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My So-Called Life & the Multi-Faceted 'Self-Esteem'

In which we stand in awe of Winnie Holzman's writing...again.

Let me start by saying of all the MSCL episodes, "Self-Esteem" was not on my list of the ones I was looking forward to revisiting. Not even a little bit. (I feel like we should start off being honest...as with any good relationship.)

Now that I've just finished rewatching it, however, I think it's easily in the top 3 most profound of the series. And much of that is down to Winnie Holzman's writing, particularly her determination to serve up themes that have multiple meanings, and that affect multiple characters simultaneously.


Ostensibly we read the title "Self-Esteem" as a commentary on Angela's degrading situation, confined as she is, quite literally, to "the basement of Jordan's passion," even as he refuses to acknowledge their relationship in public. But this being MSCL, and a Winnie script at that, we get a whole lot more in a scant 47 or so minutes:

Graham is still struggling with what he wants to do with his life, and finds himself in a cooking class that he didn't even sign up for – Patty signed him up.


Hallie is in much the same boat, having been consigned to the same class because her fiancee hates her cooking.


Abyssinia is trying to keep her good grades under wraps in order to appeal to Troy, while not hating herself for catering to his ego.


Brian is approached by Angela to help her with Geometry, and is then stood up by her when she decides to go see Buffalo Tom.


Rickie is always wrestling with self-esteem issues, though it takes Mr. Katimski telling him "nobody should hate who they are" to awaken him to the fact that other people deal with this, too.


Sharon is trying to figure out who she is as a person now that she's broken up with Kyle


Jordan and Rayanne both seem to be dealing with the same self-esteem issues; each seeking out casual physical hook-ups so as not to make themselves vulnerable to other people emotionally. (It's no accident that it's Rayanne who tells Jordan off about the way he's treating Angela.) It takes Angela turning her back on Jordan and a chance lecture about Shakespeare's sonnet by Mr. Katimski to force him to deal with his feelings for her, and to decide that she's worth risking getting hurt for.


Lastly, Patty is quietly drowning, trying to support Graham with his cooking class but never quite able to say the right thing. Her being at a loose end will become a larger issue as the series goes on.


And now...now to put all of this down on the page. (Come on, self-esteem, feel free to kick in any time now...)

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.”

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