My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episodes 3 & 4: “Guns and Gossip” and “Father Figures”
Original Air Dates: Sept. 8 & 15, 1994
Astha: Hello, everyone! You’re in for a special treat this week as we’re offering two MSCL episodes at no extra cost, just in time for Halloween. Synergy at its finest.
In episodes three and four of MSCL, we explored two different themes: guns in school and the role of fathers.
“Guns and Gossip” placed Rickie in the spotlight, while “Father Figures” featured Paul Dooley and his disdain for healthy eating.
Oh Rickie, You’re So Fine
Kriti: “Guns and Gossip” marks a turning point for Rickie, where he steps out of the friend role and into the spotlight.
It’s sadly unsurprising that a kid like Rickie, who dresses the way he does, becomes a target for intimidation and bullying, even though the bullies themselves look far from being actual kids.
Astha: That was quite common in 1990s teen dramas.
Kriti: Up to this point, we’ve mostly seen Rickie in settings where he’s comfortable and free from this kind of fear, like the girl’s bathroom.
However, in this episode, we witness just how tough it can be for Rickie when he’s alone.
Yet, amidst all the fear and intimidation, it’s heartening to see that Rickie hasn’t changed his appearance or behavior, even though it might make his school days easier.
Rickie’s a bit of a paradox; he may appear to lack confidence and self-belief, but he proudly goes to school in makeup and the most fabulous outfits (his waistcoat game is strong).
I’m a huge fan of Rickie, and I’m delighted that this episode begins to shape him into a distinct character rather than a mere accessory.
Rickie’s car provides him with a sanctuary, and it’s heartbreaking when he confides in Angela that he can’t go a day without retreating to this refuge.
The subplot involving the gun feels somewhat ahead of its time, although I’m sure it’s a common theme in teen shows.
The actual reason for the gun going off is far less sinister than what Patty and the other parents imagine.
Even though it’s a serious issue, the show manages to inject some humor into the situation: Rickie’s cousin wetting himself, the exaggerated reaction of the girl whose locker and soda were shot, and Rayanne exploiting the situation to get a few days off school by feigning emotional distress.
Angela uses the counseling sessions to work through her own significant issues (yes, they deserve a capital “I”), though she does come through for Rickie during their bonding session in the car. The transition from being acquaintances to friends is portrayed quite effectively. While the kids display a rather nonchalant attitude toward the gun incident, there is genuine concern when Rickie explains why he might have a gun, highlighting that it’s a serious issue, although they don’t react in the same way Patty does.
Astha: I also found it intriguing that Rickie played a role in the entire “gun going off” incident and even wanted to create the impression that he was armed and potentially dangerous. Nowadays, there’s considerable concern about individuals like Rickie – those who are “different” and feel like outsiders in their school – resorting to violence against their tormentors. I genuinely believe the show was quite progressive in addressing such a situation, and perhaps it drew inspiration from Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”
I don’t know, I just felt like bringing up Pearl Jam. Just be glad I didn’t mention that moment when Scott accidentally shot himself on 90210. Oops.
I must commend Rickie for staying true to himself, even though he may have some insecurities about it.
Parents Still Just Don’t Understand
Kriti: Moving on to Angela and sex, isn’t it wonderfully awkward how Patty conducts her sex chat with her?! What’s also kind of sweet is how Patty initiates it with a compliment about Angela’s music choice (The Cranberries, of course). It’s hard to recall why I used to think Patty was so awful. The relief Patty feels when she realizes Angela is telling the truth is hilarious, and I love how she refers to Jordan as a “male pal.” This conversation comes about because of something Rayanne’s mother said, highlighting once again that other teenage daughters share things with their mothers. Rayanne’s mother is certainly a lot like Rayanne, but she’s not as much of a “deadbeat mom” as the pilot would suggest – she’s scattered, not traditionally parental, but at this moment, she seems like a “Cool Mom” (I’m now thinking of Amy Poehler in Mean Girls). Patty is fascinated, perhaps a little jealous, and likely somewhat appalled by her. We also get a glimpse into how insecure Rayanne actually is when her mother says that Rayanne wants to be like Angela (and yeah, I totally get the feeling of having that one friend whose hair, clothes, and house you wished were yours, in a non-creepy way).
