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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My So-Called Life: "Father Figures"

Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Father Figures
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Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Father Figures

"So, not to shock you or anything, but your dad's attractive." —Rayanne to Angela about Graham, who is probably in the top 10 of the 100 Hottest TV Dads list that VH1 (or TV Land) is probably compiling right now.

The fourth episode of MSCL begins with a sequence so cheeseball, so utterly saccharine and cringeworthy that it could be mistaken for outtakes from the "Butterfly Kisses" video. The camera pans over pink tutus, and a wall full of kids' drawings before landing on a 6 or 7-year-old Angela happily playing with dolls on the floor. She hears a car pull into the driveway, and rushes to the window, then runs downstairs excitedly. The camera follows, stopping to linger on a highchair—seriously—before we see young Angela breathlessly watch as a key turns in the lock of the front door, and a younger Graham triumphantly walks through. "Daddy's home!" Angela yells, "Daddy Daddy Daddy!" she throws in for good measure, in case we didn't hear. Graham scoops her up in his arms and spins her around as the happy music tinks in the background. In a word: Velveeta.

Thankfully, though, this rose-colored flashback is immediately undercut by the harsh light of the present, and Angela and Rayanne peeking out at Graham from the kitchen as he walks in the front door, and discussing his stubble. The contrast here is both poignant and hit-you-over-the-head obvious, which is sometimes the way with MSCL. Even while it trades in showing the non-glossy, thoroughly realistic shades of teenage angst, the show also has the tendency to slip into unbelievable, thoroughly hackneyed (there's no other word for it) cheesiness. The Velveeta factor of the opening "Daddy's home!" sequence was obviously exaggerated to highlight the difference between Angela & her Dad then vs. Angela & her dad now. But there are moments later on in this episode—like, say, when Patty and her father are seemingly rehearsing a Hallmark movie together in the print shop—that appear to be just cheese for cheese's sake.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. This episode is (obviously) about Dads: hating them, loving them, loving them even though you kind of hate them, and, perhaps most of all, envying other people's Dads. A while back, someone posted in the comments that MSCL could essentially be called Everyone Wants Claire Danes. By that token, an alternative title for this episode could be Everyone Wants Angela's Dad. Rayanne is quick to point out that the "your dad's attractive" comment above, a compliment that Angela takes about as well as "a stun gun to the brain," doesn't just refer to Graham's hotness, but to his attractiveness as a father. Rayanne would love to have a Dad like Graham to give her Grateful Dead tickets and help her make corn fritters, instead of the absent father she has now. Ricky would like to have a dad like Graham who knocks, instead of one who breaks down his door. Brian would like to have parents who are more fun than his parents, which is basically every other parent in the world, not just Graham. And Patty, Angela's mom, would like to have an uncontrolling dad who listens to her, instead of the crotchety, overbearing dad that she has.

Of course, Angela and Graham's relationship isn't as enviable as it seems from the outside. He's a cool dad, yes, but he tries a little too hard to be the cool dad, offering her Grateful Dead tickets that she can't bear to enjoy (though I can't blame her), and trying to win over her friends. And it's his quest for coolness, coupled with his feeling that (as Angela put it in the pilot) everyone is having more fun than he is—in other words, a mid-life crisis—that led to the biggest problem in their relationship: the fact that Angela caught him talking to a girl "like, in her 20s," and that she (rightfully) suspects him of having an affair. A mid-life-crisis-y, almost-affair-having dad isn't the worst dad to have, but it's definitely not the best, either.

Naturally, Patty doesn't know anything about Graham's "like, in her 20s" girl, so it's easy to see why she would want to have the kind of father-daughter relationship that Graham has with Angela, with her own father. Her father still treats her like a little girl, even though she now runs his business, and its a role she can no longer play very well. Worse yet, when she tries to stand up for herself, he acts wounded and says things to her like, "That's what it is to raise a girl, always walking on eggshells." Yuck. That scene in the print shop played like a rehearsal for some off-Broadway melodrama called Like Father, Like Daughter or something.

In the end, Patty and her father agree to both walk on eggshells around each other, while Angela takes comfort in the fact that Graham isn't so bad, relatively speaking. As Rayanne puts it: "Whatever your dad may be doing with whatever girl, he's still the type of dad that will lay two Dead tickets on you. That's what matters." Oh, that's what matters. (Imagine how quickly their relationship would have mended if he gave her some Cranberries tickets.)

Grade: B

Stray Observations (Almost all-quotes edition!):

—If seeing the Dead at 16 was one of the "8 best" nights of Graham's life, what were the other 7?

—Angela and Graham make up with a rain-gutter-hammering, and Porno-For-Pyros-joking session, while Brian angrily rollerblades in the background ("Gee, I'd like to help you, Sir, but I'm too busy picturing your daughter naked.")—that's almost as good as the upcoming emotional fashion show that mends Patty and Angela's relationship in "The Zit."

—The scene with Brian and Angela in the car, is one of the best scenes in the series, if only for the line, "Are you meeting someone in here?"

—Speaking of Brian, inexperienced though he is, he still knows how to neg: "You want my sweater?" [10 seconds later] "Just try not to sweat in it too much."

—"I was like, 'Hi,' and he was like, 'Hi.' Then I was like, 'Bye,' and he was like, 'Bye.'" Ricky may not have a side, but he can still hilariously pretend like he does.

—Patty: Orange juice doesn't grow on trees. Angela: It kinda does.

—"You know how sometimes the last sentence you said echoes in your brain, and it just keeps sounding stupider, and you have to say something else just to make it stop?"

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