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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

BMG presents
My So-Called Life: The Complete Series (1994)

"This life has been a test. If this had been an actual life, you would have received instructions on where to go and what to do."
- Angela Chase (Claire Danes)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: February 06, 2003

Stars: Claire Danes, Jared Leto, Tom Irwin, Bess Armstrong
Other Stars: A.J. Langer, Wilson Cruz, Devon Gummersall, Devon Odessa, Lisa Wilhoit
Director: Victor Du Bois, Michael Engler, Marshall Herskovitz, Todd Holland, Elodie Keene, Ron Lagomarsino, Patrick R. Norris, Jeff Perry, Mark Piznarski, Ellen S. Pressman, Mark Rosner, Claudia Weill, Scott Winant

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mature themes)
Run Time: 16h:41m:18s
Release Date: November 05, 2002
UPC: 755174695094
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+B-B D

DVD Review

It is far too rarely that a television series can so succinctly capture the drama of adolescent life. Created by Winnie Holzman, and produced by Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, the team that brought both thirtysomething and Once and Again to television, My So-Called Life is one such series, centering on the Chase family, principly the world of eldest daughter Angela, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Liberty High.

"It just seems like you agreed to have a certain personality or something, for no reason, just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know if it's even you?" - Angela Chase

Angela (Claire Danes) is "every" teenager, faced with a myriad of complicated relationships, questioning life and the world around her, while trying to discover who she really is. She thirsts for an identity apart from the things she has come to know in her childhood, her family, and her former friends. She is also dealing with the complex emotions of adolescence, first love, and her responsibilities as a young adult. It is a frightening, and isolating experience, and one that no one else can possibly understand.

"What I hate is when people who know you in completely different ways end up in the same area...you have to come up with this, like, combination you, on the spot." - Angela

Angela's world is in transition. Her relationship with her parents has changed, with a distancing from her father, Graham (Tom Irwin) and the increased tension her maturity is causing with her mother, Patty (Bess Armstrong). She has abandoned her lifelong friend, Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa) and Brian Krackow (Devon Gummersall), the boy across the street with whom she spent much of her childhood, is now relegated to a peripheral place in her life. Her new inner circle consists of Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), a brash, outspoken wild child, and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), whose unadmitted homosexuality and family problems keep him an outsider to the rest of his classmates. Angela, who has never had a love life, is obsessed with Jordon Catallano (Jared Leto), in particular the way he leans on things, and it becomes Rayanne and Rickie's mission to hook the two of them up. This relationship is one of the many ongoing threads throughout the show.

"If Jordan Catalano is, like, nearby, my whole body knows it, like one of those dogs that point. I'll keep talking and stuff, but my mind won't even know what I'm saying. I keep wondering if there's a term for this." - Angela

While Angela and her friends are certainly the focus, the series isn't just about teenagers; the adults are given equal focus and shown to have the chinks in their characters that make them real. Although this was the breakout role for Claire Danes (who was thirteen when she filming began), the entire cast delivers consistently excellent performances, defining their parts both through their dialogue and the unspoken moments, which gives it a verisimilitude that is rarely seen in television. It is not populated by characters, it is made up of human beings, whose strengths and failings test those around them, in a dynamic that echoes real life.

"Everything means something." - Graham Chase

Whether dealing with alcoholism, homosexuality, homelessness, infidelity, or sex, the series handles it without being preachy or overly dramatic. It doesn't undermine the poignancy of the subjects or their effects on the people affected by them. Despite the many serious, and emotionally draining moments throughout, there is also a whimsical side that comes out in several episodes, which perhaps is why this series holds such high appeal. Like life itself, the show is able to draw out a range of emotions through its brilliant scripting, excellent performances and superb direction, making My So-Called Life one of the finest television series I have ever seen.

