Tag Archives: Jenny

Cultural Catchup Project: “Surprise,” “Innocence,” and the Art of the Game-Changer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Surprise,” “Innocence,” and the Art of the Game-Changer

April 29th, 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 interesting buzz words to emerge over the past few years within the television industry has been “game-changer.” Used to describe episodes which fundamentally alter our perspective on a particular series, or which send a series in a completely different direction, it’s become a common term which producers or networks will use if they want to drum up interest in a struggling series, or try to regain lost glory with a series beginning to lose its luster.

However, I hate that “game-changer” has taken on an almost wholly promotional context, because episodes which actually “change the game” are a really fascinating part of the television landscape. There is great benefit in a reinvention of sorts, as the producers of Lost learned when the Flash Forward structure brought new life to a series at its halfway point, but it is just as easy to fall off the rails: J.J. Abrams learned this lesson the hard way when his game-changing second season finale of Alias was a stunning hour of television but sent the show in directions it wasn’t capable of supporting.

What makes a good game-changer is something which lives on potential rather than mystery, which not only changes the game as we know it but also gives us a glimpse of how the new game is going to benefit the series moving forward. The change needs to feel like something which springs from the story rather than from a network note, and the consequences need to be something the show won’t live down but that it can also live with.

In other words, a good game-changer needs to be everything that “Surprise” and “Innocence,” the thirteenth and fourteenth episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season, embody: by merging romance with tragedy, and by turning its central character into an unwitting agent of terrifying change, Buffy moves beyond the limitations of teenage drama to something that strikes deeper into the limitations of the human condition.

Or, put more simply, Buffy the Vampire Slayer just got real.

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

“The Dark Age”

April 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.

Picking up where “Lie to Me” left off in an indirect fashion (actually owing more to “Halloween” in terms of direct connection), “The Dark Age” is an important episode for the series’ negotiation of the student/teacher relationship between Buffy and Giles.

While the events in the episode do a lot in order to add depth to Giles as a character, including complicating his relationship with Ms. Calendar, it makes explicit the parallels between Buffy and Giles’ experiences. Like Buffy, Giles has inherited a responsibility, and there was a time in his life when he threw everything away to run with a bad crowd who happened to awaken some bad magic.

It allows Giles to avoid feeling “above” Buffy’s problems with the demonic, meaning that the show has the potential to both confound and envelop Giles’ character just as easily as it can corrupt and complicate Buffy’s life, a potential which can occasionally result in an episode which feels congruous with past stories but finds some new life by placing Giles at its centre.

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Season Premiere: Gossip Girl – “Reversals of Fortune”

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“Reversals of Fortune”

September 14th, 2009

There is no question, whatsoever, that Gossip Girl is a flawed show which only on occasion finds its true potential. That potential is most often bottled  when we get the opportunity to see Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf together, trading barbs and turning what is often a depressing melodrama that fails to capture the potential of this concept. By so isolating the show’s universe in a small collection of characters (many of whom I, you know, don’t like), the show has become less about teenagers and their wily ways and more about these individual characters repeating the same cycles over and over again. For Chuck and Blair, this has weakened their appeal: for Dan and Serena, it’s eliminated it altogether.

So why do I keep watching? I think part of me wants to be able to say that I’ve still got a less than critically fascinating series on my schedule, but at least some part of me wants to see how the show handles itself as the teen soap of its generation. There is something about Gossip Girl’s bizarre dichotomy between cultural awareness and actual ratings/quality which says something about this generation of television viewers, and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are not slouches behind the scenes.

“Reversals of Fortune” does what every Gossip Girl premiere does, playing off of the uncertainty of what happened in the past summer and the kind of mistakes and ill fortunes that the characters find themselves in as a new year begins. It’s the same formula the show has used numerous times before, but it also still works, in particular this time around as the show resists turning Dan and Serena to the forefront and lets Blair and Chuck’s relationship keep its spark by playing with expectations.

It’s not high drama, but it’s the right kind of premiere for the series.

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Gossip Girl – “Bonfire of the Vanity”

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“Bonfire of the Vanity”

November 10th, 2009

Gossip Girl is not one for subtlety, nor one for taking their time to get into storylines. Last week, Serena was just discovering that Aaron could be a potential mate of sorts: this week, he’s leading her on romantic trips around the city and making her his muse. Just at the beginning of the season, Jenny Humphrey was a naive young girl looking for her big break, and now she’s an angst-ridden, eyeshadow wearing and hoodie sporting punk.

It feels like these two characters, in particular, are jumping around from story point to story point: Serena has gone from post-Dan sadness to new Dan closeness to post-Dan sadness to anti-Blair bitchiness to suddenly friendly towards Blair to now hunting after Aaron. Jenny, meanwhile, went from unhappy intern to unhappy student to home-schooled young assistant to unappreciated designer to unappreciative rebel to guerilla runaway fashionista to homeless, dressless child (And in between she made out with Nate – Ew.)

And we’re not too far into this the show’s second season, and there’s a long way to go: right now, what Gossip Girl is doing right is those storylines that feel natural, and don’t count those two girls amongst them. In fact, only really Chuck and Blair have maintained something approximating consistency, and the result is the episode’s only positive development. And while I’m glad the show is finding its footing in the ratings, there are points where the guilty pleasure needs to show a bit more pleasure.

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