Every Episode Of My So-Called Life Ranked

Responsible for launching Claire Danes, Wilson Cruz, and Jared Leto into stardom, the classic high school drama "My So-Called Life" is a staple of teen television. Set in Three Rivers, a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this coming-of-age show about a red-headed sophomore and her small circle of friends stole our hearts with its naturalistic dialogue, its true-to-life treatment of teenagers, and its issue-based storylines that are presented as ongoing narrative themes.

There are no overly-complicated plots. We don't see brand-clothed teens acting like adults and frequenting nightclubs. Instead, we get realistic tension. There's Brian's unrequited affection for Angela; Jordan falling through the cracks of a flawed education system; Sharon and Angela's broken but healing friendship; Rayanne's struggles with addiction; Rickie's search for a home; and Angela trying to figure out who she really is. And while the show sometimes drifts a little close to After School Special territory, the exaggerated, inquisitive, and often hilarious voiceovers keep it well-balanced.

Still, some storylines are better than others. And so, to celebrate the show's legacy, we've used IMDb as our guide to rank every episode of "My So-Called Life."

19. Father Figures (Episode 4)

Quietly suspicious of her father Graham (Tom Irwin) after seeing him with another woman and overhearing a questionable phone conversation, Angela treats him with what he can only describe to his wife Patty (Bess Armstrong) as "silent contempt." In an attempt to sway his daughter, Graham offers her two Grateful Dead tickets for a Thursday night concert, much to Patty's dismay and Rayanne's delight. Angela, though, has no interest in attending and decides to scalp the tickets to pay Jordan (Jared Leto) for the fake I.D. he gave her in the pilot episode.

It's a move that threatens both her relationship with her father and her relationship with her new best friend. Meanwhile, Patty must deal with her own rocky father-daughter relationship when the family business, Wood and Jones Printing, gets audited. Continuing with the storyline's parental theme, we also learn that Rayanne doesn't really have a father figure in her life and that Rickie is afraid of his.

Currently sitting at 7.9 on IMDb, "Father Figures" ranks at the bottom of the list because of the rampant cheese factor throughout the narrative. "Even while it trades in showing the non-glossy, thoroughly realistic shades of teenage angst, the show also has the tendency to slip into unbelievable, thoroughly hackneyed...cheesiness," the AV Club's Amelie Gillette said. Reddit users like u/jacolec point to it as a prime example of why they don't actually like our sometimes self-absorbed teen lead.

18. Halloween (Episode 9)

It's Halloween in Three Rivers, and Angela's teacher wants her to relay the message that Jordan will be kicked out of school if he doesn't come to class. Angela also learns about the urban legend surrounding Nicky Driscoll, a greaser who died at Liberty High back in the swinging '60s. Inspired by the tale, Rayanne convinces Angela and Brian to break into the school that evening, hoping to write 'Nicky Driscoll Was Here' in red lipstick on the gymnasium floor, but the trio gets trapped inside the building overnight. Meanwhile, Danielle dresses up as Angela, and Graham and Patty engage in some passion-fueled roleplay as a pirate and Rapunzel, respectively.

This Was TV's Emma Fraser considers "Halloween," which blurs the lines of reality, a little bizarre, but she also commends its approach to local lore, admitting that the way our characters discuss the legend of Nicky's death feels "very grounded in reality." While it currently hovers at just under an 8 on IMDb, putting it near-last on the site's sorted list, the AV Club rates this holiday special a B, defining it as a "Goosebumps"-esque entry that "threatens to pop the bubble of adolescent realism... but somehow remains true to MSCL's commitment to realistic high school life."

17. Dancing in the Dark (Episode 2)

With a rating of 8.2 on IMDb, this solid sophomore run featuring Angela and Jordan's first kiss is technically near the bottom of the MSCL barrel, but critics still love it. The AV Club's Amelie Gillette calls the grand monologue at the beginning of the story "dead-on in terms of the degree to which teenagers think about themselves," and This Was TV's Julie Hammerle says that "the moments between Patty and Graham [feel] very realistic and poignant." The narrative opens with Angela, via voiceover, talking about how many times she's been kissed. Notably, this count includes an "exciting" experience in which a lifeguard performed CPR on her.

