Your So Called Guilty Pleasure

There seems to be a never-ending list of insufferable teen sitcoms… that I have loved.

Whether you imagined yourself attending West Beverly High or cheering on the Bayside Tigers, the 1990’s were rife with television programming aimed at giving adolescence it’s day in sun, regardless of who was intent on watching it.

My vote for the champion of the genre is the seldom, yet fondly, remembered “My So Called Life” which ran for only 19 episodes during 1994.  While “My So Called Life” was well written and impeccably acted (by actual teenagers nonetheless) it may also have been the first teen themed program to even attempt to honestly touch on the actual awkwardness and confusion that accompanies adolescence.

While other shows caricatured this awkwardness by including a “dork” character, “My So Called Life” pointed out the painful reality that even guys with names like Jordan and Zack did things that made them feel and look more like a Potsie Webber than the Fonz.

The hard truth about our existence is that we don’t get to live like archetypes; broadly popular, wildly successful, or bookish yet moderately attractive.  Life doesn’t let us pigeonhole ourselves even if we feel like we occupy the role of “middle kid” or “phased out Ranger”.

We wake up everyday to the knowledge that if our pre-noon experience plays out like we’re Keith Partridge, the post-lunch crash is likely to leave us feeling like Danny… and not even Reuben Kincaid could save Danny.

“My So Called Life” brought humor and poignancy to our reality by pointing out the absurdity of telling kids who don’t know who they are to “be themselves”, while making sure that crying alone was always done in the company of R.E.M. and The Lemonheads.

The writing was so strong and the performances so genuine that the phoniest thing about the show was how maturely self-aware Claire Danes was.  The typical pseudo self-awareness displayed on teen TV looks more like a “ready to pounce” Rory Gilmore as opposed to a “crippled by ambition and fear” Angela Chase.

The most telling truth of the series was that it died as suddenly as a human’s so called life does.  Cancelled in the summer of 1995 without the culmination of a story arc, “My So Called Life” left us like the death of a young friend, with the empty promise of a life unlived.  I’ve spent the last 16 years wondering if Angela chose Jordan or Brian.

I guess it could be worse, after surviving for endless and unnumbered days “Saved by the Bell” lived long enough to give us Zack and Kelly’s Wedding… we all deserved better.


Tell me
what teen themed shows, from any era, made your afternoon and evenings, and don’t be apologetic; the worse they were the more fun they are to watch.

9 Responses to “Your So Called Guilty Pleasure”

  1. Sharon O April 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    I remember mork and mindy but that wasn’t a teen show, or the brady bunch…well I will just have to think harder, what about happy days?? weren’t they teens with fonzi and the gang?

    • Jon April 4, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      Happy Days was awesome, and Mork & Mindy was a spinoff!

  2. Brian April 5, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    I’m not sure exactly what I learned from watching, but I always enjoyed “The Young Ones”. Remember that one?

    • Jon April 5, 2011 at 9:29 am #

      I think I saw an episode late at night on MTV years ago, Completely British right? There was a hippie and a punk, possibly a nerd?

      • Brian April 5, 2011 at 11:02 am #

        That’s the one! The punk guy Vivian was also a pyromaniac. Very odd!

        • Jon April 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

          It was like insanity in a blender.

  3. Sara April 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    My So Called Life is definitely mine. Although, I will admit to watching The Torkelsons; that show hasn’t held up though, although I’m pretty sure it was bad to begin with. And I may have also watched The Babysitter’s Club, but that can’t be proven.

    I really wish I had been cool enough to enjoy The Lemonheads in their moment. I was too busy ‘shoop-ing’ with Salt n Pepa to appreciate them.

    • Jon April 6, 2011 at 9:39 am #

      There is so much ’90’s awesome in your post, I feel like my skin is made from flannel and my head is made out of Doc Marten’s.

      • Sara April 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

        It may have been the best decade ever.

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