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May 05 2017

Joss Whedon's genre screenwriting, ranked. Syfy Wire attempts to rank Joss' writing for "TV episodes to movies and beyond".

Anyone that attempts to make such a list gains points from me. (Too bad that Joss' unofficial writings and rewritings cannot be acknowledged due to the lack of credits; Conversations with Dead People and his rewrites of Beneath Me and Fool For Love would certainly be high on the list.)

But, as expected, opinions are always going to differ on these things, and I have some huge disagreements.

What should be higher on the list:

Restless - oh come on?! Really?! Restless is one of the all-time greatest and best written Buffy episodes and certainly the most imaginative one!

Epitaph One and Man in the Street - the author really does't appreciate Dollhouse much. Apart from Vows and maybe Ghost, the Dollhouse episodes on this list are way underrated, while Angel episodes are mostly way overrated. (The best Angel episodes were almost all those by written by Tim Minear.)

Lie to Me - the episode that made me realize that Buffy was a great show, taking it to a new level.

Becoming - much better than Chosen. In fact, Chosen has a lot of flaws and would probably rank lowest of all Buffy season finales.

Nightmares and Out of Mind, Out of Sight - excellent and rather underrated Buffy season 1 episodes.

What should have been much, much lower:

A Hole in the World - it may be an unpopular opinion, but I really, really despise this episode and everything it is and stands for - the fridging of Fred, the forced romance with Wesley that's there just to make the fridging fridgier, the cringeworthy scene where Fred is lying on the bed surrounded by a bunch of dudes and going "my boys..." ... This tearjerker made me roll my eyes, cringe and yell at the screen rather than cry.

BTW, it's funny that the author of the article says that the Christmas miracle as a resolution is what bumps Amends a few slots. For me, it's the exact thing that bumps the episode a few slots down. It's a pretty great episode right until that ultra-cheesy moment.

I agree with the low placement of the Agents of SHIELD Pilot - yes, it's a fairly mediocre as far as Joss' output and the show's overall run goes. However, contrary to what the article says, I liked it much better on rewatch, when it seemed to much more layered than the first time I saw it - once you can notice subtle moments of foreshadowing, as well as see many different instances of manipulation and deception going on: I think that Fitz and Simmons are the only characters in the episode who aren't hiding secrets, deceiving and manipulating anyone, everyone else is hiding something and has a hidden agenda. Some of those become clear in the episode itself, others a couple of episodes later, and others only 2/3 throughout the season 1.
I'd love to try this, but a) I haven't seen everything and b) I can't remember everything I have seen.
I'll say this, though : The "S.H.I.E.L.D." pilot is probably my least favourite thing from this list. It's not bad, but it was definitely underwhelming. "I Fall to Pieces" and "The Freshman" are down there, too.
On the top it's quite difficult, because how in the hell do you compare "Toy Story" to all of the rest? It's absurdly different, but it's also one of the first two favourite movies I ever had (ignoring "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue", because that's not a full-length movie and it took me twenty years to find it again and watch it a second time). So on a pure movie list this one goes on top, followed by "Serenity" and "The Avengers", which I both loved dearly. I cannot recall a bad - or even mediocre - movie written by Whedon, however too much time has passed since I have seen either "Buffy" or "Alien 4".
This leaves top TV, which is undoubtly the hardest category, because Whedon's one of my two favourite TV writers to date. There are probably ten episodes with rightful bragging rights, but on this very day I am going with "Objects in Space". It's followed by "A Hole in the World" and "The Gift". Honorable mentions go out to "Restless", "The Body" and "Once More, with Feeling". But not to "Hush". Apparently I'm one of the few people who aren't in love with that one. I like it well enough, but it's not "up there" for me. Probably because I never much cared about The Gentlemen.

Random thoughts: I always loved Buffy's mood in "When She Was Bad". "Our Mrs. Reynolds" would be a favourite with a certain cut-scene included. "Serenity" might be the best pilot ever. "Conviction" is probably my favourite season opening of any show (but definitely of the "Buffyverse" ones). "Not Fade Away" needs to be praised. However I am not that fond of "Chosen". The ending of "Lessons" is the coolest scene Whedon has ever done, amirite? Nobody remembers "Happy Anniversary", but it's an interesting idea. I always thought "Amends" to be the most important episode of the "Buffyverse". I need to (re)watch this stuff so I may try this properly.
I was never too keen on A Hole In The World either, although I don't fully share TimeTravellingBunny's issues. I actually adore season 5 of Angel, it's one of my all-time favourite TV series seasons - but A Hole In The World is the only part with which I have some issues.
For me, this was the point where I got annoyed with Joss' habit of destroying happy romantic relationships between his main characters; having Wesley and Fred finally get together the episode before, then starting with them lovingly smiling at each other only to then spiral one of the two to death was a bit much. The episode then shows that there's only one single way to save Fred and it's so terrible that Angel can't permit himself to choose it, mixed in with the (at times, IMO overly) dramatic Wesley-Fred scenes. The acting is brilliant but the script, in my very humble opinion, makes it all too forced.

A Josswork that I have immense respect for and would personally rank much higher is Avengers:Age Of Ultron. He had to do SO much with that movie and as far as I am concerned he succeeded at pretty much everything.
(My sole issue with the movie is that no strong points are made at the end of it (such as: how the Avengers/Tony Stark are to blame for what happened). Captain America:Civil War serves as a great sequel to the film but it would have been stronger if a little bit more content was added to the finale of AoU itself.)
I believe from interviews I;ve read over the years, that Fred wasn't originally supposed to stay dead for that long but then the show got canned and they said, well, f--k it.
It's strange they included films Joss acknowledged didn't have much of his writing left. I've also been confused for a while about why one or two episodes have 'story by Joss Whedon', when surely that applies to the whole of Buffy and Firefly. Then there are episodes where he's not credited but I suspect that a lot of the script is his ('Lovers Walk' comes to mind, as well as 'The Zeppo' and 'Something Blue'). So basically a list like this has challenges before you even start ranking!

It's also hard to compare films written to work on their own to episodes in a series. Do you judge them on just what's in the script? Or take into account the resonance of character arcs, long-term story significance, or callbacks/setups? Restless, for example, gets better the more you watch the series and loses most of its meaning when taken out of context.

I was sad to see 'Vows' at the bottom of the list because I think the scenes between Dr. Saunders and Topher are some of the best Joss has done. Now I wonder what a ranking of Joss's top scenes would look like?
@Bluelark going by the way writer's guild rules work- I assume the episodes where Joss recieved a 'story by' credit would be ones where he would have more or less layed out the narrative for the episode in question, including the key plot beats, before another writer was brought on to draft the episode.

(Compared to episodes where he is not credited where he would likely be involved in crafting the broad pitch for the episode, but would have less say in the initial plot beats until a draft is written...and because of his role as showrunner even when he's essentially re-writing a script from scratch because he isn't the writer of the first draft he doesn't get a credit.)
They lost me when they said they were judging screenwriting without reading any screenplays.
rg253 - Thanks, that's interesting. I wonder how many writers' rooms stick to those rules. You always hear about varying levels of showrunners' involvement in every script.

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