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May 05 2006

Is Joss Whedon the only creator that understands character development? One Everwood fan tells Matt Roush that he isn't.

Hmm, is Joss the only creator who understands character development? Can't say that I know or care.
He is the creator with the most interesting and timeless characters, that's for sure. Will we be mentioning Everwood in another 10 or 20 years? I don't mention it now.

No offense to the Everwood lovers out there but I can't seem to get that crazy musical out of my head...
"Anything you can do, Joss can do better, he can do anything better than you."
Joss love is why I'm here. *g*
I haven't seen "Everwood" either. I don't think that Joss is the only creator who understands character development, by a long shot; he is just one of the best at it. (Or maybe the best. Whatever. He's my fave, anyway. :) )

Roush's mention of Abrams somewhat on par with Joss, I find a little depressing, just because of how much "Lost" has, well, lost me this year with its characters. (I did like season one though.) I'm much more a fan of Ron Moore's (I haven't seen "BSG" yet, but, hey, "Deep Space Nine," for all its flaws) or Rob Thomas', if you must bring up another writer good with the character development.
Well if he doesn't have the monopoly, he certainly owns the trademark.

I actually find his examples, JJ Abrams and Everwood, less than convincing. But that's just me. I think the former has an extremely facile way with characters, morphing them to fit as much exciting action as possible, and the latter, I probably watched 3 episodes of and never paid attention to again, b/c even if it's great at developing characters, they weren't very memorable characters in the first place.

But -- I will say this, Joss may not have a monopoly on character development in TV, but he's one of the most powerful storytellers ever to have worked in the medium. He puts emotion and epic feeling on the small screen that should make filmmakers weep in envy. Now that assertion I would stand by, the rabid Joss-fan that I am.
I think Joss is a fabulous writer/creator and he has developed characters that I have grown to adore beyond reason.

However, i do think it's unfair to simply disregard "Everwood" here. I don't think that Everwood is at the same level of BtVS, it's much simpler and quieter, even in its character development. However, it is a wonderfully written show all the same and deserves credit for that. The characters on there are layered, flawed, and admirable. And I definitely feel that Berlanti needs to be at least on the same level as creators like Rob Thomas, who is so often touted.

And that's it from probably one of the very few Everwood fans who is on this board =)

[ edited by syd on 2006-05-06 11:03 ]
You can add me as another Everwood fan, syd, and I agree with your assessment. Everwood is well-written, with wonderfully flawed characters, and one of the few shows I continued to watch even after a rather long hiatus. There are very few episodes that don't touch me emotionally in some way. That being said, I still think Buffy ranks higher in all aspects.
I can't comment on Everwood since I've never seen it. But J.J. Abrams? Really? Because no one changes on Alias...ever. And turning good or evil doesn't count once it becomes routine and without a good reason. Also I really can't find anything to like about Syd. She's just become the girl with a wig and a gun on a mission and I haven't a clue why that is. I mean, why does she continue to work for the CIA (or APO or whoever the hell it actually is)? Does she enjoy it? Want to help people? Consider it her purpose? Because I'd be interested to know why she fights and why the fight never seems to affect her (or anyone else for that matter).

Lost, well I'm a bit more forgiving of that show (for now). The characters I still find interesting enough. However 2 seasons in and I can't say I'm that attached to any of them. Which is never a good thing.
Also never seen Everwood and also can't quite believe he means Alias as an example. Maybe Felicity (Abrams' previous show which I also haven't seen) or Lost ?

I guess on Alias characters do change but it doesn't feel particularly emotionally real to me since they seem all too capable of just switching off their emotions when they get in the way. Handy skill for a spy I guess but not so handy for dramatic truth IMO.

I still enjoy the show partly because this ability to subvert themselves to 'get it done' actually appeals to me in a character (for example a Jack Bristow or Jack Bauer) in a wish fulfilment kind of way (who hasn't wanted total composure and iron control at some points in their life ?) though only in what i'd call 'fluff' TV - and I don't mean that disparagingly - that I watch purely for entertainment.

I think Joss has been most successful (maybe the best ever but that's a pretty big statement) at portraying 'real' characters i.e. people that can't just switch off their emotions at whim but are guided (and to some extent ruled) by their passions so that big life events actually seem to inform pretty much everything they do afterwards. Kind of like us really.

(and WilliamtheB, I can't recommend BSG enough, it's easily one of the best shows of the last 10 years IMO and after seeing the season 2 finale I can only say that if they manage to deliver on its promise next year it's shaping up to be one of my top 10 shows of all time - and 3 of those slots are already filled by that Whedon bugger ;-).
I can't comment on Everwood, I never really watched it. I have tried to watch Alias (a number of times) but I never get into it, I don't really care about the characters. I watched some of the first season of Lost but I never really got into that either, there were some interesting episodes but again, I never really got to the point of "I have to make it a point to watch this and see what happens next". Joss shows get me to that point (also Deadwood and Nip/Tuck).

