DVD: Angela's Angst

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I had not seen Angela since the spring of 1995. I’d forgotten how breathlessly over-the-top she can be. When she says things like “school is a battlefield for your heart” or “I cannot even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly,” it makes me wonder whatever made her seem especially appealing. Later, though, when her would-be boyfriend approaches her too aggressively, grabbing her for a quick kiss when she’s mid-sentence, and she stops him and explains what’s wrong with that moment, I remember why she won me over. She has that striking sense of self, just emerging but already stronger than that of people twice her age. She is, after all, the Angela I loved. She’s the one who reminded me of the terrors of the high school lunchroom and the feeling of wanting desperately to be loved by the exact right person.

I write of Angela Chase, the protagonist played by Claire Danes in My So-Called Life: The Complete Series, the one-season wonder issued this month on DVD ($69.99). Created by Winnie Holzman and produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, this searing series was one of the more realistic portrayals of adolescent angst to ever hit a screen, big or small.

Still, it’s weird at first to go back to the mid-1990s. Cause I got older. Now I’m more likely to appreciate the amazing Bess Armstrong as mom and Tom Irwin as the awfully cute and occasionally dimwitted dad. Armstrong’s matriarch cannot believe she’s saying things that sound like suburban-mom clichés, or that she’s the only one appalled at any given moment by what’s going on in her own home. She has her eye on the world, too. “Hillary Clinton,” Armstrong gets to say of the First Lady, “is a brilliant woman and people should stop judging her by her hair.”

Mostly, “My So-Called Life” works best as it always did, when aiming at the heart with an almost awe-inspiring mix of sincerity and intelligence. The school stuff seems a bit more strained, but the mom-and-daughter mix-ups are as heartrending as ever. Like when mom wants to get a haircut and asks her kid for some advice. “Pretend I’m not your mom,” she tells Angela.
With the shrug that helped make her a star, Danes responds, “I can’t pretend that.”

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