Sunday, May 22, 2011

S02 E03 – Stage Fright

First up, my apologies for the extremely long hiatus. When I last updated, I was rather bogged down in wedding planning; shortly after getting married, I got pregnant and developed a severe case of pregnancy-brain which rendered me unable to write anything coherent or remotely amusing (I also totally got fat, which this show warned me about many a time, but at least nobody made me parent an egg). However, the baby is a few months old now and I am more or less back to normal, and more than ready to start mocking things again. So let’s get started!

We open with a close-up of Caitlin, who is looking, as usual, concerned. Although she has a pretty legitimate reason to look this way: someone's taped a load of cotton wool and wires onto her head. You'd look concerned too.

A white-coated doctor explains that she's being hooked up to a machine that will measure her brain's electrical activity. (This does not explain why someone has stuck a cotton wool electrode onto her chin, as last time I checked, most people’s brains were not in their chins. But maybe they do things differently in Canada.) As Caitlin shuts her eyes and tries to relax, we see that she actually turned up for her brain scan wearing tan eyeshadow. Girl has an impressive commitment to low-level glamour.

And that's it. As Degrassi's pre-credits scenes go, it's kind of vague, and doesn't really reveal that much – except that Caitlin either has health problems or is working as a test subject to earn pocket money. Well, it's less effort than a paper round.

After the credits, Caitlin's being driven to school. "I've been practising the audition piece for the play for weeks," she complains. Her mother, who's currently pioneering murky green houndstooth-patterned satin with less-than-stellar results, answers, "I just don't think you should do anything too strenuous for a while. You have epilepsy. What if you had another seizure?"

"I had one seizure over the holidays," Caitlin answers. "The doctor said it might never happen again." "But we don't know, do we?" asks her mother. Wow, way to boost your child's confidence, lady!

Caitlin insists that she'll be fine if she takes her medication, and her mother produces a bottle of pills that she left in the bathroom at home, then nags her to put on her Medic-Alert bracelet, then reminds her repeatedly to take her pills. Caitlin grudgingly puts the bracelet on, and her mother finally says she can audition for the play. Caitlin gets out of the car, then takes off the bracelet as soon as her mother's gone. Ominously funky synth music plays, to show that she’s taking risks.

So, we've established the theme of the episode: chronic health conditions and annoying parents who nag you about them.

Caitlin arrives in the Bathroom of Skanky Transformations And General Deception. Because the writers don’t trust us to remember upcoming school events for more than a couple of seconds (see also: Photo Day), the room is plastered with posters about auditions for the play, and the principal is making an announcement about the auditions over the intercom. Just as Caitlin’s about to take her pills, Kathleen wanders in and asks where she’s been. Caitlin hides her pills without taking them and says she had the flu.

Kathleen smugs that she never has the flu because she always eats a balanced diet. And in one efficient line, the writers slip in some nice foreshadowing of future plots, and make me hate Kathleen still more. “What a good idea,” Caitlin snarks, although sadly this is to be her one and only moment of sarcasm ever.

The girls hover in front of the mirror, Kathleen fakely brushing her hair and Caitlin endlessly adjusting her headband. They talk about the auditions, and it turns out they’re both auditioning for the same part. This whole scene is incredibly awkward and stilted, and I can’t tell if it’s intentional because the girls don’t like each other or just really bad acting, even by Degrassi standards.

Meanwhile, Joey and Snake are in the hallway. Joey is insisting that he knows some guy at a record company who wants to hear a Zit Remedy demo tape. Snake points out that the guy drives a truck for the company and thus probably can’t help them much. Given that they still only have one song and it only has two lines and they’re both total crap, this guy’s job description is really the least of their problems.

Just then, Alexa and Michelle walk by, talking about speeches they have to give for Mr Raditch’s class. Well, Alexa talks about her speech; Michelle just hangs her head shyly and says, “Please don’t talk about speeches.” Only, she says this SO shyly that the line has had to be redubbed, and it’s done so badly that it sounds more like a voiceover, as if it was her internal monologue or something. It’s just confusing . Joey sneaks up and tickles her to scare her, then runs off laughing. Michelle sadly complains that she’s so shy she “can’t even order a hamburger without turning red”. And so we’ve established the episode’s secondary plot: Michelle is shy, and Joey is kind of a dick about it for some reason.

Caitlin and Kathleen arrive in the classroom. Susie is thrilled to see Caitlin back, and they squee about a birthday sleepover Susie’s planning. “Why don’t you invite some boys to your sleepover?” asks Melanie hopefully. Kathleen calls her a “sax-starved maniac”, and says she’ll end up like Spike. She’s only talked to two people this morning and she’s been a judgemental bitch to both of them (and to Spike, who isn’t even there). How very Kathleen of her.

