My 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, Episode 15: “So-Called Angels”
Original airdate: Dec. 22, 1994
Julie: Welcome back to our biweekly discussion of Brian Krakow and some people he knows. Before we get started, I just want to point out the big thing we figured out this week (and by “we,” I mean Les Chappell, though apparently Emma had this information months ago and was holding it close to the vest): Bess Armstrong (aka Mrs. Patty Chase) played the lady who gave Roger Sterling LSD on Mad Men this season. Mind. Blown.
But back to the matter at hand, i.e. “So-Called Angels,” subtitled “Some girl who looks like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club as played by singing sensation Juliana Hatfield makes miracles happen.”
Emma warned me that this episode would be cheesy; and while I wasn’t completely horrified the entire time, the final shot pushed things over the edge. In case you didn’t get it when Patty Chase asks Juliana Hatfield how she died, the fact that the girl grows wings at the end of the episode should really hammer it home for you.
The episode starts with Rickie lying face down in the snow, blood dripping from his face. Shit’s getting real, just in time for the holidays. We haven’t seen any of Rickie’s home life to this point, and we still don’t get to see it in this episode, but now we do know that Rickie is getting beat up by his father on the regular. Rayanne thinks nothing of this, but Angela is worried. She wants Rickie to stay at the Chase household, but Patty isn’t feeling it.
So Rickie goes off on his own and, naturally, runs into Jordan Catalano, who, naturally, knows where all the cool homeless kids hang out. It’s basically Hamsterdam, and the whole time we’re there I just thank all the angels in Heaven that Jordan never tried to entice Angela to get freaky in this place. So Ricky moves in and Jordan takes Angela there and Patty gets worried (rightfully so) and then the cops raid the place and everyone winds up at church singing on Christmas Eve. That’s basically a quick rundown of what happens, but of course, there’s so much more. I’m not quite sure where to start. There’s the homeless angel (How many teen shows have done a homeless-person-at-the-holidays episode? I know both Beverly Hills, 90210 and Saved By the Bell did). There’s the teen help line (another teen show staple). There are the religious questions and the parenting questions. We can talk about how grungy and in-style the angel was for the time, but how she was grungy out of necessity while we high school kids were grungy for fashion. We can also talk about how everyone was worried about where Rickie and Brian Krakow would spend Christmas Eve, but no one was concerned about Jordan and he was the one who ended up alone, in Hamsterdam, smoking a cigarette next to a couple of lit candles.
But I’m going to start with the most important part of the episode, which is, naturally, the Brian Krakow part of the episode. Poor Brian was left home alone for Christmas while his parents flitted off to the Caribbean. He could’ve gone to stay with his sister in Denver, but he chose instead to stay home alone and follow Graham around like a little lost puppy. Sharon, knowing that Brian would have no plans on Christmas Eve, bullied him into joining the teen help line. He agreed, but then he backed out and Sharon asked Rayanne to join her instead. Brian got all depressed about being alone and he called the help line. Rayanne answered, knew it was Brian, and she decided to help him with his loneliness by mimicking a phone sex operator. Brian ended the call (by saying, “Look, I better get off”) feeling just a little warmer… in his heart.
I really loved this part of the episode because, when I heard there was going to be a teen help line, I just figured the story would end with Rickie calling the line and Rayanne having to help him and there would be a lot of tears and drama. I did not expect the show to turn the teen help line into a huge joke. My So-Called Life turned the teen help line meme on it’s ear and I loved it. Respect.
And I’ve written a whole lot more than I intended to. What did you think of the angels, Emma?