Nominated for four Emmys, and reportedly costing over a million dollars per episode to produce, the show was cancelled after only nineteen installments, but found a new life airing on MTV after its initial network run. The show faced a similar uphill battle arriving on home video, with the VHS releases aborted before completion, and the initial DVD release in 2000 cancelled after only a single three-episode disc. This five DVD box set marks the first time fans will have the entire series for their home libraries.



Pilot

"When Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen, 'cause she wasn't just talking about my hair, she was talking about my life." - Angela

In the series opener, we are introduced to our cast, as Angela dies her hair "Crimson Glow," much to the chagrin of her mother, who also meets Angela's new friends, Rickie and Rayanne. Angela and her long time friend, Sharon, are growing apart.

Angela's narrative fills us in on the traits of the characters, outlining her perspective of the world she inhabits. The video quality of this episode is the worst of the bunch.

Show ratings are Brian Krackow's bicycle, which makes an appearance throughout the series. The pilot gets 4 bicycles out of 5.





Dancing in the Dark

"What's amazing, is when you can feel your life going somewhere, like your life just figured out how to get good. Like that second." - Angela

Angela's obsession with Jordan Catalano is driving Rayanne and Rickie nuts, so they decide to set the two of them up by having Jordan get Angela a fake I.D. Patty is looking to spice up her marriage, and Camille Cherski (Mary Kay Place) suggests that Patty and Graham try ballroom dancing. Brian asks Angela to help out on a science project after Sharon is giving him a hard time, which provides the perfect opportunity to execute Rayanne's plan. Graham's brother Neil (Danton Stone) is introduced, and Patty gets a radical change of appearance.

The chemistry between Jordan and Angela is initiated.

3.5 bicycles out of 5.





Guns and Gossip

"That's when the change happened. Just like that. Somewhere in those few seconds I knew my life would never be the same." - Angela

Brian feels the heat when he is the sole witness after a gun goes off at school. Angela becomes extremely self-conscious when a rumor that she and Jordan had sex starts circulating. Patty, already freaked out over the gun incident, learns her daughter may have a sex life from Rayanne's mother in their first encounter.

3.5 bicycles out of 5.





Father Figures

"When someone compliments your parents, there's like, nothing to say. It's like a stun gun to your brain." - Angela

Patty's relationship with her father is aggravated when the Chase's business is up for audit. Graham is having a hard time accepting the changing dynamic with Angela, but his offer of a pair of concert tickets to a Greatful Dead concert causes friction with Patty, and also strains Angela's relationship with Rayanne.

Series creator Winnie Holzman guests as Cathy Krzyzanowski. 4 bicycles out of 5.





The Zit

"It had become the focus of everything, it was all I could feel, all I could think about. It blotted out the rest of my face, the rest of my life, like the zit had become the truth about me." - Angela

Angela's insecurities are heightened when not only does Sharon find herself a boyfriend, but she also makes a popularity poll, while Angela gets a zit. Patty's urging for her to participate in a charity mother/daughter fashion show aggravates both her daughters.

3.5 bicycles out of 5.





The Substitute

"Maybe teachers have a hidden life, where they're actually, like, human." - Angela

The new substitute teacher (Roger Rees) creates a stir with his unconventional approach. When he challenges the class to rewrite their entries for the school 'Lit' magazine, one of the entries causes a major upset with the school administration, an incident that reverberates to the heart of Angela's being. But when her newfound idol shows signs of his own hidden flaws, Angela's life lesson threatens her future.

4.5 bicycles.





Why Jordan Can't Read

"I thought by the age of fifteen I would have a love life, but I don't even have a 'like' life." - Angela

Patty wonders if she's pregnant. Rayanne loses an intimate letter Angela wrote outlining her feelings about Jordan while on a school field trip, but when he returns it to her, she learns something about him that changes things between them. Meanwhile, her younger sister Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit) developes a crush on Krackow.

This is the introduction of the band, Frozen Embryos.

4 bicycles out of 5.





