Tag Archives: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Cultural Catchup Project: “Once More, With Feeling” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Once More, With Feeling”

August 5th, 2011

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

My memory is generally pretty good when it comes to small details about my life, but I truly have no idea what possessed me to watch “Once More, With Feeling” in my dorm room about four or five years ago.

I wasn’t watching it with someone else, and I hadn’t borrowed someone’s DVDs. As far as I can remember, no one suggested that I watch it, and this was well before Dr. Horrible was a thing (although I think my memory wants to tell me that there was some relationship between the two things, if only to make sense of the abstract nature of the experience). Looking back, timeline wise, it’s possible that the Scrubs musical was what pushed me in its direction, but that’s at best an educated guess.

As I’ve discussed throughout this project, there are moments from pivotal episodes that have been floating around in my head from occasional experiences with the series. One was Riley crawling through a tight space in the climax of “Hush,” gleamed from a Buffy marathon my brother was recording, and the other was this random late night viewing of an episode for which I had almost zero context. Given that I was watching the episode exclusively as a musical, my memory is hazy: when I started watching the show in earnest last summer, I remember being convinced that Xander and Cordelia were going to get together because I had seen them in “Once More, With Feeling,” at which point you were quick to point out that my memory was even hazier than I realized.

Watching it this week really did feel like watching it for the first time, even if there were those brief moments of déjà vu. I remembered more about the episode than I thought, but the nature of those memories varied, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the episode’s success. You can’t remember what you’ve never known, and returning to the episode in the context of the sixth season gave me a much greater understanding for why “Once More, With Feeling” holds such an important place in the history of this show.

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Cultural Catchup Project: A Return, An Adjustment, and the Perils of a Catchup Hiatus

The Perils of a Catchup Hiatus

August 1st, 2011

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I didn’t exactly intend on a near-two-month hiatus in the middle of summer for the Cultural Catchup Project, but here we sit at the beginning of August with very little progress made.

There are a number of reasons the CCP ended up falling off this summer. Last summer was a rare circumstance in which I had no academic commitments, and really no commitments at all, which made it easy to spend time watching/reviewing Buffy and Angel. This summer, meanwhile, was filled with commitments: Only a few were academic, but then you have social commitments, as well as my assignments for The A.V. Club (ranging from reviewing weekly series to dropping in on premieres or filling in for other writers). I could also blame the weather, in that the oppressive Midwestern heat has made drained me of the energy that would be necessary to churn out writing the way I did last summer.

While these might register as excuses, on some level I couldn’t work up the motivation to tackle something, which is how I began to view the CCP as the hiatus wore on. As soon as the project started to feel like work, I became far less likely to dive back in, which is why I had to make one particular adjustment.

Starting now, I’m shifting away from Angel to focus on Buffy’s sixth season. The idea of doing the two shows at the same time was great, but it was only really feasible when I was considerably less busy. While I do intend on getting to Angel eventually, as the project will eventually be completed, the month of August will be spent polishing off the remainder of what seems to be a divisive season.

Now, given where I left off, I expect that the CCP will relaunch in earnest later this week with a certain notable installment of the series. However, to get back into the groove, I wanted to share a few thoughts about “Life Serial” and “All the Way,” in particular how the season’s main themes resonate when you return to the show after a lengthy hiatus.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Flooded” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Flooded”

June 13th, 2011

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Thus far, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s sixth season has been strikingly “realistic.” It sort of reminds me of the fourth season, in that Buffy spent the first set of episodes battling “real world” forces as much as demonic ones. There, the traditional college experience was framed through the eyes of the Slayer, while here Buffy’s resurrection from heaven is almost being framed as the transition into the adult realities of parenting, home ownership, and everything in between. Whereas Buffy’s role has more often than not been framed in terms of general responsibility, a task that she has always been able to live up to, the show is reframing that role in the context of financial responsibility.

While “After Life” very much focused on the ways in which reality itself has become a burden for Buffy in light of her ordeal, “Flooded” makes reality a bit less philosophical and a bit more…well, real. We could argue the same for the season itself, actually, given how the episode uses a fairly typical Monster-of-the-Week and a number of private conversations to set a pretty clear foundation for the season that follows. It’s too early to pass judgment on The Trio, and on the direction the season seems to be heading in, but the best thing I can say about “Flooded” is that it never gave me pause. Burdened by exposition, the episode nonetheless found a fair deal of poignancy in what could be considered a mundane premise, and created a great deal of interest (and a moderate amount of excitement) for what is to come.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “After Life” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“After Life”

May 27th, 2011

“What else is different?”

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The term “Cultural Catchup” really has two meanings.

The first is the broad notion of catching up on television shows which have proven to be important cultural touchstones but which have escaped my gaze.

