My So-Called Life: 1.06 “The Substitute”

Season 1 Episode 6
Airdate: September 29, 1994

English class is crazy today! There has been no teacher for several days, so the kids are playing basketball to TLC music. Then the new teacher enters. It’s Jon Lovitz and we are in the 1996 comedy High School High!

No, actually the teacher is a substitute, a 50-year-old British Christopher Walken. He talks like Christopher Walken but with a British accent. Maybe when he wanted to move to the USA, he rented a bunch of movie that all featured Christopher Walken, so it’s how he thought Americans talk. Or maybe he wants to see how many days in a row he can go speaking like Christopher Walken. Maybe he isn’t even British and wants to take his impression to the next level.

British Christopher Walken shakes things up by throwing all of the students’ old poems out the window. He wants them to start fresh. But Frizzy Haired Nerd freaks out and is like, “Homework!!! Precious homework!!! NOOOO!!!”

Frizzy Haired Nerd actually retrieves Ginger’s poem from the grass and brings it to her home. That’s super creepy, but Ginger has known him since they were little, so she’s used to it. Her parents don’t want him in the house anymore, though.

British Christopher Walken inspires the kids to bring out their creative potential as writers. Ginger is totally enamored by him and Hippie Friend and Gay Friend even sit in his class even though they don’t have it, because they want to have sex with them. One day, he has them write by candlelight, which seems incredibly unsafe. You can’t trust someone to not to accidently knock a candle over, and set someone’s hair on fire.

Another day, he has the student’s read aloud each other’s anonymous writings. One is about a girl enjoying dresses, another about a kid who hates his dad, another a poem about a gingerbread girl (it’s Ginger’s). If this was my high school 50% of these would be about deer hunting.

Frizzy Haired Nerd can’t bring himself to get though the poem he was given, because it’s about a girl enjoying sex (it’s implied it’s Hippie Friend’s work). So BCW takes over. If you ever wanted to know what it would be like if Christopher Walken was a poet, this is the episode you need to see.

The sexy poem is called “Haiku for Him (Sexy Haiku)” but it’s not really a haiku. It’s too long and begins with a simile where the dude peels her clothes off like an orange. I have re-worked it into an actual haiku:

Tyrannosaur cock

Peels off my clothes like an orange

Belly full of sperm

After class, Ginger tries to talk to the substitute teacher, but he is more interested in Jared Leto, just like America after My So-Called Life. Ginger’s parents own a printing press, and Ginger’s dad comes by to collect the poems that are to go in the school literature journal. He sees BCW busy with Leto. It is revealed that Jared Leto doesn’t know how to read and no one has noticed before.

That night, Ginger’s parents go over the student writings, trying to figure out which one their daughter wrote. They are amazed by the sexy poem we heard earlier.

The next day, Ginger’s mom pays a visit to BCW, who is sitting on his desk in an airing-out-my-balls position. Ginger mom says she cannot print these poems because they are too sexy. BCW manages to convince her to change her mind by basically saying, “Hey you run a printing press, maybe you shouldn’t be in favor of not printing something.”

The next scene shows copies of the student lit journal being passed around school. What was the turnaround time? A couple of days? A week? Anything less than five months would be really quick. The kids are all into it, as well as all the women who work in the office. The big hook is that sex story, so it would be creepy if we saw any of the male faculty reading the journal, but it’s totally OK to see adult women enjoy it.

Some drama goes down in the girls’ room (60% of the drama on this show so far has). Two of the girls don’t pass up the opportunity to call the author of the sexy haiku a slut. Who would do it in a basement? they ask. “My basement is so filthy!” one of them says. Hey, some people have nice basements. My bedroom was in the basement when I was a kid. It flooded all the time but it was still a nice room. Ex-Bestie admits to Hippie Friend that she wrote the erotic poem, though Hippie wants to take the credit. Her poem wasn’t a sexy. It was about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She admired how Will Smith was a bad boy shaking up the conformist Bel-Air.

