My So Called Life: The Complete Series
It arrived – unbeknownst to much of the viewing public, after over a year on the shelf – as a breath of fresh air, a serious series about teens with minimal flair and predilection for high hairdos and jokey teenspeak. As per their standard for groundbreaking shows at the time, ABC – who between Max Headroom, Twin Peaks and this, were champions of killing off quality shows too soon before having that title aggressively wrestled from them by Fox – didn’t quite know how to market a series to an audience which wasn’t made up of thirtysomethings who watched… er, thirtysomething. Ironic, considering My So Called Life came from the same exec producers, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick; twenty years later, DVD releases of it are heralded events while thirtysomething has yet to see the light of disc.
Thoughtful, honest, engaging and showcasing the extraordinary talent of a 15-year-old unknown by the name of Claire Danes (she was just thirteen when the pilot was shot – wow!), My So-Called Life struck a deeply resonant chord with the early 90’s teen set for refusing to talk down to them and treating their problems and crises with every bit of clarity and intent as their parental counterparts; Danes frequently, and memorably, butted heads with mom Bess Armstrong in a strongly identifiable mother-daughter relationship struggling to break through the bonds of childhood. More importantly, the talented teen ensemble managed to break free of their characters’ archetypes – lovestruck loser Devon Gummersall vs. doe-eyed dreamboat Jared Leto, saintly good-girl Devon Odessa vs. smart-arsey bad girl A.J. Langer – and craft poignantly true-to-life stand-ins for us all, none more poignant than Wilson Cruz’s Ricky, our first fictional gay teen who wasn’t a two-dimensional caricature. With all this going for it, it’s a bit of a shock that it never found more than a small, dedicated audience; of all the pre-emptively aborted critical smashes of the last 20 years, My So Called Life is perhaps the most baffling. Why ABC couldn’t easily market it into a runaway hit is beyond me.
At any rate, following previous piecemeal releases and the occasional MTV marathon, My So Called Life’s entire run hits DVD this week with a collectible booklet and an excellent array of bonus features. Time to nab this one fast, if you haven’t already.
Also recommended this week: Angel: Collector’s Set; The Barbara Stanwyck Collection; Day Watch; Looney Tunes Golden Edition Vol. 5; Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition
— Nicole Campos