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 19: “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities”
Original airdate: Jan. 26, 1995
And so we come to the end of our My So-Called Life journey…
Poor Brian Krakow! How could they end it like this?!? Stupid Hallie and her stupid restaurant. Stupid Jordan and his stupid functional illiteracy or whatever.
Gah. I’m reeling. There HAS to be a reunion show. I mean, Claire Danes and the-girl-who-plays-Sharon are still great friends, so I don’t think it’s totally out of line to say it could happen.
That said, this episode, though obviously not a finale finale, did kind of show us where things might go for our characters in the future. And I’m patting myself on the back right now, because I predicted a lot of the revelations. Sharon and Rayanne will be best friends forever. Rickie and Angela will move on from Rayanne. After carrying on an ill-advised love affair with Jordan Catalano (whose conversational skills rival those of the zombies in Warm Bodies), Angela will marry Brian Krakow, who will eventually consider having an affair with a woman named Hallie who wants to help him realize his dream of opening a restaurant. What goes around, comes around. It’s all right there in the episode.
Anyway, what actually happened in said episode? Let’s talk about that, shall we? The episode started off with everyone having dreams, big dreams, dreams that they feel the need to talk about with anyone who will listen. Angela’s dream is particularly hilarious, what with her dad (representing her love for Brian Krakow; I’m a dream scientist) standing next to Jordan Catalano, and her mom wearing a uber-’90s, Melrose Place, black mesh and velvet outfit. Hot stuff. Basically Angela’s dream was about how Jordan Catalano doesn’t listen to her and he sucks, which we already knew. And funerals, because. Sharon dreams about dancing a water ballet with Rayanne, naturally. And Patty dreams about her old boyfriend, who was once in the restaurant business, and who Patty is sure could give fabulous advice to Graham. The old boyfriend is obviously supposed to be Patty’s Jordan. I probably just blew your mind if you didn’t catch that. It was pretty subtle.
Regarding Patty’s Jordan, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see exactly how this guy turned out. Part of me thinks it would’ve been a great finale moment to see what Jordan Catalano would grow up to be, but at the same time, the air of mystery makes sense. Besides, we all know anyway that Jordan will grow up to be in a band and date Taylor Swift and inspire any number of Grammy nominated songs.
There are so many things to talk about with this episode, I hardly know where to start, even though I’ve already written several hundred words. So, I’ll begin with a simple question — where did poor Danielle go while Patty was waiting for her ex-boyfriend and Graham was cooking/engaging in foreplay with Hallie? #FreeDanielle
Emma: I’m currently in the denial stage of having this show come to an end (all over again) and as you said, even though this wasn’t set out to be a finale finale we can see where things could go for the characters. It doesn’t make it any less devastating though.
Now to the episode before I write an essay on what could have been if we got a season 2 and yes, dream,s and what they mean, are the big theme. I think my favorite dream moment came courtesy of Patty and her Princess Di moment, partly because of the ‘lookalike’ they found and also because I can imagine Patty being really into the Royal family drama (she would love Kate Middleton). Dream sequences tend to make me think of The Sopranos, Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire and while I know some people have issues with it as a device, I like that it can make things more surreal. I only wish that my dreams had the same ‘dream like’ effect that the MSCL ones do.
In fact the whole episode could have been sponsored by Brian’s parents (the psychiatrist and the psychologist) as the talk about dreams and their meanings extended to wish fulfillment and the good old unconscious wish. This episode could also be seen as a moment for these characters to be honest with themselves as well as those around them — Rickie says that he is gay out loud for the first time and even though this might not be what could be considered easy, it is one that is true to himself. Sharon FINALLY admits that she is friends with Rayanne (and in the school bathroom nonetheless), a moment that regular readers will know pleased me greatly. They are so incompatible as people, but there is something that works underneath the snark. This is one will they/won’t they that I’m glad has been resolved before the end of show.
Patty and Graham appear to be in a better place than they were in the finale, but once again Graham is contemplating an affair because apparently he is the worst. This story makes me want to hit things, particularly the classic congratulations hug that lingers just a little too long. Considering how hot Patty was in high school I’m surprised that he wasn’t more jealous of the old boyfriend coming over and while that is refreshing to see, it’s also annoying that he told her that he was jealous after what Hallie said (Hallie is also the worst). I would have also liked to have seen what Patty’s Jordan looked like now, I’m picturing a guy who has lost all of his looks or a guy who is trying to still be a teen.
