My So-Called Life
The Substitute

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The Substitute

Props holding steady for Sars and Kim. Props, also, to Omar, to whom I forgot to give props in the Survivor recap Glark and I wrote. Omar rules all!

The voice-over of Angela "Davis" Chase muses, "Maybe teachers have a hidden life." She continues over shots of various teachers going through various mundane, teacherly activities -- erasing a blackboard, putting quizzes into piles, struggling to pull down one of those rolled-up maps: "Where they're actually...like, human. Where they have, I don't know, dignity. Or maybe not."

Cut to a classroom full of kids goofing off. Three students walk in wielding a boom box, which is on and blasting some bass-heavy R&B-ish track. "The Voluptuous Horror of" Sharon Cherski giggles as some girl braids her hair. Others draw rude caricatures on the board or play cards. "King Hussein of" Jordan Catalano sleeps with his head on his desk, amid all the noise. Brian "Bumble" Krakow reads, bitterly. Presently the classroom door opens and in walks Robin Colcord, Rebecca's rich boyfriend on Cheers, with a toothpick inexplicably clamped in his teeth. Unless this is Film Appreciation class and he's about to give a lecture as the late Jimmy Cagney, there's no excuse for that. Anyway, no one pays him any attention. He drops his knapsack on the desk, and then sits on it (the desk, not the knapsack). He discards his first toothpick of the episode and takes a box out of his pocket to install another, but not before offering one to Angela and Brian, the only people in the room who appear to have noticed he's there. Reluctantly, the students start taking their seats. The owner of the boom box turns it off and exhorts Mr. Colcord to "speak up, bro!" Another student in a plaid jacket informs Boom Box that Mr. Colcord was offering toothpicks. "Toothpick!" repeats Boom Box, and cracks up. Wait, did I miss the moment in the opening montage when this student was shown with a bong? Or maybe I need one, because I fail to see the humour inherent in the word. As various students continue to fidget, Mr. Colcord strolls over to the window. Plaid Jacket (who brought Boom Box up to speed in re the proffered toothpick) asks Mr. Colcord, "So why are you here? You the new substitute?" "Why am I here? Good question," drawls Mr. Colcord. Oh, lord; he's one of those "challenging" teachers who's all fired up about treating students like adults -- or according to his impression of teenagers' impressions of adulthood. We've all seen Dead Poets Society, right? Well, slap about fifty pounds of hair on Robin Colcord's back and it's "O Captain, My Captain" time. He confirms, in some weird, flat, American accent -- Brooklyn by way of Cardiff, I guess -- that he is the new substitute (so this must be the infamous English Class of Rotating Instructors; so long, Mr. McSoulPatch!); that he is there "simply to get paid" (which earns him a round of rueful chuckles from the students); and that as long as they can all read (not so fast, Catalano!), he doesn't foresee any major problems. With that, he pulls a folded newspaper out of his knapsack and makes to read it, snotting at his students that they may "continue wasting [their] lives."

Sharon haltingly asks whether that means they're dismissed. At the magic word, Jordan groggily pokes his head up. Mr. Colcord reminds us that you can't spell "the Socratic method" without "cram it," asking her, "Do you want to be dismissed?" See, it works on both levels. Sharon demurs that since he'd announced that he'd said all he had to say...and Mr. Colcord makes a big production out of checking his watch and declaring, "I will be here for the next forty-seven minutes. Whether you will also be here for that time is, to be candid, your decision." Sharon shrinks into Kyle's Varsity jacket. Jordan languidly puts up his hand and asks, "What's the catch?" Mr. Colcord tells him that there is no catch: "If you don't want to be here, go. I'm not gonna stop you." Jordan immediately climbs out of his desk and heads for the door, whereupon Mr. Colcord admits, "Well, you know, there is just, you know, one catch. We will be discussing you in your absence, but you know, if you don't mind that..." Um, Mr. Colcord? Dial down the "you know"s. Dawson's Creek is thattaway. Jordan sniffs, "Yeah, right." Mr. Colcord assures him "it's no joke," and that he has no lesson planned: "Trashing you in your absence will help pass the time." Angela stares as Mr. Colcord pulls up his socks; the left is white, and the right is black. Um, the city of Tweeville is waiting for you to resume your mayoral duties, Toothpick Tom. Mr. Colcord catches her staring at his socks, and she abruptly sits up and asks what they're supposed to do. Jordan returns to his seat. Mr. Colcord drawls, "I've known you all of five minutes and you want me to tell you what you're supposed to do? Fine. Follow your hearts and veer away from heroin." Angela lets out one explosive laugh and then explains that she meant "in the next forty-seven minutes." Mr. Colcord informs her that he knows: "That was sarcasm." And yet, when you have to explain it, it's not funny. Trust me. Brian raises his hand and says that one of the things they were supposed to do this semester was produce an issue of the school's literary magazine, for which each of the students wrote something. However, Miss Mayhew, their old teacher, quit before she could approve their stories. Other students hiss at Brian as he brings Mr. Colcord up to speed; one even brandishes a rubber ball in a threatening manner. Mr. Colcord snorts, "That's a heartbreaking story." Angela conceals her smile behind the heel of her hand. Brian explains that he knows where their magazine submissions are, and asks that Mr. Colcord at least read them so that the students can get credit for them. Mr. Colcord flicks his head and smirks, "Why not?" I think Kelly Wiglesworth is in that class, for real. There's a girl sitting in the front row who looks just like her.

"Martha" Graham Chase (peering through the back of the family car) and Patty "Arbuckle" Chase (leaning across the front seat) bicker about some work-related thing. Graham asks her to "go over [something] one more time," and she testily cuts him off by assuring him, "You don't even have to be there; this should be me." Graham agrees. They both get out of their respective ends of the car as Patty keeps talking about the meeting (apparently a job was messed up and they'll have to do it over, at cost) and Graham keeps saying "fine" because he doesn't care. Patty tells him she needs him to take Danielle to the "cookie booth" anyway (it's Girl Scout cookie time, and Patty signed her up). Graham snipes, "Oh, you sign her up; I end up at the booth." Patty gives him a slightly apologetic smile, and Graham passive-aggressively announces that he'll cancel his pool game with Neil. Patty snips, "Ohhhhh. You had plans." She starts to suggest that he call another mom and get her to take Danielle, but Graham coos, "What? And miss the cookie booth?" As he takes a bag of groceries toward the house, Patty calls after him to call Angela's English teacher and find out whether the school wants their company to print the literary magazine again this year. Graham, by way of answer, accuses her, "You forgot to buy kitty litter again." They have a cat? News to me. ["Cat = Tino." -- Sars] "I thought you said you would!" Patty squeals. With several grocery bags precariously clutched in her arms, Patty whines, "You know what we need?" Graham balefully waits for the answer. "A wife," she concludes. Heh. That's lame, but I know what she means.

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My So-Called Life

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