Tag Archives: Giles

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: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Bargaining”

“Bargaining”

May 18th, 2011

“Is this hell?”

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.

While I may have remained mostly spoiler-free for the major events in the final two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s hard not to feel that my experience with them will nonetheless be very much influenced by the conversations I’ve heard about these seasons over the past number of years.

While my Twitter friends have been kind enough to walk on tiptoes around me when it comes to specific spoilers, the general topic of whether or not the final two seasons of Buffy are a crippling disappointment, a misunderstood masterpiece, or somewhere in between was sort of unavoidable. While these conversations started in the comments going back to the fourth season, and certainly lingered through the fifth, we are entering the period where the fans are decidedly divided, and where my opinion (rather than simply my analysis) will be more closely watched to see which camp I fall in.

Although my six-month delay in the Cultural Catchup Project was certainly not ideal, I will say that I think it helps clear the slate for the season that follows. This is not to say that I have forgotten so much that fundamental differences (or problematic similarities) are going to go unnoticed, but it means I am recreating something closer to the experience of those who were watching in October 2001 than if I had picked up the first disc of Season 6 back in the fall. While my seven months are slightly more than the four months between the fifth and sixth seasons, returning to “Bargaining” felt like a return in ways that highlight its function as an episode, and offered a clear framework through which we can understand its successes and failures.

At the end of the day, “Bargaining” is more successful in theory than in practice, never quite stringing together its most successful scenes into a cohesive whole. While the value of its in medias res opening is clear by the conclusion of the episode, there is an artificiality in the way the episode is presented that it could never quite shake. Instead of the Scoobies feeling lost and aimless without Buffy, the episode felt as though it was always choreographing its next step, dropping in at the very moment where the more thematically interesting material was replaced with a rush of plot to get us to the point where Buffy Summers can rise from the dead.

While the resonance is not entirely lost, captured in brief moments of grief that are nicely drawn, there’s an inevitability to “Bargaining” which renders its poetry less effective than might be ideal.

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

“The Gift”

October 12th, 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 you may well have noticed, the conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season within the Cultural Catchup Project has been a bit of an anti-climax, if only because of the long delays as we moved towards the finale. In fact, it was a good thing that the Netflix episodes had the “Previously On” segments intact, because I think there would have been some details (like, for example, the “Knights that say Key”) which would have been initially befuddling.

I think, though, that it’s also partially the fact that the fifth season doesn’t exactly follow a logical narrative pattern. I want to talk about both “Spiral” and “The Weight of the World,” but I will likely spend more time on “The Gift” due to its climactic qualities, or its somewhat sudden climactic qualities. I like Glory just fine, and think the season as a whole was quite effective, but we cannot deny that the overarching plot of the season sort of sat still for the back nine or so. Mind you, that was the period where Buffy was preoccupied with her mother’s death, so it’s not as if the show was boring or uninteresting during that period, but it sort of made the conclusion seem a bit sudden (although it does develop over the course of the last few episodes).

In other words, the challenge of “The Gift” (and the episodes before it) was bringing the seasonal arc to its conclusion in a way which ties it to the characters’ personal journeys over the course of that season, overcoming the sense that Glory’s story arc did not necessarily follow a traditional rising action pattern. And while I think that it lacks the sense of climax prevalent in “Becoming” or “Graduation Day,” I think the fifth season finale lives up to this task: it may not be the perfect conclusion to the season, or the perfect note for these characters, but it delivers a meaningful hour of television which demonstrates the complexity (or, depending on your point of view, the flaws) of the series’post-high school structure.

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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: One Past, Two Perspectives (Buffy and Angel)

One Past, Two Perspectives

July 26th, 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.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has said that he has no intention of ever using flashbacks for the FX series, which some might find odd considering how much of the series is based on an earlier generation of conflict regarding SAMCRO’s founder, John Teller. However, each season of the series has a tightly constructed arc, and so much of its drama depends on capturing the intensity of the Sons’ daily lives that flashing back would likely disrupt any sense of momentum.

And yet, for network series with similarly complex backstories, flashback episodes are almost a necessity: with 22 episodes to deliver each year, as opposed to the 13 offered on cable, flashbacks are a good way to kill some time between major story arcs, or fill in some necessary exposition heading into a new story arc, or to simply have some fun by featuring a character who everyone seems to enjoy. “Fool to Love” and “Darla” are both flashback episodes, and even flash back to the same scenes in two instances, but they represent two distinct types of flashback episodes, which becomes clear when watched together (as they would have originally aired).

