Sunday, August 3, 2008

"This year, I'm not going to look like Miss Dorkus USA": Clarissa Explains It All, 1.02 - School Picture

Memories:
I remember weird random details from this episode, like Clarissa's friend's earrings that looked like big globes. And I remember Clarissa's homemade computer game where her mother had to choose the "real" Clarissa from a burning building filled with look-alike imposters. For the show in general, I remember how I loved Clarissa's "No Fergusons" sign on her door (a photo of his face with a circle around it and line through it) and her "Guard Dog"--the photo of a dog that had a real (non-photo) chain leash around its neck that was thumbtakced to the door. I always wanted a cool room with a cool door. I got my own room when I was eight, but it had formerly been our front porch and had no door whatsoever, just a doorway. It was rough.

Recap:
Major characters:
Clarissa Darling - Teenage girl explaining her life and world to us
Sam - Clarissa's cute guy friend
Ferguson Darling - Clarissa's obnoxious kiss-ass little brother
Janet Darling - Clarissa's health-food-nut mother
Marshall Darling - Clarissa's father, an architect known for his bizarre modern designs

The dvd labels this episode as episode 2, but imdb says it was produced second but aired as episode 6. Clarissa, in a studded leather jacket and bright red punk wig, turns to face the camera. She assures us that the new style doesn't mean she's joined a cult or anything, but that she's making a statement (or, she will be, once she figures out what that statement is). Clarissa tells us that there are three days a year that really burn her up. First is New Year's Eve, when you want to be rocking with Echo and the Bunnymen (only it sounds like she says "Echo and a Bunny Man") but instead always wind up listening to Guy Lombardo and watching old Lawrence Welk reruns with Aunt Dorny. (There are so many early-90s references in this episode, it hurts. And I mean that in a good way.) Second is Ferguson's birthday, which according to Clarissa's animated calendar that pops up on the screen is February 13. Third is School Picture Day, which is a day to wear dweeby clothes and get your picture taken so your mom can give it to your grandparents to show to random people on buses. Clarissa vows that this year will be different and there will be no dweeby knee socks or cardigan sweaters that make her look like everyone else in her class photo. She's currently wearing a wide-brimmed purple hat, hippie glasses, a black scarf with neon yellow spots, an orange jacket, a black and white leopard print baggy shirt, and black pants. Claudia Kishi would be proud.

Opening credits. Way cool! But it's the credits from the second through fifth seasons even though this is the season 1 dvd. Remember the first season credits, where Clarissa woke up in her pink pajamas printed with black ants all over them? I loved those pajamas. And then her family tries to get her to dress the way they see her (her mom puts her in a ballerina tutu, her dad in a basketball uniform, her brother in a gorilla suit), and then Sam finally helps her morph into her own unique look. I can't find a YouTube video of it anywhere, but I liked that opening so much better. When season 2 began, all the season 1 episodes used the new opening in reruns, which sucked.

Back to Clarissa's room, where she's pulling clothes out of her closet. "Salt N' Pepa say, 'Shake your groove thing--ow! Do what you wanna do': This is the exact philosophy I'm adopting for Picture Day," she tells us. (The actual song in question just says "shake your thang" ..."Shake Your Groove Thing" is that disco song from Peaches and Herb.) She shows us last year's class photo,where the entire class looks bland and boring in kilts or slacks and blouses. But she can't make up her mind about what rebellious look to go with this year. Since I went to a Catholic school my entire life and always had to wear a uniform, I never much put up a fight about school picture outfits, since I was always just so thrilled to not have to wear that awful plaid skirt/vest/knee socks combo for a day.

Clarissa's red-haired friend Jody stops by. It's very weird to see a friend enter through Clarissa's door and not her window. Jody has big hair and a wide headband. She also has an accent that I can't place, but I know I've heard it before. It's the same one that Anna Chlumsky and Fred Savage have (he doesn't actually speak in that clip I linked to, but I love that scene so I couldn't resist). Jody pronounces "Clarissa" like "Claire-issa" instead of "Cluh-rissa." Claire-issa and Jody are helping each other brainstorm cool outfits, and Jody has brought over her brother's Elvis impersonator costume so Clarissa can try on the jacket. But she'll need it back next weekend because her brother is playing a sweet sixteen party where the girl's father is a Star Search judge, and it could be his big break. Clarissa hands Jody a cape that she says is "Tina Turner meets Elvira." Jody wants something more Winona Ryder-ish, so Clarissa hands her a black wide-brimmed hat. I can't tell you how much I love the early-90s.