Strangers in the House

"There's so many different ways to be connected to people." - Angela

When Sharon's father has a heart attack she moves into the Chase house, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere with her old best friend, and Rayanne finds this threatening to her friendship with Angela. Graham is under pressure from Patty to land an important account for their printing business, but the crisis has him re-evaluating his own life.

This is MSCL at its finest.

A full 5 bicycles.





Halloween

"When I was little, I, like, worshipped Halloween, and truthfully, part of me still does, 'cause it's your one chance all year to be someone else." - Angela

Graham and Patty are swept away with their costumes. Angela enters the "twilight zone" when she finds out her textbook was used by Nicky Driscoll, a boy who was killed in the school gym on Halloween night in 1963. Rayanne's scheme to summon the dead has unexpected consequences.

The series has a bit of fun with itself in this episode.

4 bicycles.





Other People's Mothers

"Walking into someone's house for the first time is like entering another country—not that I've ever been to another country." - Angela

Angela is fascinated when she finally gets a chance to meet Rayanne's "new age" mother. Patty is roped into hosting a party for her parent's anniversary, but her mother's interference is driving everyone nuts. Rayanne decides to host her own party the same evening, but the festivities get out of hand.

While it gets off to a slow start, this becomes a very poignant installment.

4.5 bicycles.





Life of Brian

"So maybe this is what people mean, when they talk about, you know, life." - Brian Krackow

Sharon is stressing out over the school dance she is organizing. Brian is faced with a difficult decision when he learns the new girl at school likes him. Rickie has someone catch his eye, and Rayanne sets out to help, much to his chagrin. Patty is encouraging Graham to take cooking classes.

We see the world from Brian's perspective as his character gets the spotlight, and he delivers one of the best one-liners of the series. 4 bicycles.





Self Esteem

"My whole life became, like, divided into kissing and not kissing." - Angela

Rayanne and Sharon are concerned over Angela's daily forays to the boiler room to make out with Jordon, instead of studying for her midterm. Angela is looking for a little recognition in her relationship. The new English teacher is encouraging Rickie to sign up for drama club, while also causing a fluster with the female teachers. Graham's new cooking class holds some unexpected surprises when he meets a boisterous young woman there.

Features a cameo by Buffalo Tom, and the introduction of Hallie Lowenthal (Lisa Waltz). 4 bicycles.





Pressure

There's this dividing line between girls who've had sex and girls who haven't, and all of a sudden we both realised that we were looking at each other across it. - Angela

Jordan isn't content with the status quo with Angela, so the pressure is on to further their relationship. Angela's parents are eager to meet her new boyfriend. Haley Lowenthal makes Graham a proposition that causes friction between him and Patty. Later, Graham is party to a conversation that gives him new insight into his daughter.

There are some great character moments in this episode.

4 bicycles




On the Wagon

"Why is it that you can't speak to people honestly about their children?" - Patty Chase

Patty overhears a conversation that leads her to believe that Rayanne has fallen off the wagon, and decides to bring it up with Amber. Jordan is bent out of shape when Tino quits the band, so Rayanne decides she'll become the new lead singer, but when things don't come off as planned, Rickie fears she will give up her sobriety.

The cohesiveness of the triumvirate is strained.

4 bicycles.





So-Called Angels

"You can't, like, be responsible for the whole world." - Rayanne Graff

With Christmas only a few days away, Sharon is trying to recruit Brian for the student help line, and Patty wants Graham to go to church with the rest of the family on Christmas Eve. When Rickie shows up beaten at the Chase house, Angela's parents are reluctant to get involved, but when the boy goes missing, Angela's searching leads her to a homeless girl who gives her a taste of life for runaways.

Another heart-rending episode with a message, and an unusual twist. Juliana Hatfield guest stars.

4.5 bicycles.





