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November 20 2009

Should Joss Whedon Revisit the Horror Genre with his Next Project? FEARNet's Joseph McCabe asks the question.

Weird. I know I saw this story when it was published, but it never seems to have been posted here. I can't think of where I would have seen it if not here, heh.
I love the horror genre and I would like to see Joss revisit it. I'm not sure what he'd do though but it could be something wonderful.
Yes, definitely. Make it a TV show, and on a cable channel - oh, and a good storyline.
I absolutely agree with the author's take on why Joss is better for horror than SF -- that's the reason Firefly never fully worked for me.

Because horror is about the emotion, and the demons and vampires are all metaphors, we don't feel as compelled to comprehend the universe as "real," and Joss is free to play as long as he's consistent with his own rules (which he usually is).

The problem with Firefly is that it was this weird hybrid of hard sci-fi (stuff based on actual science) and soft sci-fi (stuff with sci-fi trappings but, content wise, closer to fantasy, like Star Wars).

The universe of Firefly was completely implausible from a hard SF standpoint. It makes sense for border planets to be poor, not for them to all start dressing/acting like they are in a classic Hollywood Western. And why did the western-looking guns shoot lasers? (or make laser noises?). Why do these dirt-poor western saloons have things like holographic windows and pool balls?

If the show was presented like Star Wars, as a swashbuckling fantasy, these things would have been easier to let slide, but there were other elements of the show that were very real, as if it was a hard SF show -- no sound in space, no aliens, shooting with handheld cameras, etc., which made the implausible stuff even more implausible. It was as if as if Joss wanted us to think this was a possible version of our future, when it wasn't.

I feel like classic sci-fi writers used to come from a science background, which is why their stories were so tech-heavy and idea-driven, and the characters and dialogue could sometimes suffer (I'm generalizing, I know).

The great thing about Joss and this generation of genre writers, is that they are interested in genre but can also do things like write strong characters, write women, write jokes. However, they don't come from a science background, they come from a background of genre movies and TV shows -- i.e. they like the trappings of genre more than actual science. Hence why Firefly seemed more like something based on western on sci-fi movies than on an actual version of the future.

I don't feel that Joss even has much interest in being a hard sci-fi writer, just as he has little interest in writing a cop show/procedural. He's not an "idea-driven writer" in that sense. He's more about the characters, the emotions, which were the best thing in Firefly, and Buffy, and why some have found Dollhouse cold.

Dollhouse is the closest thing he's done to an idea-driven show, but it only got good, again, once it became more about the characters. Topher, Adelle, Echo, Sierra, and others went from caricatures or ciphers to fascinating and complex people.

But even the best Dollhouse episodes have stuff that makes very little sense from a logical standpoint, and some have argued the concept never quite worked. Again, I think the stumbling block people have is that Dollhouse is a sci-fi show, and people expect more logic from something "science" based.

If the Dollhouse were an underground organization of wizards who could wipe people's minds with spells, say, I feel like no one would have batted an eye at many of the conceptual problems that have somewhat plagued the show as is.
Am I weird for not really categorizing Buffy and Angel in the horror genre?
KateTwo: Yes, yes you are.
I agree that Dollhouse is A) science fiction and B) idea-driven, but I take umbrage at that article's insinuation that SF is not about emotion. Good SF looks at the human condition through a different lens. Emotion is essential to that, because humans are made of them (along with all those pesky atoms.) No one can tell me Philip K Dick, for example, didn't write about human emotion.
okay, so I'm gonna get off this soap box now....
I have come from the future to say "yes". Cabin in the Woods was a wonderful horror film and anyone who watched the Session 416 videos would have been given an insight into how good Joss is at horror.
What's the future like?
A bit like Epitaph One but with more singing.
I'll take it.
I would say that a necessary prerequisite for any good story, regardless of the genre, is an examination of the characters' emotions.

I don't need metaphors, though they can be nice. I don't need total plausibility, though that certainly doesn't hurt. Nor do I even need to like any of the characters on a personal level.

But I absolutely do want characters that are compelling and interesting and to have the chance to see into their minds and hearts in a way that only a truly talented writer can describe.

That's one of the reasons that I love Firefly so much, as it gives us such great insight into that group of characters.

I hope that Joss' next project is one in which he is excited about. Something that he creates. A tale that he truly feels compelled to tell. If that is his starting point, then I will enjoy it, no matter what genre(s) it happens to be set in.
This begs the question of course, "What will Joss do next?" After all, he may have a full year to kill.

