Music Recommendation: “Pressure” by Sunscreem
I bet you guys knew this one was coming, especially after the Felicity post. What can I say, I have a knack for teen dramas, especially smart ones, and most especially from the 90’s. To know that My So-Called Life had only ONE season still puzzles me, because it’s brilliant and basically serves as a guide to LIFE [in high school] and as a human being. One of the most amazing aspects of the show is how we’re allowed to be inside of Angela’s head, the protagonist. We’re up close and personal and some of the things that she says or experiences sometimes makes us blush of embarrassment, because we’re just too close to the moment. Then, her relationship with her parents can be quite unnerving (a word said a lot in the show), because you know – she’s a teenage girl trying to find her footing and her parents are trying to figure out how to continue to be her parents without activating a ticking bomb. I remember those days quite clearly and I am thankful to be passed them! High school was all about waiting for something more interesting and amazing to happen later on. Down the line.
The show is a gem and maybe it is best that there’s only one season. There wasn’t a chance for the show to over-saturate us with the unnerving teenage mind or for it to jump the shark with the college years (cough, Saved by the Bell). Then again, the college years could have been great (a la Felicity or Boy Meets World). Guess we’ll never know. The ending is left to our own interpretations and we can let our imaginations decide what eventually happens to Angela, Rayanne, Ricky, Brian, Sharon, Jordan, and the rest of the gang. I hold the show dear and here are some of my favorite aspects of the show.
Being Inside of Angela’s Head
Angela says some of the darnedest things. She’s often observing her fellow classmates, friends, and family experiencing some of life’s tedious and coming of age moments. Often times she gets lost in her own head as she tries to sort out what’s happening in the moment and then offers up some of her ‘teenangsty’ wisdom. She points out the obvious, but her tone emphasizes either her disgust, irritation, boredom, happiness, or whatever (another phase often said in the show).
The fact that we’re inside her head reveals the truthfulness in situations. I think for the most part she’s honest with herself, so reading her mind (listening to her thoughts) allows us to see the true Angela. The raw truth in the situation. But…
His name is Jordan Catalano
Do you all remember what it was like to have that time/life consuming crush in high school? Or even in junior high? Heck, or college? I certainly do and you know what, I would give anything to visit my younger self and say – snap out of it! Seriously, there would be moments where I would totally ignore the real world around me because I would be so love-sick about the boy that had no idea how amazing I thought he was. He could sneeze and I would think that it was the cutest thing ever. And if he said something to me, I would over-analyze the hell out of whatever he said. Even if he was asking me about homework. His tone, his eye contact, his poise – everything would be going a million miles an hour through my head. I can just slap myself for wasting so much time just thinking when I could have accomplished greater things like learning how to swim, drive, or play the guitar. But that’s being a teenage girl for ya.
Angela goes through the same thing. She is totally in love with Jordan Catalano, a boy in her class who was held back a few times. Sounds like a catch, huh? He’s the typical ‘semi-bad’ boy with issues. Brooding and mysterious. He’s in a band and he loves his car. He’s also played by the gorgeous Jared Leto…so yeah I can kind of cut Angela some slack in that regard.
Angela is so love-struck by Jordan that she totally obsesses over the tiniest things about him like the small hole in his shirt, the way he blinks, and…
Yes, she even gets her friends in on the obsession and they are glad to point out when he’s near in the hallways at school or where he’s hanging out later on. I remember how my friends used to swoon whenever my crush would step inside the classroom or if he looked in my direction. I would die a little inside of embarrassment and they would laugh their heads off. Angela got plenty of that from her two besties, Ricky and Rayanne.
I think some of the best moments with Jordan came from when Angela somehow got maneuvered to be alone with him or she self-orcistrated their alone time. Their two totally different personalities and body language would scream incompatibility, but you just wanted Jordan to want Angela, because you wanted Jordan.
I mean, sure he was into Angela (she was the good girl), but she was way too into him because he was ‘cool’. They weren’t compatible or anything though. I think high school and even junior high is where you have to kiss a few frogs to figure out that just because the guy is gorgeous and mysterious, doesn’t mean that you should date him! But their moments were cute and all too realistic that it would be painful to watch them sometimes.