Luckily, the eldest Chase daughter now has an enthusiastic wing-woman in Rayanne, who asks the puppy-eyed, constantly-leaning Jordan to hook Angela up with a fake I.D. Her scheme is made even easier when a frustrated Brian covers for Angela in class but demands she come over to help with an extra credit assignment, allowing Rayanne to make arrangements for Jordan to deliver the I.D. to Angela there.

Soon, our protagonist learns that even kisses with the guy you like can be downright lousy — especially when he interrupts you mid-sentence. Of course, Angela's not the only character feeling a little disillusioned. We also witness Patty and Graham's growing distress as they stumble through ballroom dancing lessons and contend with an instructor who recommends they dance with other people.

16. Guns and Gossip (Episode 3)

Even with its solid IMDb rating of 8.2, "Guns and Gossip" ranks as one of the show's weaker episodes. According to the AV Club's Amelie Gillette, this episode's most successful moments are the ones that deal with the rumors regarding Angela and Jordan and touch on "Angela's humiliation, adolescent angst, and excitement about being the subject of the [gossip]." But while Gillette considers the entry "more than a little contrived," This Was TV's Emma Fraser views it as "slightly ahead of the guns-in-schools curve."

Soon after Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) witnesses a squabble between Rickie (Wilson Cruz) and Rickie's cousin, a gunshot rings through the hallways and a bullet strikes a locker. Shocked by the event, Patty debates transferring Angela to a private school, Principal Foster presses Brian for information on Rickie, and all of the parents, fearing for their children's lives, demand policy changes. Many of the students, perhaps due to that false feeling of invulnerability that comes with being young, are relaxed and nonchalant about the matter.

Angela becomes entrenched in the gossip about her presumed intimate exploits with Jordan, Rayanne starts faking emotional distress to score a few excused absences, and Rickie actually tries to embrace the widespread belief that the gun belonged to him — hoping that just the idea of him being armed will repel those who bully him. It's an episode that still feels as relevant today as it did back then.

15. The Zit (Episode 5)

"The Zit" sees the annual Three Rivers Mother-Daughter Fashion Show approaching, with Patty clearly hoping to participate with her eldest daughter. But Angela, who's currently dealing with a hideous zit on her chin, and who's not feeling especially beautiful, has no interest in the pageant. Notably, Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit), who doesn't think she quite measures up to her older sister — and who would actually like to do the pageant — struggles with feeling left out.

Angela's own feelings of inadequacy only worsen when a jock-created list of forty sophomore girls ranked by what these teen boys consider the girls' "best" features begins to circulate around the school. While Rayanne rejoices over her promiscuous label, Sharon (Devon Odessa of "That's So Raven" fame) becomes self-conscious and Angela struggles with the complicated emotions that come with not making the list at all.

With a rating of 8.2 on IMDb, we imagine this entry ranks lower on the site's sorted list because it presents viewers with a simple (but still valuable) lesson about beauty. That said, many critics have praised this narrative — and this lesson. HelloGiggles' Lindsay Grossman commends the layered entry for seeing "body image from many different angles," and Cinemablend's Kelly West believes it "captures the spirit of the show beautifully as it examines the subject of self-perception among teens and adults."

14. On the Wagon (Episode 14)

At the start of the show's 14th episode, we learn that Rayanne's been clean and sober for a little over a month. As such, the counselor warns her this is a dangerous time — a comment that only seems to trigger the vulnerable teen. Her counselor's not the only worried adult in Rayanne's life. Patty, too, frets over the teen's behavior, convinced she's started drinking again. In fact, Patty's so concerned that she even reaches out to Rayanne's mother.

After their brief relationship, Angela and Jordan develop a newfound friendship. Jordan expresses his frustrations over the ever-elusive Tino quitting the Frozen Embryos, and Angela lends an empathetic ear while marveling over how attracted to him she still is. Jordan's annoyance quickly grows to include Rayanne when she — feeling alienated, and also desperate to keep herself busy — decides to audition for the newly vacated role of lead singer in the band.

