Self Esteem at Twenty Years

17 Nov

This past summer I re-watched My So-Called Life, twenty years after first watching the show as a teen. I was the same age as both Claire Danes and the character of Angela Chase when this show first aired. I got really excited when I realized this on re-watch, thinking how cool it was that MSCL actually cast teen actors as teens, but it turns out that of the main cast only Angela and Brian Krakow were portrayed by teen actors. Regardless of the “elderly” cast, this show really spoke to me as a teenager and I couldn’t believe it when the network pulled the plug on the show after only 19 episodes. After all, EVERYONE I knew was watching it.

One of the episodes that I watched over and over again during my teen years (on my VHS tape recording of select episodes) was the episode titled “Self Esteem”, which aired exactly twenty years ago today. This is the episode where Angela and Jordan get all smoochy in the boiler room, seemingly out of nowhere. This new routine is very exciting for Angela, but also kind of takes over her life. As she puts it, “My whole life became like divided, into kissing…and not kissing. Kissing…and not kissing.” While their makeout sessions are all nice and sweet, Jordan barely acknowledges Angela in public and she finally finds the courage to speak up for herself and let him know he has to show her some respect if he wants to continue their little boiler room rendezvous.

One of the reasons I watched this show so much as a teen was that I was trying to live vicariously through Angela Chase because I just thought Jared Leto was the prettiest man I had ever seen. While on re-watch, I still empathized greatly with Angela, Jordan Catalano just doesn’t make me weak at the knees like he once did. And its not just because its creepy crushing on teenagers. After all, Jared Leto was in his twenties when this show aired. But I guess a pretty face just isn’t enough for adult me. Sorry pretty faces! Instead on re-watch, there were three other duos that stood out for me in this episode. We’ve got the budding friendships between Sharon and Rayanne and Rickie and Brian, as well as the mentorship in the making between Mr. Katimski and Rickie (Enrique – “Gee whiz it’s such a great name” and “You shouldn’t hate who you are” says Mr. Katimski). Even Brian and Jordan share a moment in this episode through Mr. Katimski’s class discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, which inspired my reading of many sonnets in Fall 1994. Unfortunately, for Patty and Graham this is also the episode that first introduces Hallie Lowenthal – trouble for the second season that wasn’t.

But here’s another thing thing that stood out for me on series re-watch, the episode titles. Back in the mid-nineties, I had no idea that TV shows even had titles, so I made up my own. One episode I called “Bologna Sandwich”, another “World Happiness Dance”. The “Self Esteem” episode was known to me as “Buffalo Tom” because the teens all go to a Buffalo Tom concert (“They’re even cuter than on their CD!” says Sharon Cherski) and their song “Late At Night” makes the heartbreak of Jordan’s harsh words at Pike Street and the handholding in the final scene that much more powerful.

There was some great music on My So-Called Life, though the soundtrack released on CD (and cassette tape of course) was surprisingly unsatisfying. With Buffalo Tom, they skipped out on “Late At Night” in favor of “Soda Jerk”, though it was still arguably one of the better songs on the soundtrack, and neglected to include some of the most memorable songs from the show (“Blister in the Sun”, “What Is Love”, “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “Try”). Ah well, feel free to make your own soundtrack. In celebration of twenty years since all that fun smooching and hand-holding and alt-music listening, here are some of the songs that were popular back in November 1994, that those of us in our teens back in the mid-nineties were probably listening to along with Angela Chase and friends.

My So-Called Life is available to watch in full on Hulu. Enjoy!

One Response to “Self Esteem at Twenty Years”

  1. Victor Salinas 18. Nov, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    As a guy who grew up in the same era, I identified heavily with Beavis and Butthead.


    I need to go back and watch those old episodes (yet again).

    90’s kids unite!

    —Vic S.—

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