Anyway, Susie starts to say something to Caitlin, but Caitlin has completely zoned out and is staring off into space. After a minute, she wakes up. “What were you daydreaming about?” asks Susie. “I bet you were thinking about Rick!” Caitlin insists she wasn’t daydreaming, and then they’re distracted by a random girl asking what the deal is with her and Rick anyway, since they had progressed to chaste kissing quite a while back. Susie expositions that they like each other but are too shy to get together. And so Rick is doomed to be lonely and working-class forever.

Meanwhile, in Mr Raditch’s class, an agonized Wai Lee is stumbling through a terrible speech about why he likes to watch TV: “Cos you learn a lot about… life… and… it’s fun.” Well, it can be fun. Perhaps this show isn’t the best example.

The class gives him a token round of faux-applause, and Mr Raditch tells him to pay less attention to the TV and more to his homework. As the bell goes, Michelle cringes at the revelation that Mr Raditch can be kind of bitchy when people do crappy work. She apparently hasn’t been paying any attention up to now.

Joey calls her “Mouse”, and asks if she’ll have a microphone so people can hear her when she gives her speech. All the guys laugh at her. Yeah, normally Joey’s douchiness is at least mildly entertaining, but this is just mean. Michelle panics at Alexa and says she needs to get out of doing the speech.

Since we haven’t been reminded about the school play for the last few minutes, we see Caitlin walking past another audition poster, while Mr Lawrence booms over the intercom, “To be or not to be… a part of this year’s school play?”. Oh man, that’s bad. Anyway, she stops next to another poster, nearly gets her toes run over by Maya’s wheelchair* for no particular reason, and starts to take her medication. But she’s thwarted again when Susie turns up and suggests doing a séance at the sleepover. Actually, the thwarting makes no sense this time, because Susie notices the pills and Caitlin says they’re for a headache. So she could have just taken one anyway without Susie finding out she had epilepsy... Aaaugh, overthinking Degrassi plots is probably bad for my mental health.

*Maya Goldberg, Token Wheelchair Girl and presumable Token Jew, appears in the background of pretty much every episode but doesn’t actually get any plot (or more than one line of dialogue, as far as I can remember) until well into the High School years. I think this is what passed for inclusiveness in those days.

Kathleen walks by, bragging to Melanie about how she’s been practicing her audition piece and her mother says she’s a natural for the part. (Although actually, given what we learn in future episodes, this is probably a total lie.) There’s sad, sad music, and Caitlin worries about the idea of Kathleen getting the part, but Susie says to relax, because she always beats Kathleen! What a healthy attitude.

Everyone goes into the auditorium for auditions. Rick starts climbing up a ladder with some stage lighting, but stops to say hi to Caitlin. Scooter, who’s watching him, says, “So that’s why you’re helping with the play!” “Get lost, you little narbo!” Rick snaps, and my wholesome love for him is slightly diminished, not because he’s being mean to Scooter but because he’s using terrible fictitious slang.

Susie says she’s glad she’s the stage manager, because if she had to go on stage, “I’d have a fit!” Ah, this show, always ready with the subtle foreshadowing.

Caitlin is the first to audition, and for some reason the audition piece is an incredibly emo speech that starts, “There was such unhappiness in our home,” and takes it from there. Her generally morose demeanour works pretty well with this.

Backstage, Alexa and Michelle are futzing with horrendously ugly costumes and planning how to get Michelle out of making her speech. Alexa suggests telling Mr Raditch she has a contagious disease, which seems to be rather a popular excuse around these parts, but (a) would require a doctor’s note, as Michelle points out, and (b) wouldn’t particularly prevent someone from giving a speech if they were already at school anyway. She next suggests pretending there’s been a death in the family (and frankly it’s a little disturbing how excited she seems about this one), but Michelle rejects this as being too morbid. Next suggestion: “Tell him you’re on your period and your cramps are the worst! Male teachers always get flustered when you mention the word ‘period’.” With the possible exception of Mr Colby. Michelle reckons this would be too embarrassing, and… yeah. Mr Raditch is just not the kind of person you tell about your menstrual troubles.

Meanwhile, Caitlin’s just finishing the audition piece, which has apparently taken a turn for the cheerful, because it ends “It was the most wonderful moment of my life.” Unfortunately, she’s still speaking in the same incredibly bleak tone of voice that she uses in most situations.

