Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My So-Called Life: "Guns And Gossip"

Illustration for article titled My So-Called Life: "Guns And Gossip"
Illustration for article titled My So-Called Life: "Guns And Gossip"

"I have to leave the room when my father uses the electric knife."—Oddly robotic girl that Brian likes only because she's a girl who talks to him.

In case you're wondering, no, the above quote doesn't have much to do with the content of this episode. But to me it's the best line in the whole episode, simply because it's so totally weird (how often does her dad use the electric knife?) and also because it makes Brian swoon. Of course, it doesn't take much to make Brian's blondfro go all weak in the roots, but as we see by the end of this episode, he's also not afraid to stand up in the face of the most intimidating principal ever to wear suspenders and a bow-tie, especially if it will help his standing with Angela.

Still, even though this episode centers on two of my favorite characters, Ricky & Brian, it is also one of my least favorite in the series. Liberty High's equivalent of the Kennedy Assassination—a bottle of soda being shot accidentally by a gun brought in by Ricky's cousin so that Ricky could protect himself from bullies—always felt more than a little contrived to me. It aired in 1994, after all, when guns and metal detectors in schools were a big topic of discussion, so this episode seemed (and still seems) like an attempt to shoehorn a hot-button high school issue into the show. To me, the whole guns in school and "our kids should be able to go to school without the threat of violence" plot vacillates between after-school special (From Ricky's "Man, you don't know how it is…I'd be packin' in no time." soliloquy in Social Studies to Angela's backseat, "You can't carry a gun, Ricky." counseling session) and bad, ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law & Order (thanks to Principal Bow-Tie's repeated interrogations of Brian). While the gun plot does a lot to advance certain characters—Angela and Ricky graduate from friends-in-law to friends, we get to see how Brian interacts (i.e., hilariously) with girls he doesn't know—and reveals that Rayanne was an early proponent of the "Stop Snitchin'" movement, it's slightly unbelievable at best, cheesy at worst.

The gossip part of "Guns & Gossip," on the other hand, is MSCL at its best: reveling in Angela's humiliation, adolescent angst, and excitement at being the subject of the following scurrilous tidbit: "Angela Chase & Jordan Catalano COMPLETE SEX!! in his car. Can you believe her?!?"

At first, Angela is angry and panicked that people would say false things like that about her: "Who would write a note like that?" She asks Rayanne in the packed Girls' room. "Everyone writes notes like that. We write notes like that," Rayanne is quick to remind her. Angela replies, with all her earnestness, "Yeah, but we write notes that are true."

Soon, however, when Jordan corners her by the Heimlich Maneuver poster, Angela realizes that the note could be true "not in actuality, but in my heart, because at that moment I would have done anything, I wanted him so much." Seeing your crush in such close proximity to a first aid poster will do that to you. Of course, it doesn't hurt if your crush is saying things like, "We might as well have done it anyway. Maybe we should…" and basically reciting the lyrics to "Something To Talk About" to you. However, Angela isn't swayed by Jordan's impersonation of Bonnie Raitt, and she practically runs away from him and the prospect of COMPLETE SEX!! in actuality.

Instead, she retreats to her bedroom where she can lie unmoving on her bed in a flannel dress listening to the Cranberries at full volume. (Incidentally, if sometime in the future your grandchildren ever ask you what 1994 was like, you can just show them that scene. It's so 1994, that if it wasn't actually made in the mid-90s, I would think it was trying too hard to be mid-90s.) To add a bit of extra humiliation to the situation, Patty comes into Angela's room, tells her she likes the music, and starts babbling about the boyfriend (that Angela doesn't have) and using protection (which Angela doesn't need), forcing Angela to confess to her mom that she's not even close to having sex "to an embarrassing degree."

Later, Angela learns via eavesdropping in the Girls' room that it was Brian who started the rumor about her and Jordan. Dressed in her baggiest Huxtable sweater, she goes to the computer lab to confront him. Brian lays his fluffy, overworked head on the desk for a moment and confesses that he started the rumor because it was true (kind of) to him, and as a form of retaliation, "You lied too when you said you didn't know Jordan was coming over. Cause I've thought about it for, like, 50 hours." But Angela, out of blindness or simple unwillingness, can't see how her lie would have hurt Brian. In addition to Jordan's jerkiness (which shows up later in the episode when he rescinds his "Something To Talk About" offer), Angela's spaced-out walks through the high school corridors, and Rayanne's bowler hats, Angela's ignorance of Brian's feelings for her is a frustrating and recurring theme in MSCL. Does she not know that he likes her, or does she simply not care?

Eventually, with Rayanne's help, Angela admits to feeling exhilaration at being gossiped about: "They look at you different, like they're trying to figure out who you really are. Like you're famous."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Angela replies with a smile. If this show were airing in the present day, the episode might have ended here, with maybe an ominous parting shot of a gossip blog, or of someone opening a laptop and reading TMZ or something. Instead, the ominous parting shot was of Angela, Brian, Ricky & Rayanne arriving at school to find metal detectors—another thing to tell the grandkids about, and very mid-90s after-school special.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations:

—So is there a consensus as to what is whispered at the beginning of the theme music? Is it "Come out!" or "Come on!" Just wondering.

—This episode marks the first appearance of Amber Vallone, Rayanne's flaky, loud, Debbie-Harry-look-alike mom.

—Judging by the number of guys leering at the COMPLETE SEX!!-having Angela (especially that guy in the letter jacket) Liberty High must be pretty short on sluts.

—About the guy in the letter jacket, what do you think was in that note: "Want to go do it?"

—Angela's spaced-out walks through the high school corridors were particularly spacey in this episode. I laughed when I saw the kind of "duh" look she gave Ricky when she saw the bullies accosting him on the stairs. Not Claire Danes' finest moment.