I did like the moments between Patty and Jordan, even if he did spend most of it grunting and demanding milk. It once again showed that Patty is both reasonable and wise, despite what could come across as an uptight persona. It was also surprising to hear Jordan using ironic in the correct manner, he could teach Alanis Morissette and her 10,000 spoons some lessons. Jordan also gets points for thinking that Brian is called Brain, but only because I laugh at simple things.
Oh, Jordan, I used to think you were dreamy but this rewatch has changed all that, and while I now think he is a wang, I would also watch more of the “Brain and Jordan Tutoring Show” and think that Brian brings out the best in Jordan.
When it comes to Angela and Jordan’s relationship, we have definitely come a long way since the pilot. Angela has really had a profound effect on Jordan, and I think this is partly because she didn’t sleep with him and it seems like girls don’t say no to Jordan (oh, Rayanne). The problem with guys like Jordan, as we have been reminded, is that even though they might look good leaning and have a hot red car, there really isn’t anything else. Guys like Brian might be terrible in social situations, but have way more to them (including letter-writing skills). I think Angela has only previously seen Brian as young boy, who has no idea what it takes to be a man but this letter changes everything. Yes Angela, Brian has FEELINGS and those feelings are for you.
There is deception once again from Jordan with this letter and the doubts will only grow from this point, even if Angela leaves with Jordan (and his Taylor Swift car), leaving Brian alone on his bike.
I’ve just noticed how much I have written and I haven’t even mentioned the new #FreeDanielle campaign, but yes Danielle was conveniently absent.
Are you happy with the progress that these characters have made since the pilot?
Julie: Zoinks, that Princess Di “lookalike” was hilarious. And now I want to know how Patty handled Princess Di’s death in 1997! Does her ghost suddenly start visiting the Chase household? Does the princess’s untimely death stir up some “life’s too short” feelings in Patty and she starts questioning her marriage to Graham… again? If only the show had lasted three more seasons, we would’ve had the answers to all of these questions, and more!
I knew you would love that Rayanne and Sharon finally acknowledge their friendship in the bathroom of all places. It’s perfect, of course. So many big bathroom moments over the course of one season (that sounds wrong), and so many car moments as well. In fact, the show ends with a car moment, with Jordan and Angela driving off in the moonlight, leaving Brain Krakow alone on his bike. It’s like the writers knew what they were doing or something.
As far as Patty’s ex-boyfriend goes, I was fully expecting a James Van Der Beek-on-How I Met Your Mother revelation. It suppose it’s kind of nice that the state of this guy is left dangling. Now with Facebook and Google and Linked \In, you can pretty much find out how time has treated all of your lost loves, friends, and nemeses from high school. I like that Patty still gets to have this image in her head of the hot slacker guy she loved, and she doesn’t have to be subjected to a fat, balding middle-aged man with baby puke on his shoulder. He will never not be the Jordan Catalano of her youth.
And, yes, Graham and Hallie are simultaneously The Worst. Graham needs to get his shit together. He’s got a wife who supports him and trusts him and considers wearing her best friend’s lingerie for him. You don’t toss that aside for a basket case from Texas with red hair and an inability to show up on time.
What you said about Brian and Jordan is absolutely right. I think the show was just figuring out which characters pair best together. Jordan and Brian are great. Rayanne and Sharon. Danielle and Rayanne. Rickie and Brian. Patty and Jordan (and thank you for putting “Ironic” in my head). By this point in the show, the writers had actually started to focus less on Angela. I don’t know if they found her boring or what, but over the past few episodes, we’ve had Patty stories and Rickie stories and Rayanne stories, and Angela started to fade into the background just a little. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I suppose it’s natural to want to develop “the world” around your main character, but part of the appeal for me in the beginning of the show was that we were getting all of our information filtered through this self-absorbed, naive teenage girl. I kind of missed that conceit by the end of the last episode.
