My So-Called Life: "Dancing In The Dark"
B+

My So-Called Life: "Dancing In The Dark"



"I've only been kissed three times. No, four times. No, three times. All of them were people I never saw again, which I hope doesn't, like, mean something."

The second episode of MSCL begins--via droning, old filmstrip in one of Angela's classes--with the vastness of the universe, this hopelessly immense, dark, almost unknowable thing, and then compares it to Angela's adolescent universe--a place not as large, but definitely as uncharted, where kisses with boys are stars seemingly scattered light years apart, like bright flashes in her memory. If that sounds grandiose, trust me, it is. But it's also dead-on in terms of the degree to which teenagers think about themselves. Every teenager, Angela included, sits squarely in the center of their respective universes, worrying about whether certain kisses counted and whether or not it's normal to have never had a boyfriend, like small bright suns hoping to illuminate the darkness that surrounds them. Later on in the episode Angela even compares thinking about seeing Jordan to trying to comprehend infinity.

About those kisses, Angela's said she's had four, wait, no three, ranging in intensity from pretty hot (a camp counselor pulling her into the woods during the nightly smores-making session and kissing her to make his girlfriend jealous) to humiliating (an usher at a cousin's wedding kissing her on a dare), to, uh, CPR (if Angela counts that one, I'd like to see what the 4th kiss supposedly was).

Of course, now the only person Angela is interested in kissing is Jordan "Good-leanin'" Catalano, a fact that is made both painfully and hilariously obvious in one scene where Angela develops a sudden and intense interest in a throwaway comment about one of Rayanne's enemies ("Really? You think she siliconed her lips? Really?") when Jordan passes her in the hallway. "You have to progress to the next phase of this," Rayanne advises. But Angela, a girl who lives in her own head, with her own thoughts about Jordan--even if she can't really control them, they're still hers--and who only has 4, no 3, no 2 plus a CPR attempt, kisses under her belt, is naturally a little unwilling to move forward. "Excuse me," Rayanne tells her, "People throwing themselves at people is, like, the basis of civilization."

And it's true, because at that moment, somewhere across town Angela's mom, Patty, is throwing herself at Angela's dad, Graham, trying to get him to kiss her goodbye. Patty begins with a subtle invitation "I'm leaving now!" which, when unsuccessful, is then followed by a whine/guilt-trip, "You never kiss me goodbye anymore," which eventually progresses into a tiny argument that ends with Patty getting what she wanted, a kiss from Graham, but not really in the way she wanted it.

That's a common theme in this episode, reality not living up to fantasy, or fantasy being crushed (sometimes literally) by reality. It comes up in ways both subtle and incredibly, annoyingly obvious (If Camille had picked up Patty's Cinderella statue and said, "Aww! Your symbol of idealized romance!" Or if Patty had knelt down over the broken Cinderella statue and lamented, "Look at this broken fantasy of love and matrimony," it would have been just as understated.) No one in this episode gets what they want the way they envisioned they would get it: Patty cuts her hair and wears red to get a reaction out of Graham, but instead of eliciting the desire or compliment she so desperately wanted she gets Graham's befuddlement, and the stinging, utterly clueless, "It shows your ears more." Patty gets Graham to agree to dance classes in the hope of "putting the spark back in their marriage," and it does (in a way) but only after a terrible dance session, and a lengthy shouting match (and Cinderella-smashing incident).

Elsewhere, the angriest nerd on rollerblades and more than willing doormat for Angela Chase, Brian Krakow, gets his crush (Angela) to come over to his house, but it's not because she wants to hang out with him, or even because she wants to help him with their extra credit experiment, it's so she can use his experiment as a cover and his house as a meeting place to rendezvous with her crush, Jordan. And, of course, Angela wants her perfect, pretty, almost life-sustaining fantasy of Jordan Catalano--she even comes right out and says it. But instead she gets the real Jordan Catalano, a guy who will interrupt her while she's talking by shoving his tongue down her throat. Twice.

About that scene: so deep is Angela's want for the fantasy Jordan that right after he jumps her (twice) and essentially calls her a baby, she almost immediately begins to romanticize him all over again. "Then everything started to feel really perfect for some reason: the feel of his shirt on my elbow, the fact that I still had an elbow. It was the perfect moment for him to kiss me, for him to anything me." Then Jordan, in one of the best fake-outs in high school drama history, leans over to Angela, reaches across, and opens her car door. When I first saw the show, I remember totally falling for Angela's rosy revisionist history of the incident, he's Jordan Catalano, after all. But seeing it again now, I see it for what it is: Angela not being able to accept that Jordan was kind of a jerk.

Later, Graham sort of offers Angela an explanation for Jordan's jerkiness: "It's really hard to figure out how to be a man." (Is that why there are so many movies about it?) When I was younger, I remember thinking that line was bullshit. Strangely enough, I still think that line is bullshit. Growing up is hard for everyone: boys, girls, and the intersexed (probably most for the intersexed). But the line resonates, of course, because Graham should know: he's still figuring out how to be a man, just as Patty is still figuring out how to be a grown-up woman (with a grown-up haircut)--all of which is both depressing and oddly reassuring in equal amounts. Still, that's the way it goes--which I know is a cliché, but as Graham reminds his brother in the episode, "Clichés happen."

Grade: B+ (Marked down for both the Cinderella statue, and the world's ickiest come-on, "Dance with me.")

Stray Observations:

--Again, if you don't have the DVDs, you can watch along here.

--"I already executed the entire apparatus." Brian, Rayanne, and Ricky were great comic relief in this episode.

--Krakow in a pink button down, on rollerblades, bragging to Sharon that Angela is going to compile data with him = everything you need to know about Brian Krakow (on wheels)

--"Mom, just because I changed my hair doesn't mean you should." Spoken like a true, self-centered teenager, Angela.

--Poor, poor Patty. Yes, I still find her a little grating. But as I watch more episodes, I do find her to be much more of a sympathetic character. For one thing, she knows people (namely Angela, Danielle, and even Graham) find her grating sometimes, and she tries so hard to combat against it, that you can't help but feel for her. She's so hyper-aware of turning into a cliché nagging wife and mother, that a little Cinderella-statue smashing, and a stand-up routine about Redbook "How To Keep Your Husband" articles can be forgiven. Also, there's the whole husband-on-the-verge-of-cheating thing.

--"You know, Hillary Clinton is a brilliant woman and people should stop judging her by her hair." Isn't it weird how little some things have changed since 1994?

--Angela: "How come I have to be the one analyzing him in like microscopic detail and he gets to be the one with other things on his mind?"

Ricky: "That was, like, deep." Well said, Ricky.

More TV Club