What I Learned from My So-Called Life and Other TV Lessons

By Britt Harvey

For some, TV has only a passing causal effect in their lives. It’s a pleasant diversion or numbing sedative after a crushingly long day at work. Maybe you LIKE to watch Charlie Sheen wax poetic about chicks with your hand between your legs- but to me a fine selection of television shows is not unlike choosing a perfectly complimented wine and cheese platter. Done right and with precision, it can be something truly transcendent.

TV has the capacity, (good TV that is, which of course is subjective and a conversation for another time), to teach you a little something about yourself. If that’s a bit ‘Hallmark’ for you then give me some glitter encrusted vajazzle beads and call me a sell out. In a truly good show, some inner truth about human nature can be revealed while you’re in the comfort of your couch pants, (or lack thereof).

My So-Called Life is one of those shows. Debuting on ABC in 1994 and only lasting one season, it has all the tools of a great show. A great cast: Claire Danes, 13-years-old, in one of her first roles, as well as her stellar co-stars that included JARED LETO of all people in primo-attractive mode.

The show had it all: great acting, realistic storylines, melodrama, hormones, and most importantly the actors looked and acted like teenagers. That is: irrational, insecure, self-destructive, smart and occasionally very wise.

After a recent repeat viewing of My So-Called Life several life lessons came to the forefront.

 Lesson # 1- Crushes are the worst when you have to cry into a pillow in your parent’s basement.

Jordan Catalano. Those eyes, that leather necklace, the plaid, that MUSHROOM cut, that PAIN. Need I say more? It’s actually really upsetting to talk about this considering the current manifestation of Jared Leto circa 30 Seconds to Mars “I’m a serious artist,” bullshit. I mean, what ever happened to Frozen Embryos Jordan? But I digress.

Watching My So-Called Life now and then, reminded me of the inevitable painful and excruciating nature of crushes. Or in some cases: the crazy infatuations that are peppered with shame and irrepressible optimism. For those of you who don’t know the show as well: Angela Chase, (Danes), had a crush on the laser sex beam that was Jordan Catalano (Leto). To call it a ‘crush’ is to do it a disservice. Those of us familiar with early crushes (or more likely, obsessions) can remember the feeling of utter desolation and destitution that seem to be the unique purview of unrequited love.

We all had our Catalano’s in high school. Looking back they were just dudes a slight cut above the rest that managed to look hot while wearing cargo pants and Air Jordans. They made you feel something funny in your high-waisted Gap jeans and all of a sudden you got the feeling that you would die…I mean literally die if they ever looked at you for longer than five seconds.

Watching Angela Chase go through the motions brings into stark contrast the breeziness of my twenties crushes compared to the Alanis-fuelled “You Oughta Know” obsessions of my teen years. (But who are we kidding, I still feel the hot flush of shame remembering how I once put cake inside someone’s back pack, but that’s another story).

Most notable among the crop of downright inexplicable infatuations of my teens was the sailing instructor about whom I wrote a four page romantic diatribe that contained the line “you will never know me, but I’ll love you forever,” after one sailing lesson. I think he was 19 and was probably a regular 19-year-old b-hole but in my 13-year-old hormone-addled brain I thought he was a prime slice. I think I even picked up some shale from the sailing dock as a souvenir and wrapped it in a brown paper bag, much like you’d do with hash or drug money.  It’s probably somewhere in my closet between a Kleenex filled with my old hair and my personal dignity.

Bottom line: crushes are as the name implies, crushingly physical and all too real when you’re younger. Though now the stakes are higher, we have more tools to deal with them. For example: our own living room to cry in and a credit card to buy endless Hostess products to fill the gaping void that lies in the cold carcass of our hearts.

 Lesson # 2. Teenagers are the worst and have lots of emotions that they like to project into space, or worse, at their parents.

Angela oh Angela. So sad and so happy, and then so sad and then mad, and then so annoying. God, we are annoying, TEENAGERS are annoying. No wonder my mood ring was always a cloudy, insolent gray. Out of any creature in the world, teenagers are entitled and hormone fused and just generally horrible to be around. How did our parents stand us? Honestly- the fact that we’re not all euthanized by 16 is a minor miracle.

NOTE TO SELF: go back in time and un-slam those doors and try to call your mom a bitch like 5 less times.  Please, the world would be a better place. And Angela, your mother loves you, and the fact that she didn’t read your diary makes her about 86 per cent better than other mothers of teenage girls.

My mom would also never read my diary. Partly because she was the coolest and also that she probably knew that all it contained was useless drivel about how sweaty my pits were every time *Bobby Enright walked by my locker (name changed to protect the innocent).

Lesson # 3- Friends come and go but the good ones stay forever. So don’t throw away your best friend, even if she dresses exclusively in floral print JC Penny dresses with crochet sweater tops.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. In high school, ladies be tripping. Let me be more specific: EVERYONE be tripping in high school, but as a lady I’m more familiar with the specific lady-tripping that goes on.  My So-Called taught me that even though you don’t love your best friend now, you WILL (and that is an inalienable fact) need her later.  So seriously, don’t talk about your friend behind her back, because it’s a shitty thing to do and ladies need to stick together, especially when guys say things about your boobs and no one else will hold your hand in the locker room for 15 whole minutes.

We all feel the pain when Angela ditches best friend Sharon to hang out with the more outwardly damaged and destructive Rayanne and Rickie (sidenote: Rickie is amazing and can do no wrong). Sometimes friends go through the revolving door of friendship and come out on the other side. It’s painful and feels as awful as when your brother read your diary out loud at a basketball game, but try not to forget the ones who knew you when you wore belts with jeans shorts.

New friends and even boyfriends are sometimes fleeting. Old school friends are forever. Just like Angela and Sharon eventually reunited in a new form of truce, time has taught me to be kinder to the changes I see in my friends. Remember that high-school boyfriend you just had to spend all your time with and you were late to your friend’s birthday party for? Yeah, NEITHER DO I.

Keep your friends close, because they’re the only ones that will have the patience to tell you for the 100th time that “it’s his loss,” even when it’s total bullshit.

Friends are good like that.

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One Comment on “What I Learned from My So-Called Life and Other TV Lessons”

  1. Nolan Harvey
    February 28, 2012 at 6:10 AM #

    I read your diary outload at a basketball game? Sorry sis. I seem to remember you did talk about your armpits more than the average angst-ridden adolescent. Proud of you, you’re a wordsmith, a scholar, and a great friend. Love ya!! xo Nollie

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