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June 28 2013

Buffy - an example of the cosmology of serialized TV. David Auerbach of The American Reader takes a look at "the cosmology of serialized television," and points to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as an example where "the expansionary model" fails.

Needless to say, I disagree with his opinion.

Now correct me if I'm wrong, is he saying that BtVS neglected character development and storylines in favor of mythology of the show? Because if he is, I can only say: WHAAAAT?
It just kind of seems like he hates every TV show ever made ever.

[ edited by damil on 2013-06-28 01:27 ]
Even beyond Buffy, I disagree with him and specifically his apparent stance that improvised art--as much of television is--inherently is lesser than meticulously-planned art. Mad Men is the only refutation I feel like I need for that argument, although obviously he would disagree with that.

It's a shame, because at the beginning I did agree with him to some extent. While I didn't mind the use of Dante in MM, it is a fairly classic technique that seems to stem from insecurity about TV as a medium. An insecurity which I consider totally unfounded. Unfortunately, beyond a handful of exceptions, he would seem to argue that the insecurity is justified. Oh well.
In my opinion, one of the biggest strengths of Buffy and Angel was how the expansion of the mythology was in direct symbiosis with the character development, in that they thematically mutually fed into each other. To say that the mythology got in the way of character development is nothing short of a blatant and lazy misinterpretation. Character development was consistently both facilitated by and a catalyst for the expanding of the mythology.
Nicely put, GreatMuppetyOdin.

All the Whedon shows are pretty much about iconoclasts doing their thing, on every level. Characters, writers, creators, everyone. It's part of their DNA, so any analysis has to take that into account.

Trying to view these shows from a simpler perspective, or trying to force them to fit a neater mold just to force them to share a category of shows created 50-60 years ago really isn't all that useful.

Plus, the author doesn't really address the fact that it's sometimes a straight up miracle for a show to survive from one season to the next. Having multiple seasons in any form is the kind of problem most shows dream of, not the sort of thing they can realistically write for ahead of time.
One word. Wesley.
I feel the author rightly praises The Wire and Babylon 5 for having the arcs well-planned in advance, but in both cases there was some improv as well forced upon the show, mostly due to casting troubles. (Straczynski on B5 had the clever notion of writing in "trap doors" for each character that could remove them from the story, narrative-wise, if the actors had to go.) So even the best-planned shows still need to juggle on occasion. I think this fellow is aspiring to some Platonic ideal...

I admit Season 7 is flawed, but I think it does does a reasonably good job of connecting many disparate elements -- including Fray, for crying out loud -- that the show's mythology had dictated.

The biggest problem was that they'd locked themselves into having the last Big Bad be the First Evil, thanks to "Amends," but the First's "I be dead people" trick it allowed them the genius intro catalogue of cameos and then the even-more-genius method of having SMG play both hero and villain. The First's henchbeings were rather more problematic; if Caleb had been introduced much, much earlier, I think the season would have been much stronger.

But still: Faith coming back, the nature of Slayerhood being carefully examined, the payoff with the Potentials, Willow coming into her own... I'll grant the author that they'd painted themselves into some corners, but dang if they didn't paint themselves back out again.

If anything, BtVS was a show that paid serious attention to its history, if mostly in in-jokes.
I thought the First COULD have been an epic villain but wasn't. I think they overused Buffy as the first. Think how effective it would have been to have Angel, Angelus, Jenny Calender, Jesse, appearing to various characters. Nikki Wood and the Chinese slayer could have been used as the first for Spike instead of just Buffy and Dru.
Instead of Jenny and Angelus as the first with Giles, we got the tease of maybe Giles is the first. Pft.
I don't love the episode Amends but I do think the psychological manipulation of the First was shown in a much more effective way. In Season 7 "The Taunter" was pretty accurate.
Did he really just equate "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood"? I tend to agree with his assessment that "True Blood" changes characters' personalities at the drop of a hat for narrative convenience. But he thinks "Six Feet Under" did the same thing??

The mind boggles.
I also disagree with that one paragraph. And isnce I'm basically neither familair with nor itnerested in most of the other shows mentioned, my capacity to evaluate it is limted, but I was singualrly unimp[ressed.

I think he does have sort of a point in one thing - the idea of specifically trying to escalate the dangerousness of the Big Bads season by season pretty much paid off, but was a gambit that could've been ill-advised.
When you measure everything against some preconceived ideal like that, you miss all the other angles. With something as rich as a Whedon creation, that's especially foolish.
Just no. So very wrong. S7 is flawed in some ways, but not the way he identifies. I have the feeling he just didn't get the show. Sloppy viewing.
the idea of specifically trying to escalate the dangerousness of the Big Bads season by season

Did they, though, really? I mean, The Master isn't really notably smaller beer than Spike or Angel or the Mayor. They all pose pretty much the same kind of threat (powerful bad guy, wants to end the world as we know it). Adam, in some ways, is a lesser threat. Glory does probably represent a kind of Big Bad inflation (being a "god"), but in the end that doesn't actually mean that her power is really all that greater than other Big Bads or that her ambitions are all that more dangerous. The Trio are decidedly a step down in S6, and Dark Willow is, in the end, easier to defeat than any of S1 thru S4 Big Bads. The First is all hat and no cattle. Where we do see inflation (and a really stupid, stupid, stupid idea) is the Uruk Hai Turok-Han; but then in the climactic battle they actually seem to be rather less effective than regular vamps.

I have deep problems with S6 and S7 of Buffy, but they don't, in my view, stem from concern with long story arcs.
Even his LOST examples are a bit dodgy - he manages to pick two questions which *were* answered.
S3 of Buffy was the least planned in advance, yet remains one of the strongest.
Yoinks; Veyr good points. In term sopf sheer power, the Master defintiely ahd Abngelus beat. I guess he's considered an inflation is because of the personal aspect and the emotional headtrips he could put everyone thru, which the distant and more-cliched Master couldn't do.
As to the Mayor, he controlled local power strings and personal image in way the vamps didn't, and was less eprsonally vulnerable. Adam had big plAns and Buffy couldn't fight him physicallly, even less than she could Glory, who actually could've torn Adam into tiny ltitle pieces if they'd met.

The 3 Nerds were like Spike and Dru, the waiting game before the "real" Big Bad, and thne DarkWillow was ywes a powerful opponent (and Giles had to find a sneaky, self-sacrificing way to give her any weakness at all which Xander then used. But also Darkwillow was just an incarnation of how bad they'd been to each other and hard on themselves all season. The First was way the biggest in a metaphorical sense.
What does it mean to "get the show?"
What does it mean to "get the show?"

I assume it means "to understand the show." Or, more fully, "to have understood what it was that the show was trying to achieve, to have entered properly into its spirit, to have been on the same wavelength as the show's writers etc."

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