Rayanne Is 'My So-Called Life's Real Star

by S. Atkinson

Most girls I knew growing up were Angela Chases. They were smart. They could act out, but they were good girls — at least, most of the time. They had stable family backgrounds, but could still be insecure about pretty much everything: For example, whether they said the right thing or did the right thing or looked the part. This is no surprise. Angela Chase was My So-Called Life 's everywoman. But, while she may have been relatable, Rayanne Graff was the shining star at the center of the show's galaxy. No, seriously.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for Rayanne's shedloads of charisma as a character is that the show never intentionally tried to craft her into the type of character we could all see parts of ourselves in. She was always completely and utterly her (niche) self. This ended up making Rayanne seem more developed and, ironically enough, more realistic. Pages and pages of the Internet wax lyrical about the tender realism of the show's character development of Angela Chase, but Rayanne is as multi-layered and contradictory as people really are — and as flawed.

On joining Jordan Catalano's rock band, the Frozen Embryos, she rocks up to the stage, full of swagger, and then realises she's got stage fright and can't sing a single note. She chains herself to Angela's parents' bed as part of a skit and can't unlock herself. Her mother lets her hold a house party at their place, provided she's sensible about drinking; Rayanne proceeds to overdose and ends up in the hospital. And, after forging an intense friendship with Angela Chase, full of intimacy and shared confidences, a friendship which seems far more romantic and intense than anything either of the girls share with Jordan, she gets drunk and has sex with Jordan Catalano in his car, alienating Angela forever.

Sex with Jordan aside, I still wouldn't argue that Rayanne is a solely negative influence in Angela's life. She brings a certain infectious anarchy to the Chase household that's been missing. When we meet Angela Chase at the beginning of Season 1, she's already got a best friend: Sharon. Sharon's nice, but she's big on playing by the rules and ticking all the right boxes at school. Upon meeting Rayanne, Angela dyes her hair "crimson glow," attempts to trick strangers into giving them money, starts crushing on angel-faced stoner Jordan Catalano, and even tries to get into a club. It's not the beginning of Angela's adult life — she'd already learnt responsibility and duty from Sharon — but it's the beginning of Angela's teenage life. Of making bad decisions for all the best reasons. Rayanne is revolution personified.

Angela's teenage rebellion is pretty predictable. She lashes out at her parents, distances herself from old friends, and starts dressing a little differently. This is worlds apart from Rayanne, whose most distinctive quality is how eerily un-teenage she is. We see how different the two best friends are when Rayanne gets trapped handcuffed to Angela's parents bed after a practical joke goes awry and is finally released.

Rayanne Graff: Okay, I'm out of here. Angela Chase: You're leaving? Rayanne Graff: I can still make something out of this weekend. Angela Chase: Don't you dare leave now! Rayanne Graff: Come on. Hands off. Angela Chase: My parents will never trust me again! Rayanne Graff: Come on. Now you're crossing the line. Angela Chase: I can't believe you. You're like this curse who is destroying my life. You can't just walk out and expect us to clean up after you! ...You're like this living, breathing bad luck omen! Rayanne Graff: Don't mince words! Tell me how you feel.

Angela's response is the one we can identify with as viewers, but, while it's understandable, the operatic levels of emotion are distinctly teenage. All the responses we might expect from Rayanne as a teenager — that she'd be mortified by the incident or afraid of backlash from her friends — are totally absent. She remains playful in the face of Angela's overpowering emotion. Even when Angela calls her a curse and a bad luck omen, she shrugs it off.

This mixture of ultra-adult and ultra self-destructive made for an utterly compelling character. I'd even say that Rayanne was as contradictory and flawed and wonderful as all the bad girl best friends you've ever idolised. Maybe I could see myself in Angela Chase, but Rayanne Graff was trouble, and trouble's ten times as fun to watch. Here's to My So-Called Life's Queen of Mean, the irrepressible, the inimitable Rayanne Graff.

Images: The Bedford Falls Company/ABC Productions (3); Giphy