Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whedon’s Work Part Two:The Wrath of Beta

So finally here we are with Part Three of my Joss Whedon Rant, which is Part Two of the segment where I talk about his past projects. If you have not read the previous two Whedon entries I strongly suggest you do before reading this one. I’ll wait.

You good? Let's continue.

Firefly (2002)

You can't take the sky from me

Although you can cancel my show

Firefly needs little introduction. It’s the science fiction television show Joss Whedon created that was the best thing there ever was in the history of humanity bar none, shut up, there’s no argument. Ahem. Anyway...

Hitting the airwaves in 2002 the story took place in a future where mankind has long since emigrated to another, much larger solar system. At some point a Civil War broke out between the North and the South The Alliance and The Independents which left the latter side of the conflict badly beaten. Malcolm Reynolds is a former soldier from that side who, as captain of the firefly class ship Serenity, now takes any job (Legal or no) he can to make ends meet along with his crew of highly talented misfits. One day a stranger books passage on their ship, but it soon becomes apparent that he is not who he says he is and his cargo is far more dangerous than he led on (HINT: It involves nudity).

As far as Space Operas go I can’t think of any other series to win me over so fast. I missed the initial broadcast ( A lot of us did) but once I finally got to see it I fell in love with t. It’s also one of the least subtle Space Westerns ever made, which at times was extremely annoying. Cattle on a space ship? Really? The show is well known for its infamous run of Fox that involved pilots being re-shot, episodes aired in the wrong order, some episodes not aired at all, etc. Low ratings led to the show's cancellation after only eleven episodes and the entire world is a worse place as a result. However Joss was able to finagle a sequel squeakquel movie (Serenity) to sort of wrap things up/maybe restart the series as a film franchise. Unfortunately the only people who went to see it were Firefly fans and we already knew there weren’t enough of those guys to save the show from cancellation in the first place so the end result was predictable.

Pictured: The Least Subtle Space Western Ever Made

Good as the show's first (And only) season was it’s hard to say whether future seasons would have kept up that pace. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was NOT “Seven Seasons of Brilliance” and even die-hard Buffy fans will agree to that, so there’s no reason for us to assume that Firefly would have been either. Maybe it would have been wonderful, but maybe it would have been terrible. Heroes had a pretty good first season too and look what happened there: literally years of donkey poop disguised as a TV show. Perhaps it’s best to just enjoy what we got rather than thinking about what might have been.

Astonishing X-Men #1-24 (2004)

Um, this is a superhero book, right?

On top of film and television Whedon also dabbles in comic book writing. I bring up this particular run of X-Men because it is my favorite period of the long time series as well as my favorite of the superhero genre. Honestly up until this point I couldn’t care less about the guy, but after reading the trades I realized that Joss was a gift from a higher power created for the sole purpose of entertaining me and possibly me alone.

Before this comic began, and sadly continuing after it ended, the X-Men books had become a little darker than usual (Though that’s debatable). Grant Morrison, who was penning the flagship title New X-Men at the time, was writing the book as if the team was more along the lines of corporation, the costumes wore black and yellow leather uniforms to better match the 2000 movie, and the plots were wordy and confusing (i.e. pretentious. That’s right I said it). After years of controversial storylines certifiable celebrity Joss Whedon came onboard to write a new book called Astonishing X-Men. The book was fraught with delays, taking twice as long as it should have taken to make two years worth of comics, but in the end it was some of the best, certainly some of the most fun, the X-Men stories ever been written in my opinion.

Before Joss Whedon

After the betrayal (And death) of Magneto Xorn , the death of Jean Grey, and Professor X leaving the school Cyclops and new-lover Emma Frost (It’s a long damn story) re-open Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and therefore the X-Men, as co-headmasters. In addition Cyclops declared that the team had been isolated from the rest of the world for too long and that they have forgotten they were supposed to be superheroes. He recruits The Beast, Frost, Wolverine (The most super heroic X-Man ever) and the returning Kitty Pryde to form a team to “astonish the world” and remind the people that they are protectors of humanity just as much as the Avengers or the Fantastic Four.

It was basically a big “F-U” to the darker era that dominated their books the first half of the decade.

After Joss Whedon

Strong characters and great arcs helped get make this book a memorable one. Joss obviously had a lot of love for the characters, but Cyclops and Kitty Pryde by far got the best treatment. Cyclops was portrayed as a resourceful badass who was fearless and brilliant while Kitty was a quick witted and incredibly heroic POV character. On a completely unrelated note Whedon has been quoted as saying that Kitty was the biggest influence on his creation of Buffy Summers who also happens to share a name with Scott “Cyclops” Summers. Obviously a coincidence.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)

This is probably Joss’ most quirky work to date. Basically Joss wanted to experiment with new media (Which you are currently enjoying) and created this web series out of pocket. It’s the story of Dr. Horrible, a lovable super criminal who desperately wants to join the League of Evil (Led by the sinister Bad Horse who is exactly what he sounds like), defeat his arch nemesis Captain Hammer, and win the heart of the girl of his dreams. We know all this personal information because Dr. Horrible has a vlog where he shares it with us, the internet viewer. Also it’s a musical.

