Less than perfect…
I realize I am about to alienate myself from my entire generational cohort, but: I never cared for ABC’s acclaimed, award-winning, Claire Danes-and-Jared Leto-star-making, abruptly canceled, fondly remembered “My So-Called Life”.
Aggressively marketed at the time as the anti-“Beverly Hills, 90210”, which had evolved from fish-out-of-water social problem show to glossy nighttime soap by 1994, MS-CL promised REAL TEENS and their REAL COMPLICATED LIVES.
A high school Junior the fall the series premiered, I was of the opinion that the show was what ADULTS thought being a TEEN IN THE NINETIES was REALLY LIKE and concluded that at least “90210” (this was around the time Dylan’s father was blown up by gangsters… OR WAS HE???) wasn’t patronizing me. I did not care for these pallid, plaid-clad mopers at all.
25 years on, I come to pretty much the same conclusion with the novelization.
The Plot: Compressing the 19 episodes into 200-some pages makes the basic plot almost indistinguishable from that of the average Sweet Valley High: boy probs, school probs, friend probs, parent probs. Author Clark attempts to capture the voice of a generation by having that voice say “like” and “whatever” a lot.
Focusing on 15 year old Angela Chase as she moves away from the safety of her middle-school friendships and into the crowd of “wild” Rayanne Graff, maybe-bisexual Rickie Vasquez (Clark always announces Rickie’s appearance by having him apply eyeliner, just in case we forget), and dyslexic delinquent Jordan Catalano (yawn).
A large number of the TV series plots are left out, including a school shooting and the marital problems of Angela’s parents (SMALL FAVORS).
Instead, the novelization reorients itself around a love triangle consisting of Angela, Jordan, and Angela’s next-door neighbor, Brian Krakow.
Now, I remember Brian not necessarily being a sympathetic character when the show aired, but I feel like he reads so much worse 25 years later, a fake-nice guy who is constantly whining about how Angela is ruining her life by not going out with him even though he is SO NICE.
Here is Brian’s reaction to seeing Angela try out some new fashion choices, as she prepares to go to a rave at a club called Let’s Bolt with her friends:
“You looked better before,” Brian commented, following her on his bike down to the street.
Angela sighed. “Like I’m devastated.”
“Oh, look at me,” sneered Brian. “I’m way cool. I’m off with my way-cool friends to sniff floor wax. Who are you waiting for? Catalano?”
“I’m going to Let’s Bolt. Not that you even know what that is-“
“Angela, you’re not stupid, so don’t act like it, ok? So have a really amazing night. Okay, I’m going to go throw up now…”
Angela’s not making much headway with her crush on Jordan, despite getting him to sell her a fake ID, and (operating on intel from Rayanne) during which he awkwardly tries to kiss her. The next day Angela is the subject of a rumor going around school that she and Jordan had “complete sex” and the source of the rumor is traced back to a jealous Brian because he is a garbage human.
Jordan is (comparatively) a gentleman about the whole situation, and eventually he and Angela start dating, even though there is a cringe-worthy misunderstanding on her part that the song he wrote for his band about his love for a girl called Red is not about her new hair color, but about his vintage convertible. Incidentally, that name of his band is The Frozen Embryos, which is definitely one of the most 1994-est things happening here.
Angela’s parents insist upon meeting this Jordan person before she’s allowed to go on a date with him, and he agrees to stop by after band practice. Unfortunately, Brian also somehow maneuvers his way into showing up to give Angela’s younger sister a saxophone lesson at that very time. Again, Brian is the worst:
Brian stared at her. “How come you look like that?”
“Like what?” Angela replied. She was wearing a cranberry crushed velveteen dress, and she’d put some curls in her hair. Just a couple- nothing drastic.
“You look like you’re going to a costume party,” Brian observed, wrinkling his nose. “As somebody else.”
“Look, if you must know, Jordan Catalano is coming over, ok?”
“What? What did you just say?”
“Shut up! Why is that so amazing? I mean I’m sorry if you disapprove, Krakow.”
“It’s not that I disapprove. I’m just… nauseated, that’s all. So, you and Jordan Catalano are, like… a couple?” Brian asked.