The second, however, has been the experience of witnessing the conversation on a post and then quickly “catching up” with the context that informs the conversation. This is not to say that anyone has been spoiling the show, but it’s a basic fact that those of you commenting know what’s ahead, and so as I watch through a season I often find myself rereading (or at least thinking about) previous comments and putting two and two together.

I raise this point in part because the unique nature of this viewing experience is something I like theorizing and because this sort of retroactive sense making is at the heart of “After Life,” an episode that serves as a sort of Rosetta Stone for the season premiere and the season as a whole. In many ways, this is the start of the season: whereas “Bargaining” was saddled with the task of getting from Point A to Point B, “After Life” is allowed more space to breathe and more time to explore the magical and psychological consequences of that transition.

While I don’t think the result is particularly subtle on the level of plot, coming in the form of a metaphor-turned-monster-of-the-week, the strength of that metaphor is confirmed by the unbearable weight of Buffy’s return on her friends, the audience, and more importantly Buffy herself.

And although I don’t think it retroactively solves my issues with “Bargaining,” it certainly gives the title greater meaning and establishes a tragic and poetic frame to the show’s sixth season.

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A Cultural Comeback: The Return of the Cultural Catchup Project

The Return of the Cultural Catchup Project

May 16th, 2011

On April 9th, 2010, I began an undertaking.

Fifty-seven reviews and over six months later, I had to put that undertaking on hold indefinitely.

There was some part of me who was naive enough to believe that I would be able to continue the Cultural Catchup Project while beginning my PhD, continuing to dig into Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but the truth was that it was never going to happen. While my dedication to the project never wavered, my free time during the year was going to go towards covering television as it airs, engaging in the post-air analysis that continues to draw me to writing criticism. Although I found some time to pull together the final reviews to finish out the series’ fifth and second seasons, respectively, the project went dormant for the better part of six months on November 25th.

Since that point, there have been a number of mostly well-meaning prods in my direction regarding the project, but for the most part the Whedon fans have been patient. It helps, of course, that Noel Murray has been continuing his reviews of the series at The A.V. Club, and that the Whedon fan community remains vibrant and active regardless of my contributions. While I hated to be absent from the discussion, and I very much enjoyed the engagement made possible through those reviews, I ultimately had to decide how I wanted to watch these shows, and the idea of trying to squeeze them into an already hectic schedule just wasn’t an option if I actually wanted to enjoy the experience.

But as the year comes to a close, and as the summer approaches, the season of Cultural Catchup approaches. There are no plans for serious overhauls: I remain vigilant in my efforts to avoid spoilers (although a few have sneaked in here or there, but nothing that I would consider major), I remain committed to doing both shows simultaneously (if only to add a bit of variety to my viewing, now that the crossovers seem to be slowing down), and I remain excited to continue the dialogue we began last year.

While I have no idea how many followers of the CCP last time around are still hanging out around these parts, and I have no way of knowing how many stragglers might return, I’m giving us all a few days to gather ourselves. The Cultural Catchup Project returns on the morning of Wednesday, May 18th with a review of both parts of “Bargaining,” the sixth season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and continues later that very same day with a review of the third season premiere of Angel, “Heartthrob.”

Edit: Both reviews are now live via the links below!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Bargaining”

Angel – “Heartthrob”

From there, things might slow down a bit until the weekend, but after that the adventure picks up where it left off: a summer-long journey as far into the Whedonverse as three and a half months will take us.

I am hopeful that some of you will still be along for the ride, and that there might be some who are joining us for the first time: either way, the Cultural Catchup Project page offers the complete archives for those who want to relive it all again.

The Cultural Catchup Project Archives

In the meantime, spread the word – on Wednesday, the undertaking begins again.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Tough Love” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Tough Love”

September 5th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

If Adam was a philosophical character with no functional use within Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fourth season, Glory is a functional character without any real philosophical purpose in the series’ fifth.

“Tough Love” really drives this point home for me: the character is more fun than she is interesting, existing sort of as a by-product of Dawn’s arrival despite the fact that Dawn is technically the by-product of the situation. This isn’t so much a criticism as an observation: I like Glory, and like what role she plays within this story, but it isn’t a particularly complex role. Instead, all of the complexity is on the protagonists’ side of the story, which is expressly clear when this episode becomes far more about Willow and Tara’s relationship and far less about Glory herself.

Which is only fitting as Glory’s arc appears to be reaching its end.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Intervention” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Intervention”

September 4th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Marti Noxon faced certain challenges in “Forever,” transitioning from the tragedy of “The Body” into the season’s conclusion, but Jane Espenson faces more substantial obstacles with “Intervention.” She’s given the task of bringing back the series’ sense of fun and its second of humour, qualities that seem particularly incongruous with the grieving process still unfolding. The episode is going to be awkward no matter what you do with it, which is what makes it a difficult task for any writer.

