My So-Called Life is undeniably one of the most discussed single-season TV shows, and here at This Was TV, we aim to contribute a fresh perspective to this ongoing conversation. In today’s pop culture landscape, there’s constant recycling and rebooting of ’90s trends, and keeping this in mind, Astha and Kriti will provide a bi-monthly examination of My So-Called Life. Both of them experienced high school in the ’90s, and they plan to leverage this nostalgia to evaluate how the show holds up in the present day. Kriti initially watched My So-Called Life when it first aired and has a strong fondness for Angela Chase, while Astha is experiencing it for the first time. This difference in perspective will be a crucial aspect of their discussion. They will also consider how My So-Called Life fits into the broader landscape of high school television shows and assess the show through the lens of adults watching it as opposed to teenagers.
My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episode 9: “Halloween”
Original airdate: Oct. 27, 1994
Kriti: To kick off our discussion, I want to express my deep affection for Halloween episodes (and, really, holiday-themed episodes in general—Christmas, Thanksgiving, and yes, even Labor Day).
I believe it’s mainly because of the costume shenanigans, and My So-Called Life definitely delivers in this department.
I also enjoy spooky stories, even though I’m a total scaredy-cat.
“Halloween” is a great example because it introduces a supernatural theme, which might not be expected in a teen show, but it represents something I think is a significant rite of passage for teenagers.
Additionally, Halloween isn’t as big of a deal in the UK as it is in the US, so that might be another reason why I appreciate Halloween episodes.
The costumes chosen for this episode aren’t over-the-top.
In many TV shows, characters’ costumes look far better than anything you’d find in real life (or perhaps I’m just terrible at making costumes).
Staying true to the theme of pretending to be someone you’re not, two characters dress as people in their lives.
Danielle does an impressive impersonation of Angela, complete with red hair, a plaid shirt, and a slightly awkward, body-hugging outfit (and yes, the shirt is Angela’s).
Rickie, on the other hand, chooses to be “normal” and dresses as Brian.
Both costumes have their humorous aspects, but Danielle’s attire carries some underlying sadness due to her somewhat antagonistic relationship with her older sister.
All she really wants is Angela’s approval and attention.
As for our core characters, they don’t go for blatantly extravagant costumes (no sexy Gizmo, unfortunately).
Sharon dresses up as a cat, but her feline appearance is more akin to some kind of rodent, and it highlights that having a curvy figure doesn’t automatically mean being overtly sexual.
Rayanne, of course, leans toward the slightly sultrier side, but even her vampire costume isn’t too over-the-top.
Although Brian is quite intrigued by Rayanne’s legs, it’s safe to say he’s just a typical hormonal boy who gets flustered at the sight of any exposed body part.
Angela’s 1960s-inspired costume doesn’t have a sexy vibe either, despite Rayanne suggesting that she stuffs her bra with toilet paper like they did in the ’60s.
Angela actually pulls off the look quite well, and the glasses are the perfect finishing touch.
It’s fitting that Angela winds up encountering the ghost of Nicky Driscoll, the 1960s counterpart to Jordan Catalano, who met an early and tragic end.
While the supernatural aspect might feel a bit out of place for a show grounded in a regular, non-supernatural world, I found the urban legends and discussions about dying young to be quite intriguing.
The girls gossiping about the different versions of how Nicky died in the bathroom (in a favorite location, nonetheless) felt very grounded in reality.
Teenage sleepovers often revolved around watching horror movies and then attempting to scare each other with things like saying “Candyman” in front of a mirror.
Every culture and town has its ghost stories and tales of people meeting gruesome fates.
It reminds me of my own experiences as a kid, trying to spook my friends with such stories.
Even in my late teens and early twenties, we would share ghost stories and make attempts to see these ghosts ourselves.
The last time I recall doing something like that was waiting on a deserted country road in the middle of nowhere at 3 a.m., hoping to catch a glimpse of a ghostly carriage.
Unfortunately, it never materialized, but we managed to scare the wits out of each other (thanks to a bit of alcohol).
These stories and activities are timeless, and I believe they persist because even if you don’t believe in spirits when you’re in a group, the collective imagination can pull you into the moment.
Teen years are rife with such opportunities to engage in these kinds of activities. Did you have similar experiences growing up?
The episode’s creepiness comes from its use of typical horror conventions, like eerie music and sudden power outages.
Empty school corridors in the dark can be quite unsettling because you’re so used to seeing them in the daytime, teeming with people, and they appear completely unnatural at night when deserted.
Even when Angela is alone, and she bumps into the Halloween decoration, it makes me jump, despite having seen this episode before (as I mentioned, I’m a bit of a wuss).
It’s reminiscent of how Buffy the Vampire Slayer used darkened hallways at Sunnydale High to great effect.
This episode particularly brought to mind the Season 2 Buffy episode “I Only Have Eyes For You” due to the blast-from-the-past theme.
What are your thoughts on this episode?
Astha: It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the episode! Holiday episodes often add a special charm to a TV show, and each holiday brings its own unique flavor to the storylines.
I totally get your perspective on Halloween and other holidays that can sometimes encourage unruly behavior.
Dressing up, however, is one of the most enjoyable aspects, allowing people to express themselves in fun and creative ways.
You make a good point about how costumes have evolved over the years, with the rise of the “sexy whatever” trend being a relatively recent development.
In the ’90s, creativity often took precedence over sexiness, and flannel was a fashion statement in itself.
The moments with Danielle and Ricky dressing as their respective characters were indeed poignant.
Danielle’s desire to emulate her older sister, even if it’s met with Angela’s annoyance, stems from a longing for approval and attention.
On the other hand, Ricky getting a taste of what it’s like to be “normal” for a day offers an interesting exploration of identity.