The shift in parental focus from mothers to fathers in “Father Figures” is necessary after Angela witnessed her dad with another woman in the pilot, then caught him on the phone with his illicit booty call in the second episode. Graham’s response to Angela’s disdain and lack of love is somewhat childlike: he’s confused, and when he sees her going through his stuff, he responds with his own petulance and ignores her. Patty is the wise one here, as she has been putting up with Angela’s “silent contempt” for some time now. She schools Graham on his parenting methods, but I like that she lets him make his own mistakes first before giving him the sage advice of letting Angela push him away. It’s also sweet that Patty tells Graham that she thought he would be a good father when they first got together (though with all things Patty and Graham, I still get a bit skeeved out when they have moments of intimacy). It’s also sweet that this story runs parallel to Patty’s own father/daughter conflict.
Also, how great is the music discussion between Angela and Graham at the end?! With each new generation, there’s a little less understanding of the music that comes after.
Astha: Regarding the music conversation at the end of the episode, I loved it. I remember being around Angela’s age when I discovered my dad’s music collection (cassette tapes) full of R.E.M., Midnight Oil, and Talking Heads. I thought, “My father is a New Age badass.” There’s nothing like going through someone’s music to get a real sense of who they are. (And my dad even took me to see Pearl Jam once.)
Kriti: When it comes to music, I distinctly remember actively not wanting to like what my parents liked. But, like you, when I discovered the awesome stuff my dad had, I had to change my mind. Though it’s always funny listing off band names they’ve never heard of and realizing how silly some of those names sound out of context. It’s great when Angela, after mentioning all these contemporary artists, throws in Billie Holiday, and Graham is both super-psyched and surprised by this inclusion. It’s moments like these that make MSCL more than just a high school show; it’s a show about family. I think that’s why it has remained popular (and because it got canceled, of course).
Astha: Is it just me, or does Angela and Graham’s relationship give you the willies? Ever since the first episode when he sees her in the towel. I know it’s probably innocent, and I’m sure all dads go through that “oh my gosh, my daughter’s a woman now” phase, but… ew. There’s something just potentially uncomfortable about it.
Kriti: With Graham and Angela, I don’t really see the “ew” factor in their relationship, but definitely the awkward, “oh, my daughter is becoming a woman, and I don’t know how to react” response. Patty wants to know if Angela is sleeping with Jordan, and Graham wants to live in blissful ignorance – he doesn’t want to think about that kind of thing, it seems. Although I also love that when he asks Brian for help with the gutter, he mutters about Brian blatantly wanting to sleep with Angela. (Plus, the fact that Brian is on rollerblades cracks me up.)
It’s a bit awkward when Rayanne flirts with Graham, so maybe Angela is punishing her for this. Also, I don’t think Rayanne has an interest in Graham; I just think that this behavior is part of her character to mask her insecurity. As another example, when Angela sees Rayanne talking to Jordan, she instantly becomes mistrusting. Once again, it’s good to see that the school’s bathroom set is getting some good use with Rayanne and Angela having their heart-to-heart in there. And when Rayanne talks about her mother and the Grateful Dead, I’m totally picturing Almost Famous and her being a Band Aid.
Astha: I’m not sure exactly what’s making me feel uncomfortable about Graham and Angela. It’s only sometimes. I loved the scene between them on the ladder. Graham is a dad with daughters, and I love that he’s putting his girl to work on such a manly task as fixing the gutter. I love that he asked Brian for help. And I love that he called him out (under his breath, at least) for wanting to hook up with Angela but not wanting to assist her father.
As for Patty, I still don’t understand all the hate. She’s a pretty awesome mom character. She’s trying to understand her daughter. Sure, she’s a little protective and sometimes goes about things the wrong way (as any mom of a teenage girl is wont to do – you’re fighting a losing battle there). Plus, she’s a legitimate businesswoman, who took over her family’s company and is looking to bring it into the ’90s, Mr. Banks. And when you consider the father she’s dealing with… impressive.
