August 17, 2019

My So-Called Life 1, Pilot: The Red Hair Diaries

Posted in TV tagged , at 1:26 pm by Jenn

This is not an exaggeration. We actually dressed like this in 1994

Summary: Angela Chase and Rayanne Graff are trying to find someone who will give them change for a phone call. They spin some different stories – they were robbed, their mother’s in a coma – but no one takes the bait. Angela voices over that she started hanging out with Rayanne for fun; it felt like, if she didn’t, she would die. “Things were getting to me,” she says. “Just how people are.” They expected her to act a certain way, like her best friend.

That best friend is Sharon Cherski, who keeps up a one-sided conversation while Angela checks out boys in the school hallway. She feels like she has to pretend she doesn’t notice them noticing her. She’s annoyed by cheerleaders – “can’t people just cheer on their own? Like, to themselves?” Angela spots Rayanne running across campus with Rickie Vasquez and voices over that “school is a battlefield for your heart.”

Rayanne talks Angela into dyeing her hair red, which she thinks will change her entire life. The first thing it does is surprise Angela’s mother, Patty. She’s next surprised to meet Rayanne and Rickie, who are over at the Chases’ house for the first time. Patty offers them a snack and leaves them alone. Angela tells her friends that she only pretended to be calm about her daughter’s hair because they had company.

At dinner that night, Angela voices over that she can’t bring herself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of her mother. Chewing in public seems weird to her. Her father, Graham, pretends he doesn’t notice Angela’s new hair. Her sister, Danielle, says she would never dye her hair red. Angela corrects that it’s “Crimson Glow.” Graham foresees a better social life. Angela voices over that he thinks everyone in the world is having more fun than he is, which might be true. Graham has no problem with the dye job; Angela’s allowed to do whatever she wants to her own hair. Patty notes that they won’t be able to lose her in a crowd.

Later that evening, Graham encounters Angela as she’s leaving the bathroom in a towel and is shaken. Angela voices over that they used to be close. She tells Graham that she’s starting to like Anne Frank. “Is she a sophomore, too?” he asks. Angela knows that her newly developed breasts have made her father unsure of what to say around her.

Graham tells Patty to tell Angela not to walk around in a towel. Patty says he can tell her himself. Graham says that’s not possible. Patty ignores him and talks about the article she’s reading about Chelsea Clinton. She has no privacy and is always being watched by the Secret Service. Patty wishes they had that for their kids.

Graham tells her it could be a lot worse. When the alternatives are doing drugs, having sex, and cutting class, Angela’s dye job is nothing. Patty thinks Angela dyed her hair to get a reaction out of her mother. Patty won’t give her that reaction. It’s just hard to look at her daughter now – she looks like a stranger.

Angela tells us that she’s in love with Jordan Catalano. He’s older, having been held back twice. He closes his eyes a lot, as if it hurts to look at things. She runs into Sharon at school, and they look at each other awkwardly before Rayanne pulls Angela into a bathroom. She knows that Angela likes Jordan and thinks she wants to sleep with him.

Angela says that Jordan’s always leaning against things – “he leans great.” She’d settle for a conversation over sex, though she’d like to have both with him. Rayanne invites Angela to Tino’s the next night, telling her Jordan will be there. Angela voices over that Rayanne always knows who’s going to be places.

Leaving the bathroom, Angela again runs into Sharon, who can’t believe she dyed her hair. They go to a meeting for the yearbook, where Brian Krakow takes pictures of Angela, making her self-conscious. She ducks her head into her sweater to hide. She hates school and knows her parents don’t really care how it is when they ask her. It’s like a drive-by shooting you’re lucky to survive. Everyone votes on yearbook themes except Angela, who walks out of the meeting with the announcement that she doesn’t want to be in the club anymore. She declines to offer a reason to the teacher, Ms. Mayhew.

The next morning, Sharon comes by the Chases’ house looking for her copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. She mentions in front of Patty that Angela quit yearbook. Danielle finds the book in Angela’s disaster of a room and gets sassy when Sharon doesn’t thank her. Patty’s annoyed that Angela didn’t say she quit yearbook. She hates that Angela’s behavior has turned her into a nagging mother.