JJ Abrams seems OK but from what I have seen I think he is a bit overrated. He does seem to have alot of success with his shows. I don't understand why Tim Minear doesn't have the same success, I started watching The Inside and I was getting into it and boom, it's cancelled.
I'd gone with Aaron Sorkin as well when talking about creators and character development.
I watch Everwood religiously and it is by far one of the best TV shows on.
However, it is not plot developement, but the use of METAPHOR that Joss and his cowriters have the trademark on.
I'm sorry, but anyone can develope a character. Even for those who hated FRIENDS--no one could say they stayed totally the same from beginning to end. The didn't, they grew up. But what makes Joss's work special is the way he weaves myth and metaphor; not to mention his portrayal of pain and disapointment that really speaks to people.

Which is one of the things that does indeed make Everwood a good show--it is the only program that really deals with pain in an intimate and truthful way. That is, until Joss comes back into our livingrooms on a weekly basis. *prays silently for the day*
BTW, as I understand it, Abrams is barely involved in Lost. It's really Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse developing the show.
I think Alan Ball comes in a quasi-close second to Joss. 6FU had tons of character development.
I'll agree on Aaron Sorkin, with one constraint (based on West Wing only; I haven't seen Sports Night). To me, the defining moment in characterization on The West Wing was when all of the staff stood in Leo's office and repeated, one after another, "I serve at the pleasure of the President." The West Wing is the story of one President Bartlet, and while the staff are all great, well-rounded, very human characters, they don't have a life outside the White House (which is also very much a key point, both on the show and in real life).

As for J. J. Abrams..... I can't say anything good about his character development. Yes, he creates characters with great potential, but from that point on, they get thrown into the plot machinery where they are ground to bits. There's no consistency, no consequences, and if the plot requires it, they're dumb as a post. Also, Abrams doesn't seem to want to stick around and deal with running a show; he just creates a show and moves on. The dedication and continued involvement that Joss and Ronald Moore give to their shows makes a huge difference.

Battlestar Galactica? Oh, yeah. Great show, great characters, very character-driven, even given the constant plot demands of the war with the Cylons. I can't wait to see how Number Six reacts to the dissipated human wreckage that Gaius Baltar has become.

Still, Joss roolz. As twa_corbies points out, metaphor is one of the reasons. Joss's stories resonate. Also, there is Joss's humor, thrown into the most difficult and anguished situations, and always a perfect touch. Sorkin does this well, also. Ronald Moore on BSG, not so much.

I haven't seen Everwood or 6FU, so I can't comment on those. Dead Like Me had potential, and I wish it had survived longer.
Oh yeah, Sorkin. Forgot about him. That's one mean-ass-coke-head-writer-man there. The West Wing's characters have always been marvelously fluid, even after Sorkin left. E.g. Toby this season, after being indicted for leaking confidential data is way darker than any character previously, and yet was achieved in an entirely realistic fashion (all to much so).
I have mixed feelings about Alias. I do think it is a great show and I am enjoying it, but I do have a few problems with it. I do think that the characters are well developed, for example, Jack Bristow started off as a cold and distant figure, the efficient, expressionless "get it done" kind of guy, however as the series developed we saw him develop a genuinely warm but understated relationship with Sydney, we discovered the factors which had made him so calculating and distant, and seen him "betrayed" by Irina again, but he's still very much an ambigious character.

I think the problem is with Alias is that you can never be sure of each character's intentions, because you can feel for them only to discover later that they were actually betraying everyone else, or that they were part of some complicated plot. And I think that too often the characterisation can take a backseat to expensive setpieces and dramatic plot twists.

But it's a lose/lose situation, because many of the plot twists are genuinely captivating and the action and stunts are very enjoyable, so if we were to lose them altogether the show would lose a lot of its appeal. Personally I just think they should have slowed down the plot twists or made them less significant. Like in the first season, most of the episodes ended with Sydney having a problem on one of her missions, which makes them pretty good because they were fun, as opposed to having a major character murdered or turning evil at the end of every episode, which is much more significant. It is hard to sort of identify with these characters when their loyalties are constantly changing, and they are "killed off" only to return later, or are cloned, or someone was wearing a mask of them.

I think if they slowed down these plot twists slightly it would make the whole premise a lot more believable. But I do think there are characters which give the show a more stable core, Sydney being the most important, and in the first couple of seasons it was Vaughan, Will and Francie, and later, Nadia and Weiss. I am still watching season four but I have heard vague spoilers about Vaughan, but except for him, the other characters were all a stablising and warm influence (although Francie was replaced by a woman genetically altered to look like her).

Basically, with characters like Jack, Irina and Arvin, they're just too ambiguous and there have been too many deceptions to really trust any of them, but there are characters who can always be trusted. Like Marshall, who is also a good example of a well developed character who provides welcome relief from some of the more intense dramatic scenes.
OK, let me jump in this wagon running out of control. First, with all due respect, I will not agree with the comments made towards Matt whether Joss is the kingpin of storytelling all time. We know better. Truth be told, there are other writers out there whom are just as brilliant.

