The silver linings of quarantine just keep coming, and a sweet surprise this week was an impromptu cast reunion of the acclaimed but short-lived 1990’s TV drama, My So-Called Life. The pioneering series ripe with teen angst that dared to attack serious social issues was the first American television show to cast an out actor, Wilson Cruz, to play a gay character in a lead role.
“So...This happened the other night,” wrote Cruz on Twitter, after attending the Zoom gathering which included several original cast members as well as the show’s creator. “Most of the #MySoCalledLife cast was available for what turned out to be a very comforting, sweet, heartfelt and overdue reunion. We all have such love for each other, even 26 years later. It was overwhelming to see all of those faces together.”
“Most” being a key word, as many fans were disappointed that the dreamy-eyed Jared Leto — who played Claire Danes character’s gorgeously grungy crush, Jordan Catalano, on the show — was absent from the virtual get-together.
The show did not shy away from meaty topics like teen sex, drug use, alcoholism, homophobia, and homelessness — this might be typical for modern day series like Elite, Euphoria, and more, but was out of place in the 90s. My So-Called Life centered on high school student Angela Chase (played by Danes) as she navigated her way through the turmoil of boys, friends, and family. Cruz famously played Angela’s gay bestie, Rickie Vasquez — a role that may seem like a stereotypical trope now, but at the time was groundbreaking.
Vasquez was written, not as a trope, but as a fully fleshed-out role, which we have also come to expect. The show made Cruz the first out actor on an American television show to play an openly gay character in a lead role. He recently said the part even helped mend bridges between him and his ultra-conservative father.
“My character Rickie Vasquez gets kicked out of his home on the show and there’s a whole episode about it,” Cruz told People magazine in February. “And I got kicked out of my house at Christmas just like Rickie did. And my father watched that episode. And when the credits rolled, and about 10, 15 minutes later, my phone rings and he said, ‘Hey, I think we need to talk.’”
“And it was because of his watching the show,” added Cruz. “And so I went home and we had a conversation that we probably couldn’t have had unless he had sat down and watched.”
Cruz and Danes were joined on Zoom by former castmates Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin (who played Angela’s parents), Devon Odessa (Angela’s former bestie, Sharon), Mary Kay Place (Sharon’s mom, Camille), Devon Gummersall (Brian), and A.J. Langer (Rayanne); as well as series creator Winnie Holzman and her husband Paul Dooley (who played Angela's grandpa, Chuck).