At school, Angela, Rayanne, and Rickie hang out in the girls’ bathroom together. Rayanne announces that Angela’s in love with Jordan, so they need to get them together. She invites Angela to Tino’s again. Rickie’s contribution of the male perspective is to repeat Angela’s admiration of how Jordan leans. Angela realizes she’s late for class and tries to pretend that she’s just going because she’s not too busy with anything else. She runs through the hall, passing a crying cheerleader.

Angela’s biology class is half-asleep and led by a teacher who can’t engage anyone. Brian is the only person in his history and English classes who cares to answer any questions. Angela’s distracted by a buzzing light. When Ms. Mayhew asks how the class would describe Anne Frank, Angela murmurs, “Lucky.” Ms. Mayhew is appalled. Jordan arrives late, distracting Angela again. She thinks Anne was fortunate to be trapped with a guy she liked for three years.

Ms. Mayhew keeps Angela after class to talk about why she quit yearbook. She’s worried that Angela’s starting the year on the wrong foot. Angela says that it feels like people agree to keep a certain personality their whole lives, but they can’t be sure that’s who they really are. Everyone’s in a hurry to make yearbook to remember what happened, but it’s not what really happened, just what they think was supposed to. If they made a book of what really happened, it would be upsetting.

At home, Angela voices over that Graham works in printing. He was only supposed to work for a business in Patty’s family for a little while, then go to chef school. She’s not sure why he never did. Patty took over the business and is technically Graham’s boss. Graham tells Angela that sometimes she’s too hard on her mother. Patty just wants everyone to be happy. Angela says that’s Graham, not Patty.

Graham continues that Patty does so much for Angela. Angela complains about Patty’s sudden moods, which lead her to blame things on her daughter. Graham says that’s not the real her. Angela just needs to try to be nicer, like an experiment. Angela hesitantly asks if she can go to a thing at Rayanne’s, a rehearsal for a play they might do for extra credit. Graham buys her lie.

Angela goes to the party at Tino’s, which is the same as pretty much every other party you see on a teen TV show. There’s a live band and alcohol. Angela gets knocked into some mud and goes inside to get cleaned up. Jordan’s there, watching TV on an enclosed porch, and when Angela can’t get the door to the house to open, she’s stuck with him. He comments that it doesn’t seem like a Friday. Well, that’s because it’s Thursday. Jordan’s friends whisk him away to someplace more fun.

Patty’s learned that Graham let Angela go out on a school night, so they’re fighting about his failure to ever be the mean parent. She thinks Angela loves Graham more. When Angela gets home, Patty lays into her, telling Graham that Angela lied about where she was going. The noise brings Danielle downstairs, and when she tries to get involved, Graham tells her to shut up. Not cool, Graham.

Patty asks how Graham expects Angela to ever have any respect for her. Angela says she does respect her mother. Graham thinks they should all go to bed and sort things out in the morning. He and Patty both leave, but Danielle stays behind to ask Angela what she was really up to.

At school the next day, Rayanne invites Angela to a rave that night. Again, she’s sure Jordan will be there. They’re in the cafeteria, which Angela thinks is the “embarrassment capital of the world.” Rayanne offers to loan Angela something to wear that night so she’ll look tough.

After lunch, Angela and Rayanne go to the bathroom, where three other girls are trying to figure out the difference between “fat-free” and “low-fat.” Stay in school, girls. Angela knows she’ll need to come up with a lie to tell her parents again. Rayanne says to just tell them Angela’s sleeping over at her place. Sharon comes in as Rayanne invites Angela to stay over for real; her mom won’t be there.

