Monday, September 14, 2009

Back to school: Two grade "A" DVD sets

Summer vacation is over and school is back in session. Here are two of my absolute favorite shows, available on DVD, which just so happen to be set in high school.

My So-Called Life
One season (19 episodes): 1994-1995
Starring Claire Danes, A.J. Langer, Wilson Cruz, Jared Leto, Devon Gummersall, Devon Odessa, Bess Armstrong, Tom Irwin, and Lisa Wilhoit

"People always say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster, or something. Like you can even know what it is, even. But every so often I'll have, like, a moment where being myself and my life right where I am is, like, enough."

~voiceover of Angela Chase (Claire Danes)

Fifteen-year-old Angela Chase (Danes) is a regular teenage girl. No longer close with her childhood best friend Sharon (Odessa), she hangs out with the rebellious Rayanne (Langer) and sensitive Rickie (Cruz). Angela has a massive crush on Jordan Catalano (Leto), while her neighbor Brian Krakow (Gummersall) pines for her. Her younger sister, Danielle (Wilhoit), wants to be more like Angela, and their parents, played by Armstrong and Irwin, are dealing with their own problems in addition to raising two girls. This one-hour drama also deals with such issues as self-image, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, sexuality, teenage drinking, and homelessness. Angela narrates each episode (with the exception of "Life of Brian" told from the point of view of Brian) and in doing so shares the thoughts, fears, and worries that any teenager has. The quality of the writing, directing, cinematography, performances, and overall attention to detail of My So-Called Life cannot be matched. The honest portrayals of both teenagers and adults make this a series worth checking out or revisiting if you have not watched the episodes in some time.

My So-Called Life  Find it in the catalog!

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Freaks and Geeks
One season (18 episodes): 1999-2000
Starring Linda Cardellini, John Daley, James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips, Samm Levine, and Martin Starr

A one-hour comedy-drama set in a Michigan high school during the early eighties, Freaks and Geeks is about groups on the outskirts of the popular crowd. Junior Lindsay Weir (Cardellini), a model student her entire life, feels lost after the death of her grandma and starts to drift to the "freak" crowd that includes Daniel (Franco), Ken (Rogen), Nick (Segel), and Kim (Phillips). Lindsay's younger brother Sam (Daley), a freshman, is part of the "geek" crowd with best friends Bill (Starr) and Neil (Levine). These characters are real; we aren't watching models who have stepped out of the pages of fashion magazines. All the actors give genuine performances; I can never narrow down my favorite character. The show aired during my junior year of high school and I immediately identified with the way the characters felt about wishing to find where they fit in. I was so devastated when I heard about the show's cancellation. Creator and writer Paul Feig used many of his own embarrassing high school experiences as inspiration for story lines and characters (read his book Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence for even more stories). While Freaks and Geeks received low ratings during its run on television, over the years the show has added to its already devoted fan base as many of its cast members became successful in film and on TV.

Freaks and Geeks Find it in the catalog!