rear.
I give credit to FOX, who stuck with the series, in good times and bad, for six seasons, despite some pretty abysmal ratings. The Salingers will always hold a special place in my heart. I also realize that one of my favorite things about this show is its feel-good opening theme song “Closer to Free” (by the Bodeans), which showed the Salingers bopping around San Francisco. Yes, I have a thing for credits.
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTOR:
Josh Kossack is a writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he isn’t cruising around with his convertible top down or reading to the blind, he can be found putting Sriracha on pretty much everything under the sun.