Team-Up Review: My So-Called Life, “Pressure” and “On the Wagon”

MSCL ep13 Sharon and Angela bed

msclbannerMy So-Called Life is probably one of the most talked about one-season shows and here at This Was TV we wanted to try and add something different to this conversation. Pop culture is constantly reusing and rebooting and the ’90s is on trend right now. With this is mind, Julie and Emma are going to have a bi-monthly look at MSCL and, as both went to high school in the ’90s, we will be using this nostalgia test to see how the show stands up now. Emma watched MSCL around the time it first aired and has strong positive feelings towards Angela Chase and this is Julie’s first watch; this is another aspect we want to incorporate into our discussion. We will also be looking at how MSCL fits into the high school show pantheon and watching the show as adults vs. teens. 

My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episodes 13 and 14: “Pressure” and “On the Wagon”
Original airdates: Dec. 1 and Dec. 8, 1994

Julie: Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Claire Danes in "My So-Called Life"Emma: So we’ve had the big “say no to drink and drugs” episode so it’s only natural that we tackle the issue of teen sex and as the title suggests “Pressure” isn’t going to sunshine and roses for Angela. It would be easy for it to fall into the trappings of an after-school special, but “Pressure” successfully walks this line in a way that “Other People’s Mothers” didn’t (the next episode deals with the Rayanne situation in a much more interesting way too).

Jordan wants to have sex with Angela, but as Angela is still a virgin she isn’t happy with just doing the deed in Jordan’s car. Jordan acts like the gentleman and instead suggests this house that has like eight bedrooms where everyone else goes. I kid of course, not about Jordan’s suggestion (it’s actually only three bedrooms) but about him acting like a gentleman. Nope instead he acts like a huge jerk and tries to make Angela feel like she is in the wrong for not wanting to sleep with him, I mean no big deal right? While Angela’s interactions with Jordan are all pretty painful and make me want to yell at my teen self for thinking he was ten shades of dreamy, it is the discussions with Angela’s friends that are a highlight of this episode and how it deals with teen sex.

MSCL ep13 sex tapeOne non-starter is Rayanne, who is part of the “no big deal” club and Angela barely talks to her about the prospect. This is possibly thanks to Rayanne’s cavalier attitude towards the opposite sex and I’d say at this point it is still hard to tell how much Rayanne is telling the truth when it comes to her experience and conquests. By not having any big Rayanne/Angela scenes it also underlines the problems in their friendship that are visited in the next episode (more on that later). We get a bigger discussion about Angela between Rayanne and Sharon, in the bathroom of all places (drink one shot/write some more fanfic) and this is where Rayanne reinforces her “no big deal” motto. Sharon goes one step further than Rayanne does and talks to Angela about her fears when it comes to sex; these scenes between the two former BFFs are all great and shows that they are beyond that awkward phase and are more than comfortable in each others company. Angela is surprised that Sharon has had sex and a lot of it with Kyle by the sounds of things, though Sharon’s admission that it was something that was expected after a while is tinged with sadness. Angela keeps pretending that she doesn’t want to talk about it and then keeps on asking more questions, which is funny and sweet as the trust has returned here. There is also the matter of the sex help tape, which is as cheesy as the screencap would suggest. This tape ends up getting viewed by way more people than Angela and Sharon in a farcical but fun trip, though Brian’s admission about his parents vibrator was more than I needed to know. Oh and Rickie, you never want to be able to get away with bicycle shorts. Ever.

Angela also has discussions with the two other boys in her life; Rickie and Brian. Rickie is as romantic and self-deprecating as he always is when it comes to matters of the heart. He doesn’t think that sex should be single and his words really hit a (brief) nerve with Cynthia Hargrove a girl who has slept with Jordan and who has a recent nose piercing (or as Rayanne accurately calls it a “semi-precious” pimple—sorry people with nose studs). Basically everyone is different and so not one experience of teen sex is the same- some want to have little fuss and get it over with, whereas for others it takes on this fantasy like quality. I’m not saying that either is correct, but I do think that this episode does a good job of showing all sides to the experience. The one thing that doesn’t really get referred to all that much is a religious argument and I’m sure this does factor into some teenagers decisions when it comes to sex, I’d say this is pretty representational of the group of friends I hung out with. I’m sure the PTC would have loved this episode (they weren’t formed until 1995).

