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July 14 2009

Characters who say what the audience is thinking. IO9 takes on those characters that break the meta-barrier between audience and show.

They first note, "Joss Whedon, in particular, has a great talent for lacing his shows and movies with smart-aleck rebels who provide a running commentary."

Haha, they mentioned the Cordy/Wes scene. That's one of my favorite scenes of the series - I sometimes pop in the DVD just to watch that scene.
See? that's funny and brilliant; one of the funniest escenes of both series.

-Ohh Angel
-Ohh Buffy
- Kiss me
- Bite me

lol I love Buffy/Angel love.
I'm amazed they could limit it to two.
Still always nice to feel the Whedon love.
I love this post! Any post that loves the "Kiss me!"/"Bite me" scene gets my love.

I sometimes pop in the DVD just to watch that scene. Me, too, NikkiSixx. Only now I can make it a favorite and watch it on youtube any time!

Also, Gaius Baltar Syndrome is now my favorite phrase ever.
Actually cuter is the real Angel/Buffy doing essentially that in the "The Zeppo."

But another great Firefly meta moment would be the "That's like something out of science fiction” “Honey, we live on a spaceship” Wash/Zoe exchange, and of course the AtS "Spin the Bottle" episode with Lorne narrating.

Edited because that time the scene played for me.

[ edited by barboo on 2009-07-14 22:16 ]
Yeah surprised they didn't mention the science-fiction/space-ship exchange. Love 'The Zeppo' partly for those scenes though not everyone likes it, some seem to think it's a bit too close to the meta bone, maybe shows a little bit too much of the man behind the curtain (I think it bothers them that the creators seem to laughing at the show but to me it's good-natured and as much of a poke at all of us as teenagers when we thought the sturming und dranging was the be-all end-all of human existence).

As one of the commenters points out, this is actually a "thing" in screenwriting whereby the writer kind of has their cake and eats it too by highlighting something that might seem too big a stretch in order to help us accept it (from what I gather it's called "hanging a lantern" on the apparent absurdity in question, not heard the "lampshade hanging" version before). It's great when it's done well (and in moderation) but there's an element of "cheating" to it too IMO and it needs the sort of leeway you give a writer that's already proven themselves to be great without the "cheats".

Kind of goes hand in hand with another very Jossian trait where characters edit themselves within their own dialogue and critique what they're saying as they say it. He's pretty careful not to explicitly break the fourth wall though (IIRC it never happens in any Whedon show) which i'm glad of personally (it's kind of a one-off trick and very risky in drama, even drama with a lot of humour in it).
"So. We meet at last, Mister Drippy."
They could call that "hanging a washer on it" or "turning a stopcock on it". Like lanterns but for plumbers.

That reminded me (somehow) of:

"Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday".

Subtle lantern hanging, meta-joke and one of the times they come closest to breaking the fourth wall without explicitly doing it. Clever chap that Whedon fellow/whoever wrote the line.
There was also the "it usually blows over by June" or some such line of Buffy's to Robin Wood about Sunnydale crises. And then the "the world is ending"/"not again" and "Oh, as usual, dear" remarks which I think is what you're talking about Saje. I agree with you on the explicitly breaking the fourth wall. I'm not sure that I think the Lorne "Spin the Bottle" thing actually works. But I do think it's a gutsy episode.
As one of the commenters points out, this is actually a "thing" in screenwriting whereby the writer kind of has their cake and eats it too by highlighting something that might seem too big a stretch in order to help us accept it (from what I gather it's called "hanging a lantern" on the apparent absurdity in question, not heard the "lampshade hanging" version before).


Here.


STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Clicking on the above link will probably result in this. You've been warned.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2009-07-14 23:52 ]
Oh, lord, thank you brinderwait for including a warning. I have lost full afternoons to that damn site.

Of course, now odds are even that I'll spend the afternoon reading through xkcd instead, but whichever...
I have lost full afternoons to that damn site.


