My So-Called Life (ABC, 8-9 p.m.): ABC is getting a head start on the new fall season - the rest of which doesn't begin until mid-September - with the premiere of this series.
The network description rings with promise, claiming that the show ``charts with bittersweet humor and honesty the life of Angela Chase, a contemporary 15-year-old girl, as she chronicles the ever- fluctuating perspective and emotional aches and pains of a teenager trying to figure out who she is... .''
Is it possible that a sitcom has come along that is willing to forgo a few laughs, a few formula confrontations, in order to explore family life sensitively? After all, the series comes from the creators of ``thirtysomething,'' a thoughtful if sometimes annoying series about baby boomers that ran on ABC a few years ago.
The answer is a qualified but heartening yes. Using Angela's own voice-over in a style reminiscent of ``The Wonder Years,'' the new show persuasively dramatizes the emotional and real-world crises faced by this uncertain, decent, somewhat awkward girl as she faces life at high school and at home. Much of the action is captured in a cinema verite style, with fleeting shots of moving groups that give scenes a breathlessness and immediacy.
Angela grapples with some big problems - like boys and the harrowing dangers in high school - but many of her conflicts circle around things her mother objects to, like Angela's messy room, Angela's hair dye, Angela's decision to quit the school yearbook staff. These are not formula scoldings from a TV mother, but troubling assaults on Angela that may well upset viewers as much as they do Angela. Claire Danes as Angela strikes a credible balance between grace and insight on the one hand, and anguish and uncertainty on the other.
Yes, like ``thirtysomething,'' the new show is a bit self-conscious and maybe precious. But when Angela does something illogical or wrong, in this series - unlike most - you feel you understand why.
Please check local listings for this program.