Resolutions

"You won't regret this." - Hallie Lowenthal

It's a new year, and everyone is making their resolutions. Sharon vows to give up Kyle, and Patty decides to let Graham do whatever he wishes. When Rickie overhears the Chases talking about him, he feels he has overstayed his welcome at their house, and turns to Mr. Katimski (Jeff Rogers) for help. Angela signs Jordan up for tutoring and he winds up with Brian, but Jordan may have something to teach his mentor. Graham decides to turn down the restaurant offer, but Hallie's persistence is paying off.

There are some interesting revelations in this episode.

4 bicycles.





Betrayal

"It was like Jordon Catalano had been surgically removed from my heart, and I was free." - Angela

Angela decides she's finally over Jordan. Rayanne auditions for the school's production of Our Town, but her anxiety over the part leads her down an unexpected path, and Brian unwittingly captures the moment on video. Angela's response puts Rickie on the defensive. Camille is introduced to Hallie, and is less than impressed.

Friendships take a new turn when mistakes are hard to forgive. 4 bicycles.





Weekend

"It's just going to be me and Rickie, what could possibly happen?" - Angela

Patty and Graham go away for the weekend to reconnect, but Neil and his new girlfriend prove a challenge. With the house to themselves, Rickie, Angela and Danielle look to have a quiet weekend, until Camille's present gets Rayanne in a bind.

A nice, lighthearted installment in which we get a look inside Danielle's mind.

4 bicycles.





In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

"The storm of words still pounds through my body. Hatred can become like food, it gives you this energy, you can, like, live off it." - Angela

Angela is having bizarre dreams about Jordan. There's trouble at the restaurant. Graham has a make or break dinner party and Patty volunteers to contact a high school flame in the business. Jordan coerces Brian into helping him reconcile with Angela, and Delia expresses an interest in Rickie.

What would ultimately be the series finale opens up new directions for almost every character, but where the events of this episode would have led is left up to the imagination of the viewer.

4.5 bicycles.



Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: It is a shame that the care that went into the production does not translate to the transfer here. While still easily watchable, the video-based source evidences the usual analog problems, from a fairly murky appearance with little shadow detail, to an excess of color noise, occasional streaking, banding, and the odd dropout. The compression doesn't help things, with an abundance of mosquito noise, jerky backgrounds, jaggies, and some minor blockiness. The pilot is decidedly the worst for wear, with washed out colors and an off tint. Since the show was edited on video, it would have required a good deal of expense to properly restore the image, but even some tweaking of the video, and more careful compression, could have upped the presentation somewhat.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio did garner some attention for this release, with a 5.1 surround mix created, but unfortunately it seems more for marketing than sonic enhancement. A warning is in orderódon't be fooled by the menu volume, as the 5.1 track on these DVDs is EXTREMELY LOUD, so turn down your amplifier or suffer the consequences. This track is fairly gimmicky in its creation, and becomes fatiguing in short order, and beginning with the second disc, the bottom end becomes overly accentuated at times. There is also some harshness and excessive sibilance present. While the source still has some issues, the stereo track fares better, and is more natural sounding. Snuffy Walden's Emmy-nominated music is a highlight of the series, and comes across reasonably well on either track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 95 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: "I'd like to help you sir, but I'm too busy picturing your daughter naked." - Graham Chase

The main menu allows setup of the audio/subtitles, a play all option, or access to individual episodes, which takes you to a separate submenu with five chapter stops.

Unfortunately, that is the extent of the extra features.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

"Sometimes I think if my mother wasn't so good at pretending to be happy, she'd be better at actually being happy." - Angela

I had forgotten the incredible power My So-Called Life brings to the screen. It is hard to express in any meaningful way the profundity of this series, or comprehend how a show that so perfectly articulates the complexity of human relationships and the emotional battlefield of adolescence could be cancelled after only nineteen episodes. The road that led to this complete collection was a long and sordid one, requiring a hard fought campaign by its loyal audience to finally bring its entirety to home video. Despite the shortcomings of the decidedy budget line presentation here, I can't recommend this series highly enough.

 


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