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My So-Called Life: Look How Far We’ve Come

Good morning all; I’m happy to be back with a My So-Called Life recap after a little holiday hiatus. And I regret to report that free episodes of MSCL are no longer available on Hulu. This seems to have nothing to do with the show itself and everything to do with Hulu starting to charge a subscription fee, a la Netflix. Boo. For the time being you can still find full episodes on YouTube. Anyway, if you’re just catching up, check out my week 1 and week 2 recaps. On with the show.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are some things about MSCL that make it so extremely 90s, and there are some ways in which it remains essentially timeless. The third episode is a perfect example of this balance. Despite tackling some perennial societal problems (bullying, violence, self-interested school administrators), it was unmistakably dealing with these problems in the innocence of its own time. The first and only season of my So-Called Life took place several years before the Columbine High School shootings, and a few years more before September 11, 2001.

You’re reminded of this instantly, as the show opens with Angela’s voiceover about how adults are eager to tell kids exactly where they were when JFK was shot. Angela is almost jealous of them, because she’s yet to have such a moment ““ one that defines her young life, and one that she can recall to the minute detail. As she spoke these lines, a little voice in my head said “you will soon.”

The action of the episode starts minutes later, when a gunshot goes off in the hallway. Thanks to the editing we know that Ricky Vazquez was involved somehow, and that Brian Krackow saw most of what happened. I’d also like to point out that, despite all the chatter last month when Glee addressed Kurt being bullied, here we were over a decade and a half earlier showing a gay teen (and one less innocent and cherubic than Kurt) getting pushed around at school. It plants the seed early on to make us wonder if Ricky fired the gun, in a moment of fear and frustration from being tormented at school.

While Angela is upset by these events, and watches the ensuing chatter among students and investigation by the school and police, she’s distracted by the discovery thatRicky and Angela everyone in school seems to think she slept with Jordan Catalano. The frankness and honesty with which the show deals with rumors, adolescent sex drives, and slut-shaming is pretty incredible. We look on as Angela wades her way through the experience: trying to figure out who started it, avoiding the stares of newly-interested teen boys, and addressing the issue with Jordan himself. For the second time, Angela gets a bad reputation without having really done anything bad, and as Rayanne tries to tell her, it can be kind of fun to be the girl who gets talked about.

Overall, this episode was nice to get a bit of a break from the Angela-Jordan drama, because although this episode concerned Jordan, and he speaks with Angela at the end, the episode is mostly about Angela and the other characters. We see a besieged school principal bullying Brian into implicating Ricky in the shooting. We see the imperfect Brian try to do the right thing (wasn’t it great to see him grow some balls by the end?). We see Patty and Graham agonize over the reality of being unable to protect Angela.

We even see Ricky’s darker side; although he did not shoot the gun, he hopes that Brian tells them he did.  It’s clear that he feels ostracized at school, and in society at large. He doesn’t feel safe in the halls, and he sees that the school administration is more concerned with solving, as Brian said, “their little PR problem” than actually figuring out what’s wrong at their school. He seems to think that expulsion from school could be the change he needs. Not only does it set up a few developments that I know are coming later in the season, but it also gives Ricky his first chance to be a real character other than “Rayanne’s friend,” both to Angela and to us as viewers. I remember the character of Ricky really having an impact on me when the show first aired, and it’s with some wonder now that I re-watch his scenes and have to remind myself it aired in 1994.

The episode ends with the students arriving at school one morning to find that metal detectors have been installed; it’s a jarring moment for the kids but it’s even more ominous for us, watching as we are from the other side of two major violent events (not to mention a subsequent war). We know that Angela will soon have her defining historical moment, and we know that the worry of students and parents over violence at school is soon to erupt into horror and fear. And, we also know that while Ricky’s struggle is an important one, almost 20 years later his society will not be any closer to accepting him.

Photos: Popnography, tumblr

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