Aaaargh, that's not what "begs the question" means, it refers to an argument that assumes its conclusion as one of its premises. Now I will literally murder everyone in the world until your dead and therefore not able to boldly go anywhere ! [/language Nazism]

*chillaxes* ... Leaving aside all the standard stuff that barely needs saying (i.e. we'll likely watch it whatever and he should do what he wants) then it depends. If he intends to get it done before Cabin comes out then go for it, if not then it makes sense to wait and see how that's received IMO. Still, of all the genres His Whedony Munificence has expressed an interest in, horror is the one that will most benefit from NOT being on US network TV so it's probably the one i'd most like to see as an example of Whedon Unleashed - show us the darkness in your soul boss-man, we can take it ;).

(and based on experience, even if it's not all that horrific it will at least be smart and smart horror - or even smart "horror" - is in short supply these days)
Well Joss is starring in 'V' at the moment so he does have a high profile. If his directing or writing does stall for the next couple of years, he can also continue his acting career. As Variety points out in that link I provided, Joss was in "3:10 to Yuma". I know many of us here at Whedonesque overlooked him performing in that film.
@Simon An emoticon would have helped immensely. I was confused, then disappointed.
I know many of us here at Whedonesque overlooked him performing in that film.

Not me, I loved him in that. Always wondered who played the front half of the horse though.
I'm still pissed at Alan Tudyk for killing Joss Whedon in Serenity. DAMN YOU ALAN!
I thought that was Joss!

Shouldn't the question be: Which three genres do you want Joss Whedon to combine next? (IMHA, whichever three he needs to.)
Aaaargh, that's not what "begs the question" means, it refers to an argument that assumes its conclusion as one of its premises. Now I will literally murder everyone in the world until your dead and therefore not able to boldly go anywhere ! [/language Nazism]

Unfortunately, I think this is a lost cause. It irritates me too but I think we need to accept that by general useage 'begs the question' now means 'raises the question'

As for the article, I dunno. The writer tries to set horror and sci fi up as opposites. But, um, Alien? And both Firefly and Dollhouse are partly horror-inspired even though they're not scary eg. 'Instinct', 'The Target' and 'Bushwhacked'. Then there's the problem classifying Buffy and Angel as horror. Neither show was ever really horror. Buffy at least was intended as a horror show originally and it was based on horror movies. But Angel can't even claim that. And both had sci fi aspects (eg. Buffy season 4). The writer really seems to mean fantasy vs sci fi. And I don't agree Joss's fantasy stuff is so much better than his sci fi. IMO Firefly was a lot better than Angel and better than four of Buffy's seasons and so far Dollhouse has been vastly better than Angel's first three seasons
Unfortunately, I think this is a lost cause. It irritates me too but I think we need to accept that by general useage 'begs the question' now means 'raises the question'

I suspect you're right Let Down but it is annoying - I realise language changes, even celebrate that fact, i'd just rather it didn't change because people are too lazy to use a phrase without taking the simple step of googling it. Where do we draw the line ? Before too long 'ironic' will mean 'coincidental' or just 'unfortunate' (which is the way many people incorrectly use it now, looking at you Alanis ;).

(on the other hand, I never have cared much about split infinitives, avoiding them is an arbitrary holdover that often leads to less natural sounding constructions in English IMO)

As to the article's point about sci-fi, I kind of agree. It's more explicitly about ideas than most genres, including horror (even though it's possible to mix them) and though 'Firefly' is great drama that's also sci-fi (by most definitions) i'm not totally convinced that it's great sci-fi unto itself. 'Dollhouse' is very sci-fi though in that it looks at a scientific/technological advance and asks how it affects us and our place in the world - it adheres to the classic Larry Niven model of "if someone invents the car sci-fi has to imagine the traffic jam".

But I also think that Joss mixes genres as it pleases him and drawing clear lines between them doesn't make a huge amount of sense from a storytelling perspective - no great sci-fi story ignores emotions and no great horror story acts as if thought and reason are irrelevant to the human condition.

