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August 25 2003

(SPOILER) BTVS/ATS and The Pitfalls of The TV Medium by shadowkat. The best Buffyverse article you'll read all year. (Contains well known casting spoiler for Angel).

She's really done her homework for this piece, brilliantly researched and a joy to read.

Yes,a wonderfully thorough and thought-provoking series of essays, but I really wish shawdowkat would consult with a proofreader.... The misspellings (typos?) are really distracting at times.
Generally pretty good writing. I didn't agree with many things like (a) "Seeing Red" being a special episode (b) Buffy as a heroine following the guidelines set in the fourth section (I can name at least 3 of those items that Buffy as a heroine has broken) (c) shadowkat makes a lot of leaps in terms of logic, that Oz was "supposed to be the one Willow lost" has never (at least to my knowledge) been said explicitly. I've read a lot of speculation about it, but that's usually in defense of the decision to kill Tara.

In general I think shadowkat's stuff about the workings of television and the limits placed on ME by the medium are far more insightful than her musings on the plot developments of the show in general. I disagree with almost all of her discussion on S6, and some of the stuff about S7.

But that's fine, people will disagree, but I'd wish she had supported some of her more specious claims with some better logic/examples. I'll agree that it's a thought-provoking essay. It definately raises some questions about the process under which this show was created.
Does she not support her statements with the footnotes? I believe her work is great for opening debate on some issues and continuing the debate in others. It doesn't necessarily solve any of the arguments, but it does make some abstract concerns a bit more concrete. I for one hope that someone who reads this then asks Joss Whedon a few well-informed questions at a convention or press junket thing or whatever.

Had Seth Green not left, would Oz have died instead of Amber Benson's character?
Was there a working internal formula in mind with Buffy, and where did the writers break from their own form?
Why was Faith the Series considered, but Willow the Series was not? Or Xander?
Joss said if Oz had still been around, he would've been the one to die. He originally thought of the "Willow goes bad" storyline while Oz and Willow were still together.
It's certainly a lot to absorb and think about but a lot of it is confused and contradictory. For instance, she mentions the numeorus fan speculations about Whedon's 'real' intentions for a "classically tragic" fifth season but has no evidence to suggest any of these ideas existed outside of fevered fan specualtion (save for Gellar's vague comments about Willow) and then she wonders in the next paragraph why Whedon changed his mind on this plot which we haven't even established was going to exist in the first place.

One more thing, I wanted to mention the odd part of the piece conerning the so-called Special Episode. The classic defintion of Special Episode is when a television show tackles a social issue through a lead character or a guest actor dealing with said social issue such as racism , bullemia or addiction. Family Ties was the mid-eighties master of these kinds of shows. There is usually a lot of speechfying, often ending with a hotline number or the actor addressing the audience. Traditionally, the audience is talked down too as if we were all small children which is oe of the reason these episodes have such a bad name. I fail to see how either Wrecked or Seeing Red fit the Special Episode except in the broadest possible context. To follow Shadowkat's logic, a television show could never deal with addiction or sexual assult in any manner lest they be considered the dreaded Special Episode. If you didn't like the above episodes or plots, that's fine but we should try to discuss them and how the worked in the framework of the show and not shovel them off to the side via a defensive rhetorical device.

[ edited by unitas on 2003-08-26 04:55 ]

[ edited by unitas on 2003-08-26 06:08 ]
While the article is certainly interesting and well-written, it did leave me with a very negative vibe. This person seems to worship the ground Xena walks on, yet subtley bashes BTVS and AtS because they follow formulas so all encompassing that 99% of all shows are bound to fall into them. It was also pointless to base entire sections of the essay on pure speculation, such as Joss's intent to end season 5 with a dose of classical tragedy, which had no basis in actual fact.

Neither Buffy or Angel have ever come across, to me, as shows that cater to advertisers, networks, or even really the fans. There have been things done that piss all 3 of these groups off, especially in Buffy's last two seasons. I don't know if the ME clan is subverting formulas or falling in well-worn pits. I only know one thing: whatever they're doing, they're doing it exactly right. Keep up the good work.

