Last Friday I had the opportunity to chat with "Father Figures" director Mark Rosner by phone. It had already been “one of those days” – the kind that starts with you dropping nearly everything you pick up, and only gets progressively worse from there. Our discussion, however, not only turned out to be the high-point of the day, but also helped to underscore for me just how clear the overall creative vision for My So-Called Life was.
Graham and the Punch that Wasn’t
Like most shows, directors came and went throughout MSCL’s 19-episode run, with only Scott Winant and Mark Piznarski working on more than a couple. All brought their own ideas to the show, though not all of those ideas made it to the screen. One of the shots in “Father Figures” that ended up on the cutting room floor might seem small on its own, but I think it speaks volumes about the creative process on the series.
In this fourth episode Angela is still convinced that her father Graham is having, or has had, an affair, and goes out of her way to withdraw her affections from him in every way possible. Already hurt by this, he finds no sympathy from Patty (who complains that Angela does this to her all the time), and bitterly watches his daughter shower Patty’s father with love instead. This, by the way, after Chuck’s dodgy tax dealings have not only landed the family an IRS audit, but also forced Graham to miss a Grateful Dead concert.
There’s a scene on the stairs in the Chase house where Graham looks as though he’s ready to explode. But he doesn’t. At least not in the final cut of the episode. According to Mark, however, they did shoot a scene in which he punches the wall in frustration. (You can see where they abandoned it around timecode 27:50.) The decision to drop it is a good example of what make My So-Called Life so fascinating.
In essence, the show is one long high-wire act. Some moments it threatens to tip over into Afterschool Special territory (Rayanne’s drug overdose in “Other People’s Mothers”), in others it flirts with sitcom antics (“Weekend”). But always there is a scene, or even a single line, that rescues it from going completely in those well-trod directions.
Had Graham punched the wall, it would have changed the way we see him as a character and flatly announced that "this is a man on the verge of a major life change. " What makes the collapse of the Patty-Graham marriage so effective is that it doesn’t implode all at once, but rather suffers a series of hairline cracks that seem to catch even Graham himself off guard.
My thanks to Mark Rosner for other insights into the making of this episode as well, his candor, and above all for helping me better understand what it must've been like for directors to join a production so laser-focused on what they wanted to achieve.
So Beautiful it Hurts’ is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co.,or anyone involved with the making or distribution of “My So-Called Life.”