Jordan Catalano did no favors for himself in this episode. Really, he did himself no favors throughout the entire series. You asked about how characters have developed, and I think Jordan is the one who needs to do the most growing up. It’s funny, I had him pegged as more of the Dylan McKay, “I’ve got everything figured out” kind of guy at the beginning, but, really, Jordan is a completely clueless human. It seems like he has little to no family life to speak of, so it’s hard for me to believe that this guy has managed to survive until his late teens without figuring out how to read people and read words and not be a dick. I’m proud of Angela for starting to see that the Jordan Catalano she was so obsessed with in the beginning of the school year is just a facade, and even if she doesn’t end up with Brian Krakow, she can at least look for a better, savvier version of the hot guy who leans.
And, of course, poor Danielle who was given absolutely nothing to do in this episode. I looked up the actress on IMDb, and apparently she does voices on Family Guy and she rides show horses, so she’s got all that going for her.
Since this is the, what, third or so time you’ve watched this show, what new things have you picked up on that have most surprised you (aside from Jordan’s not-hotness, I suppose). Were there things that annoyed you or disappointed you this time around?
Emma: This time number three watching MSCL; first time was back when it aired (in the UK), the second was when I first got the DVD around 5/6 years ago and now (and my annual Christmas episode watch). Aside from the realization that Jordan is not the dreamy leaning guy I thought he was, the biggest surprise has been my reaction to Patty. I previously saw her as interfering and possibly shrill, and now I can see that this is not what her character is like at all (okay, she has some interfering moments) and I would quite happily be a member of the Patty Chase fan club. I think this is initially because when I watched it I was at the age where I identified with Angela and sadly I think mothers often get the brunt of teen girl angst. It should be Graham really that gets the criticism as he is the one that is threatening this marriage with his lingering hugs (and therefore giving Danielle nightmares about divorce).
The other big thing I noticed this time around is the high nostalgia factor (which I had to a lesser extent on the second watch) and I’m blaming the high amount of 90s pop culture that is currently in our midst and that I turned 30 last year for this feeling. I think I’m also at an age where I can look back on my teenage years with a fondness that maybe doesn’t exist in your early 20s, but also identify moments that weren’t so great and not get bogged down by it. The other revelation has been Brian, who I don’t recall having any strong feelings towards last time but I think he is wonderful this time around (perhaps your influence!)
One aspect that I’m not sure registered with me before is how many great female roles there are in this show and that we get a spectrum of different types of women. These characters are not just your typical archetypes either and I think that the representation of women is really positive. I like to think that the 14-year-old me got this on some level and it is probably why the show resonated so much with me. A character like Rayanne could have been demonized for sleeping with Jordan and slut shamed and while there was no magic fix between Rayanne and Angela, the scene with Sharon (yep that scene again) shows that yes this was a mistake but Rayanne shouldn’t be continuously punished for it. I also appreciate that even though Angela is the hero of the piece, she also makes mistakes and is far from perfect; she is self-involved (like most teens) and often reads moments incorrectly. It would be dull television if Angela was right all the time and I’m sad that we don’t get to see this character evolve any further than this. Reunion show please.
Going back to what you said about the show moving away from Angela it does seem like a natural evolution, but I agree with you when it comes to missing Angela’s voice. We still get some voiceover and while she is still the central character there is definitely less of her in these later episodes. One Angela scene that showed how far we have come from the pilot was when Patty shared photos and stories from her youth (and Danielle was there too) as I can’t imagine the Angela of the pilot wanting to sit down and hear her mother talking about her past. The inclusion of Danielle in this scene shows that all is not lost for the youngest Chase and that at this age her biggest concern is that her parents will get divorced. This is one of those moments where you realize that your parents were people before they got married and had kids and I like that Angela asks her mother whether she loved her Jordan Catalano. It’s a simple scene, but one that really stood out to me (and also because we got the Patty dream sequence).
I think one mistake that MSCL does with Patty and Graham is a common one with the portrayal of marriage on screen–creating conflict from an outward source. As I’ve said before, Friday Night Lights has shown that you can have an interesting marriage in drama without the obstacle of potential divorce. I think there is a lot more mileage out of Patty and Graham’s marriage beyond the infidelity that is clearly going to happen (and also happened in the pilot, I’m still not buying their retcon of that whole situation) and I can see Danielle’s divorce nightmares coming true.
As this has been your first time watching after years of hearing about the show what has surprised you?I also want to look to the near future of MSCL, as we have discussed where the characters will be in adulthood but what storylines would have been tackled if there had been a season 2?
