Interview with HUMANITAS Trustee Winnie Holzman
We’ve been looking back all week at the hugely influential 1994–95 network-television season, which found new shows Friends and ER hobnobbing on the same schedule with Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The X-Files. We’ve counted down the season’s 100 best episodes, presented an oral history of the first season of Party of Five, tested your Friends knowledge with an SAT-style exam, and so much more. But this hour is all about My So-Called Life, and we close our coverage out in appropriate fashion: with a deep-dive conversation about the bittersweet series finale with MSCL creator Winnie Holzman.
Almost two decades after ABC cancelled My So-Called Life, the pain is still exquisite. It was — and is — nothing less than the loss of TV’s best and most closely observed teen drama. On the other hand, there’s nothing better than going back and reliving it! As part of our intensive hour-long tribute to all things My So-Called Life, Vulture asked series creator Winnie Holzman to reminisce with us on all the wonderfulness of the finale, named for and framed around Delmore Schwartz’s short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Not only was Holzman game to geek out with us, she also divulged what would have come next — at some point, she might have mentioned something about Angela longing for Brian (!!!). But we had to start with the show’s biggest bummer.
Rayanne and Angela break up a few episodes before the finale, and for me it was the most devastating split of the entire show. I couldn’t agree with you more.
And the Our Town scene from “Betrayal" — gah! A lot of people don’t specifically talk about that scene, but I have to say, for me, it’s always the scene I come back to in my mind. The way both A.J. Langer and Claire Danes played it was extraordinary, and those characters were so real to me personally.
Because the break between them happened so near the end, I think we all knew reconciliation wasn’t coming anytime soon. Rayanne’s totally alone by her own making, and it reaches that level of heartbreak because Rayanne is somebody who knows that she created that for herself. Obviously, if the show had come back, there would have been a sort of long, interesting climb back to whatever that would have been. I don’t even know if they would ever become friends again, but their lives would intersect majorly.
Did you feel that relationship could be mended at the time you wrote the finale? Were they kindred spirits? Or were they just really fascinated by each other? It’s a really good question. If we’d been given the opportunity to come back, I would never have stopped exploring their relationship, but that’s not the same as meaning they’re kindred spirits. It might have been they had more to do with each other, but not necessarily — and this is interesting to me — as friends. I think there was a pain there, and a need on both parts that wasn’t done being explored. I would have kept that going.
The show was on the bubble, leaning toward cancellation. How did that affect what kind of story you wanted to tell as your last one? The job at that moment was to find a way to do something that was the ending of a season, but also, I was very cognizant that it could be the end of the whole show. It had to be an ending.
Everyone’s talking about their dreams in the episode. Strange ones, hopeful ones. Dreams pop up pretty consistently through the show. How did that become one of the series’ frameworks for you? When you’re doing a series, you’re really in a zone. You’re thinking about those characters and their situations in a free-floating way all the time. They live with you all the time. So it’s just as natural as breathing to be having ideas and thinking about what they’re thinking about. Series television is kind of intensive in terms of time. You fall hard for TV writing, but it’s almost love-hate. You’re under pressure all the time, but that pressure gets interesting things out of you that are, you know, mysterious. The whole idea of a dream, to me, is a mystery plane. Things are operating there that tell us the real truth. The stuff going on inside us that we don’t express or even know about pours out in our dreams. In a funny way, it was a way for me to instantly get to a deeper psychological place.
Read more at Vulture: http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/winnie-holzman-my-so-called-life-finale-chat.html