“Yes! He’s coming over. This weekend we’re going to see The Bicycle Thief together and-“
“Do you actually think that Jordan Catalano will understand one word of The Bicycle Thief?” Brian asked. “You didn’t even understand The Bicycle Thief until I explained it to you!”
Is there any doubt in your mind that Brian ended up 40 years old and posting on MRA Reddits about how this dumb bitch broke his heart in the 10th grade? If anything the mansplaining Italian Neorealism is a little too on the nose.
Not that Jordan is any kind of a catch, either. Angela asks him to the World Happiness Day Dance (also very 1994, very Earth Day Brought To You By Benetton), and he mumbles about the tyranny of “making plans”:
“If I go somewhere and someone I know is there? Cool. There’s something… natural about it,” Jordan said. “But once you start making plans then you have, like, obligations. Which suck. My feeling is, whatever happens, happens.”
Jordan, obviously, grew into a middle-aged man who thinks that phrase “it is what it is” suffices as an answer to all kinds of things.
But Jordan’s philosophies make it difficult for Angela to actually attend the World Happiness Day Dance, when she would very much would like to do so, because Rayanne and Rickie have a very complicated plot to get Corey, the dude that Rickie has a crush on, to come with them without making it seem like a double date, just like they’re all hanging out together.
Brian has asked Delia to the dance, since she is a new girl at school who hasn’t yet learned how terrible he is. Angela asks if she can ride along with them to the dance. She is very clear about the fact she is not asking him on a date. Just a ride. She phrases this several different ways:
“I was just thinking that since we are neighbors, it would be sort of convenient, I mean, if there’s any way that I could just go along with you guys… Just to, like, get me there. Not that we’d actually be going together… I mean, you’re going with Delia. I just need a technical way to actually get there.”
Brian, of course, comes to his own conclusions:
Brian realized something truly amazing was happening. When you stripped away all the blathering, Angela Chase was actually asking HIM to the dance.
NO SHE’S NOT! SHE HAS BEEN QUITE CLEAR ON THAT POINT!
Brian un-invites Delia, because he is THE WORST, and is extremely presumptuous and gross, broadly hinting that he and Angela might want some PRIVACY, and when she’s like “Did you not listen to any of my words?” he throws a big mope-fit, denying that he had “some big plan.”
Yet, somehow, it is Angela that ends up apologizing
“Brian,” said Angela, close to his ear, “this was all my fault, and, I can’t even explain why I asked you to take me here, but… I’m sorry for ruining your night.” She apologized.
When Angela and Jordan end up actually dating, it means they spend most of the school day cutting class to make out in the boiler room. But when it comes to actually having sex, Angela decides she is not ready and they break up. Just when Angela seems to finally be getting over him, she finds all of her friends weirdly avoiding her, until her square old middle-school friend Sharon finally fills her in that Jordan slept with Rayanne and somehow Brian got it all on video tape:
“I asked Brian Krakow to make a video tape for yearbook, ok? And I told him to go to Pike Street, to get some candids or whatever,” Sharon explained. “So, he went there last night. And he got something on tape. And you should know. Rayanne and Jordan were there. And they left together. And they, like… got into his car. And-“
“So Jordan gave her a ride home? Big deal.”
“No, Angela,” Sharon pleaded. “They were kissing. She was drunk. He was too. They didn’t know what they were doing. They like, had sex.”
“Oh my God! Do you expect me to, like, believe you? Rayanne and Jordan- and Brian just happened to capture them on film?”
Uh, that is actually the most believable part, honestly.
The series was cancelled mid-season, so the book hastily wraps up with an Angela-Rayanne reconciliation during rehearsals for the school production of Our Town.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Clark would pen a sequel, which seems like it’s pretty hard to come by these days. I’m guessing it has Brian continuing to attempt to get Angela to date him, probably by means of an elaborate Y2k apocalypse hoax.
It was like seeing a horrible dictator get an award for citizenship. Like some really dopey sitcom winning an Emmy while your favorite new show got cancelled.
Sign It Was Written In 1994 Department:
Angela was about to head back up to her room so she could listen to that Cranberries song that always made her feel superior for suffering.