MSCL ep 13 grahamSo what about Brian? Well Angela has a frank discussion with Brian about sex, unknown to them Graham has been snoozing on the sofa and he picks the perfect time to wake up. Angela surprises Brian with the revelation that girls also think about sex, that’s right Brian, boys do not have the monopoly on all things sex-related. This scenes is brilliant for several reasons, but mostly because Angela and Brian have a conversation that isn’t one of them yelling at the other, it also shows why Brian is much better boyfriend material than Jordan will ever be. Graham also makes some of the best faces ever.

I will leave it there before I discuss the big Angela/Jordan conversation that results in the single tear cry face as I realize that I’ve written an essay length first post.

What did you think of “Pressure?”

Julie: I definitely found myself wondering about all of you girls who were jonesing Jordan Catalano back in high school. I tried to put myself back in my 15-year-old Doc Marten’s to try and figure out if I would’ve been among you, and I have decided that no, no I would not. But then again, I was the girl with a picture of Sean Astin in my locker. Rudy was more my speed.

One of my favorite things in this episode was how Angela wondered about the sex lives of everyone she saw. I distinctly remember doing this and that there was a definite line between “people who did it” and “people who did not,” like your virginity or lack-there-of was the only important component to your personality.

OK, so the lengths that Jordan will go to get Angela to… um… with him are just… sad, I think is the word. He wants to do it in the car. He wants to do it in the abandoned house. He wants to do it in Angela’s bedroom while Patty and Graham are probably most definitely boning next door because when are they not boning? He comes across as 1) kind of desperate, even though I know Jordan Catalano is not that hard up to find a girl who will diddle him in a dark alley and 2) really skeevy, like he’s only in this thing with Angela until he claims the Ultimate Prize. None of this helps to color Jordan Catalano in a new light for me. He’s gross.

MSCL ep 13 single tear face

And he forced poor Claire Danes to make a one-tear cry face! That’s rough business. He came to see her at her house (Graham lying on the couch for the duration of the conversation), probably because he wanted to give Angela once last chance to change her mind about hooking up on Brian Krakow’s bicycle. But she stays strong and kicks him to the curb, sort of, getting one last chance to focus on what was really important in their relationship, i.e. Jordan Catalano’s hair is wicked soft.

One thing about the Brian Krakow conversation, which I loved so much: Brian loves the feisty Angela. He likes it when she yells back at him. He has a hard time dealing with sad, grateful Angela. Their eventual marriage will be quite the roller coaster ride.

Do you have anything else to add about “Pressure,” or should we move on to “On the Wagon”? One thought that occurred to me during this episode (in which Rayanne struggles to stay on the proverbial wagon), is that I can’t see Rayanne and Angela staying friends after high school. I think Angela will go to college and make new friends and only think about Rayanne once in a while and only to wonder what she’s doing with her life because Rayanne is totally not on Facebook in 2012. She’s the girl from your high school class that no one has heard of, whose Google search turns up nothing (I have one of those). But I can totally see Angela and Rickie remaining best friends for eternity. They seem to have much more in common with each other than either of them does with Rayanne.

What say you?

MSCL ep13 Sharon and Angela bedEmma: It’s definitely early for their friendship to already have cracks in it, so I can totally buy this as a brief but important friendship that Rayanne would hold onto a lot longer than Angela would. Sharon gives Angela some very important advice in “Pressure” with Angela’s tendency to shut people out, something that is clearly on display in this second episode. Angela clearly doesn’t like confrontation and she can be very selfish in her choices, like not turning up to Rayanne’s performance. Yes it was always going to be a disaster, but really Angela should have been there for both Rayanne and Rickie (who is having his own Rayanne related breakdown)—I mean even Brian Krakow turns up! I really dislike the way Angela is pandering to Jordan throughout the episode while ignoring her best friend, especially as Angela and Jordan aren’t even dating now, though minus the physical stuff it sure seems like they are.

