Every decade has its defining teenage love story. In the ’50s, it was Tony and Maria. In the ’80s, it was Kevin and Winnie. In the 2000s, it was Spencer and Heidi. For those us of lucky enough to come of age in the ’90s, the teen romance that consumed our so-called lives was Jordan and Angela. The central couple on Winnie Holzman’s short-lived but beloved high school drama My So-Called Life, these two embodied everything that was so thrilling — and maddening —about high school relationships, whether it was holding hands in the hallway, scribbling mash notes in your Trapper Keeper, or pretending the other person didn’t exist so your friends wouldn’t make fun of you.
The story of Angela Chase (future Emmy winner Claire Danes) and Jordan Catalano (future Oscar winner Jared Leto) rang so true that during the show’s solitary season on the air, you could see the same narrative playing out in high schools around the country, as it continues to today. My So-Called Life was about so much more than teen romance, of course, tackling such important subjects as underage drinking, illiteracy, and coming out during its 19-episode run. But if you simply want to relive the saga of Angela and Jordan, here are the five must-watch episodes in chronological order.
1. ‘Dancing in the Dark’
The pilot episode introduces us to Angela and Jordan, but it’s the sophomore hour that really brings them together for an extended period of screen time. Credit goes to Angela’s buddy Rayanne (A.J. Langer), who nudges Jordan to sell her pal a fake ID with the ulterior motive of proximity breeding passion. And Catalano does try to push their encounter in a more romantic direction, albeit in the least appealing way possible … by shoving his mouth onto hers. Sure, Angela has fantasized about locking lips with the object of her affection, but the reality of it, sadly, sucks.
2. ‘Why Jordan Can’t Read’
Five episodes after their first attempt at getting to know each other went south, Angela has a close encounter with the “real” Jordan when she pieces together something that he has been keeping from the world: He’s functionally illiterate. That discovery puts a human face on her dream boyfriend, hinting at vulnerabilities he keeps hidden. Meanwhile, Jordan appears to have had Angela on his mind as well, based on the lyrics for his self-penned song “Red.” Too bad he really isn’t that deep: “Red” is an ode to his automobile, not his S.O. in waiting.
Sure, they’ve had their false starts, but “Self-Esteem” finds Jordan and Angela in the full throes of a real relationship. Well, real to them at least. Like too many status-obsessed teenage dudes, Catalano is having trouble making the romance official. It’s only when Angela makes it clear she is ready to walk away that the wheels start turning in Jordan’s mind. The timely classroom intervention of a Shakespearean sonnet further spurs him to action, and by the end of the episode, these two are doing the “hands in the hallway” walk.
Well, that was fast! After a lone episode in Coupledom, Angela and Jordan are already en route to Splitsville. The root cause is sex — as in, he wants to have it and she’s not ready. Rather than really listen to Angela, Jordan accuses her of being the “abnormal” one, and once you lob that verbal grenade, good luck picking up the pieces.
5. ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’
There are love letters and then there is The Letter, the paragraph-long note that Jordan “wrote” for Angela via actual author (and Angela’s not-so-secret admirer) Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall). Despite its overwrought, student-poetry level of emotive phrases, it sets Angela on the path toward a series-ending reconciliation with Jordan. We’ll forever think of her sitting in the front seat of Catalano’s car, as we mentally scream at her for not choosing Krakow instead.
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