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My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels” is a Timeless Classic

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My So-Called Life: “So-Called Angels”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at My So-Called Life.

What’s it About?

In 1994 Winnie Holzman introduced to the world her critically acclaimed TV series My So-Called Life, a realistic mid-nineties teen drama that takes a look at a 15-year-old girl and her trials and tribulations. From the instant, Angela Chase (Claire Danes) dyed her blonde locks a bright red, this teen angst series earned its place in the annals of television. Audiences were captivated by the rising star’s performance, and teenage girls swooned over the school’s gorgeous rebel-without-a-cause Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto). The show gave a voice to millions of young women who otherwise had none on network television, but unfortunately, due to low ratings (and several parental complaints about being too realistic), the series was canceled after one season. My So-Called Life has since been referred to as one of the ten best “one season” TV shows of all time and still lives in the collective minds of its fans.

Synopsis: Christmas arrives in Three Rivers, and it finds Rickie (Wilson Cruz) out on the street running away from his abusive uncle. The family Chases’ Christmas gets complicated when Angela’s anxious search for Rickie, aided by a mysterious homeless girl (Juliana Hatfield), leads her into the seedy underground warehouse inhabited by runaway kids.

mysocalledlifericky

Review

My So-Called Life often took a comic plot and subverted it by playing it for realistic drama, rather than just for laughs, but of all the 19 episodes of this short-lived teen drama, “So-Called Angels” is without a doubt the biggest tear-jerker. The episode opens with a whispery voice-over prayer, as Rickie Vasquez stumbles and falls along the cold winter snow – blood dripping from lips, his face battered and bruised. From Rickie, beaten, and alone, it quickly shifts to Juliana Hatfield, a homeless teen hipster with a guitar and the voice of, well, an angel. We’re just over a minute in, and the tone has been set for the upcoming 44 minutes – downright sentimental. The scene fades to white as a guitar plays the single notes of “Silent Night.” Gradually, the single notes of the guitar become the solitary keys of a piano. The camera pans downward and we fade into the Chase home.

If there was ever any evidence that the series played out like an After School Special, “So-Called Angels” would be the ultimate case study, complete with an actual PSA at the end, voiced by Wilson Cruz, for an organization which helps locate missing kids. Aside from existing as a solid stand-alone episode, it also kicked off one of the best subplots of the series: Rickie and his attempts to find a family. The show was notable for dealing with hot topics with relatively little melodrama. Some episodes often involve guns, drugs, sex and so on, but with the fifteenth entry, came the topic of child abuse and runaway teens. The episode remains both strong and current even today due to the then-and-still controversial subject matter and story elements. From the trials and tribulations of an openly gay character to the problems of child abuse and homeless youth, Winnie Holzman’s series doesn’t always paint a bright picture but it does present a truthful view of young America.

While the emotional force of this episode lies with Angela helping Rickie, there’s also a subplot about her two best friends: Rayanne (aiding a Holiday teen helpline) and Brian (dealing with his Holiday loneliness), who accidentally reach out to each other via a 1-800 number. Amidst the depressing, dark subject matter at the core of this sequence, come flashes of unexpected comedy (MSCL-style), culminating in one of the most awkward phone sex exchanges ever.

mscl-so-called-angels

Note: Fans of the show will notice that a scene that somberly recalls Brian and Rayanne’s Halloween night in the school basement, wherein Rayanne revealed a secret to Brian. Here, Brian unknowingly reveals his feelings to her.

The moral weight of So-Called Angels rests on Patty, Angela’s mother, who struggles to come to terms with her newfound knowledge of Rickie’s situation and then do “the right thing.” Her struggle is made clear by their transformation into one of the most loved Christmas icons, Ebenezer Scrooge. And let’s not forget Juliana Hatfield (the ghost of Christmas Eve), disappearing, reappearing and in general hammering home the message that any teen can end up a runaway, including Angela herself. It’s a heavy-handed focus on the issue no doubt, but somehow the execution works well against the backdrop of the Patty-Dickens storyline.

Note: Fans of the series will remember Angela already bumping into other class holiday-related characters (see the Halloween episode).

Back to Patty’s Christmas transformation: The first challenge comes from Angela, when she asks why the family doesn’t go to church, and whether her parents believe in God. It’s an interesting way to examine how a religious holiday has become a consumer event, even within the household of two self-described spiritual parents. The second test Patty endures comes when she shows little concern that the Krakow family left Brian home alone on Christmas while taking off on a holiday vacation. The third confrontation comes when Rickie arrives at their house looking for comfort and shelter and Patty outright refuses Angela’s request to let him stay the night. Graham then challenges her by asking if it would be any different if it were Brian instead of Rickie. Just as Scrooge is visited by three spirits which challenged his understanding of the world, so has Angela’s mom.