Clarissa in the bathroom is showing us her "salute to world leaders" ensemble. It includes "authentic" features such as a "Mao collar" (a black jacket with the collar pulled up), "Ghandi trousers" (her dad's blue sweatpants), a "Jackie O. pillbox hat," and a gold brooch "like the ones Barbara Bush would wear at Christmas." Is it wrong that I think her outfit looks kind of cute? Her mother calls her down to dinner without giving her time to change first, so she heads down to the kitchen in her "world leaders" getup. There's a 1991 wall calendar behind Clarissa's seat in the kitchen. Janet is serving soy sorbet for dessert. I think that's supposed to sound weird and health-nut-ish, but there's nothing too bizarre about that. Janet asks about Clarissa's fancy outfit, and Clarissa tries to casually mention that she's thinking about wearing it to school. On Friday. For Picture Day. Janet doesn't take too kindly to this idea. Suck-up Ferguson says that he will be well-groomed and tastefully dressed in his photo. He's such a little brown-noser. I'd hate it if he were my kid.

Janet shows Clarissa her old high school yearbook to show her what a lasting impression school photos can make. A set of twins to Janet look "messy and rumpled," but to Clarissa, they look "sloppy chic." Janet's picture, according to Clarissa, looks "tidy." Clarissa shows us an image of her mother's photo with her own face superimposed on it, which is actually pretty funny, and she does not want to turn out like that. Clarissa is freaked out to find that her father, on the other hand, exists only as a blank space marked "No Photo Available."

Clarissa is back in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the tub and pulling some striped tube socks over black flower-patterned leggings. Jody enters with some photos from downstairs. Why was Jody rummaging through the family photos rather than Clarissa? That would creep me out if it were one of my brothers' friends going through my family pictures. Jody's wearing Clarissa's big dangling globe earrings that I love (and a black and red houndstooth plaid sweater, black skirt, and bright red tights), but she expresses some hesitation over their Picture Day plan. Clarissa's response is, "Warning, Will Robinson, warning." I love how most other Nick shows of the era seemed to for the most part shy away from pop culture references, but this one just drops them in left and right with no shame. Apparently Jody's mom has told her that she'll have to do a hundred extra Hail Marys at confession if she dresses wildly. Clarissa says that if dressing chic is a sin, then Cher is definitely going to hell (they just said "hell" on Nickelodeon!). They've been searching through all the photos but still can't find Marshall's yearbook picture. Then they come across an old photo of a teenage Marshall with long hippie hair. Jody says that he looks like one of the Nelson twins, like "Gunner without, like, makeup or the spandex." Way cool. Jody laments that Clarissa's dad looks like a rock legend (Nelson? Rock legends? umm, ok) while her dad looks like Homer Simpson.

Janet is downstairs on the phone. It's Clarissa's principal, and there's a rumor going around school that Clarissa is planning to show up naked on Picture Day. They say "naked" way too many times in this scene. Clarissa and Jody come into the kitchen for cookies just as Janet is exclaiming, "Naked?!" into the phone. Clarissa is wearing a different shirt from when they were upstairs in the bathroom. Either that or she was wearing a jacket before and took it off. In any case, her black turtleneck coupled with the black and white wide headband in her hair is really cute. And she's also added jeans rolled up to the knees over her leggings. Her jeans are soooo high-waisted. yay 90s. And umm, the door behind Clarissa just opened by itself a crack and then closed again. It looked like someone was about to enter but didn't. Crew screw up, perhaps? Anyway, Janet is obviously not very happy about the news of Clarissa's plan to show up naked at school, but Clarissa assures her that it's just a rumor, and in fact Ferguson started it. He told someone that Clarissa was going to dress up like the Virgin Mary, which got passed on to someone else as Madonna, with "the underwear on the outside," which led to the naked rumor. Clarissa's mother says, "Why does my daughter have to be the weird one?" and I'm sure my mother identifies with Janet right here. Janet says that this has gone too far, and she won't have her daughter looking like Pee-Wee Herman on Picture Day. Clarissa is intrigued by this Pee-Wee Herman idea. Janet plans to do an inspection of both her and Ferguson's outfits tonight. Jody pretty awesomely says, "Whoa. Did she just upchuck on your ball gown or what?"

