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Why Claire Danes Was Lucky That ‘My So-Called Life’ Was Short

In today's TV world, the acclaimed series would tie up its star for years

In some respects, Claire Danes is lucky that her breakthrough role, in the ABC drama “My So-Called Life,” was at least a decade ahead of its time.

Danes was in her mid-teens when the series premiered in 1994, earning critical acclaim but, by the standards of the time, relatively low ratings. The program wasn’t renewed (questions about Danes’ eagerness to continue were said to have complicated the decision), and the actress proceeded to embark on an extremely busy film career before the road circled back to television in the pay space, with Emmy-winning work in the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” and Showtime series “Homeland.”

Although “My So-Called Life” generated a mere 19 episodes, it showcased the talents that Danes — who played the thoughtful teenager Angela Chase — has displayed ever since. For starters, she was age-appropriate and disarmingly real, hardly a description that applied to many teens patrolling mid-’90s primetime. Perhaps that’s why the New York Times review noted that Danes “is refreshingly playing her age, and, unlike most youthful television stars, is far less adorable than skilled.”

Had the show premiered today, it almost surely would have hung around longer, with another network or streaming service swooping in when ABC canceled it. Indeed, the WB and UPN — which catered to precisely the show’s demographic – didn’t even make their debuts until after the program departed.

Danes would have heard the siren song of movies even had the series aired several more years. But the time constraints of working as a minor likely would have put something of a crimp in those plans.

Fans have always lamented not getting to see more of what life had in store for Angela. For Danes, the “what-ifs” can likely be limited to how the arc of her career might have been rewritten, or at least amended, by more of that wonderful “Life.”

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