Julie: Two things surprised me most about the show. I had always heard the show referenced in terms of Angela’s relationship to Jordan, so, basically, that’s what I thought the show would be about, their relationship. So what shocked me was that the Jordan stuff was really just a piece of the show, and certainly not the major piece. The relationships that really matter in MSCL are the familial ones and the friendships. Jordans come and go, but Rickies are forever.
The other thing that shocked me (I’m sure you won’t be surprised by this) was how unsavory a character Jordan is. He is hot, sure, if you’re into that (Jared Leto does nothing for me), and he can sing, but beyond that, there’s just not much there, there. He’s not smart. He doesn’t write poetry. He’s not a tortured, trust-funded recovering alcoholic with a James Dean complex. He’s the guy you obsess over during high school, and then, when you come home to visit during college, you just feel sorry for him because he’s still at home, working at the local video store or the 2013 equivalent.
As far as what they’d do with a second season (or a completed first), I think we would’ve definitely seen some fall out regarding Rickie living with Meredith Grey’s dad. They had set that up earlier in the season, and you know the writers would’ve gone to that well if the others had dried up. I also think we’d see some serious Danielle rebellion (maybe in the form of running away), especially if Patty and Graham’s marriage went down the crapper. I wonder if we’d see the start of a true romance triangle among Angela, Brian, and Jordan, and if the writers would’ve spent the next few years with Angela bouncing between the two guys, a la Kelly/Brandon/Dylan or Felicity/Noel/Ben.
What do you see in the near future for the MSCL characters? Does Rayanne go mainstream and date the captain of the football team?
Emma: With Jordan it’s funny because now when I see people on either my Facebook or Twitter feed reminiscing about how hot Jordan is I just want to tell them to watch it again and see what they think now, but then I don’t want to be THAT person and ruin their teen fantasy. But really he is the worst and maybe we are the worst for having thought so, or it just shows that some teen crushes are best left unvisited (much like Patty and her Jordan). Or it could be a good thing to realize that perceptions at 15 aren’t always correct, but they are still part of who we are.
As far as what storylines I think would have happened I agree with you about Rickie and his living situation and this probably isn’t something that would go unnoticed. Rickie spent most of this season in some kind of torment, whether physical or emotional and I’ve liked that these last few episodes have given him some happiness. I don’t think this would stay this way, but I would also like for him to get a real love interest and one that Angela doesn’t flirt with. As this is a teen show there has to be some kind of pregnancy scare and while they addressed this with Patty, they would most likely go for one of the younger characters like Sharon (after a trip to see Se7en – it was released in 1995 and she has her Brad Pitt thing). The love triangle would become a central plot and I can imagine Brian and Angela’s first kiss would happen in the middle of one of their huge arguments and it would be epic. They might recast the actress who plays Danielle (sorry Lisa Wilhoit) to get someone who looks more ‘edgy’ as this seems to be standard practice (I’m looking at you The O.C.) if they were to go with this rebellion streak, which sounds about right if the Chase marriage crumbles. With Rayanne I think she will try anything so she might attempt going mainstream, but it will all come crashing down around her. It’s okay as she will have plenty of time for bathroom chats with Sharon. They will also start talking about college applications as that is always a thing.
They totally missed out on doing another season.
I don’t have much more to add (I lie, I could probably write more but this is already a thesis) but I just want to say how much I have enjoyed revisiting this show with you Julie and with This Was TV. MSCL meant a lot to me as teenager, it means just as much at 30 and this is why we can spend hours discussing and writing about TV; it’s all about these connections. So thank you for talking about your own personal experiences of being a teenager in the 90s (though the shows themes are pretty timeless) and for getting me to see that Brian is the right choice. I look forward to our next project together and in the meantime I’m going to weep over the plaid trousers that I no longer own. Expect some Claire Danes style crying – it’s all about the chin quiver.
Julie: Hahaha! I love the idea of Sharon getting “pregnancy scurrred” after going to see Se7en. That whole scenario is so perfectly wrong and right.
I’m sure we could fill up another thousand words with more of our very detailed My So-Called Life fanfic, but I will just close it here and say that I, too, had a great time discussing this show and the ’90s with you, Emma. This has been quite a fun trip down memory lane, despite a few tears and a few memories of my high school wardrobe. I look forward to our next venture (Freaks & Geeks, y’all!), which will commence in a few weeks.