After Rayanne leaves, Angela tries to extend an olive branch to Sharon, who isn’t interested. She tells Angela that people are saying she thinks she’s above everyone, and is just Rayanne’s hanger-on. Sharon’s sure that Rayanne’s just using Angela the same way she used a previous friend. Sharon wants to know what she did to make Angela turn on her. Why did Angela drop her oldest friend for no reason? Both girls get emotional as Angela says there isn’t any one thing Sharon did. She still wants to be friends, but Sharon’s over it. She asks if Patty lost it when she saw Angela’s hair. Sharon, for one, hates it.

Patty wants the Chases to go ice-skating that night like a normal, happy family. Danielle would prefer to stay home and watch a movie about a girl who makes obscene phone calls. Graham has plans to play pool with his brother, their second time hanging out that week. Patty tries to rally her daughters, which Angela thinks is punishment. She asks if she can go to Rayanne’s instead. Patty doesn’t like Rayanne, since she ate all of Patty’s cheese when she was at the house the other day.

Graham doesn’t think it’s a big deal if Angela goes to Rayanne’s, even if they don’t know Rayanne or her parents. Danielle does that patented sibling thing where she bugs her parents while they’re distracted by their troublemaking child until they give in just to shut her up. Graham tries to get Patty to loosen up by noting that there’s no way her parents knew all 900 of her friends. Angela voices over that her parents went to the same high school but didn’t know each other. Patty was popular and beloved, while Graham was a nobody.

Angela says that her parents don’t even have to drive her to Rayanne’s, since Rickie’s cousin is going to pick her up. That doesn’t make anything better. Danielle interjects again, trying to get attention. Patty comments on Rickie’s appearance, which Angela says doesn’t matter; he may be bi, but that doesn’t mean his cousin can’t drive. Patty seems shocked that Angela knows the word “bi.” Danielle also knows what it means.

Patty says Rickie’s a child and can’t call himself anything. He must be confused. Angela defends him, but Patty notes that Rickie wears eyeline. When Graham expresses surprise, Patty says she thought he was on her side. Graham says he’s not on anyone’s side. Patty tells him to grow up and choose. Graham asks if Rayanne’s mother will be at the house. “No, Rayanne lives by her wits, in an alley,” Angela replies sarcastically. Of course Rayanne’s mother will be home.

Done with the argument, Patty gives in and tells Angela to go to Rayanne’s and Graham to go be with his brother. Angela thinks Patty’s just going to use this to hold a grudge. Danielle continues seeking attention. Someone get this child a puppy or something. Angela avoids her family by staying on the front porch, then sneaks into some bushes to change clothes. Brian spots her and tells her she’s breaking a bunch of laws. He thinks she looked better before. She doesn’t care what he thinks.

Brian mocks that she’s going off with her cool friends to do stupid things. He thinks she’s going to meet Jordan. Angela tells him she’s going to the rave, but he doubts the club, Let’s Bolt, will let her in. He tells her she’s not stupid, so she shouldn’t act like it. She tells him everyone’s acting, including Brian. He continues mocking her as she heads off with her friends.

They have to wait outside the club for Tino to come get them in. Rayanne tells Rickie to be patient; he’s waited for things before, right? He says he’s waiting for his life to start. They pass around a bottle of alcohol, and by the time people have arrived at the club, the girls are drunk. Rickie asks what they would want their sexual partner to say right before they get busy. “This won’t take long,” Rayanne suggests. Second choice: “Don’t I know you?” Angela wants to hear, “You’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you.” Rayanne laughs, but Rickie likes it.

Rayanne runs off, threatening to tell Jordan what Angela said. She runs into a couple of older guys and asks for help getting in the club. The guys extend an invitation (just to the girls) to go somewhere else. Rickie says he doesn’t mind being left behind. One of the guys wants Rayanne to get closer, though his friend warns that the girls are too young for them. Rayanne approaches that the guy puts her up against his car and starts feeling her up. “Something was actually happening, but it was too actual,” Angela voices over.

Just as things are about to get illegal, Angela pulls the guy off of Rayanne. Rayanne falls to the ground and rejects Angela’s attempts to help her, saying she can take care of herself. She throws a bottle at the guy’s car, setting him off again. His friend holds him back. Rickie tells Angela that Rayanne won’t remember any of this tomorrow, since she blacks out when she drinks.