New friends, Old friends, and Maybe friends
So being in high school means a lot of growing up and changing. Sometimes the changes mean desiring different settings, different clothes, different friends. The show begins with Angela hanging out with her new best friend, Rayanne – the outsider. She is often described as something of a slut with a heart of gold. She drinks a lot and her wardrobe is on the atrocious side…even accounting for it being the 90’s. But Angela is indeed fascinated by Rayanne’s bold personality and independence. Rayanne is always on some sort of high and she just goes with the flow. She knows what’s ‘happening’ and who’s-who’s. Angela is Rayanne’s opposite and desires more of Rayanne’s hipness.
With that said, this means that Angela ends up leaving her old friends behind, like Sharon. Sharon is Angela’s childhood best friend. Her family is close with Angela’s family and she’s basically Angela’s sister.
But Sharon is a different type of friend than Rayanne. Sharon is growing up too and is landing more on the popular/ homecoming queen end of the high school spectrum. Angela notices how their bodies are developing at different rates and she begins to feel inferior to someone that she has known to be just like her most of her life.
Angela wants to be someone different. Her friendship with Sharon was predictable in a way and even though Sharon is loyal and sweet, Angela wants to dare herself to experience life through Rayanne’s lens. That means dying her hair red (because Rayanne says it’s cool) and becoming an ‘outsider’. Sharon loathes Rayanne for stealing away her friend and brainwashing her in a way. But Sharon has to see both Angela and Rayanne at school and it can get pretty awkward.
Ricky, Rayanne’s sidekick and the fashionista questioning his sexuality. He certainly has a beautiful soul and anchors Rayanne when she’s at her worst. Angela also learns what loyalty is from Ricky’s tolerance for Rayanne’s wild behavior and screw-ups.
Ricky also teaches Angela to love herself and be appreciative of her family and support.
The beauty of high school though is learning to identify with more than one friend and bringing old friends and new friends together. Everyone admires somebody, even if they hate to admit it. Surely there’s a curiosity of what it’s like to be someone else or to hang out with so-and-so. Sharon eventually gets onboard with Angela’s new squad, because what they all have in common is that they love Angela.
I also love how Angela’s squad eventually includes Brian Krakow and Jordan Catalano. Sure Brian is Angela’s annoying, nosey, know-it-all neighbor who always has some critique about how Angela is living her life and Jordan is well…Jordan. I think Brian stays close to Angela and the gang because yeah, he’s in love with her, but he’s also inspired by how Angela allows herself to change and associate with different people. Brian can be somewhat awkward, cold, and judgmental – but I think he’s more hard on himself than anyone.
He wants Angela to stay the way that he is comfortable with, but he also wants her to be different and blossom so that he can challenge himself to do the same. In the mean time, he knows how to piss people off and be brutally honest. Which is fun to watch.
Jordan ends up in the circle mostly because he and Angela start dating, but also because he begins to learn from her and her friends, like Ricky and Brian. Here are two very different guys in Angela’s life that can teach him a thing or two. Ricky teaches him to be more personable and Brian teaches him to use his brain and not be a stereotypical airhead-hot guy without any prospects after high school.
Falling for Angela means stepping up and trying to be a better version of himself, because Angela deserves that. She and her friends teach him, but he also teaches Angela to loosen up and stop over-analyzing life.
Some of the most powerful moments in the show focus on Angela’s relationship with her family. Her mom is the overbearing, ‘I know what’s best for you’ type. She overanalyzes the changes that Angela makes with her appearance and her friends. Angela has to fight back her irritation with her mom on many occasions.
But Patricia ‘Patty’ Chase, is played by the stunning and talented Bess Armstrong though so the more you hate her, the more you love her. She just exudes beauty and strength. Her strong judgment of Angela is her way of trying to figure out how to parent a teenager while making sure that her daughter doesn’t lose her identity all too quickly. Patty was adopted and spent her high school years as the prom queen, popular girl. She knows how cruel the kids can be to those on the ‘outside’ and she certainly knows how it feels to be estranged from your family. Angela may want to stab her mom at times, but deep down she just wants to be accepted and live up to the standards that Patty holds for her.
While Patty was prom queen, Angela’s dad, Graham Chase was on the other end of the spectrum in high school. He went to the same high school as Patty, but she never noticed him. Doesn’t that say something about relationships in high school, or am I over thinking it? I just know that my goal was always to fit in with everyone: popular, smart, outsiders, and even the rebels. I just enjoyed everyone’s view of high school and their expectations of life after high school. It was refreshing to be neutral on the spectrum, but I know that many other people saw me as whatever they believed I was. Popular. Smart. Outsider. Rebel. Or, whatever.