Your cautious approach to exploring rumors of hauntings and the supernatural is completely understandable.
“True stories” can be quite unsettling, and it’s wise not to provoke any spirits by disturbing them.
Instead, enjoying some Reese’s peanut butter cups is a much safer and more enjoyable way to pass the time!
From a storytelling perspective, the whole Nicky Driscoll becoming Jordan Catalano seemed a bit excessive to me.
It’s quite a stretch to suggest that the love of a good woman would have saved Nicky Driscoll, and now Angela is going to rescue Jordan by compelling him to attend English class.
(Although I did appreciate Angela’s costume, and I couldn’t help but note that if this show were produced today, that’s probably how the tragic little hipster Angela Chase would have dressed all the time.)
What fascinated me more was the dynamic that was either developing or not developing between Rayanne and Brian.
He’s just so desperate for some romantic companionship. (On a side note, in a discussion of people who passed away too soon, I found it interesting that someone in English class was reading a Rolling Stone magazine with Kurt Cobain on the cover.)
*Ed. note: PHRASING!
I almost feel like it’s better to say as little as possible about Graham and Patty (is there ever going to be an episode where they’re NOT fooling around?), so I’ll just ask you this: What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?
Kriti: Yeah, the Patty and Graham stuff felt pretty uncomfortable, especially with the encouragement from the costume store lady.
Ugh. But hey, at least they’re in a much better place now than the last time the Clintons were mentioned (Patty could really make a great Hillary).
One of the redeeming aspects of Graham was his comment, “Who’s scarier than Madonna?!” which I’m sure would still work today.
We didn’t really celebrate Halloween during my teenage years, so my best costumes have come from the past few years.
And when I say “costumes,” I mean “costume.” I’m so lazy that I pretty much wear the same thing every year!
I go as one of the school kids from Battle Royale since all it requires is a school uniform (non-sexy version), a homemade collar (tin foil and cardboard), and a weapon.
The weapon is the only thing I change each year, and it has ranged from an umbrella to a (fake) gun. How about you?
I found it quite sad that this was probably the best night Brian has ever had, and Rayanne was just like, “whatever” about the whole non-event.
I really appreciated Rayanne’s real reason for being afraid of the dark, especially since Brian expected there to be some profound and terrible explanation for her phobia.
The inclusion of the Kurt Cobain magazine was a nice touch, and I always appreciate Angela’s voiceover with its “deep and meaningful” teen philosophy.
It’s strange when young people die, especially the rock and roll types who become part of the infamous 27 Club.
Kurt Cobain is one of the first major celebrity deaths of a young person that I can recall, but I’d also add River Phoenix and, of course, most recently, Heath Ledger to the list.
On another note, the awkwardness that has lingered since the pilot between Sharon, Rayanne, and Angela seems to have vanished, and their conversation in the bathroom about Nicky Driscoll felt genuinely comfortable.
Although Sharon didn’t join their evening plans, it does seem like all six of them (including Ricky, Brian, and Jordan) are friends in some indirect way.
Also, now I’m craving Reese’s peanut butter cups.
Astha: I recall you mentioning the Battle Royale costume, and it’s a fantastic idea, especially because you can easily upgrade it to a “sexy Battle Royale” version.
My all-time favorite costume came after high school when my husband (John), our friend Wally, and I decided (on the day of the party) to dress up as The Royal Tenenbaums.
I happened to have a polo-type dress and a faux fur coat, and I wrapped my finger in brown construction paper or something to mimic Margot Tenenbaum’s look.
Wally dressed up as Luke Wilson’s character, Richie, and he looked great in a corduroy jacket and tennis whites.
John went as Ben Stiller’s character, Chaz, but his tracksuit wasn’t quite right.
When we arrived at the party, we discovered another Chaz in attendance, a better Chaz, and we spent most of the night with him. (We didn’t exactly ditch John, though.)
I really empathized with Brian because I think we’ve all had those “wow, I can’t believe this night just happened” moments, only to find out later that the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Poor boy is going to have a hardened heart by the time high school is over. But I’m sure he’ll get plenty of attention in college, especially from fellow band geeks.
Both River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain passed away during my (and Angela’s) freshman year of high school, so those feelings about young, deceased celebrities were still fresh during our sophomore year.
I remember some people being absolutely devastated when Kurt Cobain died, but I never had that kind of reaction to a celebrity’s death.
I’m pleased you brought up Sharon again because I really enjoyed her trick-or-treating with Danielle.
It’s clear that Danielle misses Sharon coming around, as she seems to have a stronger connection with her than with her own sister.
Despite the fact that Sharon and Angela no longer hang out, Sharon and Danielle will always share a bond.
I can totally see them hanging out in their twenties, sipping cosmopolitans, and making fun of Angela.
As for Reese’s cups, don’t get me started. I’ll only be stocking Almond Joy candies in the house this year because I know I can resist anything with coconut.
Kriti: I’ve realized that I’ve mentioned Mean Girls in almost every discussion so far. It could mean a) I’ve watched Mean Girls too much, b) I like Tina Fey, c) Mean Girls captures the essence of those teen years, or d) all of the above.
Kudos to the Royal Tenenbaums costumes. I’d love to do a Moonrise Kingdom theme this year (although I’m pretty sure I won’t make it to any Halloween parties because of work).
Glad to hear the toy fight has been resolved! We rocked a pub quiz tonight and won a bottle of Jägermeister as our prize. Knowledge equals booze, in this case.
Astha: I believe Mean Girls should be our recurring reference like Superman on Seinfeld and make its way into every review.
We should also join forces for the inevitable This Was Television Trivia Bowl, and our team can go by the name “The Frozen Embryos.”