The principal is aghast and confiscates all copies of the journal. He should lighten up. At least 70% of the content of most college level lit journals are sex stories.

At dinner, Ginger is all ready to protest.  She tells her folks that BCW has proposed several plans of action, including calling the local media or staging a student walk-out. Man, if I was a teacher I would fucking love a walk-out. Ginger says that BCW is first adult she has ever admired. Take THAT her parents.

Her parents try to tell that she just wants to protest because she is young and looking for any stupid cause. Ginger tells her parents how that’s bullshit. “I can’t believe this! What about all those boring stories I’ve had to sit through my whole life about how committed you were in the Sixties, about how you believed in things? I saw Forrest Gump!”

Mom: Honey, we made those up. We were in elementary school in the 1960s.

Dad: Yeah, and I was in the Klan in the ’70s.

In school, the principal tells the students that BCW will no longer teach their class. Someone sees him outside and all the kids rush to the window and shout his name. British Christopher Walken is kind of surprised by this and holds up a black power fist. That’s hilarious. What’s even more hilarious is that the kids don’t quite know what that is, but one of them makes the fist and then the rest do. Um…OK…back at you dude, black power.

“He was the best teacher I ever had!” cries Jared Leto. He really was. He was the only one who noticed he couldn’t read, which reflects horribly on this school. Leto leads the students to rush outside and beg BCW to lead them once again.

BCW tells the kids the world is full of injustice like this. “Wake up!” he yells before walking away. This guy turned into a parody of a left-wing activist teacher right here.

Ginger’s dad meets with the principal and tells him that BCW is an alright guy and Ginger looks up to him and he shouldn’t have been fired. The principal says BCW wasn’t fired; he resigned after he was presented with a subpoena for failure to pay child support. The principal and BCW had a child together.  Actually, he has an ex-wife and kids in New Hampshire, which may or may not be the state this show is set in. “He deserted his family” says Ginger’s dad. OH NO!

Ginger finds where BCW lives. She knows about the child support, because her parents couldn’t wait to break the news that the so-called greatest adult in the world wasn’t so perfect after all. Black Christopher Walken throws out a few different excuses, his wife is better off without him, it was soul crushing and he had to get out. He then tells her to drop out of school. “Get out before it’s too late, Amanda.”

This is when BCW’s charms stop working on Ginger and she realizes he kind of a mess.  She asks him, “You’re telling me to drop out of high school?”

“Good Question. Yes. Run for your life. Save your life. We’ll start a band. A jam band, the last bastion of truly free, independent music in this corporate owned media landscape! We’ll call ourselves Teacher & Pupil, or Two Poets, or Old Man & the C Student—oh Amanda, the name doesn’t matter. What matter is the music! Do you play an instrument?”

I made that last part up, but Ginger points out that her name is really Angela. I did not know that. It appears that BCW left his family in New Hampshire and wanted to start a new life in this town. The speaking like Christopher Walken is probably part of the new identity.

BCW is gone, but back at school, Ginger makes copies of the banned writings and hands them out in the hallway. Frizzy Haired Nerd, who was actually against the journal and never liked BCW, wants to help hand them out because he wants inside her pants.

A teacher tells Ginger to go to the principal’s office. “Where you supposed to be?” the teacher then asks Frizzy.

“Computer,” he replies and leaves. Computers were new enough in 1994 that it was probably the name of a class. “What’s your job?” “Computers.” “Oh. That’s a good job.”

Ginger’s parents are with her in the principal’s office, who gives her a chance to explain herself, warning her, “This will go on your record.” Permanent records were something that were always mentioned as a big deal in high school TV shows, but you never heard about when you’re actually in high school. Ginger still says what she did was right. The principal doesn’t want to suspend her, so he lets her go. Ginger’s cause ends here, fizzling out. Which is how a lot of causes go. Like Occupy Wall Street.

Grade: A-