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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My So-Called Life: "Strangers In The House"

Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Strangers In The House
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Illustration for article titled iMy So-Called Life/i: Strangers In The House

"Brian, go inflate your tire."—Angela speaking non-euphemistically to nocturnal bike repairman, Brian.

I don't have any concrete data, but I think this episode of MSCL is the weepiest of the entire series. If not, it's at least in the top 5 on the crumple-face cry scale. Angela cries twice, Patty once, and Sharon more than a few times. (And, of course, Brian Krakow also cries—as always—on the inside.) Still, all the tears make sense, considering that the episode centers on the immediate aftermath of Sharon's dad's sudden heart attack, and, to a lesser degree, the lingering aftereffects of Sharon and Angela's friendship break-up.

Sharon's dad eventually pulls through, and, in the end, so does Sharon and Angela's friendship—a relationship that began in the white-wicker-and-chintz-fabric-covered confines of Sharon's room, and whose future was cemented in the cheesiest of callbacks. Angela's flashback at the beginning of the episode, where a far-too-chipper young Angela consoles a freshly de-tonsiled young Sharon by telling her "Squeeze my hand as much as it hurts," is especially corny when you know that line will be repeated at the end of the episode. Yes, that teary scene at the end when Sharon breaks down and admits to Angela that she misses their friendship is a poignant one. But when Sharon says not being Angela's friend anymore hurts, and Angela repeats, "Squeeze my hand as much as it hurts," the line floats on the surface like a giant block of cheese on the river of tears.

But there is a lot to like about this episode, despite the (few and far between) treacly touches and the heavy atmosphere of the whole thing. First and foremost there is Camille, Sharon's mom—who manages to be wry and charming even while watching her husband recover from a heart attack on closed circuit TV. The montage where Graham and Patty's morning exchange is paralleled to Sharon and Angela's morning exchange is also another thing that saves this episode. That sequence alone more than makes up for Patty's desperate attempted hospital room make-out with Graham. Then there are the glimpses of budding friendships and generally unseen relationships peppered throughout: Sharon and Rayanne in the girls' room ("Why are you looking at me?" "Why are you looking at me?"); the playful interaction between Angela and Danielle ("Who's going to marry you?"); Brian turning to Ricky for advice ("Kyle was probably her popular jock phase. Now she's like moving into her awkward but sensitive guy phase, you know?" "So you're saying I'm like someone's phase?" "Hey. I wish I was."); and, of course, Jordan's comforting of Angela, capped off by the most extraordinarily awkward hug ever to take place under bleachers (Angela: "So this is where you come to smoke?" Jordan: "So, you crying, or something?" They're clearly meant for each other.)

But since my eyes are permanently trained on all things Brian Krakow this time around watching MSCL, the best part about this episode for me is the Angela-Sharon-Brian love triangle. Brian accidentally (and loudly) stumbles into a relationship with Sharon, when he happens to be eavesdropping on her teary plea for support from Kyle. The jock boyfriend flees the band room, and the awkward sensitive one literally becomes the only shoulder in the room for Sharon to cry on. When they're ridiculed ("Comparing instruments?"), and separate though, Sharon immediately goes from emotional to flirty, "See you on the bus!" she chirps to Brian, who immediately starts analyzing the whole thing. [See above.]

Soon, it's "girl in distress throws herself on guy with no life" as Rayanne puts it, and Brian and Sharon are giggling on Angela's bed after school. When Angela discovers the pair, she hovers in the doorway of her room, mouth agape, while Brian leaps off of the bed, and Sharon stammers an apology. Despite the very apparent lack of sexual activity, it's an awkward scene for everyone involved: Sharon, Brian, Angela, and Angela's bra which happens to be hanging off of a mirror inches from Brian's blond-fro. After a few minutes of utterly delicious weirdness, Angela shuts the door, and lingers outside her room for a bit, eavesdropping and only growing more confused/jealous.

The situation comes to a shouty head, however, the next night when Brian turns up at Angela's door looking for Sharon, who is more than happy to see him. Then the popular jock calls, Sharon makes a date to see him that night in front of Brian and Angela, and Brian goes to leave, trailed by a cloud of sensitivity and awkwardness. Angela calls Sharon out for using Brian, and then Sharon quickly calls out Angela for doing the same thing—but worse, because "he is, like, sooo obviously in love with you." And then the fight morphs into a fight about the real issue: why Angela can't comfort Sharon and/or why Sharon won't let Angela comfort her.

The next night, following the emotional "squeeze my hand how much it hurts" redux, Angela runs into Brian on their darkened street doing what all teenage boys do at night: fixing a bike by the light of a streetlamp. He, naturally, is immediately hostile to her, "You're in my light," he snaps. But soon, Angela's slight jealousy is apparent, even to Brian, ("But you two were like hanging out, right?" she asks, leading.) and he tries to explain away the fleeting relationship he had with Sharon by saying that she just wanted someone to be there for her. "It could have been anyone," he tells Angela. Then she, softly, almost dreamily disagrees with him, "No. It doesn't work with just anyone…I think she needed you…because of certain ways. That you are." Brian brightens and asks if Angela put thought into this, into thinking about him. To which Angela, teasing done, responds by telling him to go inflate his tire. And inflate it he does.

Grade: B

—I had the same reaction to Patty and Graham's B-plot this episode as I did to it when I first saw this episode in 94: There's too much of the parents. With a few exceptions, Graham's mid-life crisis and fear of mortality was about as interesting to watch as a block of wood—though the moment when Patty fired him was very good.

—"I'll get Tino to drive us. He loves hospitals!" What doesn't Tino love? What can't Tino do?

—As the temperatures fall on the show, Angela has to layer Southwestern-print blanket jackets over her flannel. I counted two such jackets alone in this episode.

—And with the appearance of Graham's lemon-hazelnut torte, the countdown to Hallie Lowenthal begins.

—So girl in distress throws herself on guy with no life, huh?

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