Pilot (My So-Called Life)

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"Pilot"
My So-Called Life episode
Angela and Patty Chase.png
Patty (Bess Armstrong) comforts her daughter Angela (Claire Danes).
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Scott Winant
Written by Winnie Holzman
Production code 59300
Original air date August 25, 1994 (1994-08-25)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of My So-Called Life episodes

"Pilot" is the first episode of the American teen drama television series My So-Called Life. The episode premiered on ABC on August 25, 1994. Written by series creator Winnie Holzman and directed by Scott Winant, the episode begins the story of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore who is experiencing the difficulties of friends and parents. In addition, the pilot also introduces the supporting cast, including Angela's parents, Patty and Graham, her two best friends, Rayanne Graff and Rickie Vasquez, as well as Angela's love interest, Jordan Catalano.

Synopsis[edit]

Fifteen-year-old Angela Chase and her best friend Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) attempt to swindle money from strangers on the street. Through voiceovers, Angela describes her life and disillusionment with school, friends, and boys. Later, Angela dyes her hair red at the bequest of Rayanne. After school, Angela brings Rayanne and her other friend Rickie (Wilson Cruz) over to her mother's (Bess Armstrong) house. The mother reacts with scorn towards both. Her distance from her father (Tom Irwin) is also revealed when he thinks that Anne Frank is a friend at her school. Angela says that she believes her puberty and coming-of-age has forced her father to stay away because he is starting to become attracted to her.

The next day, Angela reveals her crush on Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto). Rayanne tells Angela to come to a party because Jordan will be there. In yearbook class, Angela abruptly leaves and says she's not coming back. Later, Angela's former best friend Sharon (Devon Odessa) confronts Angela about quitting yearbook in front of her parents. When her mother starts to give her a lecture, she walks out. In classes, one student, Brian (Devon Gummersall) answers all the questions, until her English teacher asks a question on Anne Frank, to which Angela mindlessly responds, "She was lucky." Later, the teacher meets with Angela about her academic struggles. But Angela makes a poetic speech, which leaves the teacher dumbstruck. That night, Angela forges a lie to Graham that the party she's going to is a rehearsal for a "play."

At the party, a band plays and general chaos ensues as moshing and crowdsurfing begin. Angela gets knocked over into a puddle, and she goes into the house to clean up. However, she finds Jordan instead. The two strike up a friendly chat, but it is cut short when Jordan's friends call her away. When Angela comes back, her parents berate her. Angela defuses the tension. At lunch the next day, Rayanne invites Angela to a rave where Jordan will be. Later, Angela talks to Sharon. Sharon tells her the rumors the kids are spreading about her. In the process, Angela learns that Rayanne "used" another friend and Sharon eventually yells at Angela for ditching her for apparently no reason.

At a family dinner, Patty denies Angela's request to sleep over at Rayanne's house. After insulting both Rickie and Rayanne, Angela storms off. Patty also insults Rickie's bisexuality and the fact that he wears eyeliner. The debate becomes increasingly heated, and Angela leaves to the rave. Brian confronts Angela on her way, telling her she is ruining her life. Angela, Rayanne and Rickie wait for unseen character Tino to show up to let them in to the rave, which he does not. Later, Rayanne and Angela get picked up by two strangers, who leave Rickie behind. One of them calls Rayanne over and attempts to rape her before Angela intervenes. A police car takes the two, although they are clear that they are not arresting her. As she gets into the car, Jordan sees her and calls out to her. The police car stops at Rayanne's house, and Angela notices that no one is home.

Later, in the police car, Angela tells the police officer a deep insight into Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. The police officer agrees not to go up to Angela's front door, and Brian attempts to pry the truth out of her. As they are talking, Angela spots her father with another woman. Later, Angela breaks down crying while talking to her mother. The next day at school, Angela talks with Jordan intimately for the first time, and she smiles.

Production[edit]

Casting[edit]

Alicia Silverstone (pictured) was originally set to play the lead role of Angela Chase.

Although Claire Danes eventually landed the role of Angela Chase, several other actresses almost played the character instead. Alicia Silverstone, who was unknown at the time, was in talks to play the role, but it was eventually decided that the actress was "too pretty" to play Angela. In addition, A.J. Langer, who ended up portraying Rayanne Graff, also auditioned for Angela. However, it was eventually decided that Claire Danes was better at playing an awkward teenager character. Because Danes was thirteen years old at the time (and had to attend school), the show's producers, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz increased the amount of screen time for Angela's parents.[1]

In addition, Jared Leto almost decided not to take the role of Jordan Catalano. The actor was not very interested in acting at the time and wanted to go to art school instead.[2]

Filming[edit]

The episode was filmed on location at University High School in Los Angeles, CA. The pilot was written by series creator Winnie Holzman and directed by Scott Winant. During filming, Holzman changed the status of Jared Leto's character Jordan Catalano. Originally, he was only supposed to appear in the first episode, but after Holzman saw Leto's acting skills, she wanted to keep him as a series regular. "But as soon as we got Jared on film, we knew he had to be a continuing character."[2]

Reception[edit]

The performance of Claire Danes (pictured) as Angela was critically acclaimed.

Emma Fraser and Julie Hammerle of This Was TV praised the episode, including the complex portrayal of Angela's parents and the device of the voiceovers. "The things that best sum up Angela and her melodramatic teen philosophy is the voiceover…as a device in the pilot it's one I am on board with." In addition, the pair praised Danes' performance—"Claire Danes is one of the best criers on TV, back then and now, and she isn't afraid to go to the full 'ugly' scrunched up crying face. Both the scene with Sharon in the bathroom and with Patty at the end kills me."[3]

Amelie Gillette of The A.V. Club gave the episode a B+. While she criticized some aspects of the episode, the reviewer lauded it in general while stating that it was better than many other, more popular teen television shows. "Not many teen dramas attempt to capture what it's like to be a teenager without the filter of nostalgia (The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks), or exaggerated elements like excessive wealth (The O.C., Gossip Girl), or cartoony, soapy elements (90210). My So-Called Life, however, did, and it usually did it very well."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lahr, John (September 9, 2013). "Varieties of Disturbance". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "19 Things You Might Not Know About My So-Called Life". Mental Floss. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  3. ^ Fraser, Emma; Hammerle, Julie (August 16, 2012). "Team-Up Review: My So Called Life, "Pilot"". This Was Television. Retrieved November 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ Gillette, Amelie (June 16, 2008). "Review: My So-Called Life: "Pilot"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 14, 2014.