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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Other Peoples Mothers  Life Of Brian
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**Prolonged angst is a terrible (though delicious) state of being. So to shorten theMSCL-induced agony/ecstasy, I'm going to be writing up multiple episodes each week from here on in. To kick things off, this week we'll be looking at both "Other People's Mothers," and "Life Of Brian."

Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Other Peoples Mothers  Life Of Brian

"Other People's Mothers"

"Walking into another person's house for the first time is like walking into another country–not that I've ever been to another country." —Angela, on her first glimpse past the beaded curtain and into Rayanne and Amber's apartment.

The 10th episode of MSCL, "Other People's Mothers," parallels three mother-daughter relationships (Patty-Angela, Vivian-Patty, and Amber-Rayanne), as well as two fundamentally different house parties: Angela's grandparents' anniversary cocktail party, which features tasteful blue and white streamers, and trays of meticulously-prepared hors d' ouvers, and Rayanne's birthday blowout, featuring multicolored streamers, and plentiful "pharmaceuticals." Naturally, all of the daughters clash with their respective mothers, in various ways: Patty can't stand her mother's passive aggressive attempts to control everything, including the placement of Patty's candlesticks; Angela wishes that Patty could be more like the very low-key Amber, and resents Patty's hatred of Rayanne; and Rayanne wants her distracted, sometimes drunk mother to pay more attention to her.

"Other People's Mothers" is actually the first episode to really delve into the life of Rayanne Graff, Angela's new best friend, and basically the catalyst for her new crimson-glowed, flannel-wearing, exciting new life. Previously, Rayanne only dropped hints of her home life (In the first episode, Angela discovers that "at Rayanne's house, no one was home," and in last week's episode, Rayanne told Brian, after making up a story of childhood abuse that lead to a fear of the dark, "My dad never came home, so that had nothing to do with it.") while she ran around swigging from flasks, adjusting her patchwork hair, looking for Tino, dragging her flannel bathrobe on the ground, starting rumors, and in general providing comic relief. In "Other People's Mothers," we see the flipside to all of Rayanne's giddy, bubbly euphoria: a mother (Amber) who, while loving, is either very tipsy around her daughter, or on her way out the door, spritzing on perfume cause she's "got 10 minutes before she's supposed to meet Rusty," and an absent father whose only presence in Rayanne's life is a birthday card stuffed with $270 cash and inscribed with the message, "Happy birthday, and maybe more."

In one scene in Amber & Rayanne's apartment early on, we catch a glimpse of what it's really like for Rayanne: She's sitting on the counter in their bathroom, as Amber thumbs through the small bookshelf, looking for a tarot book for Angela, and she says, cautiously, "I think I'm gonna send that money back…I don't want it." She looks very small and scared as she watches her mother intently, waiting for a response. Rayanne doesn't get one though, because Amber wasn't listening: She simply says, "Where did I put that book?" and leaves the room. Rayanne is left sad and alone in the bathroom. No wonder she carries a flask.

In short, "Other People's Mothers" is the tragedy side to Rayanne's usual comedy—complete with downward spiral/party planning montage set to Toad The Wet Sprocket. In the end, Rayanne's sadness and drinking and need for attention catch up with her–aided, of course, by "two hits-or whatever they're called" of ecstasy. She gets Amber's attention, but only after being rescued by Patty and having her stomach pumped. Likewise, Patty only accepts Angela's friendship with Rayanne after Angela calls Patty for help, and she realizes she can trust Angela to do the right thing.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations::

—Angela's idolization of Amber in this episode was very funny:

"You know, the karma in this house is ridiculous. It's like really low. Or dark. Or whatever it is that happens to karma."

—Rayanne's overdose is foreshadowed three times: twice by the Death tarot card, and once by her father's birthday card.

—"Sometimes I think that if my mother wasn't so good at pretending to be happy, she'd be better at actually being happy." Patty's ability to mask her feelings and smile for her guests seems to be a lesson she learned from the elegant, sociable Vivian. It's also a lesson Angela clearly picked up on: when she gets back to the anniversary party from taking Rayanne to the hospital, she smiles at everyone and brushes off her dad's "What's going on?" with, "We're having a party."

—Angela's party outfit was basically every trend from 1994 worn at once: Giant tie-dye shirt under black crochet vest over a long plaid flannel skirt, with Doc Martens and a braid in her hair.

