Alert Status “Restless”
July 16th, 2010
There was some talk late in the comments on my less than hyperbolic – which, for the record, still qualifies as positive – take on “Restless” about how I wasn’t responding, worried that I was scared away by recurring dreams where I’m backstage at a performance of “Death of a Salesman,” I missed every rehearsal, and the audience is made up of nothing but angry Buffy fans.
The truth, of course, was that I was taking a bit of a breather, but I won’t lie and say that the response to my “Restless” review wasn’t a bit…intense. I understood going into writing the review that I wasn’t seeing what it seemed like others were seeing, that the parts of the episode I enjoyed felt like they were in conflict with some of the elements which felt underdeveloped, so it’s not as if I expected to be met with a chorus of agreement. However, there was definitely a point within the comments where it seemed like the response (subtly, and never vindictively) shifted from “I think you need to look at this more carefully” to “Why didn’t you look at this more carefully,” which is actually a perfectly logical question which is unfortunately largely antithetical to this project, which is why I wanted to take a moment to discuss it before diving into Season Five (and Season Two of Angel) in the days ahead.
By suggesting that this question is antithetical, I do not mean to say that I don’t look at episodes carefully, but rather that there’s a limit to how far I’m willing or able to go with digging deeper into my response of an episode. I could sit down and watch “Restless” three times, taking notes and discovering all of the nooks and crannies, and I would likely write a very different review than the one I wrote, and probably a better one to boot. However, doing so would take a lot longer than I really have time for considering that I’d like to get as much done on the project before my free time goes from infinite to scarce in about a month’s time.
I also think that one of the few things I can say I’m legitimately adding to the discussion about these two series is my own reactions to the various episodes, and in the case of an episode like “Restless” I had to make a choice: either I keep watching searching for what the readers were hyping up, or I write my initial response to the episode and count on them to continue the discussion. There were comments which more or less said that “Restless” is not congruent with the model of reviewing which we use with contemporary series, the notion of responding to a single episode independent of that which comes after, but I would argue that every episode fits into this model in terms of offering a particular perspective. The goal of any critic is not to offer the definitive take, or even an “ideal” take on an episode of television, but rather to offer our personal experience with that particular text.
It’s true that I could have written a review which was more experiential than critical, which focused on why I couldn’t engage with the episode in “that way” as opposed to trying to break down how the episode created that reaction. In some ways, it could be argued that this would have resulted in a less divisive environment, focused more on collectively understanding the episode rather than pitting one position against the other. However, I’m a critic at heart, and I felt it would be a bigger copout if I had felt the episode was good, rather than great, and simply stepped back from criticizing it so as to avoid invoking the wrath of the episode’s bigger fans. In the process, I certainly reduced certain parts of the episode (although I think we need to have a discussion about how “Monster of the Week” indicates structure more than quality), but this was because I hadn’t felt their impact, not because I was searching for parts of the episode to attack in order to justify my decision.
I don’t think any of my complaints with the episode are unfair, just as I don’t think any of my complaints achieve pure objectivity: I think my review was pretty up front about my reservation of final judgment for when I see how the episode gains more importance in future seasons, and that’s why I think episodic criticism has value. It shows how our opinions evolve, how the process that many viewers experienced (with “Restless” gaining in stature over time) unfolds over the course of the following seasons. If I held back those initial reservations, my experience would have seemed mediated, censored for the sake of avoiding the debate which followed. And while there were moments where the sheer number of comments and their intensity was a bit overwhelming, there was no point where I felt as if it was a mistake to ignite that debate, or that I should have sat on the episode for a few days instead of posting my immediate impressions. This project is about preserving my experience watching these series and engaging with those who have watched it in the past, and my review of “Restless” achieved both of these goals.
The Cultural Catchup Project will not be completed this summer: I’m writing more than I expected to (a symptom of having readers, something which I did not expect to this degree when the project began), and I’ve been writing more about Summer TV than I have in past years. And since I’ll be moving and starting a whole new chapter in the real life in a month’s time, I really don’t know how far I’m going to get, or whether I’ll have time to pick away at the project through the fall, or whether it would even be possible to write less, or write less often, after having been able to write so consistently over the past three months. Part of me thought about just switching to writing about Buffy (to try to get through all 7 seasons before the end of August), but I find that adding Angel into the mix has kept things dynamic, keeping the writing topics diverse enough to stay motivated. I like the project as it is right now, and feel like changing it to fit into a schedule would be doing a disservice.
For now, though, it’s time to pick up and move on, which is why I popped in “Buffy vs. Dracula” earlier this evening (okay, it was morning, but that’s pretty normal). And immediately, what do I see but a pretty substantial continuation of the “Monster of the Week” storyline which had so underwhelmed me earlier in the week – spare me the “I told you so,” but do make sure to keep telling me so in the future, as this project is nothing without the extension of the discussion in the comments.
Thanks, as always, for reading, and I look forward to the discussions in the weeks ahead,