The reason Rayanne and Angela’s relationship has changed is because the night that Rayanne went to hospital their power dynamic shifted; before Rayanne was someone that Angela looked up to, but that’s now changed. Rayanne’s chaotic side doesn’t hold the same charm as it once did and Angela doesn’t need her in the same way as she did before. Rickie has a right to be super pissed at Rayanne as she doesn’t treat anything seriously and it’s really harsh that she didn’t let him know that she wasn’t dying in ditch somewhere. This is Rayanne all over though, her way to protect herself is to make a joke of everything, but we get to see flashes of sadness from Rayanne. The obvious one is that horrible moment on stage where it all goes wrong, and thanks to a disastrous Theatre Studies monologue at high school where I froze halfway through an exam performance I know that feeling well (it’s the worst)—I scrambled and restarted and when I finished it I burst into tears and ran out of the room, so that was dramatic! The other is when she is in the Chase kitchen watching the Chase family unit interacting and while of course Amber loves her, sometimes you do want food that isn’t an appetizer or leftovers.

MSCL ep 14 Rayanne on stage

How about Patty stepping over the parent advice line?! It’s so awkward and despite Graham’s well-thought-out argument as to why Patty shouldn’t talk to Amber she does it anyway, in her very Patty-like way. No one likes to be criticized and I’m guessing parenting skills is near the top of the list. It’s unfortunate that Patty keeps seeing/hearing things that make it look like Rayanne is drinking when she isn’t (well not at this point) and I can understand why Patty feels involved, but she still goes about it the wrong way. The scene where Rayanne thanks Patty for her life totally made me tear up and this is once again a brief glimpse of Rayanne being sincere.

Rayanne having that beer at the end has gives me mixed feelings; her counselor tells her that it is a risky time when everything is going fine and this is when Rayanne drinks, not when she is having a meltdown. So while I think it beats the usual cliches of the drunk girl getting wasted all the time, it is also feels problematic as the “bad girl” has a drink after performing a very provocative version of the Sesame Street theme. I don’t think I’m explaining myself properly, but it made me feel icky and sad for Rayanne.

What did you think?

MSCL ep 14 Rayanne Rickie BrianJulie: The fact that Angela didn’t show up for the show was painful. This was Rayanne’s big moment, and Angela missed it. If something bad had happened to Rayanne after the show (as Rickie feared), imagine how guilty Angela would’ve felt.

Also, yes, the stuff with Angela and Jordan was just gross. Honest, but gross (I realize I’ve used that word several times in this post in relation to J. Catalano). I completely get the impulse to spend all kinds of time letting a guy bare his soul (or complain about his band) to you and then be too embarrassed to show up where he knows you know he’s going to be. High school is such a delicate balance of being present and aloof. I’m sure Angela thought she was being so considerate and mature, listening to her sexy sometimes make out buddy complain about Frozen Embryos, but it only came across as sad, at least to this old lady watching from the other side of 30. I mean, as you mentioned, Brian Krakow came to the performance. Possibly because he thought Angela would be there, but maybe not. Brian may be kind of a nerd, but he’s also a joiner. He participates. Rickie asks him to do something and, as a friend, he does it. And this is why we love Brian Krakow.

