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‘Pressure’: Reassessing Previously Forgotten Episodes

In which we don't know how to break it to Jordan that we're not, you know, going to...

As much as I love My So-Called Life, I’ll be the first to admit that some episodes are definitely better than others, and a couple can be pretty hard going even for the most die-hard fan.

Yet I’ve recently discovered that episodes which previously failed to leave much of an impression on me the first time around are actually pretty great when re-watched years later. One of those for me is “Pressure.” [Watch the episode for free on ABC streaming]

Written by Ellen Herman and directed by Mark Piznarski, this 13th episode falls between the sublime “Life of Brian” (11) and pivotal “On the Wagon” (14) and “So Called Angels” (15). (This might explain why I’ve overlooked it all this time.)

This is the “Jordan-wants-to-have-sex-but-Angela-has-to-do some-census-taking-before-sending-him-off-for-a cold-shower” episode, and may be one the most MSCL of MSCL episodes at that.

Here we see Angela awaken to the idea that everyone around her is – or could be – having sex, even as she wrestles with the decision of whether or not to give in to Jordan’s demands in that department. (Her gleeful realization that Mr. Katimski and Mrs. Krzyzanowski have sex, and could theoretically have sex together, is priceless.)

What Happens

A sex tape makes the rounds, Brian get horribly jealous (again), Jordan gives voice to his own sexual frustrations, and we see Graham put in the heart-wrenching position of overhearing the collapse of the Angela-Jordan relationship. The final shot – Angela disappearing down a road on a bicycle, hands outspread – is one of those that sticks with you for decades, even if the rest of the episode does not.

It's hard for me now to understand why I failed to remember “Pressure” more than I had; there is a lot to love here. Sharon in particular comes in for some unexpected character development – her line about sex being “expected” forevermore once she agreed to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time feels like a Winnie Holzman line. The MSCL creator has an inimitable facility for the profound, telling detail.

If “Pressure” has a failing, it might be that it’s a little too polished. That’s not my estimation, but comes instead from episode director Mark Piznarski, who expressed as much to me in a recent interview. Feeling that it was all just a little too perfect, he resolved to make his next episode a little edgier.

That next episode? “Betrayal.”



'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." 


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