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‘My So Called Life’ 20th anniversary: What to know about the iconic teen show

Twenty years ago, “My So Called Life” gave viewers a refreshingly realistic look at the life of the American teenager. The one season wonder debuted on ABC on August 25, 1994, in an unenviable mid-season timeslot against hit sitcoms “Mad About You” and “Friends.” And although the teen angsty drama – which tackled serious real teen topics like drug abuse, illiteracy, guns in schools, homosexuality and homelessness -- was canceled after just 19 episodes, it went on reach cult status after MTV gave it new life in syndication.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Claire Danes attends BAFTA New York Presents: 'In Conversation With Hugh Dancy' at The Standard Highline on May 15, 2014 in New York City.
Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

In honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, on Friday Flavorwire ranked the show’s precious 19 episodes, and not-so-surprisingly the campy Halloween-themed offering, titled “Halloween,” came in dead last. But for every bad pre-“Buffy” reference, came some seriously good TV.

Fans of the show may still wonder how high school life panned out for Angela Chase (Claire Danes), her childhood BFF Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa), brainy boy next door Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall), bad girl Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), Angela’s not-yet-out pal Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), and the dreamy Jordan Catalano (played by future Oscar winner Jared Leto).

Twenty years later, here are eleven things to know about this iconic teen-themed show.

Angela could have been clueless

Yep, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, show creator Winnie Holzman revealed that the first teen that casting agents saw was Alicia Silverstone. “A lovely actress, but so perfect-looking,” Holzman said. “She was not what I had written. We needed somebody who shimmered between beauty and sort of not formed yet. And in walks Claire.” Incidentally, Claire Danes was only 13-years-old when she did the pilot. The future Emmy and Golden Globe winner played a 15-year-old, and despite little acting experience she blew casting agents away.

Speaking of Holzman, she made several cameos on the show – and so did her real life husband

Holzman played school guidance counselor Ms. Krzyzanowski in several episodes. Her husband, “Sixteen Candles” alum Paul Dooley, played Patty Chase’s dad and Angela’s gruff grandfather, Chuck Wood.

The alternative rock band Buffalo Tom credits the show for transforming their fanbase

Guitarist Bill Janovitz talked to Huffington Post about his band’s cameo in the episode “Self Esteem,” saying, “We also had the song ‘Late At Night’ be featured, with us playing actually, as part of the storyline … which was a pretty big breakthrough for us as well,” he said. “We went from playing to all guys--dudes in white baseball caps was sort of the look back then--to, well, all of a sudden, there were younger females in our audiences. To this day, I'll say to a woman of a certain age, if she's asking me what band I play in, I'll say, ‘Did you ever see that show called 'My So-Called Life?' Do you remember when Jordan kissed Claire Danes?’ They'll say, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That's like an instant calling card, you know?”

Jared Leto’s older brother had a minor role on the show

30 Seconds to Mars drummer Shannon Leto appeared on several episodes of the series as Jordan Catalano’s friend Shane. While Shane showed his face, another one of Catalano's pals -- the mysterious Tino character -- was never seen. Sure, you knew that, but did you notice the Frozen Embryos/Residue lead singer was referenced throughout the series and was mentioned by each of the main teen characters at least once?

Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin like to freak out super fans

The duo, who played Angela’s parents Graham and Patty Chase on series, still get a kick out of freaking out diehard “MSCL” fans. In 2013, Armstrong told Yahoo! TV, "Tom Irwin and I attempt to get together fairly regularly and that's the best 'My So-Called Life' freakout. When Lifers see the two of us in a booth together and you see their whole reality being rearranged. It's just delicious."

Julianna Hatfield wrote a song for the show, which led to her cameo in the Christmas episode

The singer told Sadie Magazine, “I was contacted by the TV show people to see if I would write a song for the Christmas episode… and then, after meeting me, they asked me if I wanted to play the part of this homeless girl, which hadn’t been cast yet. I guess after they met me, they thought I had the right vibe or look, and so that’s how it happened.’ The song, “Make It Home,” appeared on the show's soundtrack.

Wilson Cruz came out to his parents and the fallout was the same as his character’s.

The actor told EW, “I came out to my dad in Christmas of '94. It did not go well, and he kicked me out of the house. I ended up living in my car and some friends' couches.... But it was actually because of [MSCL] that we reconciled. He ended up watching it and calling me. Which was about...exactly a year later.”

Fans campaigned to save the show when it was on the bubble

The 1995 Operation Life Support crusade was the first viewer-driven campaign of its kind. Fans called, faxed, and sent letters by snail mail (seems prehistoric now!), while diehard Lifers took out pricey ads in trade magazine begging ABC to renew the show.

Jared Leto taught Claire Danes how to kiss

Danes told EW her more experienced co-star had to show her the ropes in the kissing department. “I remember there was one scene with Jared where the direction was to kiss him all over his face," she said. "I didn't know what that meant because I hadn't really made out many times before. I was kind of slobbering all over him. He guided me through it and educated me on how to, like, make out.”

Rayanne’s mom has a major pop culture past

Actress Patti D’Arbanville, who played Rayanne’s mom Amber Vallone on the series, is a former model who appeared in several of Andy Warhol’s films, but she’s also known for some of her high-profile relationships. Her romance with singer Cat Stevens spawned the songs “Wild World” and “Lady D’Arbanville.” She’s also appeared on “The Sopranos” and “Third Watch,” but she's most proud of her work on “My So Called Life."

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