She walks off stage and stands next to Susie, who tells her she did great. But Caitlin has zoned out again and doesn’t hear her. After a second, she snaps out of it, and Susie asks if she’s feeling OK. Caitlin insists she’s fine, and then they stop to glower at Kathleen while she reads the audition piece. We don’t hear much of it, but she is at least speaking in less of a bleak monotone than Caitlin did.

Later, Caitlin is upstairs at home listening to her parents arguing about whether she should go to the sleepover. Her dad insists she won’t get enough sleep and the tiredness will make her have a seizure. Her mother, who was all about stopping Caitlin from doing things as recently as this morning, has changed her tune: “She happens to have epilepsy, but she’s still a person!” Although the fact that she actually feels the need to point this out is a little alarming. As Caitlin’s parents talk about how she needs to be careful, she goes into her room and gets her stuff for the sleepover, but leaves her medicine behind. This will, of course, end well.

Cut to a giant, gnarled candle, and Kathleen in a Victorian nightdress, attempting to contact the spirit of somebody’s dead dog. Everyone else clearly thinks this is ridiculous and is trying not to laugh, except for Caitlin, who finds no humour in the situation. OF COURSE.

When the séance breaks up in giggles due to a disappointing lack of ghost dogs, the girls turn on the lights and start looking for some cookies to eat. But Caitlin’s looking sleepy, which of course means she’s about to have a seizure as per her dad’s predictions. We see a shot of the room from her point of view, and everything looks all weird and double-visiony. (Meanwhile, Kathleen is bragging about how few cookies she’s eaten.) There goes the special effects budget for this season.

As super-angsty synth music plays, Caitlin keels over onto a convenient pile of duvets and starts sort of rocking back and forth. (I have no idea if this is a realistic portrayal of an epileptic seizure or not.) Susie realises what’s happening, and everyone flails around, arguing over whether they should put a spoon in her mouth or hold her down or what. And for once, this show actually passes up an opportunity to clunkily educate us, because it’s never really made clear what the girls ought to be doing other than yelling for Susie’s mom. And yelling for Susie’s mom is not a useful option for most people.

Cut to Monday morning and chirpy music! I assume there was supposed to be a commercial break in between, but when you’re watching the DVD it just seems wildly inappropriate. Caitlin and her mom pull up outside the school, and Caitlin’s mom is finishing a lecture about epilepsy management that by all appearances has lasted the whole damn weekend. She asks Caitlin if she’s sure she wants to be in the play, and Caitlin says she has to be in it, or everyone will think she’s a freak. Because… only freaks drop out of things? That doesn’t even make sense, but whatever.

When she gets out of the car and walks into the school, she’s spotted by Kathleen and Nancy and Trish. Kathleen has clearly been dishing about the thrilling epilepsy-related events of Friday night, but the others don’t believe her, because Caitlin “looks fine”. Kathleen insists that she was rolling on the floor and foaming at the mouth and it was really gross, because Kathleen is a bitch like that. As the girls discuss (inconclusively) whether epilepsy is contagious, Rick listens in on them and furrows his brow in a manly yet troubled fashion.

Inside the school, Caitlin runs into Susie and asks if her seizure really was gross or not. Susie unhelpfully says it “wasn’t that bad”.  Caitlin is freaking out about what people are going to think if she has more seizures, and Susie is feebly trying to cheer her up, but they’re interrupted by Scooter shouting that the cast list for the play is up. They go to see if Caitlin got the part, but Kathleen sees the list first, and runs off yelling that she got it. “I’m a wench!” Melanie announces gleefully. I love Melanie so much.

Caitlin is majorly pissed off, because she has to play Kathleen’s servant. This is pretty childish, but I suppose I can sort of see where she’s coming from, because if there’s anyone who would be a total smug pain in the ass about you being her servant in a play, it is Kathleen.

Meanwhile, Michelle goes up to Mr Raditch and whispers that she can’t do her speech because she’s lost her voice. He’s spectacularly unconvinced, and just laughs at her, but eventually relents and tells her to talk aboot something she knows and it won’t be that bad. Joey, who is still being a tool for some reason, laughs at her again. She looks depressed.

After class, Kathleen is babbling about how awesome she is. Caitlin has gone completely paranoid and starts insisting that Ms Avery must be discriminating against her for having epilepsy or something, which is nonsense because Ms Avery is nice and liberal and almost certainly not prejudiced against people with epilepsy. This is just about the most out-of-character thing you could possibly accuse her of. Susie is starting to get annoyed and tells her that Kathleen just did a better audition, then heads to rehearsal. Caitlin hangs back and punches some lockers. Clearly she has been picking up some tips from Rick on how to express her rage in a cool, working-class manner.