Kriti: I like that the stuff with Patty and her dad wasn’t properly resolved either, because he’s clearly an old-fashioned sexist who is stuck in his ways. Despite Patty’s best efforts to meet on her terms, he will always insist on getting pie (this sounds way dirtier than I intended). It is still his business in his eyes, even if Patty has been doing all the heavy lifting over the last few years. It seems like his own personal rebellion against Patty, change, and age to be dismissive of her ideas. I’m happy that Patty stood up to him, even if it seemed to fall on deaf ears. They both know that there is an important shift in their father/daughter relationship.
It’s only a small moment, but I also love how upset Patty is with having Jay Leno on TV instead of Johnny Carson. It kind of made me think of our own recent (or not so recent, I guess; time flies) late-night TV shift between Leno and Conan O’Brien. Some people have always been mad at Jay for being in that slot.
Also, even though I squirm at the intimate scenes between Graham and Patty, I like that we get to see the pair having regular conversations in bed.
Astha: I love that Graham and Patty seem to have a pretty solid marriage, save for all the “kissing trollops” business.
If You Believe They Put a Man on the Moon
Kriti: For the parents, the gun is the symbol of the end of innocence and a fear that they can’t protect their children from the dangers of the big bad world. Of course, they view their own experience of growing up through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia; Patty talks about how they never had guns, AIDS, or serial killers, but I’m pretty sure they had two out of those three. This is the same with any generation: they forget the things that their parents freaked out about when they were younger and ignore that there will always be unseen dangers. Now, I’m sure it’s the Internet and sexual predators added to that list of parental worries (drugs, and particularly things like Ecstasy, were the major evil when I was younger). This response to things that can harm your children is only natural, and I think this episode captures the hysteria without it becoming farcical. The metal detectors going up at the end scream symbolism, but I guess this kind of stuff happens when a gun is involved. I remember what a big deal it was when we got combination locks on the front door of our school after the Dunblane massacre. This really did feel like an end-of-innocence moment, but we never had any issues with weapons in my school.
Astha: I really loved how the episode started with Angela being kind of depressed that she didn’t have an event as big and as memorable as the JFK assassination in her life. I remember having a similar thought back in high school. We were part of this generation whose parents had seen so much—from the moon landing to the Vietnam War to The Beatles—and what did we have? Kurt Cobain dying and ironic American Gladiators lunch boxes. Little did we know that less than a decade later we’d have our JFK assassination. (I’m speaking of 9/11, in case that was unclear.) Oh, and the Columbine massacre, which happened when I was in college, and which I’m just about to start teaching.
I don’t know if they could’ve done a “gun” episode like this today. I mean, first of all, Rayanne talked about the fact that people in their school brought in guns all the time, which… what? I don’t remember that ever being okay. But today, when kids are getting suspended for having nail files in their lockers, it’s unthinkable.
Kriti: The big event thing is a funny concept in that you want to be part of a shared experience like this, but inevitably, it is a tragic event (except for the moon landing). Or something sports-related. September 11 happened the week before I started university and automatically became a “where were you” conversation starter, which is a lot more morbid than “where are you from?” Before 9/11, the big news “where were you” moments for me would be Princess Diana dying (I was in bed and heard my mom on the phone; she was super upset, and I couldn’t tell what had gone on) and the TV presenter Jill Dando getting shot on her doorstep (we found out about it at school and thought it was a random hoax, long before Twitter death hoaxes were a regular thing).
Astha: It’s timely to be talking about Big Events around the anniversary of 9/11. Even though I tend to avoid all of the memorials and sadness, I still think about where I was that day and how it felt to be driving home from work down the Edens Expressway from the north suburbs of Chicago, seeing the Sears Tower appear as if out of nowhere, and thinking, “What if it just weren’t there one day?” As far as Princess Diana’s death, that happened during my first week of college, and that time was already so surreal that it barely registered for me. I do remember Chris Farley’s death later that year, though. That one touched a nerve (also, it happened on my birthday).
Kriti: The timing of monumental events is indeed very apt. It’s hard to believe it happened 11 years ago. It also shows that, like JFK, these moments don’t become any less clear even when a significant amount of time has passed.