Ultimately, while "On the Wagon" has an 8.3 rating on IMDb, it still ranks low on the list. Why? Because it's one of the few episodes that doesn't leave a lasting impression, with no lessons learned or wisdom imparted. However, some critics enjoyed the simplicity of the episode. "Sometimes, being a friend means putting others before yourself," ForeverYoungAdult's Jenny Bird wrote. "And that's nearly impossible for teenagers to do."

13. Resolutions (Episode 16)

Currently rated at 8.3 on IMDb, "Resolutions" is a bit of a mixed bag. This Was TV's Julie Hammerle calls the episode "kind of hilarious with all of the shallow resolutions peppered in with the not-so-shallow ones." Her fellow reviewer Emma Fraser commends Wilson Cruz's incredible performance, an assessment we wholeheartedly agree with — even if the narrative veers into After School Special territory.

Set right after the "So Called Angels" holiday special, the episode finds Angela signing Jordan up for peer tutoring (where Brian tutors him on "The Odyssey," and where he tutors Brian on how to score a girl's number), and Rickie still living with the Chases. The arrangement seems to be working, but when Rickie overhears the tail-end of Patty and Graham's conversation about him — and how he can't just stay there forever — he decides to go home. Trouble is, his aunt and uncle have moved in his absence. Worse, there's no forwarding address. So a stunned Rickie, not wanting to be a burden, tries to suffer in silence.

Rayanne, recognizing her friend isn't actually okay, believes Angela's mom kicked him out (which is, of course, not true), but Angela, in all her naivety, thinks he simply went back to his aunt and uncle's house. Eventually, the reality of his situation becomes more than Rickie can handle on his own, prompting him to reach out to his compassionate English teacher, Mr. Katimski (Jeff Perry, who you might recognize as Thatcher from "Grey's Anatomy").

12. Other People's Mothers (Episode 10)

As Angela notes in "Other People's Mothers," the show's 10th episode, "Entering someone else's house for the first time is like entering another country." Upon entering Rayanne's house for the first time, she finds herself smitten by the beads hanging from the doorways and by Rayanne's free-spirited, Tarot card-reading mom. Patty, however, is unimpressed by the other woman. Patty is also unimpressed when she comes home to discover Rickie holding a beer Rayanne stole from the fridge.

As Rickie frets over his shaky standing with Angela's parents, Angela gushes over Amber and Patty stresses over hosting her parents' 45th wedding anniversary celebration. Rayanne — justifiably upset about a thoughtless birthday card her father sent her — makes plans to throw a wild party. Patty, annoyed at her own father's refusal to attend the celebratory gathering (even though the menu is tailored to his diet), reels over Angela's decision to ditch the family for her friends.

The tension between the Chase matriarch and her eldest daughter melts away as soon as Rayanne overdoses and a desperate Angela calls for her mother's help. Rated at 8.4 on IMDb, this episode has plenty of fans — us included. Critics like This Was TV's Emma Fraser praised the show for following up on "the groundwork it's already laid with Rayanne: She [gets] wasted in the pilot, she consistently has a hip flask on her, and we know that her relationship with her dad is a sensitive area." It's good writing, and that never gets old.

11. So Called Angels (Episode 15)

Just like the "My So-Called Life" Halloween special, "So Called Angels" veers from the show's more realistic approach, this time by introducing a guardian angel in the form of a homeless teen — one who guides Angela (and Patty) to the lost and vulnerable Rickie. With a rating of 8.4 on IMDb, it's not the most-loved episode but it's far from the worst. In fact, some people really love it. Tilt's Ricky D considers the episode an absolute classic, not just because it's "without a doubt the biggest tear-jerker," but also because it starts "one of the best subplots of the series: Rickie and his attempts to find a family."

The beginning of the story sees a bloody and bruised Rickie crying in a snow-covered alleyway after being kicked out of his uncle's house. When he shows up at Liberty with his injuries the next day he claims he fell, but Rayanne tells Angela that Rickie tends to get beaten up a lot. In response, Angela attempts to convince her parents to let Rickie spend the night, but Patty and Graham are reluctant to get involved — until they learn more about Rickie's dangerous situation, that is.

