It’s a Wonderful So-Called Life

If Thanksgiving put you in the mood
for a heartwarming queer
holiday movie, you won’t find much at your local DVD store. But don’t despair;
one of the best shows ever made for television just got a stellar re-release on
, and if its gay-themed holiday episodes don’t make your season bright, you
probably have a heart that’s three sizes too small.

The show is My So-Called Life, which ran for only one
season on ABC in 1995, and then went into seemingly perpetual reruns on MTV.
Far removed from the usual soapy teen-oriented dramas so familiar to viewers
today, Entertainment Weekly called it "the greatest cancelled
television series of all time," and it’s frequently found on critics’
“best TV shows” lists. My So-Called Life didn’t earn that acclaim by
following the rules, so it’s no surprise its holiday episodes broke most of

The two-part story
, “So-Called Angels” and its New Year’s
Eve sequel, “Resolutions,” opens a few days before Christmas, with a beaten and
homeless gay teenager, series regular Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) on his knees
in the snow. It cuts to the home of his friend Angela (Claire Danes), where her
kid sister gets off one of the funniest lines in a holiday TV show ever: “Do we
have to talk about religion? It’s Christmas!”

Like all the best holiday stories, the episodes go straight
for the heart. But while there are snowy streets, Christmas carols, and even an
angel, the snow is stained with Rickie’s blood, and the angel is definitely not
It’s a Wonderful Life’s Clarence.

Angela finds Rickie shivering on her back porch, and brings
him into the house. Her parents can’t handle his eyeliner and battered face,
and he ends up back on the streets.
Rickie’s journey takes him to places few television shows ever go before
it gets to the heartwarming part — and where he ends up finding safe harbor
must have come as something of a shock to audiences of the time. Without
spoiling the story, it’s enough to say that Rickie wasn’t the only gay
character on My So-Called Life, and family comes from places where you
least expect it.

Cruz spoke to
about the impact the holiday
episodes had — and continue to have — on him both personally and
professionally, as well as his thoughts about the new DVD release and his part
in the creation of the first gay teenaged character in American series
television history.

Cruz, who was only 19 when he auditioned for the role of
Rickie Vasquez, had a strong sense of the role’s importance from the beginning.
“I was well aware of it, which is why I took it so seriously and why I wanted
to do it as an openly gay actor,” he said. “I wanted him to be as authentic and
genuine and honest as I could possibly make him, and they allowed me to do

In reading the pilot, Cruz was struck with the many
similarities between him and Rickie, beginning with the fact that Rickie was
conceived of as a half-African-American, half-Latino gay teenager — just like
Cruz himself.

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