However, Jane Espenson does awkward pretty damn well: her episodes are always strong at mixing the dramatic with the comic, and here she adds the tragic into the mix with little difficulty. “Intervention” picks up the story where “I Was Made To Love You” left off, comfortably settling into the path which will lead the season to its end and delivering some meaningful laughs along the way

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Forever” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Forever”

September 3rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

When I reviewed “Into the Woods” earlier this summer, I was admittedly somewhat hard on Marti Noxon, which was probably a bit of bandwagon hopping: I’m aware, perhaps too aware, of the criticisms which face Noxon in regards to the later seasons of the series, and I think that I held her accountable for my issue with the way that episode was structured and executed in a way which was probably unfair. Now, mind you, this isn’t to say that I don’t still have issues with the episodes, nor is it to say that I still don’t find some of Noxon’s writing to be a bit (and often a lot) romantically heavy-handed. Rather, Noxon was but one part of a larger team, and holding her personally accountable is reductive to the collective effort involved.

I raise this point because while watching “Forever,” I realized why Noxon’s somewhat divisive qualities actually work to help this post-tragedy episode feel just the right level of uncomfortable. I have some issues with the way the episode unfolds, and the lack of subtlety across the board is still somewhat unsettling, but the conflict between an emotional explosion waiting to happen and the attempts to carry on with one’s life feels natural. In other words, while I felt as if Noxon was attempting to rewrite Riley and Buffy’s relationship to create a heartwrenching moment, here she is drawing from a situation so filled with heartbreak that her poetry feels purposeful, desired.

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Cultural Catchup Project – “The Body” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“The Body”

August 5th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

One of the qualities about the Cultural Catchup Project which many of you seem to enjoy is the ability to witness someone experience the show for the first time. However, you’ve likely all noticed to this point that, in my case, the emotional side of that is largely obscured by critical analysis: in fact, you need to read between the lines to find a true “personal reflection” in the majority of my reviews.

This isn’t a purposeful attempt to keep myself out of these reviews, nor is it a sign that I am a soulless automaton. Rather, it’s simply the way I approach television: Cultural Learnings tends to operate in a solely critical capacity, and the Cultural Catchup Project has been no exception.

However, I could tell from the response to my tweets about watching “The Body” that separating myself emotionally from the episode would be impossible, both because of how affecting the episode was and because of the admonishing I’d rightfully receive from the regular readers. I do intend to offer a few critical insights, and it is quite likely that those critical insights will end up being quite elaborate, but I also want to make sure that my experience watching “The Body” is collected as part of this project. While I think that this is a truly fantastic piece of work from Joss Whedon, even more important than the text itself is the text’s influence on its audience, and I hope to try to do both justice.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Into the Woods,” Caught in the Weeds (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Into the Woods,” Caught in the Weeds

August 2nd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

As the Slayer, Buffy has always had to balance various parts of her life: with great power comes great responsibility, and so there were times when her friends and her studies suffered as a result of the time she had to spend patrolling and keeping Sunnydale from falling into the abyss.

However, in previous seasons the consequences of an imbalanced life were fairly minimal: it created tension between friends which could be smoothed over without much difficulty, and it led to conflicts with principals which were ultimately inconsequential – even Season Four, as Buffy graduated to the college life, it still seemed as if the challenge of balancing her various commitments (to slaying, to the Initiative, to school work) was still pretty easy to overcome (especially when you consider that they went most of the season without exploring her distance from her mother).

But in the fifth season’s absence of an omnipresent story arc – with Glory sitting on the bench for extended periods, biding her time before making her next move – the series has delved further into decidedly human drama: after it becomes clear that Joyce’s condition is not related to Dawn’s arrival (except that the tumour gave her the ability to see Dawn for what she was), Buffy’s life becomes infinitely more complicated, and so she starts to let that balance fade. And while ignoring her studies is something the show cares little about, and ignoring Spike’s advances is not a particularly challenging thing for Buffy to do, ignoring Riley’s descent into a dark place is a consequence she had not prepared for.

It is, however, a consequence which I’ve been preparing for since the season began: while “Family” established that Tara is part of this family, and “Triangle” went out of its way to answer any lingering doubts about Anya’s connection with the group, “Into the Woods” seems like it should pick up on the season’s gradual argument that there is no worse outlet for Riley Finn’s psychological struggles than his efforts to make Buffy feel for him as she felt for Angel.

Unfortunately, all “Into the Woods” proves is that Marti Noxon might as well face that she’s addicted to love, to the detriment of Riley’s swan song.

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