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'My So-Called Life' pilot nostalgia recap: Everybody hurts

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Aug 25, 1994

I truly believe every high school TV show of the past 21 years owes something to My So-Called Life. While the ABC drama (which was canceled after only 19 episodes despite critical acclaim) may have been criminally short-lived, many consider it to be the earliest depiction of adolescence that managed to be real and poignant, without being condescending. Anyone who went to high school can find something to relate to, and main character Angela Chase’s (Claire Danes) angsty and often blissfully ignorant narration is one of the best examples (I’d also recognize Dexter) of voiceover that actually adds to the story and understanding of the characters.

The show opens on Angela hanging out with Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), a rebellious classmate who seems to be everything straight-laced Angela is not. Angela’s reasoning for essentially abandoning her former best friend—traditional, “boring” Sharon (Devon Odessa)—is that she felt if she didn’t start hanging out with Rayanne, she would “die or something.” Like many 15-year-olds, almost everything is life or death to Angela, who is beginning to notice boys (one in particular—we’ll get to him in a moment). She’s also intentionally making waves at home, beginning with dyeing her hair red at Rayanne’s behest.

DVD screengrab

Meanwhile, at the Chase home, Angela’s mother, Patty (Bess Armstrong), and father, Graham (Tom Irwin), are struggling to navigate parenting a teenager. Patty, the primary breadwinner of the household, is determined not to give Angela the reactions she’s so clearly soliciting, while mild-mannered Graham just seems a bit lost. “My dad thinks everyone in the world is having more fun than him,” Angela says, wondering why he never followed his dream of becoming a professional chef, and instead works for his wife. Angela’s younger sister, Danielle (Lisa Wilhoit), is largely ignored because her parents are too busy worrying about the trouble Angela might be getting into.

In one of the all-time classic TV love interest introductions, we first meet Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) when Angela’s voiceover proclaims she’s in love with him. Jordan spends most of his time angstily moping while leaning against lockers. In one brilliantly tongue-in-cheek moment, Angela swoons over how “he’s always closing his eyes like it hurts to look at things,” just before Jordan simply uses some eye drops. Rayanne teases Angela about her obvious infatuation, and Angela admits she’d like to have “either sex or a conversation, ideally both” with the mysterious Mr. Catalano. I mean, isn’t that generally what we all want when we have a crush? We feel your pain, Angela.

Angela continues to torpedo her old, good-girl life, quitting yearbook and attracting concern from her teachers. She lies to her father to attend a school-night rager after Rayanne hears Jordan might be there. (No high school party I ever went to had a live band, so clearly they know how to party at Liberty High.) Overwhelmed, Angela ends up falling in the mud, but does get to finally talk to Jordan—a very deep conversation about which day of the week it is. When she arrives home so disheveled that it causes quite a scene, a guilty Graham diffuses the situation as best he can.

The next day at school, Angela’s dissolving friendship with Sharon finally leads to a confrontation, when Sharon asks what she did wrong. Here we get our very first Claire Danes cry face of the series, as a confused Angela tearily says it wasn’t just one thing. Sharon cautions Angela that Rayanne will eventually dump her as she has friends in the past, but Angela, of course, does not want to hear it.

DVD screengrab

Angela tells her parents more lies, this time to attend a rave with Rayanne and Rickie (Wilson Cruz), whom Patty finds “confusing” because he wears eyeliner. Angela lies and says Rayanne’s mother will be present for this “sleepover,” and ultimately gets her way. As she changes into a more risqué outfit in the bushes, her neighbor and classmate Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall), who clearly has a crush on Angela, warns her to drop her stupid act. Angela’s very high school comeback is that “everybody’s an act, including you.”

While waiting outside the rave for Rayanne’s hookup to get them in, Angela drinks from Rayanne’s bottle of liquor, and freezes when a genuinely frightening stranger-danger situation arises in the form of two older men. “Something was actually happening, but it was too actual,” Angela thinks as a drunk Rayanne narrowly avoids a sexual assault. Thankfully, the cops arrive before things can get worse, and Jordan even shows up just in time to see Angela being loaded into a squad car, proudly announcing that he “knows that girl.”

Rayanne insists to Angela that she had everything under control, and the police drop her off at her empty house. Angela begs the officer to not walk her to her door, and he miraculously obliges … although not without warning a lurking Brian to look after his friend. Angela is shocked to see her father, who was supposed to be playing pool with his brother, arguing with an unknown woman outside the house. As “Everybody Hurts” begins to play, Angela sneaks inside, removes her makeup, and heads to her mother’s room, where we get cry face number two as she apologizes for her hair “and everything” before falling asleep in Patty’s arms.

DVD screengrab

The next day at school, Rayanne is excitedly telling anyone who will listen about their adventure at the rave, and Jordan actually approaches Angela, clearly charmed by her brush with the law. What could go wrong?

Best Angela-ism: My parents keep asking how school was. It’s like saying, “How was that drive-by shooting?” You don’t care how it was; you’re lucky to get out alive.

Claire Danes Cry Face Count: 2.

Most Ignorant Teenage Moment: Angela declaring that Anne Frank was lucky because “she was stuck in an attic for three years with this guy she really liked.” Sigh.

Angst-o-Meter: 5/10. Lowballing for things to come.

If you’d like to follow along with my recaps, the entire series is available to watch for free on Hulu!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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