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'Pressure' Chapter, You Are Done, I Say, Done...

In which we get a little critical, but only because we love.

I knew "Pressure" was going to be a doozy to tackle, and it was, though not for the reasons I expected. Some episodes I remember fondly from having seen them the first time they aired ("Betrayal," the Pilot); others left little impression at the time ("Self-Esteem" and "Pressure"). While I was delighted to discover recently just how wrong I was about "Self-Esteem," I now see what didn't quite work for me in the latter.

I was about to say that "on paper" "Pressure" is a perfectly good installment of My So-Called Life, but that's not really true.

It turns out we're so used to MSCL scripts being some of the tightest, most sparkling poetic works in TV history, we're simply not equipped to deal with one that fails to measure up. But that's just what's happened here. It is the acting, lighting, directing and cinematography that transform a problematic script into what is, for many fans, an all-time favorite.

Up till now a "guest writer" on the show hasn't been cause for concern as most have been involved in MSCL in one way or another, usually as a producer or story editor. In fact Betsy Thomas ("The Zit") and Jill Gordon ("Betrayal") are credited with two of the strongest episodes in the series.

The reason for this, in part, is down to Winnie Holzman's close involvement with script development, as well as her making final edits to maintain that distinctive My So-Called Life voice. Though I haven't been able to confirm what actually happened on "Pressure," it's pretty clear that this crucial final step was either skipped or severely hampered, most likely due to time.

While the story beats and bullet points are just the kind of thing you'd expect to come out of an MSCL story meeting, the dialogue, while not bad for television of the day, is simply not up to the show's rigorous standards; it comes across more like an imitation of Winnie's unique style. This is especially jarring during the breakup scene between Angela and Jordan, unfortunately.

Fortunately, what the script lacks in punch is made up for to some extent in performances and direction, with these two coming together beautifully toward the end when we discover that Graham has not only overheard Angela and Brian's talk about sex, but also her breakup with Jordan.

The blocking and lighting for the mirror-image of this scene – the one between Angela and Patty on the stairs while Jordan lurks creepily just out of sight – is especially unnerving, lending "Pressure" some much-needed symbolism and subtext.

And while Angela's voice over at the end feels a bit like a watered-down version of her philosophical musings from other episodes (e.g., "The Zit"), Claire's delivery paired with the long lens shot of her disappearing down the street on Brian's bike makes it one the strongest scenes in "Pressure." It's interesting to note that after completing this one, director Mark Piznarski was also left feeling unsatisfied.

"I remember being done with it and it was great, but it felt so clean. There was something that was too perfect about it that I didn’t like. (This will make no sense to you.) The squares were square, the circles were circles. I went to Ed [Zwick] and I said ‘You know, I gotta do one more. I want something messier."

That “something messier” would come later in the classic gut-punch of an episode, “Betrayal.”

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.”

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