The teenager as we know it in contemporary pop culture was invented 20 years ago, when My So-Called Life made its debut on August 25, 1994. A show noted for its emotional realism and pinpoint-perfect voice, My So-Called Life introduced us to introspective, average Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a girl growing up in the suburbs. In the midst of a very recognizable teenage reinvention phase, she ditches her familiar friends — “good girl” Sharon Cherski and Brian Krakow, the brainiac boy next door who’s hopelessly in love with Angela — in order to dye her hair red and hang out with “bad girl” Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), whose coming-out story was quietly revolutionary for the era, and the dreamboat to end all dreamboats, blue-eyed hunk Jordan Catalano (played by future Oscar winner Jared Leto, who is now 42).
Created by Winnie Holzman, the show was striking in its eerie accuracy, as embodied by Angela’s outward awkwardness and her thoughtful, funny, likable voiceover, featuring weird yet resonant realizations like, “Lately, I can’t even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly.” Perhaps due in part to the creative team’s past working on the show Thirtysomething, the parents on My So-Called Life, Patty and Graham Chase, were also given room to be real, beautifully messed-up people.
Perhaps the most salient things about My So-Called Life‘s legacy are the way in which Angela Chase will always feel, to those of us who grew up in the ’90s, like a friend from long ago, and the fact that the show’s creative talent have gone on to not only successful careers, but ones characterized by strikingly honest work. One great example is writer’s room album Jason Katims, who went on to create Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, shows with more than a little of My So-Called Life in their DNA.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of this seminal show, Flavorwire has put together a worst-to-best ranking of the show’s episodes, from the duff stuff (Rayanne in handcuffs) to the transcendent (the boiler room). Because when you really look closely, this show is so strange and complicated that every episode is beautiful, in its way. Even “Halloween.” If you feel like spending more time with Angela, the whole series is currently available on Hulu.