One of the odd things about revisiting My So-Called Life after so many years is discovering just how good some of the episodes are – especially those that I remember being only "so-so" when I first saw them in 1994. This is what's happening now as I work on the section of the book dedicated to "Guns and Gossip."
Briefly, this is the episode where:
A gun goes off in the halls at Liberty High
Rickie is being preyed upon by bullies
Rumors are flying about Angela and Jordan having sex
The parents, including a newly introduced Amber (Rayanne's mom), demand action
Brian is forced to stand-up to the principal's bullying over what he actually saw during the gun incident.
In many ways the first two episodes – the Pilot and "Dancing in the Dark" – were MSCL with training wheels. Both were written by Winnie Holzman and directed by longtime Holzman/Herskovitz/Zwick collaborator Scott Winant, who'd worked with the "Three Rivers" (I'm going to keep using this nickname until it sticks) on Thirtysomething. They were also the episodes with which the creative team had had the longest to fuss over script-wise.
Firsts for 'My So-Called Life'
With Episode 3, the MSCL universe began to expand in a number of interesting ways:
A New Writer. This episode was the first to be written by someone outside the Bedford Falls Co. fold – Justin Tanner, though what "written by" actually meant on MSCL is a question we'll explore later on. (This little piece will bring you up to speed on the LA playwright.)
A New Director. This is the only episode to be helmed by the Three Rivers (I warned you), and Marshall Herskovitz does a brilliant job, especially considering the huge challenges he faced behind the scenes at the time. (These will be explored in the book, natch.)
Rickie Comes to the Fore. After being little more than Rayanne and Angela's Greek chorus for the first two installments, Wilson Cruz's character suddenly becomes the focus of 1 of the episode's 2 story lines.
Rayanne's Mom is Introduced. The casting of Patti D'Arbanville as Amber is probably the best of the series (beyond the series regulars from the Pilot).
The Real World Intrudes on Angela and Her Friends. Though the kids have brushes with danger and disaster throughout the series – the narrowly averted sexual assault of Rayanne at Let's Bolt in the Pilot, for instance – the gun shot in the school and the security measures that follow are the first of only 2 times in which something truly life-threatening takes place. (The other being Rayanne's OD in "Other People's Mothers" later.)
It Predicts the Future. The final shot of the students returning to school only to be greeted by security guards and metal detectors was aired roughly 5 years before the Columbine massacre in 1999, and the host of security enhancements that followed in schools throughout the U.S. As Herskovitz told me:
"Back in those days there were instances of kids bringing guns to school, but it was to settle a score. There certainly weren’t news reports of kids getting shot - not just kids trying to create mayhem."
So Beautiful it Hurts: The Making of My So-Called Life’ is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co., nor anyone involved with the making or distribution of “My So-Called Life.”