Thursday, October 20, 2011

My So-Called Life: "Halloween"

Premiered October 27, 1994

"When I was little I, like, worshipped Halloween. And truthfully, part of me still does. 'Cause it's your one chance all year to be someone else. I wanna be someone else, but to wear, like, an actual costume to school is too scary." -Angela Chase

Angela looking through a jack o'lantern - or is the jack o'lantern looking through her?

At the beginning of this episode of My So-Called Life, Angela is thinking about how much she loved Halloween as a kid. She also is feeling a bit self-conscious about doing the whole dress up thing at school this year, though. Little sister, Danielle had planned to be Catwoman, but now says she can't because another girl in her class is already dressing up in the same costume. Their mother, Patty suggests her old flapper dress as a possible costume option for both girls. Neither is the least bit interested in their Mom's suggestion.

Patty is having issues with a problem employee and talks to her husband Graham about it. She then remembers that they've been invited to a friend's costume party and laments the fact that she forgot to get costumes for them. Graham suggests Patty wear the flapper dress. Patty rejects this notion too.

Later that day at Liberty High School, we see lots of people getting into the Halloween spirit. We see Angela's classmate, Sharon dressed in a catsuit. Her classmates mock her for wearing a "ratsuit". In English class, the teacher Ms. Lerner (dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi!), asks where Jordan Catalano (the "bad boy" Angela has a crush on) is and if anyone knows him. Ms. Lerner asks Angela to deliver a message to Jordan: If he doesn't show up to the next English class, he will be expelled.

English teacher in Obi Wan Kenobi gear for Halloween - "You want to read new books. You want to study."

Between classes, Angela's friend Rayanne (dressed as a vampire) is shaving her legs in the girl's restroom. She spots Brian (a socially awkward "bookish" boy who lives next to Angela, whom he secretly crushes on) scoping her legs as the restroom door swings shut. Rickie (a boy who normally wears makeup) shows up dressed as "Brian" for Halloween. He's followed by Angela, who is carrying a library book for the English class reading assignment. Rayanne has decided that Angela needs to dress up for Halloween too and has some 1960s era clothes for her. They talk about Nicky Driscoll, a Liberty High student who died at the school on Halloween night in the early 1960s. Rayanne, Rickie and Sharon all tell different urban legend-ish tales the about cause of Nicky's untimely demise. Rayanne shares that her aunt once rode on the back of Nicky's bike when she was in high school, and tells Angela her "costume" consists of clothes that once belonged to the aunt. It also turns out Angela's book had once been checked out by Nicky Driscoll!

Angela in her 1960s costume doing a bit of research on Nicky Driscoll

While walking up the stairs, Angela sees Nicky...or thinks she does(?). Jordan appears in the same spot where Nicky was standing. She tells Jordan he needs to show up at class or he's expelled. He tells he he doesn't care and walks away.

Meanwhile, Angela's parents visit a costume shop, it's Halloween, so there aren't many left to rent. The shop owner suggests Rapunzel for Patty and a Pirate for Graham. They're reluctant, but they don't really have a choice, because they waited until the last minute.

As school is letting out for the day, Rayanne tells Angela that she talked to her friend Tino about Angela's book. Tino has agreed to meet them at school that night to help them stage a seance and contact the soul of Nicky Driscoll! Rayanne thinks this is a perfect Halloween pastime, but Rickie thinks it is a bad idea. Brian overhears them talking about the seance and wonders if he's invited.

Back at the house, Danielle has put on one of Angela's flannel shirts and is imitating her voice and mannerisms. She's found her costume! Later that night, Sharon stops by to pick up a dish, she ends up going Trick Or Treating with Danielle.

Later that evening, Rayanne is drinking alone outside the school while waiting for Tino. Brian shows up and startles her. He is soon followed by Rickie and Angela. Tino never shows, Rayanne determines that they should break into school and write "Nicky Driscoll Was Here" on the gym floor as a Halloween prank. Rickie takes off, he's had enough. Rayanne discovers that Brian knows a "clever chess club" way to get into the school without setting off the alarm.

An assortment of scenes from the episode - Vampire Rayanne, Danielle as Angela, 1960s Angela, Cat/Rat Sharon

Once the three teens get inside the school, they become separated and spookiness ensues ... you'll have to watch the episode to find out what else happens!

RigbyMel says:

I must admit that I was a bit "late to the party" where My So-Called Life is concerned. I never had a chance to see the series until a couple of years ago. Having watched it though, I agree with a lot of what fans of the show raved about - this is a richly textured show with a lot going on and is also one of the more sensitive portrayals of what it is actually like to be a teenager. There is so much going on in the show, that I've found it a bit hard to review as a "stand alone" episode.

That being said, I love the way that Halloween and growing up are dealt with in this episode. Angela wants to participate in Halloween like she did when she was younger, but feels constrained by her teenaged self-consciousness. Sharon goes trick or treating with Angela's kid sister because she (Sharon) wants to feel like a kid one more time. Rickie tries on the role of "good kid" (i.e., Brian), while Brian tries out a "bad boy" persona. Little Danielle both resents and wants to be her big sister/to grow up. There are parallels between Nicky, the bad boy who died young and Jordan, the bad boy in danger of expulsion. It even shows how Halloween can allow older folks (like Angela's parents) an opportunity to let their hair down. There is even a bit of a magical realism "ghost story" element to the plot. The show really captures a lot of different aspect of what makes Halloween fun.

My only reservation about declaring this a "classic" Halloween show is my doubt as to whether it stands alone without people having to watch the entire series. However, it really is a fun episode and a great series that deserves to be watched in its entirety, so maybe my doubts don't matter much.

My rating:
3.5 jack o'lanterns

J.A. Morris says:
I'll admit that I'm a huge fan of this series. I watched the premiere of the Pilot episode back in the Fall of 1994 and I was hooked. I had just graduated from college, I wasn't the same age as the main characters, but Angela, Rickie, Rayanne & Brian reminded me of people I knew. Their dialogue still sounds believable, right down to the frequent use of the word "like" as a conversational space-filler. I counted 25 uses of "like" in this context during 'Halloween' (Brian:"My hobby is photography, so I'm, like, trained to notice stuff."). It stills feels like the most true to life depiction of teenagers in the history of television.

But this episode is a bit of a departure. Angela may or may not see and talk to the "ghost" of Nicky Driscoll. Do the writers want us to believe "Nicky" is real or just a dream? This is odd for a show that's all about "realistic" portrayals of suburban teens. It used to bug me, but now I think of this as a case of "Anything can happen in a Halloween episode".

RigbyMel mentioned the role-reversals of Brian & Ricky, I'll add Rayanne to the mix. She spends most of the series picking on Brian and acting like a devil-may-care party animal. But when Rayanne and Brian are forced to spend time together (some of my favorite scenes of the whole series), she treats him with respect (okay, a modicum of respect) and shares things with him about her life that she normally wouldn't share with anyone. The scene where she coaches Brian through a lie to his mother on the phone is priceless! The acting talents of AJ Langer (Rayanne) and Devon Gummersall (Brian) really shine through in 'Halloween'.

My rating:
4 jack o'lanterns

No comments: