HBO’s Euphoria and ABC’s My So-Called Life

“If I could be a different person, I promise you, I would. Not because I want it, but because they do. And therein lies the catch.”
~ Rue Bennett, Euphoria

“People always say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even.”
~ Angela Chase, My So-Called Life

In HBO’s show Euphoria from this year, close similarities can be found to ABC’s My So-Called Life from 1994. A quarter century has passed since the earlier show was cancelled after a single season. The formula was repeated less successfully in some others that followed it (an interesting variant was the 2003 Dead Like Me). Now there is HBO’s offering.

Both are coming-of-age stories taking place in the world of middle class America with its private family struggles and isolated individuals seeking to connect. There is the female protagonist, Rue Bennett or Angela Chase, who is a teenager in high school. She is a somewhat quiet and thoughtful outsider observing the world around her through a detached attitude, along with offering running commentary with internal monologue. She has a younger sister, Gia Bennett or Danielle Chase, who looks up to her and a mother, Leslie Bennett or Patricia “Patty” Chase, who doesn’t understand what she is going through. There is some focus on her early relationship with her father, Robert Bennett or Graham Chase.

A central theme of the show is how relationships change over time and how teenagehood is a time of immense change, of developing identities and self-discovery. The protagonist has grown distant from a childhood friend, Lexi Howard or Sharon Cherski. Then there is her new best friend, Jules Vaughn or Rayanne Graff, who is a wild girl bringing energy and excitement, not to mention some melodrama, into the her life. But often the protagonist has to play the mature role to protect her new friend and intervene despite her own fears, doubts, and problems. Substance abuse is involved in both shows, specifically in terms of this budding friendship, if it plays out differently in terms of which character is afflicted. And there is also a sexual tension that complicates their relationship, demonstrating the similarity of young friendship and young love.

Then there is the cool and popular guy, Nate Jacobs or Jordan Catalano, who is aloof and selfish, although much more menacing in this more recent incarnation as troubled psychopath-in-training. I’m not sure about characters that fit the role of gay friend, nerdy neighbor kid, and such. Maybe some of the characters in Euphoria play similar purposes in the narrative. Is Fezco, the young local drug dealer, the equivalent of Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, in that both are streetwise and have to take care of themselves? And is Kat Hernandez, an overweight girl, in her relationship to Ethan a slightly different version of Delia Fischer in her relationship to Brian Krakow?

To emphasize the similarities Euphoria references My So-Called Life in one of the early episodes, indicating the previous show is an inspiration. And likewise, this new show deals with issues of the day that earlier shows tended to ignore and many adults don’t consider appropriate for teenagers. It is going for an edgy appeal of gritty realism and teenage angst in a world where parents are rarely paying attention or know what to do. The younger generation in each case, GenX and GenZ, has to figure it out on their own and find their own way. This is amusing since the former generation is now the parents of the latter generation. One lost generation to the next.

* * *

Made You Look/Transcript
from Fandom

Rue: Watcha doin’?

Gia (Rue’s sister): Watching My So-Called Life.

Rue: *Chuckles* Fuckin’ Jordan Catalano.

Gia: I know, right?

Rue: Right. Ugh.

Gia: *Laughs*

Rue: Please promise me you will never fall for a Jordan Catalano.

Gia: But he’s so cute. *Laughs*

My so called life was cancelled after one season
by u/robologoin

Partly because Claire Danes didn’t want to keep going. But TV has changed now. Euphoria is the closest thing to that show I’ve ever seen. I’d like to think it could also survive a change in lead if Zendaya got some major movie role and moved on

Euphoria Review: Freaks and Dicks
by Jen Chaney

In the third episode of the trippy and explicit Euphoria, the pseudo-recovering addict Rue (Zendaya) enters the bedroom of her younger sister, Gia (Storm Reid), and finds her watching an episode of My So-Called Life. By referencing the 25-year-old ABC high-school series, Euphoria tips its hat to a previous entry in the same genre and reminds the audience that what was praised for its honest depiction of teen life in 1994 now looks quaint by comparison. That’s especially true if you’re comparing it to Euphoria.

The Kids Aren’t Alright In HBO’s Excessive ‘Euphoria’
by Ed Bark

A passing reference leaves its mark in Episode 3 of HBO’s aggressively graphic Euphoria.

The kid sister of central character Rue Bennett (Zendaya, already on a first name basis) is alone in her room, immersed in her iPad. What’s she watching? My So-Called Life, Gia (Storm Reid) tells Rue.

Today’s high schoolers weren’t anywhere near being born when the then very daring ABC coming-of-age drama series premiered a quarter-century ago and lasted just one season. Euphoria, which launches Sunday, June 16th on HBO at 10 p.m. ET, makes the disaffected youth of Pittsburgh’s Liberty High seem like the original comic book versions of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. But it certainly shows how far we’ve come – or fallen.

All of the Music Played During ‘Euphoria’ Season 1
by Khal

List of My So-Called Life music
from My So-Called Life Wiki
(Spotify playlist)

3 thoughts on “HBO’s Euphoria and ABC’s My So-Called Life

  1. To borrow a phrase and a concept, the first rule of the Culture Industry, is, don’t mention the Culture Industry.

    By having the characters reference the previous show, the production company wants to both shield itself from charges of being derivative and at the same time, appear to be self aware.

    One of the primary characteristics of the CI, is the memory wipe process in which a show is spaffed up the wall as the greatest thing ever, and then wiped from the media memory as if it never occurred making way for the next greatest thing ever.

    So, “Alley McBeale” lands on the cover of Time as an example of “cultural significance” and “defines a historical process” and then vanishes from the discourse as it’s replaced by “ER” and the process repeats, through to Friends, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc, etc, etc.

    And now, Euphoria.

    Of course the CI, was excavated by one of the dreaded Frankfurt School gang and therefore it can’t be discussed unless by Jordan Peterson bloviating about “Postmodern Neo Marxism” which as I’ve said before is to be found on the shelf next to the Islamic Jihad Feminists, and the neo-liberal Bolsheviks;-)

    None of which of course has anything to do with whether or not Euphoria is any good or not.

    • I get your point. The motivation behind my writing this post was to simply point out the repeating pattern.

      The culture industry, in the broad sense, isn’t an entirely new thing. If you look back at ancient storytelling, much of it was borrowing from what came before. And the purpose was to reinforce forms of social order.

      That is how every dominant culture maintains its influence. But this (post-)modern culture industry has truly become an industry and it has been honed through improved techniques that are more self-consciously applied.

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