Emma: Yeah it’s hard to warn that there will be conversations with dead people, who may or may not be angels and while the final shot is a bit much, I liked the use of the guitar case as wings. The Chase ladies certainly seem to have a connection with the dead after this and the Halloween episode—maybe they’re the influence for The Ghost Whisperer! I think because it’s a Christmas episode there is a certain amount of fantastical aspects that they get a free pass on with the conversation between Patty and Juliana Hatfield teetering on the edge of this cheese induced line. First to Brian and once again we get to see that even though he is from a stable home, his parents are still absent from his life. The appeal of his next door neighbors isn’t purely because he is into Angela, but because that house offers him something that his own is missing. Angela is of course a bonus. I really like their conversation by the fire as Brian does care about Rickie and because it begins as usual with Angela being exacerbated by him, followed by a real chat. I like what you said about the teen helpline and Brian and its with situations like this that this show subverts expectations.
Of course I also appreciated the Sharon and Rayanne pairing and for once Rayanne’s blasé attitude worked in this scenario, it is just the thing Brian needs in this moment. The problem with Rayanne is that she does back off when things turn serious and just because Rickie doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t mean that Rayanne should ignore it. Though this is some pretty heavy stuff to put on any of these characters and they’re all trying to figure out the best way to handle it. Rayanne pretends everything is fine, Angela wants to fix everyone and Jordan is the most practical, which is really surprising.This is probably the best we’ve seen Jordan so far and it makes me feel less dumb about me teen crush from years ago. This is the most we’ve heard him talk about himself and it confirms his not so great upbringing. I like that he doesn’t make a big deal about his dad beating him up, in fact his strangely practical about the whole thing. Yeah he’s a jerk with Rickie about the candle lighting, but he also recognizes that he was a jerk to Angela later on. It’s a small moment but when Jordan offers his hand and Angela takes it, the camera doesn’t focus on it and Angela doesn’t analyze it in a voiceover; this is about Rickie and not whatever this relationship is or isn’t. Considering the production company behind MSCL is called “Bedford Falls Productions” it’s not surprising that there’s a hint of It’s a Wonderful Life, though it’s the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol that’s playing on the TV.
One aspect I really love is the honesty in the conversations between Graham and Patty, particularly the Rickie vs. Brian part. When Patty admits that it does make a difference that it’s Rickie and not someone like Brian who she has known most her life, she could come across as a hypocritical monster but her prejudice (which she knows is wrong) comes from a place of parental concern. The moment between Rickie and Patty in the church is where my full on ugly crying begins. This episode gets me very weepy.
What did you think of Patty this week?
Julie: As far as Patty goes, I can see this being one of the episodes that people trot out as proof that Patty is a horrible monster. She’ll let Brian Krakow come hang out for Christmas because he’s stable, but not Rickie who’s an Other. She doesn’t know much about Rickie. She doesn’t know his parents. She has known Brian’s parents, who live right next door, forever. So I don’t know if Rickie vs. Brian is the best comparison. As a parent, I understand her reluctance to fully embrace her daughter’s friendship with Rickie. I think she would’ve reacted the same way if the kid in question had been Jordan instead of Rickie, so I don’t think the fact that Rickie is different and wears eyeliner is the reason behind her fear.
Also, she does redeem herself. She does want to do the right thing for Rickie, as she wants to get him off the street and out of an abandoned warehouse. Maybe she jumps right to the extreme action and goes to the police before talking directly to Rickie, but to Patty that’s a justifiable action. Patty Chase does not strike me as a person who has any reason at all to distrust the police. And she does eventually go to Hamsterdam to save Rickie, so she does have a soul. And she hugs him and sits in a pew with him and listens to a choir. Patty Chase may be an overprotective mother, but she also comes around to see Angela’s side of things pretty often. She’s cool like that.
The part of this episode which really hit home with me right now is the conversation about religion. Both my husband and I were raised Catholic and our kids are baptized. We’re planning on sending them to Catholic school for many different reasons that have nothing to do with religious doctrine, as neither of us are particularly religious. The God topic has become kind of a loaded one for us, and I appreciated seeing Graham and Patty grappling with it, too. The Chases: They’re just like Us.
The Jordan-holding-hands-with-Angela thing didn’t even register for me, and I find it kind of odd that her voiceover doesn’t obsess over this moment. Earlier in the season, it would’ve been all, “Jordan Catalano just held my hand!” Of course, they almost had sex in an abandoned house, so maybe hand holding just isn’t that exciting anymore?
