By Ken Tucker
Updated October 19, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Jerry Wolfe/ABC Photo Archives

”I’m in love. His name is Jordan Catalano. He was left back. Twice. Once I almost touched his shoulder in the middle of a pop quiz.”

These are some of the finest lines ever composed in the history of television, in their context. That context was My So-Called Life, which ran for 19 episodes on ABC, and now stands, in the six-disc My So-Called Life: The Complete Series collection, as a portrait of adolescence equal to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye or any other meditation on this most evanescent formative period of life.

MSCL was executive-produced by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (the pair who’d previously given us thirtysomething), but the series’ true author was Winnie Holzman, who wrote the pilot, penned many subsequent episodes, and maintained creative quality control. Holzman had her 15-year-old protagonist, Angela Chase (Claire Danes), speak, via voice-over narration, the lines I quoted up top; in the pilot, she’s gazing dreamily at Jared Leto’s Jordan, a sensitive bad boy who doesn’t even know the intelligent, radiant, but shy Angela exists. The yearning in those words, the ache in Danes’ voice, let you know this was a perfect conjoining of subject and actress, and that Holzman and Danes were going to take you on a painful, familiar, exhilarating journey…and then MSCL was canceled by ABC after a mere single season.

The fact that book-smart Angela is drawn to a ne’er-do-well like Jordan — that he will be the unconscious catalyst for rebelling against her parents (the amazingly subtle Bess Armstrong and Tom Irwin) and for seeking out new, offbeat friends (the beguilingly quirky A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz) — dramatizes the push and pull of teen angst. The show’s ratings doubtless suffered in part because it wasn’t plot-heavy; rather, it was designed to be a fluid mood piece. The genius of MSCL was that it permitted Angela to remain as self-absorbed as any average teen, while opening up subplots for the parents’ own arrested-adolescent struggles. And the series was positively revolutionary in its nuanced depiction of Cruz’s Rickie, a gay teen who was alternately effusive and despairing. (See what Cruz told recently about his experiences working on My So-Called Life.)

The extras include the mini-doc ”My So-Called Life Story” and commentaries on six episodes, the best being an analysis of the pilot by Holzman, Herskovitz, and director Scott Winant. Danes, now shimmeringly adult, provides both an audio commentary and a separate, candid interview. Many young performers are anxious to leave their early work behind, but Danes recognizes what an extraordinary experience she had in her first starring role, and seems to treasure it as much as we do. A