Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#2

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I have no excuses nor ideas for why it's taken me so long to get back to my Top 10 t.v. dramas list. It's pretty embarrassing. I think if it'd been any other show at #2, I would've written this before now. But my blog about Angel is the weakest one on this list, and I've been facing the same trouble with Buffy.

Let's get one thing out of the way first: the name gives people pause. I know, because I was one of those people. It sounds ridiculous (and more than a tad girly), and if you saw the crappy movie it was based on, there would be no reason for you to give it a try. I remember a few friends in college saying they were going off to a Buffy-watching party, and I derided them thoroughly.

Then I caught the excellent doppleganger episode, "The Wish," and I was hooked. Much like Six Feet Under, I came in at the absolute best time, during the third season. I still consider this to be the pinnacle of the show's run, with the season culminating with the violent rooftop climax between Buffy and the smoldering Faith (Eliza Dushku- so very hot). Season three also had my favorite villain: the cheerily demonic Mayor.

This is one of the facets I truly enjoyed about the show- each season has a villain, combined with several subplots, over the course of 22 hour-long shows. I have a friend at work who says the narrative arc of a clearly defined set of episodes with a beginning and an end is what's so wrong with American television (as opposed to the Brits, whose seasons apparently just start and stop willy-nilly). I disagree. There's nothing wrong with producing a television show like it's volumes of the same book.

There's also nothing wrong with providing your audience satisfaction by completing character arcs, tying up loose ends, and not going off on plot tangents that lead nowhere. By finishing up the sotryline at the end of each season, creator Joss Whedon avoids the Sopranos-style hangover that ensues during every hiatus.

He also avoids the confusion of a show like Lost. A friend of mine said yesterday that she loved the show, but she never had any idea what was going on. I stopped watching Lost because there was just too much weird stuff going in too many different directions. I didn't want to invest my time in something that just turns out to be a bunch of writers throwing shit at the wall and hoping it sticks, without any idea where it's going. Even when at first something doesn't make sense, like Buffy's sister Dawn just "appearing" out of nowhere at the outset of season five, we all waited a few episodes, and Joss explained it to us. It's nice to have that kind of trust in your storyteller.

Then there's Whedon's ear for dialogue: His characters are hyper-literate, quick-witted, and delightfully pop culture-aware. Funnyman Xander gets most of the best ones, but if you've never believed Sarah Michelle Gellar could be funny, wait until you hear Whedon's words escaping her delightfully curved lips. There's another thing: Gellar has not shown that she can be any kind of presence in Hollywood, despite repeated opportunities. But if you watch enough Buffy, you'll believe she's a star.

In fact, plenty of actors first made their marks on Buffy: a list that includes Michelle Trachtenberg (Six Feet Under, EuroTrip), Alyson Hannigan (American Pie, How I Met Your Mother), David Boreanaz (Bones), Nathan Fillion (Waitress, Slither, Firefly) and Seth Green (Just about everything funny and cool). I'm looking forward to indoctrinating my wife into the cult of Buffy by re-watching the entire series and keeping my eye out for current big-name actors in small parts.

Much was made by critics of Buffy's subtext: that the entire show could be seen as a metaphor for the rigors of teen life, particularly the arc where Buffy sleeps with Angel and he "becomes a monster." To me, all that deeper meaning stuff was beside the point. Whedon created a fascinating universe full of vampires, demons, werewolves, hell-mouths, and slayers. It's modern mythology, the television equivalent of Star Wars.

Oh, and Buffy did love sensationally as well. Ladies, put down those namby-pamby, abstinence-pamphlets-passing-for-literature known as Twilight series. Welcome to the world of real relationships, with all the romance, drama, and heartache that comes along with it. Consider merely the character of Willow: She's on-again, off-again with best bud Xander, then dates a werewolf, becomes a lesbian, and skins a guy alive using her Wiccan powers after he accidentally kills Willow's girlfriend.

Suck on that, Twilight.

4 comments:

Jonathan said...

What are your points of reference for this "willy-nilly" starting and stopping of British (they are probably English) TV series? ;-)

Sam.

Nolan said...

I dunno. That's what my friend at work said. But he's American. I don't have an example, to be honest. Do you?

Jonathan said...

I don't. Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised. There is a certain casualness that goes along the creation of British TV series that you don't find in the States. A lot of that is due to the public funding the BBC receives.

There is also a budget issue. There is no HBO equivalent with pockets deep enough to invest in Rome, the Wire etc.

Also, the national obsession with soap operas during "primetime" TV slots is a bit tragic. The British public will also put up with/enjoy endless cheap gameshows.

Sometimes, you find creative brilliance, though. More on the comedy side than the drama side, I would suggest.

Nolan said...

It's funny you mention "Rome," since it was actually a joint venture between the BBC and HBO.
It's also funny you mention a national obsession with soap operas and game shows, because that's my problem with American television viewers. Better produced, perhaps, but the fact that "American Idol" is the #1 show year after year speaks volumes.
When I picture Brits watching shitty t.v., I think of that creepy scene from "Trainspotting" where Renton is getting off drugs and living with his parents.