Later, Jordan shares a poignant moment with the other teen while offering Rickie a ride to the place he used to crash whenever his old man knocked him around. Meanwhile, Brian, struggling with being alone on Christmas, reaches out to a helpline. The person on the other end of that line? Rayanne. This one definitely pulls at the heartstrings.

10. Strangers in the House (Episode 8)

In "Strangers in the House" (rated 8.4 on IMDb), the Chases and the Cherskis are shaken by Sharon's father's heart attack, and Patty and Graham offer to take Sharon in while her mom, Camille (Mary Kay Place), camps out at the hospital, waiting for news. Angela, uncomfortable with a house guest who used to be her best friend, and unsure of how to help, avoids Sharon and seeks comfort from Jordan. Brian and Rayanne, though, show up for the devastated teen — Brian providing a shoulder to cry on and Rayanne taking her to visit her father at the hospital.

Amid everything, Patty makes a drastic decision about Graham's future in the family business after watching him engage in some self-sabotage while trying to land a big account. As the AV Club's Amelie Gillette says, "There is a lot to like about this episode, despite the (few and far between) treacly touches and the heavy atmosphere of the whole thing." Camille, for example — "who manages to be wry and charming even while watching her husband recover from a heart attack on closed circuit TV" — is a particular highlight.

Ultimately, this episode ranks as a solid, mid-tier entry because it's here that we glimpse the slow healing of Sharon and Angela's shattered friendship. In the end, the pair will never be best friends again — but that's okay. They can still be there for each other, and that's all that matters.

9. Weekend (Episode 18)

"Weekend," the penultimate episode of "My So-Called Life," is another entry that boasts a rating of 8.4 on IMDb. Here, we see Patty and Graham going away for a couples' retreat with Graham's younger brother and his girlfriend, leaving the Chase daughters to their own devices — they have the house to themselves for the entire weekend. Before the mini-vacation, Camille, sensing that Graham's restaurant partner, Hallie, could pose a threat to Patty's marriage, lends her friend a pair of handcuffs to use during the getaway to help spice things up. The problem is, Patty leaves them behind. As a joke, Rayanne handcuffs herself to the bedpost in Graham and Patty's bedroom, but the mood at the Chase residence quickly sours when none of the teens can find the key.

"Weekend" is notable in that it features voice narration from little sister Danielle rather than from Angela, and that slight change in perspective fuses the storyline with a different kind of energy. That is to say, Angela's teenage angst gives way to Danielle's enthusiastic, childlike desire to be a part of her older sister's life. It's fun to see how Danielle's all-consuming crush on Brian Krakow parallels Angela's fascination with Jordan Catalano.

8. Pilot (Episode 1)

In what Vox's Emily St. James calls "quite possibly the best television pilot ever made," Liberty High sophomore Angela Chase hits that adolescent identity crisis we call coming-of-age. Angela quits Yearbook, ditches best friend Sharon in favor of Rickie and Rayanne, and dyes her blonde hair red while crushing on the boy who leans: Jordan Catalano. The adults in Angela's life — from her parents to her guidance counselor — are, of course, concerned, but Angela's just trying to do what all teenagers are trying to do and figure out who she really is.

The episode, which sees Angela lying to her parents and trying — but failing — to get into a nightclub with her new friends, also establishes the show's chosen mode of storytelling: Voiceover narration from our lead teen. According to Den of Geek's Louisa Mellor, presenting these storylines through Angela's voiceovers, which often feel like the authentic and enthusiastic diary entries of a teenage girl, is a near-perfect decision. "No one lives more in the first person than teenage girls, so it's the perfect mode through which to tell one of their stories." Ultimately, the "My So-Called Life" premiere, currently rated at 8.5 on IMDb, is a classic, but it's not the best episode.

7. Pressure (Episode 13)

"Pressure," which explores Angela and Jordan's brief relationship and our lead protagonist's ultimate devastation over their inevitable break-up, begins with Angela attempting to drive Jordan's beloved red car. Much to Jordan's dismay, she reveals herself as pretty incapable behind the wheel, but her small fender incident is soon forgotten when the pair starts making out — and when Jordan, believing it's what they're supposed to do now that they're dating, starts pressuring her for sex. He even visits her at home late in the night to tell her of a place where they can do it — an empty house on Cloverfield that all the high school students are using as a hook-up house.