Here's the grist. I love a good story. As with most of you, Joss is one of my favorites, but I'm always keeping an eye peeled for another story.
Allowing his characters to evolve, sometimes in directions the audience might not like at first, is one of the best things Joss does as a righter.

What amazes me is when I look at BtVS as a whole, the way the characters ended up being portrayed in the last season is consistent with the way they were written in the first two years. The evolution was an organic progression.
Add my name to the surprisingly small list of Everwood fans on the black. Those of you who haven't seen it (or only gave it a three episode shot ;-)) should really give the show a chance. It's still one of the best shows on television right now (for the reasons mentioned both here and in the link, which I therefore won't be repeating) and I've been keeping my fingers crossed for months that it finds a space on The CW.

As for Abrams: while I did like Alias, I think the characters changed much too rapidly. So while they do develop, they don't do so in a convincing way. I also really like Lost, but to me the characterisation doesn't always seem very consistent. I think his shows (I don't remember enough about Felicity, though I did watch - and like - it) have great, complex stories and good emotional moments, but the character work isn't the first thing I'd recommend him for.

I agree about Aaron Sorkin though - one of my favorite television writers. His strengths (snappy dialogue and convincing characters) are party the same as Joss', after all.
I do actually think that J.J. Abrams is very good at characterization and character development- the problem is that he often loses interest and moves on from his creations. If he was still very invested in Lost and Alias I think the characters would be more interesting and consistent. But I've heard that his new movie Mission Impossible 3 is supposed to have good character stories.
I've heard many directors (Spielberg included) say that they get the idea of action set pieces and then build the stories they want around those action pieces (like Indiana Jones was a guy with a whip jumping into a truck full of Nazi's).

Joss seems (at least to my external projections) to build around the character moments (a few things like 'fastball special' aside).

He also seems to love him some bringing the heroes pain, and torturing the weak, which always adds the layers :)
Is Joss Whedon the only creator out there who understands character development? I would answer that with a resounding no.

Shows like Farscape, Babylon 5, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica and Freaks and Geeks all had deep and involving characters who grew (or are growing) over the show's runs.

As for how "timeless" the characters on Joss shows are, that's really a question we should be asking 20 years from now.

I think Joss has created three of the most interesting, consistant and entertaining shows ever created. I would even go so far as to say the he is my favorite single creative personality currently in the entertainment industry. He doesn't however hold a monopoly on creativity or good characters.

As for J.J. I think his work creating Lost and Alias have been good, he's created entertaining shows, but I don't think he has a handle on character or story development. Lost is one of the few shows I enjoy watching every week, but I don't think the characters have really changed all that much from the first episode (possible exception... Jin)
I have to agree with rabid in regards to Freaks and Geeks. Kim Kelly in the pilot episode is not the same Kim Kelly in the finale. Damn good show.

I absolutely love Alias. One of the reasons I love it is what some of you guys are calling a fault. I love that we really don't know where the character development is going. I love that Inara, Sloan, and Jack go back and forth being bad and good. It's just fun for me!
Harmalicious, I believe you mean Irina, Inara I seem to remember from that other show that sometimes is mentioned around here.
Quote from Joss from The Watcher's Guide: Vol 2 written by Holder, Mariotte and Hart. Page 324

"I know it's [already] on DVD, but The Matrix is my favourite movie that I've every seen in my life. I saw that movie and it was like I'm going to put down my pen and back away and apologise. Those guys know exactly what they're doing. I found that movie to be extraordinarily deep and beautifully realized. I know people don't expect you to say that about Keanu movies, but I don't think I've seen a more intelligent movie in the last ten years. Every line is in place. They really thought that world through. You don't see that a lot anymore. I see a lot of laziness in movies. I still think I see much better work on TV than I do in the movies. Most of the time."

Lots of TV shows and movies are great. There are lots of talented people involved in the business (duh!).

But Joss is different; Joss wears "Obsession for Creators" - being an "absolute nazi about structure" - reading and ammending all the scripts - pushing for better camera angles and framing - it's kind of relentless.

I think the reason for this is that fundamentally, Joss is first and foremost a hardcore fan. That obsession and focus and drive lies at the heart of the work he does. (I'm glad I don't have to live with him)
Yet crucially, he succeeds in encouraging the same levels of obsession and committment from co-workers - according to James Marsters, BtVS became known as "Buffy the Weekend Killer" amongst TV crews.

The Matrix sequels underminded so many of the themes and plot points established in the original. Phenomenal success lost them the obsessiveness to draft and re-draft those scripts. They got lazy. Thankfully, that didn't happen to BtVS after the success of seasons 2 and 3.

Let's review; Joss is a highly focussed, workaholic fanperson who's real gift is turning others into highly focussed, workaholic fanpersons.

Like Joss and Pod-Joss. Lots of them.

That is so cool.

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