Ferguson's inspection goes off without a hitch because he's wearing a boring jacket and bow tie. Clarissa's wearing yet another jacket over her black turtleneck in this scene. She's seriously changed like three times over a span of a few hours. Janet, Clarissa, and Ferguson march into Clarissa's room for her outfit inspection. Clarissa kicks Ferguson out, but he protests until Janet asks him to "be a prince and go shine his shoes." Ferguson mutters that "princes don't shine their shoes--they have slaves" and with that thought heads off to find his dad. Clarissa tries to plead her case to her mother, but all her attempts fall flat. She unveils her intended outfit--overalls, a wildly patterned blouse, an orange jacket, several big necklaces (a peace sign, one that looks sort of like a cross only the top is a loop [*an ankh, thanks molly for helping me remember that!], and one with a big red and yellow ball hanging from a silver bar), and a black hat with gold patterns on the brim and rhinestones and gold patterns on top, worn with the brim to one side. Janet immediately heads to Clarissa's bureau to find some knee socks and a pleated skirt. Clarissa asks her to first play a game she's made on her computer titled "Blaze O Rama." There are a bunch of Clarissa look-alikes at each window of a burning building yelling, "Help, Mom! Help, Mom!" in computery voices. Clarissa points out that her mother can rescue the "real" Clarissa by finding the girl who is dressed differently from everybody else. I always thought Clarissa's computer was the coolest thing ever. Clarissa shows her mother the picture she found of her father with the long hair to illustrate that what looks silly and embarrassing to one person may be cool to someone else. Janet loves that picture of Marshall, whereas Clarissa feels like "if this is good looking, people should stop bugging Sinead O'Connor" (note that the link is of a live version of the song because all the official music videos have the audio disabled for some reason). Ferguson and Marshall enter, and Janet shows Marshall the picture. Marshall recalls that this photo was his yearbook photo, which the school refused to print because his hair was so long. Since he was also a nonconformist in his high school days, Janet relents and allows Clarissa to wear what she wants in her school picture.

The next day after school, Clarissa comes home in her Picture Day outfit obviously angry. Janet thinks that the kids must have made fun of Clarissa's outfit, but Jody pulls out the class photo (the photo was printed in a matter of hours???) to reveal quite possibly the greatest "twist" ending in a Nickelodeon show ever--inspired by Clarissa, the entire class also decided to rebel and dress creatively, and she once again wound up looking just like everybody else in the class photo.

Random Thoughts:
-I never realized how almost everyone in the main cast has a somewhat distinct New York accent. It sticks out so much to me now every time Clarissa says a word like "call" or "all," but I never noticed this as a kid. (I'm not mocking the NY accent by the way.... Boston's is just as distinct when you hear it on TV. And we do weird things like rhyme "bought" and "pot," which I learned in my college English textbook that no one else in the country does.)
-I also never noticed how obvious it was that Elvis, Clarissa's pet alligator in season 1, was never actually on the set. But now it is so blatantly fake looking whenever they cut to the same closeup of him growling whenever Clarissa talks to him.
-This show had a laugh track, which was odd for Nickelodeon shows at the time. Either that or it's the "live studio audience at Nickelodeon Studios" mentioned at the end of every episode.
-Either this dvd's color balance is off or this show was just really bright, because every scene looks over-saturated. It's probably a little bit of both... a really brightly colored set coupled with a cheaply produced dvd.

21 comments:

rainbowfeet said...

Oh, I love Clarissa! I wanted to be like her when I was little. This episode was good, even though it wasn't my favorite of the season. (That would probably be "Cool Dad" with the Hammer pants, or maybe the one where Clarissa and Sam sell Christmas cards in July.) This one really does show the audience how Clarissa is, though.

Oh! You probably know this since you're watching the DVD, but for anyone who might not know, they did stick the original theme on the last episode of the season, "Sick Days." I don't know why it's only that one, but it's nice to have it preserved.

annakelly said...

Yay! Clarissa! I love you so much right now. Years later, this show remains the gold standard of teen sitcoms. And when I'm a mom, I hope my daughter will be as weird as Clarissa.

Afraid of the Dark said...

I wanted to be like her too!
I always wished I had a male friend that would climb into my window. Now I see how problematic that might be, but at 8 years old, I wanted nothing more.

molly said...

I loved Clarissa as a kid - and so did my dad! He still references the show in daily conversations.

The "cross with a loop" sounds like an ankh. I really need to get these DVDs...

colleenn said...

molly - yes, ankh! I knew I'd seen it before but couldn't remember what it was called. There was an Are You Afraid of the Dark episode involving an ankh if I remember correctly. I'll edit the post and make a note about that. :)

BadKat said...

I kind of have disassociated Clarissa Melissa J. H. from the Sabrina and 10 Things I Hate About You MJH. For some reason they do not even seem like the same person to me.

Oh, now ya wanna talk about accents dont'cha? I get made fun of all the time because I guess I sound extra Minnesotaish. I met these guys out of state once that kept asking me to say "soda" because it was just hilarious to them. That's why people from Minnesota don’t call it soda...

Fear Street said...