Full afternoons? Hell, I'm lucky I passed my classes last semester. ;)

Self-reflexivity is one of my favorite tools in fiction. You really connect to the work more than you would have otherwise, and shows are just better when they keep their sense of humor.
To me, frequent lantern-hanging is part of Joss' entire style/voice, which is for his characters to have a postmodern awareness of the stories they are in and they tropes that are occurring.

What's interesting to me, though, is that you can definitely overdo these moments to the point where the drama no longer has any weight (i.e. the characters are so obviously meta that we don't care what happens to them).

In the published draft of the Serenity script, there are several such moments in the 3rd act that were cut from the finished film, most likely because the peril should feel the most real late in the story, and the lantern-hanging would undercut the tension.

For instance, there's a moment where Jayne notices the Reavers, who have only ever used blades to fight, have switched to guns for the final showdown. This is one of those things that doesn't really make sense for their characters, but is needed for the plot, as it's hard to have a last stand against a bunch of characters trying to break in and stab you. In the original script, Jayne "hung a lantern" on it by saying something like "They're using guns now! Cheaters!" It was a funny bit, but I think it would have drawn too much attention to the plot contrivance if it was used. But, more importantly, it wasn't needed. When I first saw the film, I was so wrapped up in the story by that point, that I didn't even bother to think "why are the Reavers using guns now?"
I think these are great. But I must confess that breaking the meta-barrier is getting a bit overused.

In short, it can be brilliant. But when every show does it, it loses appeal and leaves you actually thinking about how much of a "strech" something was rather than letting it slide while enjoying yourself. It's like having the annoying Star Trek plot-hole police over to watch every show on television. I actually don't hang out with those guys while watching TV on purpose ;)
I recall Anya mentioning the apparent lack of a fourth wall during "I'll Never Tell" when arguing with Xander about it afterwords. I think that may be the closest Buffy ever came to breaking the fourth wall seeing as how they actually mention it.

And let's not forget the breaking of the ninth wall during "Commentary!"
Jus thought I'd point out that the ad at the bottom of this article has a picture of a dog saying "My name's Echo and I've been adopted".

That is all.
I really can't get into a television show unless I can get into the mindset of the characters. Then, it must require a clever mind to guide our chess piece characters. A perfect sample of failure in this regard is the series "Heroes". They never formed a solid footing, week by week, it was like they were pushing the "reset" button. As Willow would say, "Bored now."

Now, Joss has this down to an art, the way he builds his characters is phenomenal. Following Buffy and Willow through seven seasons often took my breath away. And "Firefly". Sigh.

Sorry, I know I'm rambling again. I just miss interesting characters in my stories and Joss seems to have the nack.
I think Buffy looking at the camera addressing the audience with "You" during "Something to Sing About" is the only actual fourth wall breaking I've seen in a Joss show. But I agree that Joss is more masterful in navigating close to but not indulging himself in meta.
Glad for the Cordy/Wes scene mention, it never fails to amuse. Neither does Spike's mocking of Angel. I love Angel dearly but that cracks me up every time!
Great clips, the Cordy/Wes scene is a real classic. And Joss is indeed the master of this little piece of business.

The one that went way too far IMO was the Hurley scene from Lost. Perfect illustration of why Lost doesn't work for me, the way Joss's shows do.
All the characters in Lost never really seem to understand what's happening to them, but that's (a small) part of the appeal, I think. All along they might have been tricked into living their lives the way the island intended. Or not. Everyone just tries to go along with whatever decision one of the leaders make. There's a scene, with that teacher before he gets blown up, when he says "I hate it that you guys always make the decisions" or something. Secondary characters tend to dislike the mains in Lost.

Anyway, I agree with the majority of you, I love love love the Spike narration. Bloody amazing.
Can't talk about characters who say what the audience is thinking in the Jossverse without talking about Xander. He's a total audience-rep in "The Zeppo," watching all the melodrama while having a life outside of it.

In that episode, he actually says, after the fight in the beginning: "I'm good. We're fine. Just a little bit dirty. Good show, everyone. Just great. I think we have a hit."

And if you listen to him throughout the series, he's often making comments of that nature. I think Joss indulges himself in meta all the time, but yes, he's subtle and masterful about it. He's great at sewing it all together so that you can't see the seams.

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