Cultural Catchup Project: Decision Time (Buffy and Angel)

Decision Time

June 13th, 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 sat down to considering the overwhelming amount of feedback in regards to the future of the Cultural Catchup Project, I felt as if I was a supreme court justice considering the fairness of a long-standing law. There were clear arguments from both sides, and it wasn’t as if any one opinion was wrong: for a while, it seemed like my decision would in some way serve as a definitive argument in favour of a particular side, a power that comes with a great responsibility which is a little bit exciting.

However, I realized when I really sat down to consider the situation that it is a power that I am not capable of wielding. What the response to that post demonstrate is that everyone feels differently about this issue, and prioritizing any one person’s opinion or even the majority opinion would be almost impossible. I’d love to be the one to finally determine the absolute best way to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but it’s impossible to make that determination unless I’ve, you know, actually watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel in various different configurations with an objective eye towards what I’ve been watching.

And when I really think about it, as much as I remain objective regarding my view of this series due to my position as a critical observer of television, I ultimately want my experience with Buffy and Angel to be as subjective as possible without losing all semblance of objectivity. I want to follow not necessarily what will result in the best experience but rather what will result in the most satisfying experience even if it is objectively inferior to other alternatives.

As a result, I can officially announce that…

I’m going to be watching them simultaneously, for now.

I’d like to say this is because I decided that this would result in the best possible experience, or that I strongly believe in the value of experiencing the series the same way that fans experienced them at the time. However, to be honest, my reason is quite simple: I am really curious about Angel. I like Buffy a great deal, and am certainly curious to see how it evolves outside of the high school setting, but I love the concept of a spin-off, and I feel like I’m too intellectually curious to be watching Buffy and not wondering what else Whedon was up to at the time. Comments logically pointed out the fact that I would feel like I was missing out on those characters who transfer to Angel, and while this is undoubtedly true I’m more curious about what Whedon is doing with those characters.

Curiosity is a good thing, in most cases, but I think it would be a problem were I to watch Buffy on its own. While I understand that there will be thematic breaks between the two series and that it may on occasion be jarring, I also understand that the constant speculation I would be unable to contain would amount to “I wonder if this is in some way because of what’s going on at Angel” or “maybe this episode of Buffy is weak because Whedon was otherwise preoccupied on Angel.” And while that curiosity wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I think it would in many ways distract from judging Buffy on its own merits, so concerned about this unknown entity of Angel that I’d feel like I was missing something. Oddly, I think I’ll be able to better separate the two series, rather than combine them, by watching them at the same time: the tonal shifts and the like will be disarming, but in a way which allows each show to remain its own entity even while being watched simultaneously.

Of course, there is a “for now” caveat there – while I am going to start watching them simultaneously, there is a good chance that I will deviate from this plan in the future. I also don’t think I’m going to be tying myself to any particular viewing schedule (as impressive as they are). I’ll watch the crossovers together, and try to pay some attention to continuities, but I might just go from disc-to-disc at other points in a season, having Buffy or Angel days and accepting any missed continuities as part of my viewing experience. I don’t want to strive to make this experience “perfect,” I simply want to watch some good TV through a structure that I enjoy and which offers an interesting or valuable perspective. And it’s very possible that these two criteria are mutually exclusive in some ways, which is why I’m sort of just going with my gut on this one, and why I reserve the right to change my gut’s opinion in the future.

I know this this is different from many of the suggestions that you made, and that in some ways it may seem like I am “ignoring” the feedback I received by making a decision for reasons largely independent of those listed – however, in the end, this decision comes as a result of the collective voice of the comment section, which was diverse and intelligent and told me more than anything else that this is not an objective decision. There is no “right way” to watch these series, but rather various individual experiences which offer insight into how others should perhaps take on the project, which we all must filter through our own television viewing patterns and subjectivities. There were some amazing points made in those comments, and it’s quite possible that I will regret not following some of them more directly in the future: however, I don’t think I will regret making that “mistake” should this happen, as the lesson I took from the comments is that many made a “mistake” (which is relative to each individual) on their first time and yet still love the series, and were inspired to go back, and in no way seem as if they were irrevocably damaged by the process.

And so I’m putting off my supreme court decision for a little while at least: when I finish the process, as adventurous as that process may become should I switch things up, I will perhaps be able to say that the way I watched these series was either satisfying or distracting. And yet, until I watch it again differently, or perhaps a third time with a different structure altogether, I’ll never be able to make a statement about which process truly worked best for me. And even then, I would remain incapable of making a definitive statement about which way is the “best” because I don’t watch television like everyone else; as a result, all I can do is make my own decision, come to my own conclusions, and then share them as a new set of responses alongside your comments, which will hopefully become an archive of sorts for those who end up sharing my dilemma. I can only hope that those comments are able to inspire more decisions in the future, and that my decision feels as if it respects their breadth and intelligence.

I will be back later this week, once I rest from my Midwest adventure, with thoughts on how the start of this process goes. Wish me luck!

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31 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

31 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: Decision Time (Buffy and Angel)

  1. diane

    Sometimes, you have to make a decision. Now that that’s over with, I’m looking forward to your reviews!

    There’s no supreme court decision here, just a lot of partisans and even more points of view. If you love these series, you’ll become another partisan, and you’ll rewatch in different ways for different reasons, just as the rest of us do.

    So with every deliberate effort not to yield up more spoilers or advice…

    Onward!

  2. Ron

    Miles, I feel you’ve chosen wisely. Enjoy your viewings! This viewing order is pretty good if you are interested: http://buffyfest.blogspot.com/search?q=buffy%2Fangel+episode+order

  3. Susan

    A well-considered and articulated decision, Myles. I’m so looking forward to knowing what you think about the controversial Buffy S4 and the new experience that is Angel the Series. A caveat about Angel: even carrying on characters with which they (and we) are familiar, Whedon and crew do seem to need some time to get their stories rolling. Angel S1 has some rocks in its path early on; be patient.