[ edited by MindPieces on 2003-08-26 03:59 ]
I enjoyed the article, and I found the points that shadowkat made were well-supported. However, I do believe that the article isn't the "best Buffyverse article" I've read or will read. Although the points are well-supported, the article comes off very opinion-heavy, and that seems to defy shadowkat's intentions to write a pseudo-academic look at the show. Her opinions get in the way of what she wants to say. Also, I'm kind of new to the online discussion community, but I know nothing about her. I think that there are counterpoints that can be made to her arguments, and one of the main things that irked me about the article was that she was unable to sufficiently address them.

But all in all, it was a good read.
Unitas - The point of S'kat's mention of the rumored ending of S5 (which she clearly stated was nothing more than fan speculation except for the Dark Willow subplot), was to lead into why some plot arcs don't happen: tv shows are collaborative on a scale that is difficult to imagine. If you read the paragraphs following the S5 tragedy conjecture, you'll see that her point has nothing to do with actual plot arcs, but with how tv shows work. This is a technical, practical issue, nothing to do with specific plot points. The point is that BtVS did not spring fullgrown from Joss Whedon's brain they way we often assume it must've. She does then offer two examples of S7 story arcs were that were last minute ideas or recoveries from unavailable talent (both are footnoted so you can find the original interviews with Jane Espenson and Joss Whedon). A better example to lead off with might've been the changes to Season 4's Initiative plot which were discussed in writer commentaries on the S4 DVD set.

As for the Special Episodeyness of Wrecked, many viewers at the time mocked the "magic crack addict" storyline and felt it was a very shabby ploy, unworthy of ME precisely because it seemed as if they were talking down to us, telling us "magic/drugs are bad, m'kay?" ME didn't intend for it to be a Special Episode, but it certainly felt that way to many of us. Practically every BtVS forum I check (Buffyguide.com, TWoP, ATPo, BC&S, etc.) had posters expressing their dismay or scoffing outright with this aspect of Wrecked at the time of its initial airing. Did ME regret that choice? By Lessons of S7, ME had retconned the crack magic addiction with a few lines by Giles. As for Seeing Red, the AR struck many viewers as an over-the-top and grossly inappropriate plot device to teach us a lesson for thinking of Spike in sympathetic terms. Marti Noxon later confirmed in interviews that they felt they had to do something extreme to show that we were wrong about Spike. Again, ME didn't intend to preach, but it came off that way. Fans are a touchy bunch.
Punkinpuss - In fact, I did read the paragraphs following the 'classically tragic' S5 part of her post and I do realize that she uses it as a device to explore collaborative nature. My point was that it was a remarkabley poor one. It's confusingly phrased (why did Whedon abandon these ideas? Ah, because he never had them) and so fan fictiony as to be pointless. Your S4 example would be a far better one for her to use.

As for the Special Episode issue, I object to it as a cheap rhetorical device much like I objected to Dead Lesbian Cliche when that one was popular about a year ago. They are the equivalent of Death Tax or Partial Birth Abortion in poiitcal circles. Terms used not illuminate and provoke thoughtful discussion but to put suppoters of the opposing postion on the defensive. These plots are certainly controversial issuses but neither of them is cut & dry as in the tradition of the Special Episode. Magic is never all bad in the Buffyverse, even at the height of the addiction arc there was positive uses of magic by other characters which contradict a simple magic=drugs=bad reading. As for the attempted rape, it has become such a controversal issuse as to banned from discussion on several boards which hardly makes a simple Special Episode plot.

In addition, I would like to add that Jane Espesson talked about the AR on the Succubus Club last year as the plotline ME created so that Spike would be forced to get his soul (which should be obvious from the episode, itself) so it has a clear story purpose beyond teaching the audience a lesson, which has become the rather presumptious position of far too many.

[ edited by unitas on 2003-08-26 06:50 ]

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