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December 1994, Week 2


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Jeremy Butler <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 10 Dec 1994 10:34:21 CST
text/plain (71 lines)
Author:  Shawn Levy <[log in to unmask]>
Date:    12/10/94 10:27 AM
[Editor's note:  This message was submitted to SCREEN-L by the "Author" noted
above, and not by Jeremy Butler ([log in to unmask]).]
On Sat, 10 Dec 1994, Jeremy Butler wrote:
>  The thing
> that also annoys me about this show (and many many others) is the
> reification of angst.  Sure, often life sucks, especially from the
> perspective of an adolescent girl.  But none of the problems presented on
> this show (or most TV shows) are as significant as the treatment they are
> given.
I, apparently, like "My So-Called Life" better than Jajasoon -- de
gustibus &tc... -- but I'd nevertheless like to take issue with a few of
his points here.  Such as the 'reification of angst' argument.  It seems
to me that more than, say, soap operas, a genre to which "MSCL" has some
connections, the viewer is given a way around the angst of Angela,
especially, as well as Brian Krakow, Ricky and the other principal
teenagers.  Namely, there's an ironic distance between the narration, the
suffering, and the long, pained stares on the one hand and the events as the
audience can see them on the other.  That is, we can see that the kids are
overstating their cases as battered, bruised souls, and in the space between
their suffering and our ability to see what's really going on, we have...comedy.
> Contrast this to Roseanne, which deals with some pretty heavy
> issues (mental illness, child sexual abuse, domestic battering, poverty),
> but always retains a sense of fun about it.  Shit happens: people on
> Roseanne use their buoyant humor to survive it, while Angela et al attach
> the ball and chain of angst to sink them deeper into the sewage of their
> own creation.
Well, apart from the fact that it's been on for years and thus has had
the chance to touch on a great many disparate topics (if "MSCL" had
handled all of the parentheticals you attribute to "Roseanne" in its
first three months, you'd no doubt find it overwrought), "Roseanne" is a
sit-com.  If people didn't "survive" on "buoyant humor" the show would be
off the air.  "MCSL" is a drama with a black-comic subtext; the laughs --
and I find them in almost every show -- come from the disparity between
the drama the teens are living and the comedy the audience can read into
the very same circumstances.  (The parents, however, are a pain in the
ass -- "fortysomethings" five hours west on the Pennsy Turnpike from the
Steadmans, etc.).  As for "sewage of their own creation," that seems to
me overdone but a stab in just the direction I'm suggesting the show is
really about, i.e., the ways in which we can turn things against
ourselves if that's what we want to do.
BTW, I thought the critical passage you quoted was extremely apt, but it
doesn't mitigate for me the show's chief strengths -- fine young actors
(Clare Danes as Angela is one of the few twentyish actors I know of who is
willing to let pauses and her own eyes carry meaning rather than writhe or
grimace -- cf Juliette Lewis, for goodness sake!), well-drawn
non-mainstream types (the gay teen, the smart but awkward kid, the
warmhearted slutish kid, etc. -- again, compare, say, "90210") and a
deliberate avoidance of contrived plots:  the best episodes, and I can
think of a half-dozen, are about almost nothing but gentle passings
between the principal characters.  In short, it's *better* than its
ancestor "thirtysomething" in many key regards (not that this is a
groundbreaking aesthetic accomplishment!).  I like the show very much
(obviously :-) ) and I'll be consequently saddened when ABC finally pulls
it (which, I've heard, could be as early as late-January :-( ).
all best,
                        | "And the days are not full enough
      Shawn Levy        |  And the nights are not full enough
  [log in to unmask]   |  And life slips by like a field mouse
   |                 Not shaking the grass."