Kriti: The note and Angela’s new reputation made me realize that these types of everyday high school rumors probably aren’t written with pen and paper nowadays but are splashed all over various websites (and this makes me glad that social media sites didn’t exist while I was at school… I’m sounding old now). Rumors are hard to stop from spreading even when they are not true, so even if the method is pen and paper, it can have a wide impact. This storyline also reminded me of the movie Easy A and how you get treated very differently when people think you will have sex (and in a car, no less). Angela seems overly frustrated by the whole thing and mostly disgusted, though it seems that she is a tiny bit intrigued until she gets her own personalized note in class.
Astha: I was so shocked that her mother picked up on Rayanne wanting to be like Angela. I mean, when Angela and Rayanne are together, Rayanne consistently has the upper hand, so it’s hard to believe that she goes home at night and tells her mother about this amazing girl she’s friends with. I’m not saying it’s not true, it just seems out of character—or, more likely, it’s revealing a bit of character we haven’t seen yet. I want to see more of this nuanced, insecure girl.
Kriti: Rayanne is all about making jokes about bad things, so when she shows insecurities, it stands out. That really starts to show in “Father Figures” when she has the falling out with Angela. Considering what we’ve seen Rayanne be blasé about (almost getting sexually assaulted, for one), it’s understandable that Angela doesn’t get what the big deal is with the concert tickets. We already know that Rickie and Rayanne are from homes that are very different from Angela’s two-parent household, but we find out a little more about Rickie and how his home life is violent on occasion. There’s so much sadness even in a simple sentence from Angela like, “My dad always knocks,” to which Rickie replies, “I had a feeling.”
Yes, Angela is selfish in this scenario. Not to defend her too much, but Rayanne is normally less than bothered by stuff (or she’s good at pretending). Maybe because I’m from a two-parent home, Angela’s point of view is the one I identify with, so I can see that she is in the wrong. Still, just because your home life looks perfect, it doesn’t mean it is. They definitely cover a variety of different family setups.
Astha: I actually loved the Angela/Rayanne storyline here. It illustrates how prone to distrust girls are, even when they’re supposed to be best friends. I’m positive Rayanne would never go after Jordan, but from Angela’s point of view, I understand her insecurity. Everything in high school is so volatile. I was sure, just because it would’ve been the worst thing for Angela, that Rayanne would go to the concert with Jordan. Alas, she didn’t, and the two of them can continue being friends. And I think you’re right about Rayanne’s flirting with Graham having something to do with her insecurity. Judging by what we’ve seen so far of her mother, Rayanne’s experience with watching her interact with men has probably been mostly sexual or flirtatious.
Sitting in Cars With Boys
Kriti: The car provides the venue for a first bonding moment with Angela and Rickie (and contrasts nicely with the awkward car scene with Jordan in “Dancing in the Dark” that fuels the Angela sex rumor). It also gives us the age-old “I wish my life was like yours” conversation. Rickie thinks that Angela’s life is perfect, and in a way it is: she has a loving home life and doesn’t face prejudice on a daily basis. Angela thinks her life is “pathetic,” and even though her problems are smaller in comparison to Rickie’s, she’s a teenager, so this self-obsession seems less offensive than, say, when Carrie makes everything about her on Sex and the City.
Brian’s car serves as a hiding spot for Angela in the next episode when she pretends to be at the concert. Clearly, cars (even stationary ones) are the favored “getting-away-from-everyone” place on My So-Called Life.
Astha: I loved the moment with him and Angela in the car. Nice call comparing it to her scene with Jordan from the previous episode. I’d much rather see Angela and Rickie ride off together into the sunset, or to the MAC counter to try on lipstick. Brian and Rayanne can come too, since apparently they’re now all best friends.
Regarding Mr. Catalano, though, he’s gross. I’m sorry. So gross. The whole “if everybody thinks we’re having sex we might as well do it” thing? Skeevy. He is not cute enough to be that skeevy. I don’t think anyone is cute enough for that. Maybe Logan Echolls. Also, he’s kind of an idiot, and his hair is stupid, and so is his face.
Now that I’ve gotten my feelings out of the way, I think I can talk more rationally about Jordan Catalano and how gross he is. Or maybe not. All I know is that I want to shake some sense into Angela (or have Rickie do it for me).