Jordan's not the only one Angela's feeling pressured by here. Now that she and Jordan are "official," parents Graham and Patty insist on meeting the young man. As Angela contends with Jordan's pushy attitude about sex and her parents' pushy attitude about meeting the guy, Graham contends with some significant pressures from his cooking student, Hallie, who wants to start a restaurant — with him as the chef. The episode (which has a rating of 8.5 on IMDb) is uncomfortable to watch at times, but that's because it takes no prisoners. "Pressure" touches on some important teenage topics and handles them surprisingly well for a show that aired in the mid-90s.

6. Why Jordan Can't Read (Episode 7)

According to the AV Club's Amelie Gillette, "Why Jordan Can't Read" is one of the best "My So-Called Life" episodes because it goes against the grain by refusing to answer the "why" of the title. Basically, we never truly learn the reason behind Jordan's illiteracy. We just know that he is illiterate and has clearly fallen through the cracks of a flawed education system. Angela's understandable and relatable rollercoaster of emotions is what drives this episode, which deserves its high spot on our list (and an IMDb rating of 8.5) for numerous reasons.

The acting is great here, but it's the story that really sells it. Angela glimpses Jordan's reality after writing him a five-page letter she never actually plans for him to see, laying out all her feelings, and insisting she's finally over him. But, with some careless judgment, she decides to take this letter with her on a school field trip so that she can show Rayanne what she wrote. Things get complicated for Angela when Rayanne loses the pages — and Jordan finds them.

Angela realizes that Jordan didn't read everything in her letter because he couldn't and the two teens actually grow closer as a result. She even summons the courage to ask him to a movie — and to meet her parents. Meanwhile, Patty worries she might be pregnant, Rayanne asks Sharon if she's gone all the way, Brian continues to pine for Angela, and little sister Danielle continues to pine for Brian.

5. The Substitute (Episode 6)

In "The Substitute," which boasts an impressive rating of 8.6 on IMDb, Mr. Racine (Roger Rees), an unconventional substitute who wears one white sock and one black sock, inspires the students in Angela's English class by encouraging them to write anonymous, heartfelt poems. Angela writes about a sleepy girl who lives in a moldy gingerbread house and who fears blowing away, while Sharon writes a sexually-charged poem about an experience she shared with her boyfriend.

After an initially conflicted Patty and Graham agree to print these brutally honest poems in the school's literary journal, the principal takes it upon himself to confiscate the "inappropriate" material. As Angela, furious over the censorship, makes her own photocopies, intent on keeping the content accessible to the student body, Sharon frets over people finding out that she wrote that racy poem — and Rayanne frets over people finding out she didn't.

This episode more than earns the A- score that the AV Club's Amelie Gillette. In her glowing review, she compliments "The Substitute" for its "solid, often subtle, and emotionally-complex" storytelling and compares it to "Dead Poets Society." But, whereas Robin Williams' character in that classic film is earnest and pure of heart, Mr. Racine is, in some ways, a fraud. Still, like ForeverYoungAdult's Jenny Bird tells us, "Just because someone makes bad decisions in one part of their life doesn't mean that they can't still be inspiring."

4. Betrayal (Episode 17)

Currently rated 8.7 on IMDb, "Betrayal" sees Angela and Rickie convincing Rayanne to audition for the high school play, and Angela falsely claiming — for the umpteenth time — that she's definitely over that glassy-eyed, choker-wearing boy who leans. To be fair, she does genuinely believe that's the case. At least until she learns that Jordan and Rayanne have hooked up — and that Brian has some (accidental) video footage as proof. A shattered Angela resorts to throwing herself at fellow student Corey to prove she's over both Jordan and Rayanne, but the act doesn't fix anything. Worse, it pains Rickie, who happens to have a major crush on Corey.