(re: 'Angel' BTW, i'd say though it used fewer of the genre trappings than Buffy it had the same existential angst that underlies most horror IMO, it was - maybe more directly than BtVS - about dealing with mortality)

[ edited by Saje on 2009-11-21 17:29 ]
Seems quite clear that Joss is an alien. I've often pondered that very question.
I'm not really dying for something from buffyverse. I mean, Angel After the Fall And Buffy season 8/9 have me pretty satisfied. I'd love to see BTAS, or Faith The Vampire Slayer, or Ripper or Slayer School or a Spike movie/show, but not as much as something else.

If he did what he did with Buffy/Angel/Firefly, doing more than one show at a time and overlooking & having creatice control & planning out the arcs on all of them it'd be great. Personally, I'd only want one Buffy show. All the actors are too busy to revive Firefly, so if Dollhouse doesn't get picked up/come back (which would still be my first choice) Then I'm thinking he should do Faith or something Buffy and something totally new, and during the summers (2011 onwards) do Dr. Horrible, A Spike movie or Serenity sequel.

I want Angel/buffy comics to keep going, and I really want a Dollhouse comic. After he's done with Dollhouse and the Glee episode/acting for V, I think in early 2010 he should do Dr. Horrible 2, finish up A Shepards Tale and the few Serenity stories he still wants to tell left over from season one (I wanna get everything pre-serenity out of the way for the second movie/show someday), and maybe do a few more sugarshock comics, theb plan out Dollhouse's comic run.

According to my timeline theres still room between Objects in Space/Serenity for some more Serenity Comics to happen, and if not then he can do more prequels, maybe about Jayne before he joined Mal or something and in the early summer pitch a show to HBO/FX/USA/Showtime/SyFy/AMC/Fox's internet company, or do a movie.

As much as I'd love a straight to internet show, I don't think it would really work. If every episode cost 2$ on itunes, and Mutant Enemy gets at least half the money and 1.5 million people minimum got every episode, it might happen but I'm not sure.

[ edited by DeezyG on 2009-11-22 02:20 ]

[ edited by DeezyG on 2009-11-22 02:20 ]
Joss is better at horror than sci-fi for the same reason I like horror better than sci-fi. You get to make crap up. Making crap up is more fun and less work. It allows him to get all metaphysical and junk which is what Joss is good at. Good sci-fi has to be based in actual science. He's great in a writing crisis so long as he has a lot of freedom to make crap up out of thin air. Sci-fi is restrictive.
What I'm saying is Joss needs to burn his sci-fi bra.
Bring back Buffy and Angel.
Pretty please ?
I would agree with the articles claim that horror is generally about emotions, whereas sci-fi is usually about ideas. The best sci-fi deals with the metaphysical, the existential. It seems that the general approach for a sci-fi writer is to provoke thought and a horror writer provokes emotion (fear, being an obvious example.)

Of course, that isn't always the way and writers, like Joss, prove that it is possible to mix and match over and over again. I think that the fact that it is hard to pigeon hole any of Joss's shows into a particular genre shows that he never really thinks in such narrow terms. Buffy may have been considered as a horror show to begin with, but rarely really had true horror episodes. If you had to pick a genre for Buffy it would be fantasy, but that is rather woolly category. Angel, if I remember correctly, was originally intended as a noir show, but later drew upon multiple sources, such as soap operas. Firefly often felt closer to western then a sci-fi show.

Dollhouse is probably the most sci-fi show he has done. The overarching plot of the series seems to be about the misuse of technology, so that would fit in with the "ideas" argument of the article. The emotions element is beginning to trickle in, but the technology and the ideas that come with it has always been central to the show's story. We may be mesmorised by Amy Acker's emotional portrayal of Dr. Saunders, but it also brings ideas of identity and repercussions of the mind altering tech of the show to the fore, as reflected throughout her discussions with Topher.

Iconic images of Firefly are the crew together; the iconic image of Dollhouse is the mind-wiping chair.

Personally, I do like the new ideas-first angle Whedon has taken with Dollhouse. I find the questions he posses to be fascinating. But I'm not sure TV is the right place for them. It took the show a very long time to develop any kind of relationship between the characters and the audience, which I think is a result of the focus on the ideas. Speaking for myself, my head has always been invested in the show but my heart has only occasionally been with it. I feel this is why many have switched off.

Should Joss go back to Horror and leave sci-fi behind? Well, I don't think Joss has ever really done horror and I have enjoyed his "sci-fi" shows a lot. What I would like to see Joss do is to make the show he really wants to make, which has clearly been a problem with Dollhouse.

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