I want to talk a bit about how each series uses its respective flashback episode as a standalone piece, but I also want to look at how they work as parts of their respective seasons: while “Darla” is very clearly part of the series’ narrative arc, “Fool for Love” has a unique relationship with the momentum built by “No Place Like Home” and “Family” which offers a different take on the potential function of flashbacks.

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Cultural Catchup Project: The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The Functionality of Ms. Dawn Summers

July 19th, 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.

The conclusion to “Buffy vs. Dracula” is one of those moments where I wish I could go back in time and experience it without any future knowledge: the somewhat divisive introduction of Dawn Summers into the series’ narrative was something which I have known about since I started the series, but I had no idea that it was first introduced like this.

I had the benefit of being able to watch “Real Me” before writing about “Buffy vs. Dracula,” but if I had been a critic at the time, and if I had been following the usual episodic review strategy, I don’t know how I would have managed to really analyze the premiere without diverting the discussion towards “WTF”-like exclamations in regards to the conclusion. Every season begins with an uncertainty about what is about to follow, but the way Dawn is dropped into the narrative is the sort of risk which seems brazen to the point of self-destruction.

Through the first Disc of the season, the details surrounding Dawn’s arrival remain shrouded in mystery beyond a few clues, but her function within the story is much more apparent. She is an excuse to step outside of the comforts of the Scoobies, rethinking what it means to be a part of the group and seeing the existing dynamics in a new light.

And in a way, she’s sort of like Lost’s Flash Sideways.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

July 16th, 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.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is both a thematic companion for and a definite departure from the series’ past. The last two premieres have featured Buffy facing questions about her identity (in “Anne” and “The Freshman”), and her altercation with Dracula is built around similar questions; however, whereas it seemed as if Buffy was struggling to stay afloat amidst the world changing around her at the start of the third and fourth seasons, here she seems to be struggling within, gaining new perspectives on her power and its control over her actions and desires. In that sense, the episode represents a clear continuation, and evolution of numerous elements at play within the fourth season, especially within the First Slayer’s appearance in “Restless.”

However, at the same time, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is also a tad bit silly. I won’t go so gar as to say that it is cheesy, but there’s a clear disconnect between the Dracula who takes part in Buffy’s story and that character’s influence on the rest of the episode. While the core idea of Dracula’s involvement is well executed by Marti Noxon (the first writer to take on a premiere other than Whedon), the rest of the episode relies on comic scenarios which are not so much unwelcome as they are incongruous with the episode’s central function. While it isn’t a departure for the series to engage with comedy, the way it is deployed in the episode rather lazily fills in the gaps between the dramatic scenes, failing to integrate the two parts of the episode successfully and truly live up to its potential, potential which nonetheless remains clear based on the strength of the eponymous comparison.

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

“Restless”

July 12th, 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.

There have been a few points in this project where my thoughts on Buffy and Angel have diverged from the general sentiments of the commenters, and I am very glad for this fact: I like that there’s some disagreement, as it allows for new perspectives and for intriguing discussion.

However, I do wish that two of those points hadn’t come in such close proximity with one another, as they have with “To Shanshu in L.A.” and “Restless.” Leading into these episodes, a lot of comments were building up the hype for these hours of television, suggesting that the former was a major turning point for the series and that the latter was on a level with “Hush,” and inevitably I feel that both episodes fail to live up to those lofty expectations.

While I thought “To Shanshu in L.A.” was inherently flawed in terms of how it exaggerated certain developments for the sake of thematic convenience, my issue with “Restless” is that it doesn’t live up to the hype, ending up more generic than I had expected. While the central idea of the episode is well-executed, and I can see the seeds of where the show intends to go with the show’s fifth season, I expected the episode to mean something, for its oddities to coalesce into something tangible which would speak coherently to either the season we just witnessed or the one which is yet to come – instead, the episode coalesces into a pretty typical monster of the week storyline which happens to use dreams as its central construct.

This is not to say that some of the dreams aren’t successful, or that the episode isn’t well-executed, but rather that the same quality which made “Hush” so effective, its connection with ongoing storylines, feels lost when the abstraction gives way to a storyline which fails to capture the full potential of this premise.

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