It’s amazing sometimes how things come together. In a week where the blogosphere is obsessing over the memoir of the Tiger Mother, and discussing the idea of tough-love parenting, I have occasion to re-watch an early 90s TV show featuring a tough-talking substitute teacher. Episode 6, “The Substitue,” is all about shaking up the status quo. A blunt, sometimes-harsh man with extremely high expectations of the kids comes along and makes them challenge their own ideas about what’s right, and what’s “good enough.”
This episode, in hindsight, reminds me a bit of the Simpsons episode of the same name. It’s enough to make me wonder if the writers realized before, during, or possibly after developing this episode how similar it was. It’s enough for it to be homage. (If you’re unfamiliar with that Simpsons, you should watch it. It’s possibly one of their strongest episodes.
So we open with the substitute strolling in with a nonchalant attitude, working a little reverse-psychology on the kids. “Continue wasting your lives,” he tells them, pulling out the newspaper. Then he blows the kids’ minds with some philosophical stuff. Basically the kind of non-teaching that only substitutes, who don’t have to answer to the school board, parents, or department heads, are able to get away with. The mismatching socks! The toothpicks! The un-placeable accent! So mysterious.
Poor Brian tries to bring the class, and the sub, back to reality by reminding them what they’re supposed to be working on: submissions for the literary magazine. The sub reads their entries for Liberty High School’s not terribly creatively-titled Liberty Lit. The sub hates their original entries so much that he throws them out the window, and demands that they write new ones. With feeling!
When the class reads the new entries aloud in class (no one has their names signed to their work), we’re treated to some funny lines, a horribly cheesy “fable” written by Angela, and a sexy poem that we are led to assume was written by Rayanne.
Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Chase struggle with keeping all their responsibilities with the family on track. (Patty: “You know what we need? A wife.”) Turns out the Chases had told Angela’s English teacher that they would print the Lit. I forgot that their business is a small printing company. I wonder how Chaseco would be doing right now. Anyway it’s all a pretty neat way for the Chases to meet the substitute, and for him to, like, open their minds.
The Principal, cranky McGee, is furious when the Lit is published, complete with the sexy poem. It’s a little surprising in the first place that a substitute teacher was able to just run with the literary magazine without anyone’s knowledge or approval. But! Not entirely unrealistic”¦I doubt the Liberty Lit was at the top of anyone’s priority list. But, suddenly, when the kids are talking about sex in it, it’s a BFD. That part, sadly, is all too realistic.
So Vic (the sub? apparently that’s his name) gets in trouble and tells the kids their options. A lawsuit? A walkout? A book burning? Angela can barely contain her excitement at dinner, while poor Danielle tries to get some attention by talking about Girl Scout cookies. Oh Danielle, my little-sister heart aches for you. When he leaves the school, all the kids assume he was fired.
Anyway it turns out he wasn’t fired. He quit when he was confronted with a subpoena against him for abandoning his family and failing to pay child support. Angela actually handles this information pretty well; she seems to understand that her feelings weren’t about the substitute, this man who was more flawed than she realized, but rather the larger issue: the censorship of her and her classmates’ writing. She makes copies of the forbidden Lit and starts passing them around at school. Brian, who I am just 100% always rooting for, has finally come around and offers to help her hand them out.
The episode ends with a reprise of Angela’s poem, which I’m sorry to say I still kind of hate. But it’s certainly believable that a dreamy, pensive high school student wrote it. I really liked this episode. It was great to see Angela stand for something other than Jordan Catalano, and I loved the way they were able to lead us through the events through Angela’s eyes. We’re just as surprised as she is to find out that the dismissal of Vic the sub wasn’t so black and white.