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'My So-Called Life' nostalgia recap: A fable

Season 1 | Episode 6 | “The Substitute” | Aired Sep 29, 1994

School is an important feature of every episode of My So-Called Life, but this episode turns things around a bit to focus on the teachers. “Maybe teachers have a hidden life, where they’re actually, like … human,” Angela ponders.

An eccentric substitute, Vic Racine, shows up in English class one day and turns the students’ lives upside down. He obsessively chews on toothpicks, wears one black sock and one white sock, and treats the kids like human beings right off the bat.

He is also played by the late, great Roger Rees, whom we so sadly lost just last month.

DVD screengrab

Brian Krakow is, of course, only concerned with what’s happening to the work they completed with their old teacher—specifically, their submissions for the school’s literary magazine. After agreeing to look them over, Mr. Racine is unimpressed and literally throws them out the window, calling their work uninspired crap. Brian is understandably horrified, whereas the others don’t even know what to make of the drastic action.

Angela confronts Mr. Racine the next day, saying she found his disposal of their hard work to be disrespectful. He insists he did it to clear the slate and wake the students up, and urges them to start over with new pieces for the literary magazine—pieces that are more honest, angry, and “naked.” Mr. Racine is becoming somewhat of a legend at Liberty, to the point where students who aren’t even in his class, including Rayanne and Rickie, are crashing just to see what the hype is all about. Before long, the class is standing-room only, the students are more engaged than they’re ever been, and Mr. Racine is beginning to see “signs of life” in their papers.

One day, Mr. Racine has the students blindly select someone else’s anonymous piece of writing and read it aloud to the class. Rickie reads a “fable” that is obviously Angela’s—it is unsurprisingly poignant. While the other students find it confusing, Mr. Racine loves how thought-provoking it is. Brian draws a very sexual haiku and refuses to read the entire thing aloud. It is essentially a sex scene with a lot of furnace metaphors that takes place “in the cold cement basement of love.” Based on her reaction and reputation, it appears Rayanne wrote it.

DVD screengrab

Mr. Racine fixates on Jordan Catalano right away and keeps urging him to participate more in class, giving him extra reading to do. He is incredibly frustrated when he discovers Jordan can’t read, a fact his other teachers seem to have somehow missed. Graham visits Mr. Racine to collect the literary magazine submissions to print, and is also fascinated by what an unusual man he is. Back home, Patty looks through the submissions and tries to figure out which one is Angela’s. She and Graham worry their daughter could be the author of the sexy “haiku,” causing Patty to hilariously exclaim, “We don’t even have a basement!” Patty confronts Mr. Racine, saying she doesn’t feel comfortable printing the sexy piece. He accuses her of censorship and refuses to tell her if Angela wrote it. As he tends to do, he wins Patty over, convincing her to print the magazine, haiku and all.

DVD screengrab

The magazine is published, and the sexy haiku becomes the talk of the school. Sharon jumps to its defense when a couple of girls make fun of it. Rayanne overhears and is stunned to realize Sharon is the haiku’s real author. The two reach an agreement—Rayanne intentionally gave off the impression that she wrote it, and wants people to keep thinking that, while Sharon doesn’t want people to know she wrote it.

DVD screengrab

The principal gets wind of the magazine and cuts off its distribution. The students watch from the window as Mr. Racine exits the school, presumably having been fired. Angela, Rayanne, and Rickie chase after him, and he simply urges them once again to wake up. Angela is not satisfied, and is determined to find a way to fight the school’s decision to censor the magazine.

Graham learns from the principal that Vic quit after being subpoenaed for abandoning his family and not paying child support. He tells Angela, effectively shattering the illusion of this man she had looked up to, who is actually just as damaged as everyone else. She finds him in the phone book (haha) and confronts him. He refers to his family as “a prison of his own making” and suggests Angela drop out of school. Disappointed, she tells him she doesn’t think leaving is ever the answer. Graham also takes a moment to reassure Angela that what Mr. Racine did to his family will never happen to them—a conversation full of meaning that goes right over Patty’s head.

DVD screengrab

After a funny scene where Brian sees Angela getting a ride home from Mr. Racine (“Is there, like, anyone’s car you won’t get into?”), our protagonist takes matters into her own hands, copying and distributing the magazine herself. This obviously lands her, and her parents, in the principal’s office. Angela is proud of her decision, and in fact disappointed when she is let off with a warning rather than being suspended. It does appear, however, that she and her classmates have woken up a bit, just as the substitute intended.

Best Angela-ism: Angela’s “fable”: Once upon a time there lived a girl. She slept in a lovely little cottage made of gingerbread and candy. She was always asleep. One morning she woke up, and the candy had mold on it. Her father blew her a kiss and the house fell down. She realized she was lost. She found herself walking down a crowded street, but the people were made of paper, like paper dolls. She blew everyone a kiss goodbye, and watched as they blew away.

Claire Danes Cry-Face Count: Zero. This was more of an angry-face episode.

Most Ignorant Teenage Moment: Angela obliviously telling her parents how it’s nice to “finally” have an adult (Vic) to look up to.

Angst-o-Meter: 3/10. No real tears to be shed here.

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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