A police officer approaches, so Rickie runs off. The cop puts the girls in his car to drive them home, promising that they’re not under arrest. As they’re leaving, Rayanne spots Jordan and his friends arriving. He recognizes Angela and even knows her name. Rayanne tells Angela that she knew what she was doing. She promises to always watch out for Angela and look after her. She teases that, with Angela’s hair like that, it hurts to look at her. The cop takes Rayanne into her house, where it’s clear no one’s home.

Angela and the cop discuss Anne Frank as he drives her home. Angela says Anne was hiding, but at the same time, she stopped hiding. She was free. The cop tells her not to do this sort of thing again. Angela asks him not to take her to her front door. Brian, who’s hanging out in a tree, watches as he lets Angela out of the car. The cop asks him to watch out for her.

Brian walks Angela home, and she tells him what happened at the club. He tells her that the yearbook club picked a theme. She wonders who told him she likes Jordan. He says no one did. They stop when Angela sees her father talking to a woman outside the house. Angela heads off in another direction with Brian following her. He tells her the yearbook theme is the year 2000. They both think it’s dumb.

Angela sneaks into her house and takes off her makeup and borrowed clothes. She goes to her parents’ room and lies that Rayanne’s mother drove her home. She voices over that Patty’s adopted and looked for her “real” parents for a while. Angela thinks that’s what everyone’s looking for. She starts crying as she tells her mother she’s sorry about everything, including her hair. Patty says it’s not that big a deal, and now that she looks at it again, it’s not that bad. Angela falls asleep in her mother’s arms.

At school on Monday, Jordan asks Angela if she’s out on bail. She tries to start a conversation, but he leaves. Rayanne and Rickie are telling a friend about their weekend adventure, thrilled that they “had a time” with Angela. Angela’s equally thrilled to have friends who are happy to tell fun stories about their time together.

Thoughts: One of the girls in the bathroom having the “fat-free”/”low-fat” conversation is Bianca Lawson, in her very first TV appearance.

’90s music alert: REM’s “Everybody Hurts”

Angela saying that she once almost touched Jordan’s shoulder gave me flashbacks to every teen crush I ever had. And then the Angela/Sharon scene in the bathroom punched me in the gut, because I’ve been Sharon.

Teens who have a loud party outside with alcohol and a live band deserve to be busted by the police.


  1. Kaylen said,

    I love this show so much. I’m so excited you’re recapping it! 🙂

  2. Nick Rivers said,

    I just started rewatching this one from the Pilot and it’s funny to see how many scenes they used from this episode for the credits sequence. Watching it now that I’m probably older than Patty and Graham is a bit surreal as they still feel older than me somehow. I didn’t realize Graham nearly had a fling before the Hallie Lowenthal situation but damn he came close. It makes more sense to me now that I see more of what Patty’s like — definitely the more alpha of the couple. 40something me squee’d when Jordan saw Angela getting put into a cop car — could that BE any cooler for her?! And the cringe factor when she was talking about Anne Frank in front of her class… I get where she was coming from, though everybody’s horrified expressions were hilarious. I didn’t remember that Patty was adopted but it explains a lot.

    I’m noticing early on how much Rayanne eats when she’s at other people’s houses. Back on my first watch of the series, it was just a quirky thing she did, but now looking at it from an older perspective, that’s a warning sign to me that she doesn’t have much food at home. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I remember how laissez-faire her mother was.

    It was a really strong first episode for a series and it makes a lot of sense why it was so popular.

    And seeing Kendra in the girls’ bathroom! SAVE YOURSELF FROM YOUR FUTURE KENDRA!

  3. Nick Rivers said,

    Oh, and that scene with Sharon in the bathroom was absolutely heartbreaking this time around. I completely understand why Angela’s drifting away from her and trying out new things and new people, but it’s still so very difficult and confusing for the ones you leave behind. It’s definitely a high school thing to do, and maybe Sharon understands a little bit more after she starts dating Kyle. I still feel for her, though.

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