She flounces off, and Rick, who’s been watching her, asks where she’s going. “Home,” she snaps. He looks disappointed but lets her go.

In the auditorium, they’re halfway through rehearsing the first scene before anyone notices Caitlin’s missing. Rick tells Susie that she went home, and she tells Ms Avery that Caitlin had to leave due to a “personal matter”. Ms Avery expresses mild disappointment that she wasn’t told sooner, which is as close as she ever gets to being angry, because she’s so nice (and liberal). They move on and start rehearsing a different scene.

That afternoon, Caitlin is at home eating a plate of brown paste (seriously, I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, but it looks nasty) when her parents get home. She announces that she’s dropping out of the play because of her epilepsy. Her mother says she should be in the play anyway, but her dad is all in favour of her basically giving up on life. Caitlin flips out and says she doesn’t want to be Kathleen’s servant. Her parents exchange very laboured anxious faces.

Next morning, she arrives at school, and her tormented expression is wildly at odds with the cheerful music. Also tormented: Michelle, whose speech is today. Also also tormented: me, looking at Caitlin’s hideous green-tiger-print sleeveless T-shirt and co-ordinating headband.

Susie catches up with her and complains about having to cover for her at the rehearsal. Caitlin says she’s dropping out of the play because it’s too dangerous and/or the play is dumb. Susie finally calls her on her bullshit and says she’s just quitting because she’s jealous, then storms off. THANK YOU. Caitlin says nothing, but her expression shows she’s been pretty much busted.

Finally, one of the dullest subplots in a show known for its dull subplots is drawing to a close. Mr Raditch asks Michelle to make her speech, and everyone stares at her. Joey makes squeaking noises, because she’s shy like a mouse or something, but Mr Raditch is having none of it. Michelle has decided to give a speech about what it’s like to be shy, which is not all that surprising since shyness is her only character trait so far.

Pretty much for the sole purpose of breaking up the speech, there’s a brief scene of Caitlin looking tormented in class, while Rick and Susie glower at her.

Michelle is wrapping up her speech. “Worst of all,” she concludes, “I end up with a lot of ugly clothes because I can’t stand up to pushy salespeople.” Everyone in the class chuckles warmly, as if to say, “Yeah! Your clothes are vile!” (Actually, Michelle's clothes are so dull that they've held up much better than most of the outfits on this show -- they're not nice, but they don't make you want to spork your eyes out.) Anyway, Raditch says her speech was good, and everyone claps, and Michelle is relieved. After class, Joey, who’s trying to make leather berets happen, begs her to write his speech for tomorrow, and even offers to give her a tape of the Zit Remedy, but somehow she resists this powerful incentive.

In the bathroom, Caitlin finally womans up and takes her damn medication already.

Kathleen is getting into her costume for the play – a big cloak and a cardboard crown, which she’s wearing backwards. “I guess now Caitlin’s got epilepsy, she won’t be doing much of anything,” she smarms. “How sad.” Rick, speaking for everyone in the audience, asks, “Kathleen, why don’t you just shut up?” Have I mentioned that I think Rick is awesome? Because I do.

Kathleen starts to argue, but they’re both distracted by the sight of Caitlin, who’s just put on her costume – an old-fashioned ballgown with a co-ordinating headband. Seriously. She’s apparently playing the medieval version of herself.

Ms Avery asks if she’s dropping out, and Caitlin says no – “I’ll be the best servant Kathleen’s ever had. And she needs all the help she can get!” She puts Kathleen’s crown on the right way around, and everyone laughs at Kathleen, restoring the natural order of things.

Everyone else abruptly walks off to start rehearsal, and Caitlin is left alone with Rick. (He is up at a height doing something with electrical cables, because health and safety laws have yet to be invented.) “Welcome back,” he tells her. She smiles up at him, and the credits roll, and I think she is the only cast member with a full set of teeth. I mellow towards her slightly.

Dubious lessons of the week: It turns out epilepsy isn’t one of those things you can just ignore and wait for it to go away. But we still don’t know if it’s contagious or not. Fourteen-year-olds are really sympathetic when you tell a group of them about your crushing insecurities. And dog séances aren’t as much fun as you’d think.


Anonymous said...

Yay, you're back! I still remember this episode from watching it on tv an incredibly, incredibly long time ago.

WorkingClassLockerPuncher said...

Brilliant stuff as usual... Degrassi is basically like today but with more social activism and less social networking, and also you've got fluff in both your eyes

Ms Avery said...

That pretty well sums it up.

Anonymous said...

I had a look at Caitlin's plate of brown paste, and I think it's the remains of a piece of chocolate cake that she has mashed up and demolished instead of eating.