Friday, June 4, 2010

Joss vs. Beta: Whedon’s Work Part One

So, as in the past, a write-up turned into a giant rant. I’ll be separating this into two parts for easier reading.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Um...go feminism?

One day Joss Whedon, a self described feminist, realized that he did not like the “Damsel in Distress” archetype women usually have in horror films. In protest he wrote a screenplay called Buffy the Vampire Slayer about a valley girl cheerleader who turns out to be The Chosen One who must fight the darkness, the demons and, of course, the vampires. Buffy Summers was supposed to be a “Screw You” to all the notions that a teenage girl had to be protected and cuddled in the face of evil. This was to be a serious story, albeit with comedic undertones. That would have been a fine film. Instead we got a movie that was more “Teen Comedy” and less “Horror Film/Gender Role Deconstruction”. It wasn’t a bad flick, I guess, and it did pretty well in box office but ultimately it was not the story Joss had written. Alas we never saw the character called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”ever again.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 TV Series)

Dude she's, like, only sixteen!

Five years later Whedon got the opportunity to bring Buffy back, this time as a televisions series but with him at the helm (He wrote but did not direct the film). Seeking to right what once went wrong he agreed and in 1997, to the nerdy guitar riffs of the band Nerf Herder, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the new network The WB. It almost instantly became a cult classic that still maintains a strong fanbase to this day. The story again revolves around Buffy Summers but is unique in that the series is actually a sequel to the original script of the film rather than the film itself. Meaning that while the basics of the movie are used as Buffy’s back-story we also get references to things that we never saw happen (Such as Buffy setting her school on fire). Anyway our hero has moved to Sunnydale, CA to start a new life with her mother Joyce but, gosh darn it all to heck, it turns out that the town sits on top of something called a Hellmouth which attracts all sorts of evil things, especially vampires. So now Buffy, still the Chosen One, must fight the forces of evil while trying to keep some semblance of a normal teenage life. In her mission she is aided by some town residents including Rupert “Ripper” Giles, a middle age and English school librarian who is in reality Buffy’s assigned “Watcher” by the mysterious “Watcher’s Council”, two nerds geeks losers with a capital “L” fellow classmates Willow and Xander and also the enigmatic yet kind hearted Angel who is eventually revealed to be a vampire (But a cuddly vampire).

The show lasted seven seasons, the longest show Whedon has ever created to date, and helped launch the careers of Sarah Michelle Gellar (Though she was previously a soap opera star), Seth Green (aka Scott Evil, Chris Griffin and that guy from Robot Chicken), Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother) and others. As kid I liked the show because I was 13 and I liked any show with vampires and/or teenagers in High School at the time. When I actually got to High School though I watched it less and less because, well, everything sucked and no one understood me. Recently I started watching it again and have realized just what a terrific show this was (Overall, I mean. Certain seasons make me want to die). It featured the exact subversion to horror stories Joss wanted to create in the first place but also managed to win my heart through the strength of their characters and villains. Strong character development and quirky antagonists (The so-called Big Bads of Seasons 2, 3, and 5 are my personal favorites) were the main reason to stick with this show. Buffy is the definition of “Strong Female Lead” and pretty much the stick I use to measure female characters in sci-fi/fantasy television shows and cartoons. I could go on and on about how cool this show was but for now let’s just say that it was “better than bad”.

Pictured: Seth Green and, I dunno, some other folk I guess

I’d be remiss though if I failed to mention that the show in later seasons also featured Dawn Summers, not because she’s such a great character (She’s not) but because she was played by my beloved Michelle Trachtenberg who has in the years since the show ended become the most beautiful woman in the whole goddamn world! If you think different you are wrong. So very wrong.


And yet I've hated nearly everything she' starred in. Weak

Angel (1999)

100% less statutory rape than BtVS

A spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this show focused on 200+ year old vampire Angel. After three seasons of being in a questionable romance with an underage girl he realizes that, as a vampire (And other reasons), he’s incapable of giving her a normal and healthy relationship/future so he leaves town to star in his own TV show. By the way this story, on top of being significantly more sane than the “cut-myself-fest” that is Twilight, was on the airwaves years before Stephanie Meyer graduated from writing bad fanfiction to writing bad “fanfiction-like” novels.

“Allegedly wrote fanfiction” I should say, for legal purposes.

Anyway Angel was once known as “Angelus”, a particularly sadistic vampire who carved a wave of chaos throughout Europe with his equally evil cohorts Darla, Drusilla, and William “the Bloody” Spike. One day Angelus is cursed by pissed-off gypsies by being given a soul, and thus a conscience, so that he agonizes over of the horror he had caused in his long life. Now in present day Angel seeks redemption for all his wicked deeds. After aiding Buffy Summers for a few years in Sunnydale he relocates to Los Angeles to “help the helpless”, eventually joined by a somewhat revolving cast of characters made up of both familiar faces from the original show and newcomers.

Angel, seen with Doyle who was a key cast memb-JOSSED!!

Like with Buffy this show is filled with great dialogue and character moments. If I were to pick a show that is the definition of character development I’d pick this one as characters introduced in BtVS but continued on through this seres displayed a shockingly large amount of character growth (How the annoying and cowardly former Watcher Wesley organically and believably becomes a badass demon killer is something that must be seen to believed). The first few episodes seem to be trying to make Angel a little too much like Batman for my taste but it gets better as it moves on and a little less Noir-ish. Gone is the teen angst that had to exist in Buffy, replaced with more brooding styled angst. This may not sound too great, but it’s the difference between a show about growing up and a show about an adult dealing with the bad decisions he made in his youth. We can relate to that right?

Anyway it lasted for five seasons and was canceled somewhat abruptly ending on a cliffhanger of sorts. There’s a sequel comic book out there that I have no plans on reading.

We’ll pick this up later as I talk about Firefly through Dollhouse. Don’t be surprised if a SMCS Companion Piece or a review pop up before then.


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