"Life Of Brian"

Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Other Peoples Mothers  Life Of Brian

"My life is so ridiculous. I have to ask Delia Fisher to the dance. I have to. SPEAK!"—the inner monologue of a mute Brian trying to work up to ask out the girl who is the runner-up to the girl of his dreams.

"Life Of Brian" is such a good MSCL episode I'm tempted to just put up a graphic of the World Happiness Dance logo (a globe with a big smile) and list a bunch of the better quotes from Brian's voiceover. Honestly, I've seen this episode so many times, I could probably do it from memory.

Why is "Life Of Brian" so good? It boils down to three reasons: 1. Ricky furiously dancing the dance of the outcasts with Delia to "What Is Love?" at the World Happiness Dance 2. Jordan Catalano pinning Angela up against the chain link fence only to ask her, "Why are you like this?" "Like what?" she responds. "Like how you are." (Pay attention: this exchange will pop up again later) 3. Brian's "wallpaper" discussion with Graham 4. Brian.

That last reason is, of course, the biggest. In this episode, MSCL changed the game, allowing us within the walls of Krakow's overly analytical, self-hating, neurotic mind. Here, we saw that the story didn't always have to be told from Angela's POV, and that it could be completely different depending on the teller. And with Brian's thoughts punctuating the action (or lack thereof), the story wasn't as thoughtful or dreamily romantic, but more angry and self-deprecating and neurotic. Brian never allows himself a moment of romanticism. "Her hair smelled like this orange grove we passed when I was eight on the way to my grandmother's," he thinks as Angela leans in to apologize to him at the dance, "But I guess that's just her shampoo, or whatever." If Angela is a teenage philosopher, then Brian is a teenage realist.

Or a teenage Woody Allen. Because of Brian's loudly self-deprecating voiceover, "Life Of Brian" is easily one of the funniest episodes of the series. Many of Brian's inner thoughts work very well as set-ups to punchlines: "Ok. This is the simplest thing in the world. People do it every day. Just start a conversation," he thinks while nervously looking at Angela. "Wow," he says, as an opener. And it's amazing how a voiceover like, "Finally. An erection from actual physical contact." can make an otherwise sweet scene of Delia and Brian looking at slides of paramecia through a microscope very funny. Yes, Brian is an angry dork who is pining away for the literal girl next door. In short, he is kind of sad, and more than a little pathetic. But more often than not on MSCL, that pathetic-ness is played for humor. Awkward and stiff and easily startled, not to mention angry, Brian is a funny character. Hearing his inner thoughts only makes him more so.

Still, hearing Brian's inner thoughts also makes him that much more of a sympathetic character. When Angela tells him that she needs a ride to the dance, you can hear the genuine surprise and excitement in his voice when he says, "When you stripped away all the blathering, Angela Chase was asking me to the dance." And when he tells Delia Fisher that he'd rather go with Angela instead of her to the dance, Brian's "Of all the stupid things I've said, which are like countless, I've never wanted to take something back more than that one," truly hammers home his regret at causing this nice girl who genuinely liked him pain. Later on, when Angela deduces that Brian cancelled his date with Delia to go on a "date" with her, and calls him heartless, Brian's inner tirade ("She called me heartless? That's great. That's excellent. How ironic can you get without, like, puking.") only betrays how hurt he is by the entire situation.

Because this is My So-Called Life throughout the episode there is also a lot of paralleling between Angela and Brian. For two people who think in fundamentally different ways, they handle their crushes in remarkably similar fashions. Like Brian, Angela also has trouble starting conversations with her love, as evidenced by her opener to Jordan when she sees him in the parking lot, "So did you hear about that thing they're going to exterminate 4th period lunch?" And when rejected by Jordan outside the dance, Angela runs back to Brian—much in the same way that Brian runs back to Delia (who won't listen to him, for obvious reasons). Brian listens to Angela, but rebuffs her "So, I don't know. You wanna dance or something?" with "Not with you. Well, I just. I don't care about dancing. That much." It's a sentiment that in his mind he was probably kicking himself for saying.

Grade: A

Stray Observations:

—Later on, the creators also do an episode from Danielle's POV, which makes me wonder which other characters would have received the voiceover treatment had the show continued. I would have loved to see a "Life Of Ricky."

—Speaking of Ricky, his failed "date" with art-nerd Corey was heartbreaking. But it made his "What Is Love?" Dance of the Outcasts all the more triumphant.

—Patty signs Graham up for the fateful Stephan Deiter cooking class this episode. If only she knew.

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