The XX Factor

Revisiting Jordan Catalano

It was a lethal combination of insomnia and an unusually steady wireless Internet signal that led me to rewatch the entirety of My So-Called Life ( now on Hulu! ) a few nights ago. In 1994, Jordan Catalano, the soulful, musician-type bad boy who woos Angela under the staircase was everything I wanted in a television heartthrob. Namely, because their union so easily played into the delightful romantic trope of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, wherein members of different social cliques intermingled for matters of the heart. The bad boy fell for the cheerleader, the working class redhead scored the trust-fundy Ivy League-bound chick ( Some Kind of Wonderful ) , or the jock found himself falling for a dandruff-prone kleptomaniac ( Breakfast Club ). In My So-Called Life , Jordan took the bookish, painfully shy (albeit hot) Angela Chase to the school basement at least once an episode to touch her lips and utter sweet nothings like, “Your cuticles look like little moons.” It was wish-fulfillment for every nerdy, under-kissed girl watching. (Ahem, me.)

But rewatching their courtship at the older, wiser age of 27 completely destroyed all the residual fondness I had been lugging around for Jordan Catalano when I simply remembered him as that mysterious puppy dog-eyed Jared Leto character. To begin with: “Your cuticles look like little moons” is stupid. And even the best imploring puppy-dog eyes don’t make up for illiteracy. In fact, Catalano was not particularly gifted in anything, even wooing. He made Angela keep their trysts under wraps and sang in a ridiculously bad and unfortunately-named band, Frozen Embryos. (How did I manage to forget about the song “Red,” which, as it turned out, was not for Angela, but his red car?) I only realize now his character was less teenage heartthrob and more a cautionary tale of emo-caddery. Close to a decade of dating has taught me that characteristics like “mysterious” and “damaged” are code for “functionally retarded: STAY AWAY.” What’s most incredible about the show is that Angela realizes that she’s over Jordan in Episode 17 (apparently long before I did) and his larger-than-life persona is almost instantly deflated. How often does a nerdy teenage girl get to do that to the popular boy on television?