Sunday, June 5th, marks the 4th anniversary of my setting out on this road to document the making of My So-Called Life. In that time I’ve spoken with about 40 members of that production, made new friends on the book’s Facebook page as well as in the MSCL FB group run by Theresa, Vicky, Janet and Teri – thanks all!
As of now, I’ve written 8 chapters about the lead-up to the making of the show, as well as a chapter each on the first 3 episodes, and half on Ep. 4. (Not counting various sidebars, biographical info, etc.)
One of the things I’m learning now as I put each episode under the microscope – closely rewatching them and pulling relevant info from my interviews with directors, producers, cast and crew – is just how nuanced My So-Called Life is.
As viewers, what we think we know about a given moment on screen turns out to be so much more than it first appears. Even those who worked on the show didn’t always recognize these subtleties. Take this bit from the chapter I’m currently working on (Ep. 4 “Father Figures”):
“As I remember the story Claire’s character is having trouble with her parents but she’s really close to her grandfather,” explains episode director Mark Rosner. “I remember saying ‘I don’t know about Claire’s problem with her parents but getting along with her grandparents - isn’t that a little bit of a cliche?….’”
Needless to say creator Winnie Holzman, who had written the episode, disagreed.
She, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick had all taken great pains to craft a series that deliberately sidestepped cliches. Like some critics and viewers would after him, the director had honed in on a single surface detail while missing the bigger picture. In this case, the warm welcome Angela reserves for Patty’s father, Chuck, is not about a grandchild responding to a grandparent’s love and pampering, but her way of getting back at Graham for not being the perfect father she once imagined him to be.
More impressive still was the way Winnie created a triptych of the father-daughter dynamic, juxtaposing the adult version (Patty and Chuck), the adolescent (Graham and Angela), and even a peek at the child relationship, too (Graham and Danielle). That Patty and the Chase girls are lucky to even have a father is briefly touched on with Rayanne’s reaction to receiving, then losing, the Grateful Dead tickets Graham initially lavished on her and Angela.
I have to admit that I’ve been questioning the point of it all lately – particularly the creation of art in a world overrun with it thanks to the web. More importantly, at a time when everything is in such upheaval, is one television show (much less the examination of that show) a responsible use of one’s time on this earth?
Rewatching “Father Figures” recently and picking through its creative bones, I’m a little more sanguine about it all. Someone involved with the show once told me that My So-Called Life is, first and foremost, about the importance of “being seen.”
After 4 years steeped in MSCL, I’d tweak that notion just a bit. At its best, this show allows us to struggle up out of the sandpit of our own lives just long enough to see the bigger picture, the struggles we all have in common. And maybe that’s enough.
Go now. Go!
So Beautiful it Hurts: The Making of My So-Called Life’ is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co., nor anyone involved with the making or distribution of “My So-Called Life.”