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The multi-layered characters in My So-Called Life were easily the highlight of each episode, but the show also offered top of the line production values. Keep in mind the pilot, as well as this episode, was directed by Scott Winant, who would go on to helm episodes of Breaking Bad  The direction is disciplined, and the sharp editing deserves special mention, as transitions often appear seamless. Juliana Hatfield’s ghostly sequences drift freely in most cases, creating a dreamlike pace and a smooth story flow. Charlie Lieberman’s photography here tops any of the other series’ entries and composer W.G.  Walden crafts a number of organic, poignant music cues that work well with the Holiday spirit. From the percussion-driven moments of heightened drama to quieter, more reflective sequences, the music sets the episode’s tone incredibly well.

Mushy and sentimental, perhaps, but one can’t diminish the overall effect this heartwarming tribute to the true Christmas spirit has. This holiday classic is worth an annual viewing – a truly classic, timeless episode, and one of the few that never grows old.

“Remember, folks: no man is a failure who has friends.”

Overall, “So-Called Angels” is without a doubt one of the all-time great Christmas specials, from what might be considered one of the “best shows ever”.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Combine the story, the message, and the take on A Christmas Carol, and it’s easy to see that this is 100% Chrismassy.

Who’s it for

Everyone.

Other observations:

As Patty and Graham converse in their bedroom, the television silently runs It’s a Wonderful Life. Their faces are framed alongside the TV set in such a way that Jimmy Stewart is practically standing in the room with them. The scene from the classic Holiday film is the sequence in which George Bailey out of desperation, prays for help. By setting up this shot, director Scott Winant foreshadows the presence of Angela’s guardian angel – Hatfield. She is to Angela what Clarence is to George Bailey. These juxtapositions continue throughout the episode. A second example comes later in the Chase home when the television is showing the scene from Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol where the philanthropists have come to solicit donations from Scrooge. We don’t get to hear Scrooge’s response, but Patty’s reaction speaks volumes when she outright rejects Angela’s invitation to have Rickie and the mysterious girl, over for Christmas dinner. The scene establishes the complete transformation of Patty into Scrooge.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 4 Review: “Nothing Like It in the World”

The Boys’ growth remains fascinating, even in the bloated, repetitive “Nothing Like It in the World.”

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The Boys Nothing Like It In the World

Considering “Nothing Like It in the World” marks The Boys‘ semi-shift into a weekly series, it is a strange decision for that episode to be a bloated, 68-minute mess mostly reinforcing the worst tendencies of prestige streaming series. It’s poorly paced, from the episode’s timeline to its goofy attempts to parallel certain events (mostly people fucking), trading in coherency for volume, a dump of character beats, plot details, and back stories that all kind of just fall of a cliff by the end of it all.

Considering “Nothing Like It in the World” marks The Boys’ semi-shift into a weekly series, it is a strange decision for that episode to be a bloated, 68-minute mess… and yet, it is a fascinating hour of TV.

And yet, it is a fascinating hour of television; there are a lot of things, large and small, The Boys is doing differently in season two. The most important of these changes is the show’s shift away from strictly parodying superhero culture for the sake of cynical laughs, into something that uses the extremes and “big-ness” (official TV term) of its subjects more as a critical lens of the dystopia we call our own reality in 2020. The reveal of Stormfront as Liberty is probably the biggest tell in all of this; though it is obvious the writer’s room was paying attention to what Watchmen was doing, it still offers a more engaging villain than the vague corporate mysticism presiding over much of season one’s dramatics.

The Boys Nothing Like It In the World

Stormfront’s presence in this episode is light, but her weight is felt across the entire spectrum of The Boys; so much so we spend a good 20-plus minutes on the road trip bringing us to the reveal that she was murdering black children in North Carolina in the 1940’s under the identity Liberty. Racists who succeed, after all, are very good at one specific thing in the modern age: branding and pandering, a tactic Stormfront’s been applying on the fringes of season two with surgical precision, undercutting Homelander’s influence along the way.

Stormfront knows how to wield the most powerful tools in modern society: social media and hysteria, understanding that the neoliberal dream of being a leader “for everyone” is a shrinking idealistic dream. The deification of The Seven, in a lot of ways, neatly parallels what we see in the media when John McCain or Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies; rather than be treated as human beings, they’re treated as beacons of some ideal, an anchor for some arbitrarily-measured sense of moral quality. That deification is the very thing The Boys parodies in its superheroes; the inability to learn the dangers of that, of course, have dire consequences, ones being felt in both “Nothing Like it in the World” and ours.

The other major unifying concept of The Boys is examining the transactional nature of emotion; for The Deep, it is literally taking auditions for his Collective-approved wife, though it takes slightly subtler forms elsewhere, mostly involving characters getting naked with each other (look, The Boys is getting better, but it still has its repetitive streak, seen in three different boring-as-all-hell sex scenes). All three of those scenes, as ineffective an unsexy as they are (seriously – did anyone watch Normal People this year? There’s such thing as good sex on TV!!!), are effective because of what follows them; a series of rejections, engaging with the core cynicism of The Boys in a more challenging, surprising way.