Emma: I do feel like any hate directed at Patty is unfortunate as she might be meddlesome, but her intentions are always from a good place. She’s headstrong which leads to some bad decisions such as her encounter with Amber over whether Rayanne was drinking again. As you say, Patty does redeem herself but not before she has a full on argument with Angela. This scene with the setting the table goes from Angela being giddy with excitement, to her saying the one thing that she knows will get to Patty—”This girl, she could be me.” To Patty this isn’t a remote possibility at this point, but when she has the conversation with angel Juliana Hatfield (I know) she is forced to see that it could be.
The discussion of religion and Christmas is well handled and I love how flummoxed and stuttering Graham and Patty get as they try and explain why church isn’t a thing they do that much. I think in a way Patty wants them to all go together, not only for the religious aspect but so they do something together as a family. Danielle is priceless once again in all of these scenes, particularly when she makes a point of noting at what age Angela got certain gifts, as this is definitely something us younger siblings do.
Graham’s joke about Brian’s parents only having sex that one time is a sign of his smugness that he and Patty do it all the time (ew). Also it’s a sign of how awful Brian’s house is (maybe Psycho style!) that Patty can yell at Brian when he randomly shows up and it still feels like a better place than his own home. Or maybe he just enjoys getting yelled at by Chase women.
What gifts do you think are sitting under that Christmas tree? A new flannel shirt for Angela? Also it turns out that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” came out in 1994 so I’m picturing Angela secretly loving this song.
Julie: Ha! Danielle. I thought for a minute that Graham had left her at home when he went to the church to retrieve Angela. I actually wrote in my notes, “Poor Danielle. Always left behind.” She’s the Chris Brody (Homeland reference) of the Chase family and gets no respect. But then she shows up in the scene. It’s a Christmas miracle!
I loved her taking note of Angela’s Christmas gifts. I did the same thing, and I’m the elder child. Fun fact: Every year in high school I asked for flannel pajama pants. They were so hot back in the mid-’90s and I was sure they’d entice lots of boys to want to smooch up on me. Every year I did not get flannel pajama pants. But my brother did! (So boys could smooch up on him?) I’m still bitter about this, as you can tell.
I think Brian enjoys the attentions of any female at this point. He no doubt has some major mommy issues, which he’ll have to work through before eventually marrying Angela.
I love your question about the presents under the tree. There has to be a new flannel shirt under there. I’m trying to remember what I wanted back in December of ’94, besides flannel pants, of course. Doc Martens, probably. Definitely.
What were you asking for in ’94?
Emma: I was trying to remember what I would have got in 1994 and as it was my first year of secondary school (I was 12) I’d imagine I was attempting to be a bit more grown-up. I definitely got some purple Doc Martens one year and imagine it might have been this one. They were so awesome. I know that my sister was mad that I got a TV in my room at an earlier age than she did for Christmas (I was 14 when I got mine, she was 16). I can imagine it is a nightmare for parents at Christmas, trying to get gifts that all the kids will be happy with; I think the best year was when we both got Gameboys!
One thing that felt odd when watching the show was the lack of theme song (a pertinent topic after the most recent Hall of Fame). I get why shows get rid of the usual intro and as with this episode it can be really effective and jarring. In a way it makes it feel more festive and like “a very special episode,” particularly because it is Rickie crying and bleeding in the snow. He’s so utterly alone, even though he’s surrounded by shoppers who aren’t really giving him a second look.
Julie: I definitely noticed the lack of intro music this time around, and I thought the episode was going to head to some much darker places, considering it began with Rickie’s blood. I hope the show doesn’t leave the saga of Rickie here. What happens to him after Christmas? Does he go back home and keep getting beaten up? Do Rickie and Brian Krakow get an apartment together, away from their absentee and/or abusive parents? Does Jordan Catalano join them and smoke on the fire escape? I can’t stop writing My So-Called Life fan fiction. It’s a sickness.