MSCL ep 14 Rayanne and angela

I definitely agree about the power shift between Angela and Rayanne. Rayanne is no longer the cool girl who Angela wants to emulate. She’s the basket case who sees a therapist. The differences between Rayanne’s relationships between Rickie and Angela are apparent in this episode. Rickie has seen all of this from Rayanne before. They’ve been friends for a long time. He’s in the relationship for the long haul, even when she does piss him off. (Aside: Rayanne should totally treat him better. He’s a gem.) Angela is new to Rayanne’s world, and I think her behavior this episode may indicate that she’s trying to escape it. Angela comes from a very normal family. She’s someone who doesn’t generally break the rules or cause trouble. She may be, intentionally or not, trying to distance herself from Rayanne before she gets pulled in too far, which is interesting because just as Rayanne and Angela’s relationship is getting weaker, Rayanne’s relationship with Patty is getting stronger.

The scene where Patty confronts Amber is a rough one. I’m glad that they made Amber somewhat competent as a parent, though, instead of making her a complete failure. And while Patty was not totally in the right, she was only acting based on the information she had, which was that Rayanne was still drinking and she was missing. I really can’t fault her. The whole situation illustrates different kinds of parenting styles and that one is not necessarily better than the other. Though Rayanne does seem to yearn for a more Patty Chase-like mother, at least at times. And sometimes Angela wishes her mom was more like Amber. The grass is always greener.

The scene with the Sesame Street theme song did make me feel icky and that was when I realized that Angela and Rickie’s relationship with Rayanne will not continue beyond high school. Rickie and Angela will go to college and make new friends and start new lives and Rayanne will keep doing this stuff—dancing and drinking and grinding up on old men, perhaps as a career. Maybe as her friends, Rickie and Angela should try to help her out of this hole, but that’s asking a lot of two 15-year-olds and I think they’re going to tire of Rayanne’s shtick pretty quickly.

And I’ve written way too much.  What else do you have to add? We didn’t talk about Jordan Catalano’s fabulous singing voice. How did Tino ever get the lead singer job over Jordan? (Of course, we’ve never seen Tino, so maybe he has the body of Khal Drogo and the voice of Josh Groban.)

MSCL ep 14 redEmma: To the episode and Jordan’s singing and I think I’ve remembered why I thought he was delightful, teen me very much liked the boy in the band. I think I somehow shut out all the awful stuff about his character in light of this, lame I know. The name Frozen Embryos still cracks me up, especially with the added debate of whether they can still use the name.

I also have a theory about Taylor Swift’s new album, Red: it’s about Jordan’s car right?

A small moment that I liked was Danielle acting all moody and Angela-like about a boy at school and the look of fear on Patty and Graham’s face at the prospect of another teen daughter. Also the moment where Angela spills her feelings to her parents and then hugs them, Patty looks like she’s going to pass out and it’s brilliant. Angela is all about the word vomit (Mean Girls reference, drink) and this is a case of her both processing her thoughts while she is talking and trying to give herself a reason not to the performance.

I am also glad that while Amber is no Patty Chase, she also isn’t Courtney Love/Dina Lohan and if they’d gone down that route it would have felt very tired. Also Patty really does need to stop introducing herself to Amber as if they’ve never met before as it puts the conversation on an awkward note from the outset. Patty also uses her fake smile to the max with Amber, also the other line excuse was both hilarious and transparent.

I’m not sure I have much else to add, any further thoughts?

Julie: You’ve got me. I will admit that FOR JUST A SECOND maybe Jordan wasn’t completely hideous to me when he was singing. And your comment about Taylor Swift now has me considering a fanfic where Jordan Catalano becomes a super famous singer, dates Taylor Swift, and then she writes an album about the break up. If she ever starts dating Jared Leto, you can say we came up with the idea first right here in this post. Perhaps we can collect royalties.

Julie Hammerle is, according to Klout, an expert in the areas of both Morgan Freeman and glasses. Her writing can be found at chicagonow.com/hammervision and you can holler at her on Twitter as well.

Emma Fraser wanted to be Angela Chase when she grew up, but is sadly not a CIA Agent now. Her writing can be found at TVOvermind and you will find her on both Twitter and Tumblr.

3 Responses to “Team-Up Review: My So-Called Life, “Pressure” and “On the Wagon””

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