The Boys Nothing Like It In the World

It would’ve been so easy for The Boys to get The Ladies on board – hell, the women in the Collective are ready to get on board to be The Deep’s wife – and yet, the writers took a more complicated approach, with Becca’s rejection of Butcher, Annie’s hesitation to reconcile with Hughie, and whoever the girl Frenchie showed up to bang for a scene and whine about Kimiko refusing to engage with his victim mentality. The latter might not be very consequential (given Frenchie’s limited influence on anything this season, how could it be), but the synchronizing of these three stories across the episode is interesting, an abject refusal by The Boys to be simple – or more importantly, to constantly pander to the needs of the men in the series.

(As poorly scripted, sequenced, and performed those scenes are, it is nice to see sex on TV just be some regular ass sex that doesn’t grant one party emotional dominion over the other).

Thankfully, “Nothing Like It in the World” is a little more than its most horizontal moments; as I prefaced in the opening paragraph, there’s all too much of this episode. There are some serious Choices in this episode that boggle the mind; interspersing The Deep’s interviews through the story (yes, I get the episode is feinting being about ‘love’, but a show as cynical as The Boys can’t really do romance) makes no sense, mostly existing as curious filler moments between a collection of scenes that all run on wayyyyy longer than they need, to get the point across.

Another example: we already saw a whole season of Homelander’s weird fetish for his now-dead boss; did we really need to Elisabeth Shue-horn her character back for two interminably long scenes? While her performance remains tic-y and weird (even playing a version of herself being projected by season one’s Doppleganger), Shue’s presence only harkens back to a different era for the young series, one still lacking in confidence, fumbling to find its voice. Then, she was a bit of a dramatic anchor for the series; in this fully formed, slightly weirder and quieter second season, she sticks out like a sore thumb, a landmark for a much lesser, simplistic action superhero series.

It’s sad to say, but Homelander is infinitely more compelling when being challenged by real presences; shifting attitudes of the public, combined with Stormfront’s casual dismissal of his narcissim, are driving Homelander to a more angry, desperate place than ever before. If anything, this hour really establishes him as the season’s big ticking time bomb; with Kenji’s wild card forcefully removed from the table and Stormfront’s confident Nazi-ism well established at this point, he’s the real variable of season two.

Vought the company’s mostly faded to the background, and the various members of the Seven are treadmilling through their story lines (boy, Maeve talks a lot about a character we never see!) – or in the case of A-Train, being told to get off the treadmill altogether. Maeve and A-Train’s stories continue to be disappointing in how little screen time they’re given; as objects to isolate Homelander, they’re effective, and intriguing in that kind of “ooo, who is going to win when the heroes start fucking each other up” kind of way. But as actual characters, they really aren’t doing shit: and while so much of The Boys is working really well, seeing these side plots awkwardly stumble through the main narrative in each episode is disappointing – and a little embarrassing, considering how little it seems both writers and performers are interested in the stories (basically extensions of season one: A-Train’s failing, Maeve’s floundering… let’s move forward, people!).

After this episode, The Boys can only move forward; if there’s one benefit to this episode being a massive dump of information and over-extended exchanges, it will be reaped in future episodes that don’t have to waste time with all this table-setting. It’s supremely annoying how streaming series pace themselves in 2020, but it is a byproduct of an industry running on hope and vague viewership numbers; the Big Moments really have to pop, so might as well clear the deck for those moments with episodes like “Nothing Like It in the World,” right?

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Did I miss something, or does Black Noir’s story just drop off the face of the earth in this episode? Wasn’t he going to go after Billy – why do we have to wait for next week for that?
  • I didn’t go into detail about the reveal around Mother’s Milk’s backstory, but boy, the Watchmen parallels are strong; the idea of inherited trauma is so powerful, and informs the character’s approach to the scene in North Carolina in a really sobering, thoughtful way.
  • I appreciate a show that respects its minor characters: Anika the analyst and Doppleganger returning help continue to build out a world for The Boys, which has a bad habit of forgetting an actual world exist outside of Hughie and the “heroes.”
  • Oh yeah, Frenchie’s on a bender,
  • Speaking of: how is Hughie walking around Central Park with no disguise, or attempt to conceal his identity? Isn’t he one of the most wanted men in America right now?
  • Those donuts were Fucking enormous. really bothered me when Annie said they went to Dunkin’ for chocolate cream-filled donuts, because those most certainly DID NOT exist when I was getting donuts there as a child. See? All heroes are lying pieces of shit!
  • “You have fans; I have soldiers.” Stormfront is so well-written; so glad Aya Cash was cast in this role.
  • I really should’ve stopped writing this review after the “Shue-horn” bit, huh.
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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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