By the way, I watched the movie Bachelorette (awful) over the weekend, and the Lizzy Caplan character had a whole routine about Brian Krakows vs. Jordan Catalanos and their sexual prowess post-high school. Her verdict: Date a Brian Krakow because he never got the ladies in high school and is just grateful to be spending any time at all in “that area.” The more you know.
Kriti: I’m disappointed that Bachelorette didn’t live up to your expectations. I was excited about it too, mainly because of Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. I was even more thrilled when I heard there was an MSCL debate in it. That conclusion seems pretty accurate, even though Brian is the most awkward and has a habit of saying the worst things (like when he gives Angela his jumper in “Father Figures,” which is a sweet gesture, and then follows it up with an inappropriate question about Jordan).
Yes, Jordan is definitely a creep in the scene you mentioned, and I want to turn in my “I heart Jordan Catalano” ring binder from back in the day. It’s interesting that in these scenes, Angela always fixates on one part of his clothes. In the car, it was his sleeve, and in this moment, it was his collar. I guess it’s all about noticing even the most minute things when you’re really obsessed with someone.
Yet Angela seems less nervous in the conversations between them, until the next episode, where she inadvertently offers her Grateful Dead tickets for sale. The way she describes this moment—hearing the “last sentence echoing in your brain, and it just keeps sounding stupider”—is something I’m sure we can all relate to. That’s why the next thing you say to stop that dumb thing is normally even dumber.
Astha: I might have missed a line in “Father Figures” somewhere, but I thought Angela scalping the tickets came out of nowhere. I mean, I guess it gave her something to talk to Jordan about, and it’s so “high school” to bring your coveted tickets to school. “Look at these tickets that are worth lots of dollars. They’ll be in my backpack/locker in case you’d like to steal them.” Anyway, somebody mentions something later about making money, so perhaps that was just what Angela was doing.
Kriti: When Angela is talking to Jordan and wants to divert attention from her previous silly comment, she mentions that she still owes him $30 as a way to change the subject. Since she’s unintentionally drawn attention to the tickets in an uncool manner while trying to be cool, he suggests scalping them. It’s a brief moment.
Astha: Ah, Angela fanning herself with those tickets was just great. So dorky and so true to high school.
But there was yet another car scene in these episodes: a scene between Brian (who can rock some rollerblades, by the way) and Angela in his driveway. This show really does love its car scenes.
Kriti: I suppose when you’re a teenager, having a car is the only real private space you have. It symbolizes independence and freedom, so it makes sense that several pivotal moments have happened in cars.
Astha: I like that Angela casually hopped into Brian’s car, as if it was the most natural thing. She appears to be the Patty in their relationship, and he’s the dorky, high school version of Graham. Maybe, far in the future, she’ll change her name to Angela Chase-Krakow on Facebook.
Last night, my husband and I had a little discussion about MSCL, and we both agreed that most of the characters, at this point, are falling flat for us. While I love Angela, it’s probably because I can relate to what she’s going through, and her thoughts are conveyed through her voiceover. Our conversation eventually led to Felicity, which isn’t a huge stretch since MSCL shares many similarities with that show. One thing I’m really missing in MSCL is a compelling love interest. In Felicity, you had both Ben and Noel, who were worthy of Felicity’s attention. So far, Jordan Catalano is an enigma leaning towards being a cipher, and Brian is somewhat of a jerk with seriously bad hair. I’m longing to believe in love again.
Kriti: Here’s a confession: I’ve only seen the pilot of Felicity. It never aired here, and I have the first season, but I haven’t found the time to watch it. I do understand what you mean about having a love interest to root for. (I’d pick Scott Speedman, by the way, although I’m not sure if he’s Ben or Noel.) As I’ve mentioned before, during my initial run through MSCL, I was all about Jordan Catalano, but now I’m feeling rather indifferent about the love interests. I’m on Team Rickie-and-Everyone. And I absolutely adore Angela.
Astha: You haven’t seen Felicity?!? Well, now I know what our next show for this column should be.
Kriti: I’d be totally up for watching Felicity next, as it feels like a significant gap in my teen show education.
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