The fact that Patty ends up marrying someone that she didn’t even know existed in her little high school bubble is quite interesting. She passed her future husband in the halls, probably looked right at him on more than one occasion and didn’t feel a thing. Funny how things turn out.
Anyway, Angela and Graham’s relationship becomes uncomfortable as Angela grows up. She notices things about her dad that make her question his faithfulness to her mom. It’s like she stops viewing him as dad and sees him as a man, which unnerves her.
The older Angela gets the more disgusted she becomes with her parents relationship, because she’s no longer blinded by the innocent lens of a child towards them. She sees them as people, flaws and all. Graham struggles with Patty’s overbearingness and need for perfection and he slightly strays from his marriage, having a mental affair. Angela catches on and doesn’t like what she sees.
Removing the unfaithful husband factor, Angela grows further from Graham because she’s becoming a woman and it’s just not comfortable being around her dad anymore. I think many women can relate going through that phase. Plus, your parents just know things about you that are too personal – because they went through it already.
I can also relate to Angela’s relationship with her younger sister, Danielle. As Angela grows up and becomes interested in boys and makes these new friends, Danielle is left to wonder about Angela’s more interesting life. She can’t go out to parties or make-out with guys. She can’t dye her hair and her mom still picks out most of her clothes. Her sister is the coolest person she knows, which makes her feel uncool, uninteresting, and unworthy of attention. Which makes Danielle envy and become more of a nuisance toward Angela.
I went through the same thing with my older cousin. She started dating and hung out with some rebellious chicks. I just felt like she had forgotten about me and our moments playing with Barbie dolls and riding our bikes in the yard. Suddenly her life was more interesting and I was left to be treated like a child, while she had freedom. The funny thing is that I became an Angela to my own little sister. I took my cousin’s place and my sister had to watch me grow up and do things that she still wasn’t allowed to do. It just sucks watching the person you admire the most pass you up and you get stuck on the sidelines.
Oh 90’s, how I miss thee
I love that the show is set in the mid-90’s. Cue alternative tracks from bands like The Cranberries, Buffalo Tom, and Stone Temple Pilots. Cue the grunge culture with the numerous oversized plaid flannels. I love it. I absolutely love it. The dyed/ spiked/ bobbed/ long and wavy hair with barrettes. The dark lip liner. The floral dresses and floppy hats. The combat boots over tube socks, over tights. The references to Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s unfortunate suicide in 1994.
This was the era of rave culture and laptop-less DJs. The era of note passing in class. You had to show up and hang with your friends instead of texting from afar. The times seemed easier, but more complicated at the same time. Looking back at the style, I can’t help but wonder what on earth were we thinking? I was a kid at the time, but my parents didn’t shy away from dressing me in the attire. I miss it though. Skateboards and cut off long shorts with Chuck Taylor’s. The 90’s pioneered the grungy-skater look while people today kind of just pose in what has already transpired and expired. Certainly the music will never be the same and I can go on and on about how house, techno, rock and alternative music today is just NOT the same quality and doesn’t hold a candle to the 90’s or even the early 00’s. I’ll forever be nostalgic to the times and this show is a nice little time machine.
The Elusive Tino
Whenever there’s a party or something cool happening, Rayanne or Jordan assured the squad that Tino would hook them up with access, a ride, or fake IDs.
The thing is, Tino is never shown. He’s the running gag on the show: the coolest person ever with the keys to the kingdom, but we never see him. We just know that if Tino will be at the party, then you know it’s the place to be! At the same time though, he’s like the flimsiest guy ever and not that dependable. He even quits Jordan’s band.
At the end of the day, Angela, though seemingly self-absorbed and overly obsessive, eventually acknowledges that the people around her inspired her to change for the better and that she also inspired them. Life extends beyond high school and it’s important to enjoy the different people while you can before your teenage years are over. Angela’s friends mattered. Her family mattered. She mattered. All of the moments as a teenager seemed so important, and they taught her what it meant to grow up, love, forgive, and be comfortable in one’s own skin.
‘Til next time.
P.S. Count how many times Shannon Leto pops up throughout the show. Who else is a 30 Seconds to Mars fan?