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My So-Called Life: "The Zit"

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"Just the word: Swab."

Is it time for the Symbolic Zit Fashion Show episode already? (Thanks for the title, Kate.) Just a week after delving into the father/daughter relationship, MSCL gives us one of many, many examinations of the mother/daughter relationship, or, more specifically, the insecure aging mother/insecure pubescent daughter relationship. Patty, you see, used to be beautiful but is now a bit more weathered (although, honestly, if the old-tyme Glamour Shot on her vanity is any indication, she looks almost exactly the same now as she did back in her "so pretty" days), and she needs increasing amounts of reassurance about her looks. Angela, on the other hand, has a confidence-shaking zit on her chin that she refuses to pop, and can't help but unfavorably compare her own looks to her mother's. Add Kafka's Metamorphosis into the mix, as well as a student bodies poll, Sharon's sudden boyfriend and breasts acquisitions, and a magical supermodel who appears in the ladies' room, and there is no better time for Patty and Angela to enter a mother/daughter fashion show!

This is one of my favorite episodes of the series, in part because of everything listed above, as well as the Mean Girls undercurrent in Sharon and Angela's relationship, but also because this is one of the funniest episodes in the series. The balance of humor and melodrama here is perfect—not an easy task for an episode that concludes with an emotional charity fashion show set to Enigma's "Return To Innocence" and the take away, Sunday school lesson, "Everyone is beautiful, in their own way." In contrast to an episode like "Father Figures," this episode deals with emotional truths—Patty's fear of getting older, Angela's desire to go unnoticed at school, but also her jealousy of those who are noticed, Patty's envy of Angela's youth (the scene at the cosmetics counter is particularly telling) as well as her frustration with Angela's insecurity, the weirdness of pubescent development—but without resorting to the kind of cheesy sentimentality that would be so easy to fall back on. Instead, the show tempers all of the weighty issues with some breezy humor, making for a thoroughly enjoyable episode, even if it is mostly about Angela's steadfast refusal to pop a huge zit.

The show opens with Angela staring at a reflection of (what else?) her zit in the hallway at school. In walks a smiling Sharon and her new jock boyfriend, Kyle, and Angela watches in both disbelief and envy as they kiss, bathed in the golden light coming in through the doorway. Sharon's life, Angela explains via voiceover as the camera lingers on Sharon's tight t-shirt, is "like, developing in this natural, healthy way," while Angela's is (insert close up of Angela's face, dominated by giant chin zit) "like, clogged." Rayanne's role as comic relief in this episode begins immediately when she says in her best Valley Girl tone: "I think they met at the game. Probably the big game. Possibly the big away game." And, of course, when the sophomore girls poll is slipped under the door of the ladies' room, Rayanne expresses her excitement for the enterprise with both catty comments "Have you viewed her ankles? They're like canned hams," and unabashed enthusiasm to accept her accolade "Best Slut Potential! Do you love it?!?"

But in terms of quieter humor, this episode really belongs to Brian, whose bumbling, awkward observations and interactions never fail to amuse here: From the first time we see him in this episode, describing what a metamorphosis is ("When anything changes shape.") then not-so-subtly looking over at Sharon's heaving bosom and exhaling as she exhales, to the Cliff Notes version of The Metamorphosis he gives to Jordan, to his attempts at gossip with Ricky when he sees Sharon and Kyle in the band room together ("He's, like, making her beg for her shoe."). Ricky, too, is very funny in this episode, and his unlikely budding friendship with Brian is highly enjoyable. The amazement that the two outsiders share at everyone's pairing off is both sweet and funny, "They've been holding hands for, like, two weeks…How do they eat?"

Meanwhile, at the Chase house, Danielle's little-sister annoyingness ("Turn on the radio what do you hear? 25 cheerleaders doing a cheer!") often cuts the dressmaking tension between Patty and Angela, even as it masks her jealousy at not being the chosen daughter for the mother/daughter fashion show. In fact, another, more appropriate title for this episode could be "The Zit Is Always Smaller On Someone Else's Face." The magical supermodel who appears to Angela basically says it, "You're so lucky." Sharon and Angela even come right out and say as much during one of their many confrontations in the ladies' room, "Why do girls have to tear each other down?" "Cause they're jealous, I guess." Well, jealous, and lacking in the kind of self-confidence that only prancing down a runway in homemade matching outfits with your mom can provide.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations: (the almost-all fashion edition!)

—The slow defacement of the PSA poster in the ladies' room in this episode is a great touch, as is Angela's waiting to put concealer on her zit until everyone has left the bathroom.

—In honor of the Symbolic Zit Fashion Show, here's a mini MSCL fashion show (apologies in advance for the blurriness of some of these screencaps):

How much does Rayanne love flannels? Enough to wear a flannel bathrobe to school:


It seems counter-intuitive, but flannel boxers over leggings actually make Angela's navel-gazing easier:


One shops at The Gap, the other re-purposes Dave Coulier's wardrobe from Full House, yet they are friends. Such is the magic of MSCL:


What did Ms. Most Slut Potential 1994 wear to school? Patchwork jeans and a bandanna:


Would Mary Quant have used so many fake flowers? Probably not, but Patty Chase did:


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