While the kids deal with all the complications that come with heartbreak and betrayal, Camille, concerned for Patty's marriage, warns her friend that Graham might be spending a little too much time with his business partner, Hallie. This Was TV's Emma Fraser believes this late series entry ranks as one of the show's best because of the way it examines Rayanne and Jordan's devastating betrayal — and the blind pain that leads Angela to betray Rickie in a similar way. To Fraser, Rayanne idolizing Angela so much that she wants to be just like her is gut-wrenching. And though there's also a layer of creepiness to that interpretation, we'd say that Fraser's assessment of why this show still stands up nearly two decades later feels pretty spot on.

3. Self-Esteem (Episode 12)

"Self-Esteem," with its impressive rating of 8.7 on IMDb, and its excellent A- rating at AV Club, ranks as top-tier "My So-Called Life" content. Here, we learn that Angela has started to skip her geometry reviews in favor of meeting up with Jordan in the boiler room, where they engage in passionate make-out sessions. Outside of the boiler room, though, Jordan doesn't really acknowledge her presence.

Like Xander in the infamous "Zeppo" episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," who must deal with the feelings of worthlessness that come with always being assigned donut duty, Angela's frustrating arrangement with Jordan eats away at her self-esteem. As she struggles with her perceived value, Sharon regrets breaking up with Kyle before midterms, and Rickie finds himself annoyed with their new English teacher, who calls him by his full name (Enrique) and keeps asking him to join Drama Club. Graham, meanwhile, has a bizarre experience during his cooking class that begins with the teacher failing to show up due to food poisoning and ends with the other attendees asking him to teach the course.

With its exceptional pacing and honest exploration of how everyone can have bouts of low self-esteem, it's easy to see why this episode is so well-regarded. What's more: In one of the entry's best moments, Angela gets the opportunity to throw back the "Why are you like this?" comment to Jordan while they're arguing.

2. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (Episode 19)

Inspired by Delmore Schwartz's short story of the same name, the last episode of the show finds the residents of Three Rivers plagued by strange dreams. Angela dreams that she's chasing Jordan through the school hallways against the backdrop of her Aunt Gertrude's funeral (with many of her family members present), Sharon dreams of dancing in a water ballet with Rayanne (it's a charity thing), and Patty dreams of Princess Diana who, in Patty's subconscious, laments that "Princesses don't get divorced." In the real world, we see Jordan begging for Brian's help in winning back Angela, Sharon finally acknowledging that she and Rayanne are, indeed, friends, Rickie coming out to Delia (and, in a sense, to himself), and Angela resolving to give Jordan a second chance after reading the apology letter Brian ghost wrote for the guy.

On top of all that, an excited Patty anticipates visiting with an old boyfriend, and Graham, who's out cooking for the restaurant investors, almost succumbs to his wandering eye and attraction toward Hallie. Ultimately, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," which boasts an impressive rating of 8.8 on IMDb, is an amazing series finale because it wraps up a classic teen drama in a way that leaves us both satisfied, yet still yearning for more.

1. Life of Brian (Episode 11)

Like "Weekend," the show's 11th episode switches up the voice narration, offering a glimpse into another character's inner life. This time, we get Brian's perspective — a storytelling decision that critics like IGN's Eric Goldman praise. With an excellent rating of 9 on IMDb, the story opens with Brian discussing how his psychologist parents fundamentally disagree on pretty much everything, and how being the photographer for Yearbook translates to not actually being in the Yearbook. Set against the backdrop of the school's "World Happiness" dance, we then watch Brian, still pining for Angela, slowly turn his attention to new girl Delia. Though he eventually asks an excited Delia to the dance, he regrets it as soon as Angela asks for a ride to the event.

As Brian debates ditching Delia, Sharon bullies Kyle into asking her to the dance, Graham uses his newfound free time to wallpaper the bedroom, and Rickie develops a crush on Corey after the other boy compliments his vest. Determined to play wing-woman for Rickie, Rayanne asks Corey to join them at the dance, but when she doesn't show up, Rickie must deal with heartbreak and humiliation, convinced he "doesn't fit anywhere." The reason this entry ranks as the crème de la crème of "My So-Called Life" is that, as a character, Brian is — for better or worse — incredibly relatable, and that kind of authenticity is what this teen drama is all about.