Pop Pedestal: Patty Chase

photo of Patty Chase with her daughter Angela

Patty Chase (Betty Armstrong) puts up with a lot of shit. Not only does she have to put up with playing the bad cop to good cop dad, Graham Chase (Tom Irwin), but she also gave birth to teenage drama lightning rod Angela Chase (Claire Danes) and has to work for her own dad (Paul Dooley), whose staggering immaturity puts any Liberty High student to shame. Nobody gave Patty enough credit for enduring record levels of angst and ennui once every week when the show was on the air, and that’s why I’m dedicating this week’s Pop Pedestal to My So-Called Life’s Patricia Chase.

Pedestal Profile: Patty catches a lot of flak as the captain of the Good Ship Chase. As the primary breadwinner for the house, and a professional contrast to her husband, ex-Deadhead-current-cook Graham, Patricia can’t escape the trope of the frigid, professional woman. After Patty catches Rickie holding a beer during an afterschool hangout, Rayanne snaps “do you think it’s possible to please that woman?”

[Rickie tries to figure out how to defuse the beer situation, around 3:30]

But as fans of the show know, later on Patty is the only one with a cool enough nerve to save Rayanne from a horrifying case of alcohol poisoning. After watching Rayanne head down a path of self-destruction, an all-too-familiar reminder of a college roommate that died of an overdose, Patty doesn’t try to cut off Angela from her friend. She knows Angela too well to think that trying to stop her from seeing Rayanne would change anything; instead she trusts Angela enough to let her make her own decisions, and to not do the same things that put Rayanne in a hospital bed.

Her Influence: My So-Called Life builds so many good scenes out of people subverting expectations. Patty’s the chief do-er of the household: she’s head of the family-owned copy shop, she employs her husband, all of her social interactions involve intricately planned gatherings (oh god, not the mother-daughter fashion show!). In the middle of one of her mother’s black-tie family get-togethers, Angela voiceovers that if she would “stop pretending that she’s happy, she’d be better at actually being happy.”

Patty's daughter, Angela's sister, with a caption reading I hate this outfit, I wish I was dead[My So-Called Life: the show that was made for Tumblr]

Over time, the show reveals Patty as not the emotionless businesswoman that Angela sees, but as a warm, loving caretaker, caught in an intricate web of providing for her family, living up to her father’s ridiculous expectations, raising her two daughters, and, of course, palling around with Sharon Cherski.

That’s Not All: She will drop all of this for some magical Halloween costume canoodling.

[Mom, dad, gross!]

Think of Her When: Family and work stress start piling on. Don’t let overbearing relationships put you between a rock and a hard place; always keep your closest friends and family in mind. If your husband’s your employee and he doesn’t like the job, fire him! If you’re dad’s putting your business on the line, let him know what’s up and that you’re the boss now.

But also, let’s remember that Patty was hell-bent on getting Jewish neighbor Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) to spend Christmas day at the Chase’s, so grain of salt, or whatever.


by Mac Pogue
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6 Comments Have Been Posted

I don't think that's right.

I don't think that's right. Danton Stone played Graham's brother, Neil Chase. Paul Dooley played Patti's dad. But yes, it was her family's company that she and Graham worked for.

Good catch!

You're right--the actor's name who played Patty's dad was Paul Dooley. I made the change. Thanks for noticing it!

Thank you!

As someone who always got on well with and appreciated my mum (not because I'm a particularly good person but because I have an awesome older sister who drilled it into me from a very young age 'mum has to work and take care of us all on her own- dad may seem fun but she's the one that's still here and she's the one who has to deal with all our shit so try not to give her too much') I find it so difficult to relate to the stereotypical 'I can't stand my mum just because I'm a teenager' character. I couldn't even bring myself to watch My So-Called life that much because her attitude towards her mother irritated me so much. I thought Patty Chase was working damn hard to do a good job under difficult circumstances.
Then again I have my own whole other set off issues- I cannot STAND daddy's girls. Or worse people who think that their absent parent is so much better. So what if he manages to be nice to you once a month- your mum could be cool and fun if she only had to see you that often. Ugh. There's a bit in Fun Home where Alison Bechdel is remembering her father bathing her as a child and she can't remember her mum ever doing it even though she would have done the majority of the time and she points out that the bar is so much lower for fathers. It is. And it pisses me off.
Sorry, rant over.

I'm sure this is what you're

<p>I'm sure this is what you're getting at, but we also need to always separate narrative from real life. The character-that-only-loves-the-absent-parent trope is pretty tired, I will admit, but I also thought <em>Fun Home</em>&nbsp;went to great lengths to comment on that trope and Bechdel's frustration with it.</p>
<p>That being said, Angela chase, COME ON, when will you realize your family is awesome?!</p>

Oh sorry- that last bit was a

Oh sorry- that last bit was a bit badly worded, frustration does not lead to good English! That is what I meant (though it does irritate me in life too but that's beside the point) it's a hackneyed trope that I always found so offensive as a teenager. Would it kill them to show us someone who has a relatively good relationship with their parents that isn't 7th Heaven twee? And don't even get me started on representations of children from single-parent families

Good article. My so called

Good article. My so called life is such a good show.

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