100 Years, 50 Losers: #2. Brian Krakow
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 24, 2008
“Why do you always have to say stuff like that?”
Brian Krakow, My So-Called Life
Played By: Devon Gummersall
Born to Lose: There has never been, and there will never be, a better teenage loser than Brian Krakow.
More and more, I think that My So-Called Life‘s primary innovations to the teen drama format are two-fold:
- It only lasted one season (accidental, but innovation nonetheless–more on that later).
- It wasn’t funny.
Not to say that there weren’t funny moments on the show, but any real sort of humor to be found in MSCL was more out of its gruesome identifiability than slapstick or situational comedy. And it’s not to say that shows like 90210, Dawson’s Creek and The O.C. were particularly riotous either, but they had occasional comedic subplots, and their tones were often light, breezy and almost nostalgic. Besides, their characters were usually very, very good at witty bantering.
Brian Krakow was not very good at witty bantering. In fact, most of the dialogue spewed from Brian’s mouth was what could most easily be identified as the exact opposite of witty banter. Dylan McKay, Pacey Witter, even Seth Cohen–these were characters who could talk up a storm, and on a good several occasions knew the exact right thing to say, and said it at the exact right time. Brian could talk up a storm too, but he never knew the right thing to say, and if he did, he certainly didn’t say it at anywhere near the right time. Nothing he said sparkled with the intelligence and sympathy that most losers are supposed to be compensated with. There were absolutely zero cute exchanges between Brian and Angela that made you say “Awww, if only she knew how good she had it with him!” Brian Krakow talks the way teenage loser males actually talk–or at least, the way they used to talk before they realized they were supposed to talk like Dylan, Pacey and Seth.
Despite rarely saying or doing the right thing over the course of the show’s one season, everything that Brian says or does feels pretty fucking right on–even down to his hair (long enough for him to hide behind, but too shaggy to be even accidentally fashionable) and his clothes (which scream “My mother buys my clothes for me, but she lets me choose the colors”)–both of which, incidentally, were definite staples of the IITS visual trademark in High School. His character is perfectly shaped as the kid in High School that everyone knew but no one really wanted to know that well–the kind of over-achiever that probably semi-secretly fantasizes about being a slacker, but will still berate you for talking too much in class if it means he can’t hear the teacher well enough to copy down his notes verbatim. His moves mark an essential lack of understanding when it comes to basic teenage codes, like about how you’re not supposed to raise your hand enthusiastically every time a question is posed in class, or about how nobody actually cares about what the yearbook looks like, or about how if the girl you like that’s treated you like dirt all your life asks you to give her a ride to the dance, she probably doesn’t mean it as a statement of romantic intention.
(Knowing the answers in life is far more important, Brian)
That last part of course is integral to the quintessential Brian Krakow episode, “Life of Brian,” the only one in the series narrated by his thought process. Consequently, you get such too-true and perfectly imperfectly articulated observations as “I became yearbook photographer because I liked the idea that I could sort of watch life without having to be part of it,” and “Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!” The crux of the episode involves Brian asking chubby classmate Delia Fischer (for such a loser, Brian did have two remarkably devoted admirers in Delia and Danielle, Angela’s sister) to the dance, but then canceling on her and breaking her heart once he misinterprets Angela asking him for a ride there as an invitation to love. The scene where Angela tries to explain why she needs the ride, but a too-ecstatic Brian can only concentrate on the lead, is gut-wrenching, as is Brian’s face when he sees a transfixing Angela walk down her stairwell (Claire Danes could clean up real nice).
It’s only a matter of time until he says something horrific, which he does once he tells Ricky not to hang out with them and then doesn’t even lie about doing so to Angela, who calls the situation half-correctly: “You don’t understand people, Krakow! You’re so heartless!” Naturally, Brian doesn’t have the good sense to cut his losses, and he tries to cozy back up to Delia, who’ll have none of it (possibly the one time on the show that any of its major characters shows anything loosely resembling self-respect). Then, once Angela realizes how cruel she had been to Brian, and asks him if he wants to dance, he can’t even manage to take advantage of her temporary sympathy, responding “Not with you.”
You get so used to Brian saying and doing the wrong thing that the one time he does say the right thing–which is pretty much only by accident–it’s the most stunning moment of the entire series. In the season finale, Brian gets enlisted by Jordan, Angela’s dreamy but borderline-dunce of an on-again, off-again beau, to write her love letters, supposedly from him. Despite being molasses-slow on his feet when it comes to speaking, Brian apparently has a real knack for playing Cyrano de Bergerac on paper, and the letters he write completely sweep Angela off her feet. It eventually gets out that Brian was in fact the one that wrote the letters, and Angela confronts him about the rumor, furious and confused. Brian, of course, tries to deny responsibility for the letters, until Angela fumes about the letter being a lie [from Jordan], and Brian–for one split second of happenstance–forgets himself, and responds “No, I meant every word.”
Angela, who over the previous 18 episodes has never given Brian one iota of mental or emotional consideration, gets frozen. She’s still furious, she’s still confused, but now she’s intrigued by Brian–which for Brian is the best progression that could have possibly happened in their relationship, and one that before this episode, he never could have hoped for. This is his moment. If he had followed up on it, told her how he’d loved her for years, how he’d wanted to say those things to her for so long, how he really really liked the way her shampoo smelled–she might not have swooned for him immediately, but at the very least, there’s no way she could’ve gone back to Jordan.
Instead, Brian balks. “I mean…the person who wrote it meant every word,” he amends his statement, slamming his own window shut. Soon after, Jordan shows to pick up the dazed Angela in his car, and Brian watches on his bike as they speed away. And that’s it. The show doesn’t get picked up for a second season, and we never find out if Brian ever follows up on his unintentional ground work–or, if, far more likely, Angela eventually convinces herself that Jordan wrote the letters, or that at the very least, he would have written them if he had Brian’s vocabulary and sentence-structuring abilities, and the two of them never really talk about it again. That’s why the show being only one season is so important–it didn’t stick around long enough to ruin itself. Because had the show gone on two or three or (God forbid) four seasons, eventually Brian and Angela would’ve ended up together, simply because you can’t have four seasons worth of TV show out of those characters without eventually hooking Brian and Angela up. And then Brian would’ve developed something disturbingly close to wit, and maybe they’d cut his hair, and before you know it, he’s a One Tree Hill character. No thanks.
There are so many reasons why there will never be another Brian Krakow. Partly in thanks to Adam Brody, you can now cast good-looking people as the loser as long as they talk faster than the rest of the cast, and partly in thanks to Judd Apatow, the loser has once again been re-ingrained into pop culture as the unlikely hero–both of which are arguably good things for loser culture, but both of which are unquestionably terrible things for artistically honest loser representation. Because now if you feature a loser–especially a younger one–in a leading role, you have to make them not only relatable, but overtly likable. You have to want to root for them. And even though you ultimately do end up rooting for Brian, it’s not because of what he says or does (since so few of his words and actions are anything but off-putting) but, rather, what he represents–a stage in adolescence where we’re old enough to know what we want, but not nearly mature or wise enough to know how to get it. And that’s infinitely more meaningful to me than cheering on Seth Rogen to do much of anything.
Partner in Loserdom: The two-per-show limit had more to do with MSCL than any other show on this list, since Angela, Jordan, Rayanne, even Danielle and Sharon all have pretty good claims to classic loser status. Sharon is actually probably the one closest to Brian, since she achieves the same kind of too-truthful annoyingness.
Real-Life Retribution: Somehow, Devon Gommersall ended up looking like this: