My So-Called Life holds a special place in the realm of one-season TV shows, and here at This Was TV, we aim to contribute a unique perspective to the ongoing discussion. In the ever-evolving pop culture landscape, the ’90s are currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity.
With this in mind, Astha and Kriti have decided to embark on a bi-monthly exploration of MSCL. Both of them attended high school during the ’90s, and they plan to use their shared nostalgia as a lens through which to evaluate the show’s contemporary relevance.
Kriti watched MSCL when it originally aired and holds strong positive sentiments for Angela Chase, while this is Astha’s inaugural viewing, and this contrast adds another dimension to their conversation.
Additionally, they will analyze how MSCL fits within the broader high school television genre and examine the show from the perspectives of adults and teenagers.
My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episode 10: “Other People’s Mothers”
Original airdate: Nov. 3, 1994
Astha: Today, Kriti and I dive into the obligatory “alcohol and drugs are bad, and so are the kids that use them” episode of My So-Called Life.
Kriti: You’re absolutely right. It seems like nearly every teen show includes an episode designed to highlight the perils of alcohol and drugs (with the rare exception of The Vampire Diaries, which portrays whiskey positively).
Crafting these episodes in a way that doesn’t come across as a School Special can be challenging, but I believe MSCL manages it quite effectively.
Much of the credit goes to the groundwork already laid with Rayanne: she had a significant drinking incident in the pilot, consistently carries a hip flask, and we know of her strained relationship with her dad.
However, it’s not solely about alcohol; this marks the first instance of Rayanne delving into more potent substances, though it’s not surprising given her impulsive nature.
We gain more insight into Rayanne’s mother, Amber, whom we’ve briefly encountered before. She continues to embody the role of the “cool mom,” with her demeanor contrasting Patty’s more traditional and strict parenting style.
The differences are readily apparent, spanning from their home decor and clothing to their interactions with their daughters. Rayanne’s household is characterized by openness, and it’s not unusual for Amber to spend time with her daughter’s friends, even engaging in tarot card readings to explore their futures.
The mother-daughter relationship in the Perry residence is built on affection and sharing, marked by a strong bond. However, when a crisis emerges, responsible Patty is the one called upon.
This dynamic likely speaks more about mother-daughter relationships than it does about single-parent families.
The overarching theme of the episode revolves around the relationships between mothers and daughters, as implied by the title.
In addition, viewers learn that Patty is adopted, a fact not readily apparent when observing her and her mother, Vivienne, who share a resemblance. The interactions with Vivienne, particularly her ability to irk everyone, add depth to the story.
Danielle, at her age, can express her thoughts without getting into too much trouble, perfectly emulating Angela’s style of pouting.
Angela reflects on Patty’s talent for feigning happiness, which she shares with Rayanne, who excels at putting on a false smile.
When Rayanne awakens after her stomach-pumping incident, she faces the challenge of convincing people that they had “a good time.” Rickie does his best to protect his friend, and his interaction with Patty is genuinely touching.
Patty’s knowledge of what to do when someone overdoses stems from her past experience with a college roommate who passed away.
This serves as both a convenient plot device and a reminder to Angela that her mom has her own life experiences that shape her perspective. These experiences also influence how Patty views Rayanne, for better or worse.
What are your thoughts on this?
Astha: I’m taking a sip of my own hip flask at your mention of Mean Girls.
In its sole season, My So-Called Life is undeniably checking off the boxes of teen drama clichés. An inspirational English teacher? Check. Issues with illiteracy? Check. Infidelity? Check.
Now, we’ve ventured into the territory of drinking and drug use, a predictable progression for the show. Rayanne, who has been drinking since the pilot episode, was bound to confront the consequences of her actions.
She embodies the archetypal troubled bad girl, and therefore, she must face a near-death experience (or almost become a victim of sexual assault, as nearly happened in the pilot episode).
Of course, Patty’s revelation about her college roommate who overdosed is a shared experience for many. We’ve all had that same roommate, haven’t we? Including the previously unmentioned roommate likely reminds Angela that her mother had a life before her children were born.
Perhaps her strictness is rooted in personal experiences rather than mere strictness, and that’s perfectly reasonable. It might be a bit overplayed, but it’s acceptable.
My main issue with this episode is its predictability; it feels like we’ve seen it all before. We all assumed Rayanne would face a crisis.
However, given her history of drinking (and I’ll assume drug use based on Rickie’s unimpressed reaction to her taking pills), one would expect her to be more adept at handling these substances.
It would have been far more tragic and harrowing if Angela had needed her stomach pumped instead or if Angela had unintentionally taken some of Rayanne’s pills. But now I’m creating my own show.
It just feels a bit too convenient for them to portray, “Here’s the responsible mother who knows how to handle a crisis. And here’s the carefree mother with a daughter on the edge of disaster.”
Kriti: I agree, the Patty/Amber storyline feels a bit overwhelming, although I completely believed Patty’s solo car cry. She’s not the type to display her tears in front of a crowd of people (but then again, who is?).
Patty is truly amazing, and I can’t figure out why I didn’t like her before. I suspect Teen Me wasn’t particularly insightful.
Yeah, Angela was quite self-centered, but I recall reacting the same way to family obligations when I’d rather be hanging out with friends (Teen Me isn’t looking great today).
Angela’s outfit for her grandparents’ party was a departure from her usual style and seemed like a bit of a rebellious “screw you” to her mother. I also loved how all the adults couldn’t track which daughter was which, which is true for these extended family gatherings.
I completely agree with the comparison to Lucille Bluth; you nailed it!
Graham’s character development from the near-affair in the pilot to a more robust character is great. His passion for food and cooking is both charming and funny.
I was thrilled to see the Sharon and Rayanne bathroom scene (raises a toast). Their interactions have shifted from being combative to friendly banter. And yes, Sharon definitely needed something for her hair. Do people still use mousse these days?
Did you find the absence of Brian or Jordan noticeable this week?
Astha: I’m actually considering starting a Patty Chase Fan Club because she’s absolutely amazing. She’s not obnoxiously sweet like that annoying Cindy Walsh from Beverly Hills, 90210. Patty has life experience and street smarts, and she’s a fantastic mom.
One day, Angela will come to appreciate this. Hopefully, it won’t be too late. Dun-dun-DUH.
I can’t be too hard on Angela because I used to act just like her back in the day. Although, I always had this weird belief that if I skipped a family gathering, some catastrophe would occur, resulting in the immediate demise of my entire family.
An irrational but strangely potent fear. Yep, I’ve got issues.
Thank you for mentioning Sharon. Her brief moment in the bathroom was quite enjoyable, and seriously, what was going on with her hair? That was a mess.
I’m thinking about writing some MSCL fan fiction where Sharon and Rayanne go to college together and become roommates. Just imagine all the bathroom scenes!
You know what? I didn’t even realize Brian was absent this week. I mean, I never miss Jordan, of course, but it barely registered that this episode was completely WITHOUT BRIAN KRAKOW.
Hopefully, the next episode will make up for it. I’m getting the shakes. Brian Krakow is my drug.
Kriti: I’m surprised that Brian didn’t find a reason to come over to the Chase house, as he usually does whenever something happens. Maybe he finally ran out of books to pretend he needed to retrieve from Angela.
I don’t have much more to add, but I’d definitely like to be a part of the Patty Chase Fan Club. The presence of so many strong female characters on this show makes me so happy, even when they pull off stunts like having the “bad girl” end up in the hospital getting her stomach pumped.
And remember kids, don’t drink or take drugs.