O&A’s Carla is the season’s vehicle for exploring some MSCL’s themes, with a twist. As in: what if the teen with no place to go, taken in by the main upper-middle-class family of the show, was — rather than the most moral character ever to stalk the halls of a fictional high school — actually pretty bad?
Or: what if you took the same elements of one of MSCL’s core dramas — the “bad girl” is taken with the more innocent main character, so much so that she exploits her own lower inhibitions to pursue the main character’s crush — but wrote it so that she bore none of the consequences of the emotional havoc she wreaked… and the main character had to make her own peace with that?
I also noticed, watching Carla, how it’s possible to fully believe your own crap, and yet have that pose no barrier to your utterances being perfectly pitched to manipulate others. I recall that Television Without Pity’s recappers couldn’t stand Carla; I enjoy her, because I believe in her. This is partially the acting — I think ONCE AND AGAIN is extraordinarily well cast, my commentary on Shane West aside — but it’s also that Carla is perfectly written as a character who is extremely gifted at manipulating the right kind of people, but not well-attuned to how off she seems to others (especially, most adults). More than any of the other characters, I think — even Grace — she’s congenitally teenage.
The producers were clearly having fun with the alterna-MSCL aspect of the season, because they cast both Devons in guest-starring roles both emotionally and physically opposite their MSCL characters. Devon Gummersall (Brian on MSCL) is the busboy who becomes a hostage-taker… and, like most such sad sacks, can’t even do that right; Devon Odessa (Sharon on MSCL) plays a lustful and incompetent temp. I think they both do a great job, which is notable in Odessa’s case because these days when I watch MSCL, I’m struck by the feeling that her acting is a notch below the rest of the main cast’s.
Final trivia: Devon Gummersall’s brother Josh was an assistant to the producers on O&A, and in the episode where Rick is summoned to testify before a grand jury about the misdeeds of the contemptible character* Miles Drentell, an unseen character accused of delivering a bribe is named Gummersall. …And I’m starting to understand what my friend Vic said about the odd experience of listening to the MSCL commentaries and realizing you remember the show much better than its creators… MSCL was my first, and will always be my best, trivia love.
Actually, on that: I inadvertently outed myself as a MSCL-obsessed freak on the last day of this seminar I took this spring. My friend Adrienne, also a MSCL fan (who isn’t?), was trying to remember whether something had occurred in Three Rivers, PA; I immediately informed her that Three Rivers is actually the fictional suburb of Pittsburgh in which MSCL is set. That’s not what showed my obsession. What showed my obsession is that when the professor expressed awe at the ease with which small details of the MSCL universe come to my mind in utterly different contexts, I didn’t understand why this was anything to be surprised about.
* “Contemptible character” in both senses, I’m afraid: the character, well-portrayed in all his annoying glory by David Clennon, is a contemptible man, and he also had a contemptible effect on my viewing, as in I wanted to stab myself every time he entered the scene.
Also: had anyone told me six months ago that I would be writing footnotes about scope ambiguities in a blog ostensibly about children’s books… I would’ve said they knew me alarmingly well.