Whedon need no education

When I first heard grumblings of Joss Whedon in the comic book stores I would frequent, where those shunned by even the social outcasts hovered about and regaled in the most recent episodes of “Buffy”.  I couldn’t judge, being 19 and mainlining such cartoons as Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toon Adventures,  Superman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond.   And there would be advertisements for ‘that Buffy show’.  Time marched forward and I somehow came across a review of Firefly, even though it only lasted one season, which described it as roughly as a Star Wars without the force, but starring Han Solo.

I thought, Huh.  I’ll give it a shot. What surprised me about Firefly was the re-watchability of the series.   Much later, I was in Forbidden Planet where I saw a t-shirt that read Joss Whedon is God.  I found this to be a rather bold statement, but realized the shirt was probably only available in XXL–and nerd-world’s answer to Bruce Vilanch accepted the fact that God abandoned him in his world of orange Dorito fingers and compulsive masturbation and in his best Yoda impression said, “No.  There is another.”  And in my acceptance of seein’ what the kids are into these days, I decided to examine the whedon oevre more closely for those who have better things to do with their time…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

If ever there was a template to praise/blame on the definitive “supernatural teen dramedy” that exploded onto the scene (Charmed, Roswell, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, etc.) of practically unwatchable banality, it’s Buffy.  However, Buffy is the best of the worst, as if it openly accepts its campy dialogue, cliched characters and plots, and push/pull relationships.  A vampire hunter falling in love with a vampire?  A lesbian wiccan?  Surely, we delve into the realm of the impossible…

Don’t get me  wrong, Buffy has its moments.  Most of the actors in this series went on to have (ahem) real careers, and I do find Alyson Hannigan’s role as the nerdy Character Willow to be excellently executed.  Whedon really shows off his talents for one-liners in this series and of all the 144 episodes, there are two that stand out as 5-star television experiences: Hush (season 4, episode 10) and Once More, With Feeling (Season 6, Episode 7).  In Hush, a genuinely frightening group of villains steal the sound from the city, causing the practically the entire episode to be performed in absolute silence.  In Once More with Feeling, the town ends up under the spell causing the cast to break out in song–yes, it’s a musical episode.  It’s weird little tricks like these that make this show unique from its abysmal clones:  When no one’s looking, you can do anything–just don’t take yourself too seriously when they do.

Angel (1999-2004)

Welp, you can’t win ’em all.  Just as people go completely bufguck (Bufguck: when you go so bugfuck, you can’t even hold your shit)  for any nerd-oriented media like Star Wars or Trek, this show’s only for die hards.  Aside from my perpetual disdain for bolt-necked, Homo Erectus Frankenhunk  David Boreanaz, there’s not much going on here besides an extra paycheck for Joss and his ragtag team of second-fiddle characters who no longer have a place in the Buffy universe proper.  I do respect Joss for continuing to give work to likable actors, even if the characters no longer have a reason for existing.  It’s a nice thing to do for those who helped Buffy rocket into cult status and the show lasted 5 seasons, proving somebody was watching it–all very utilitarian reasons for creating this spinoff, even if in hindsight it’s like watching the corpse of creativity float painfully down a stagnate river.   If you look closely, you’ll find LOST actor Josh Holloway (Sawyer) as a non-speaking role as a vampire who gets killed in the first five minutes of the pilot–and then it’s all down hill from there.

Firefly (2002)

This seems to be Joss Whedon’s best-yet attempt at articulating his atheistic existentialist beliefs in the hard luck ways of space pirates.  No vamps, no magical talismans–just man and the void of space.  This is one of those shows that make people associate the FOX network with arson:  after showing the episodes out of order, pre-empting the show for sports, FOX canceled the series with three episodes left unaired.  Pulling some serious nods to the manga Cowboy Bebop, the show still features Whedonesque one-liners with more evolved interpretations of stock western characters (the preacher with the shady past, the ditzy know-it-all, the golden-hearted hooker, etc.)  Firefly also serves as the nexus of of a veritable six-degrees-of-Joss-Whedon, considering the cast:  Nathan Fillion (Castle), Jewel Stait (Stargate Atlantis), Moreana Baccarin (V), Gina Torres (Matrix Reloaded), Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles),  Alan Tudyk (The dude has a bit part in practically everything), and Adam Baldwin (Chuck).  I’d say this is probably the most accessible of his catalogue with realistic characters, solid plots, and just flashy enough to hold interest for repeated viewing.  It was one of those rare shows that had such a strong fan with only 11 episodes aired, to warrant a follow-up movie,  Serenity.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)

This show is, simply, the shit.  The premise is this:  A person can make a small fortune to become a ‘doll’–a reprogrammable human slave with no recollections of whatever assignments occur during tenure in the Dollhouse.  The super wealthy rent temporarily imprinted dolls with certain personality requests, usually for incredibly elaborate psychosexual fantasies .  What begins as a fairly episodic storyline of dolls in peculiar adventures, quickly spirals into a maddening vortex as the tech gets a little ‘buggy’.  Suddenly, people are switching identities like once-worn undies and the moral and social ambiguities continues an exponential, escalating fever pitch where you really just have no fucking clue how far it’s going to go.  It’s one of the few shows that I actually could not wait until the upcoming week to see what would happen next.  When I think of “hi-sci-fi” (a la Neal Stephenson), Dollhouse is probably as close as TV would allow, since there will probably never be a Soap Opera based on the short stories of Jorge Borges.  I’ll be interested in what Whedon can do to top himself with this one.  If he does, It’ll be the best damn TV show that no one will see.

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