Clarissa was so awesome...this entry is giving me the warm fuzzies (yes, I said it).

I remember that photo of Marshall so clearly...

I also remember my deep seated hatred for Ferguson. *Barf*

Kate said...

I so wanted to be Clarissa.

People laugh when I say "bag." I have some weird hybrid canadian/american accent.

Anonymous said...

Current Identity: FergWad McGee

According to IMDB, Anna Chlumsky and Fred Savage were both born in Chicago. Perhaps that's the source of that exotic accent? :) Oddly enough, when you mentioned the accents I could totally hear Vada Sultenfuss saying "Claire-issa".

I used to love Clarissa. She taught me about life. :) I especially liked her computer games. I've heard about people PLAYING video games to deal with stress. But DESIGNING video games? That's creative. I hope she didn't delete the games after her problems were solved, though. Attaching balloons to a straight-jacketed snot never gets old.

Anonymous said...

Current Identity: FergWad McGee

And for the record, I'm not from Boston, but I still think "bought" and "pot" rhyme. :)

colleenn said...

badkat - yes, I know exactly what you mean. Melissa Joan Hart of Clarissa and of Sabrina (and of her teen movie days) are all completely different people in my head. I prefer the Clarissa years. And people always ask Boston people to say "park the car in Harvard Yard," which is really annoying because Harvard Yard is pretty much grass with some walkways and you don't generally park there. :P

FergWad - New England in general then? :) Like not just Boston itself, but other places where the accent is very similar? My textbook made fun of my accent and said how weird it was to rhyme those two words. My Long Island roommate had to pronounce them for me, and I still can't say them the "normal" way.

the marve said...

I always wanted to be just like Clarissa, which I guess made me a poser. She reminds me of what Ramona Q will be like in high school.

Great recap, as always!

Oh, and my friend Erin totes had the same globe earrings as Clarissa. I was very jealous because I wasn't even allowed to have my ears finished, so I stopped being friends with her and spread a rumor that she picked her nose.

So there.

colleenn said...

Oh! Also, to FergWad - I was going to say that Jody's and Anna Chlumsky's accents sounded like Chicago to me. But for some reason I kept thinking Fred Savage from from PA. Maybe because Boy Meets World took place in Philly? Even though that was his brother. But anyway, yes, Chicago makes sense.

BadKat said...

Didn’t Anna Chlumsky go on to major in like international studies at the University of Illinois or something? Don’t ask me how or why I know this, but I am still disgruntled that there was no My Girl 3. I kept waiting for Nick to come and visit for the summer…

I think I got the bought/pot thing by sounding it out (probably with a really bad MA accent). You have to say pot with the “uogh” sound of bought. It’s the same sound like in haughty. DAMN ENGLISH!!!

But (no offense intended) I think a lot of East Coast accents sound exactly the same. Just like I think people from Wisconsin sound like me!

BSC Snarker, aka Kristen said...

Those computer games! I loved them, I thought they were awesome.

I remember being mad when they changed the credits for this show, but now I couldn't remember the original ones until I read your description.

colleenn said...

badkat - I think you're saying it right. Bought, pot, and haughty all have the same vowel sound to me anyway. So do caught and knot. And don't worry, I'm not offended... like, to me most Southern accents sound very similar even though I'm sure one in like Tennessee is different from one in Alabama. I think the Northeast states would sound similar to someone who didn't grow up up here.

marve - I love the idea of Clarissa being how Ramona would be as a teenager. Very true.

nikki said...

Bought and Pot don't rhyme to me. I'm from Maryland, and have a plain mid-atlantic accent (well, plain to me!) Bought is said kind of like "bawt" while pot is said kind of like "paht." If that makes any sense...

Yay for Clarissa! I loved this show, but I had to hide it because I was a teensy bit old (high school) to be watching it. I had a younger sister, so I could always blame her for my watching it though :)

My TV girl heroes were always Clarissa, Blossom Russo and Daria. (Much later Rory Gilmore got added to that list!)

BadKat said...

Daria is my favorite show ever...
I have bootleg PC copies, I get them out often!! Someone please start a Daria blog because I have no attention span for writing recaps.

They only ryme if you are a Bostoner!!

colleenn said...

I love Daria! I also have copies of the show. I'd so do a Daria blog if I weren't already doing this one. And I'd definitely read one if someone else were to start one up. :)

Anonymous said...

Jodys accent is NY, that is where she was raised...

colleenn said...

hmm, that's cool about Jody. I was thinking Chicago. It didn't sound like NY to me. I could tell that Clarissa and lots of the main cast seemed to be from NY, but Jody threw me off. :)