Partly because of its surreal premise, partly because of its catchy musical numbers, and partly because it features nerd icons NPH (That’s Neil Patrick Harris for the uninformed) and Nathan Fillion (The star of Firefly) the three-part series became a big hit winning awards and lots of critical acclaim. What’s weird bout this Whedon project that everyone seem so like it, even if they despise everything else he’s done. There’s talk about a sequel but who knows when/if it’ll happen.

Yeah. Yeah I would. Both of 'em

Dollhouse (2009)

A picture graph of Dushku's acting range

Oh boy, where do I begin? This as Joss Whedon’s most recent television creation and, having learned nothing from Firefly, pitched it to Fox. This was a science fiction story that focused on a place called the “Dollhouse” which used mind bogglingly advanced forms of mind control (Which was more like Mind Swapping than anything else) to make agents who not only filled a specific role but literally became that role. These agents, known as Ultra Hookers Actives, would be hired out by wealthy perverts clients and used in whatever capacity they wanted. You need a hostage negotiator? Boom! You got one! You need a back-up singer for your tour? Boom! No problem! You need a girl you can bang in an elaborate fantasy where she is completely in love/falling in love with you? Yeah, guess which one of these was the most popular request. Our story focuses on Echo, who is the most popular Ultra Hooker Active. But she seems to be somewhat buggy as she displays an odd tendency to kind of remember all her previous lives including her original one. This show makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Don't worry. There were boy hookers too

Compared to Fox’s handling of Firefly Dollhouse was practically cuddled (But still kind of screwed), but it failed to gain the ratings Fox deemed necessary (Though Fox uncharacteristically gave them an extra season anyway to sort of “wait and see”) and just had its series finale not too long ago. I saw the first season and the first few episodes of season 2 and I wasn’t impressed. Let’s ignore that the idea of removing people’s personality and adding a tailored made one for the sole purpose of being 100% compatible with a horny John; the concept of the show is extremely interesting. The ultimate spy, soldier, baker, whatever you need to get the job done; that’s just plain cool. The problem lies in two areas. #1) Every week Echo and a good portion of the main cast play a different character when they’re on a mission, rarely repeating ones. Since in their blank states, the only weekly version of them we ever see, they are basically dumb (If polite) children who the viewers can’t relate to it’s hard for us to build a report with the cast of the show. Sure there are plenty of other characters in supporting roles, but almost universally there are portrayed as, at best , anti-heroes who do terrible things to achieve dubious "noble" goals (Amy Acker as Dr. Saunders being the sole character that I liked though admittedly it may be due to her Texan accent).

#2) Eliza Dushku was a dreadful choice to play the lead. This is a clearly difficult role that requires a talented actor to pull off the different characters every week while also providing the perhaps futile attempt to make us care about what is ultimately a Blank Slate. Dushku is not that talented. Don’t get me wrong; she’s fine when she’s playing the “tough, bad girl” role (See: Faith from BtVS, Sissy from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and when Echo happens to become a person that fits that bill it works very well. But she fails at anything at all that calls for a greater range than “I’m a bad ass chick and I don’t take shit from the boys”! Amy Acker, a much better actress, could have done this role with more success. Dichen Lachman, an Australian actress who plays fellow Ultra Hooker Active Sierra, demonstrates repeatedly that she is better at doing Dushku’s job by playing an extremely similar multi-character role. Yet instead we got the undoubtedly attractive, but sadly limited, chick from Bring it On. Now I heard somewhere that Dushku was the one who convinced Whedon to do this project and if true I guess that would explain it. Damn you, friendship!

Amy Acker: Gorgeous & Talented


Also there was the fact that the first six episodes or so of the show were dull as dirt and things didn’t pick up until after that, which was admittedly much better television but it was too little too late. Now I gave up on the show about two episodes into Season Two but I understand that, with cancelation looming, Joss went balls to the walls with the remaining episodes with all sorts of exciting turns and plot twists. I may one day check it out fully to see for myself once it hits DVD.

So what have we learned? Well not much. Joss Whedon is very good at making shows I like to watch that other people may think are dumb, is really talented at having his shows get canceled (As is his buddy and Firefly co-conspirator Tim Minear; See the criminally short lived show Drive), is capable of creating things I can’t stand and probably has NPH and Michelle Trachtenberg on speed dial. Lucky! He does have a better track record for entertaining me than most (Looking at you J.J. Abrams) so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for an Avengers film. Assuming he makes it that far, of course.

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