    Yay!

  4. Morda

    Although I respect your descision and understand why you have chosen to view the shows’ in such a way I would like to just take a moment to tell you that I very much wish I could go back before I ever saw Buffy and watch the entire saga in chronological order. i.e. first three seasons of Buffy, then watch a buffy episode then an Angel one and so on. So, although that would invole ALOT of disc switching it is how I would advise viewing it – for one day in the future when you are made a true and unyielding fan of the verse you may look back on this event and regret the fact that you had the perfect opportunity to view this saga in genuine episodic order but instead waved that opportunity for more convenient viewing schedule….I’m just saying.

    However, if you do plan to watch the series as you said then make sure you watch these episodes together;

    The Freshman – City Of
    The Harsh Light of Day – In the Dark
    Pangs – I Will Remember You

    (Special thing here)

    BtVS – This Year’s Girl/Who are you?
    Ats – Five by Five/Sanctuary
    BtVS – The Yoko Factor

    But whatever you do make sure you enjoy yourself. Believe me when I say it’ll be hard not to!!

    ^^ These don’t happen currently in terms of episodes but make sure you view the shows in such a way that that is the order in which you view them. That’s fairly obvious but I thought I should mention it.

  5. fivexfive

    “I reserve the right to change my gut’s opinion in the future.” I love this!

    Also, you did exactly what I said in my comment, so I feel the opposite of being ignored, I feel validated. Yay!

    But, as I said before, kind of, the most important thing is that YOU are the one watching this, so it shouldn’t matter what decision you make to anyone else. The way you watch it isn’t going to stop you from writing good reviews, so the only thing it will effect is your own experience. I hope that’s good, too.

  6. Witnessaria

    Whew. Even though I advocated a more season by season approach, I’m actually glad you’re doing it this way so I can continue to read your Buffy reviews and not have to wait to read your Angel reviews. Can’t wait.

  7. Eric

    There is no “one true path”. Watching all of Buffy without watching any of Angel is a very rewarding experience. Watching Angel on its own is, too, and so is watching them together. Each approach offers its own rewards, its own insights, and its own disappointments, so I really doubt that anyone will criticize your approach.

  8. belinda

    Yes as Morda noted, there are some episodes of Buffy and Angel that are meant to be watched in pairs, so take note of that.

    And Angel really does require quite a period of time to get good (during the initial run, I actually did give up on Angel mid S1 and only returned to it towards the end of S2 – I was that ‘meh’ on it for a while), so do adjust expectations accordingly. I have to say at Angel (the show) at its worst is worse than Buffy at its worst (though probably a smidgen better than Dollhouse at its worst. And Firefly’s worst? Is still bloody fantastic. :D).

    But anyway, enjoy! When Angel gets good, it gets pretty bloody great, so it’s worth getting through it.

    • diane

      There’s nothing in Angel that’s as bad as “Bad Eggs.”

      That said, there are a couple of clunkers in mid-season of season 1. However, much as with BtVS,
      season 1 sets the mythology, themes, and characters, even for characters we already know. By the latter third of the season, the show has found its lets, and is setting up for a fantastic season 2.

      Also, keep in mind that the original decision for programming Angel was to make it an anthology, rather than a serial. You can pretty much tell where they changed direction, and it’s all for the good.

      • Tausif Khan

        The anthology comment can be made for Buffy as well. Joss originally envisioned the series as the slayer chronicles. Tim Minear has commented on Dollhouse that he was annoyed by the fact that the networks had them trying to do stand alone episodes with a monster of the week (something which plagues Glee and its the club will end if… but that is another rant on another show). He said Angel started to get better (and said the Buffy writers had done the same thing) when they started to ask “What is the Buffy/Angel of this story?” “How does this advance the story of our main character?” because this is who you should be watching and care about when you watch these shows.

      • Susan

        “There’s nothing in Angel that’s as bad as ‘Bad Eggs.'”

        “I Fall to Pieces.” Just sayin’.

        • diane

          My personal selection for “worst” in season 1 is “She”, closely followed by “Batchelor Party.”

          • greg

            Not season one, but I’d consider ‘Double Or Nothing’ as the single worst episode of any Whedonverse show. I can’t watch it without asking myself every three minutes “what the frilly heck were they THINKING?!?” Thankfully, it’s an inexplicable anomaly.

          • Susan

            “She” would come in second in my worst of the first ranking (good lord who decided on BL’s outfit?!?!), but “The Bachelor Party” gets a pass from me because it sets up “Pangs”/”IWRY,” a crossover I love love love love love.

          • Susan

            Also, does Firefly even have a “worst”? I guess it must, since IMO it has a “best” (“Out of Gas”), but I truly have no idea which ep I’d choose as one I like least.

            The one and only time that Whedon, et al. hit it right out of the gate, and Fox blew it up. But here too, a rant for another time and place.

          • fivexfive

            I definitely know what I consider Firefly’s worst episode: “Safe.”

      • AO

        “There’s nothing in Angel that’s as bad as “Bad Eggs.””

        Apocalypse, Nowish certainly is. My eyes bled. Really.

        • Susan

          I like “Apocalypse, Nowish” and all the S4 eps from there through “Orpheus” (at which point S4 tanks hard, IMO).

          • Tausif Khan

            @Susan if we talk about Firefly then we have to open up the can of worms that is the worst of Dollhouse.

          • mothergunn

            Everyone hates on it, but I have to say I kinda love season 4. Jasmine is an interesting villain and, as much as I dig on the crew at W&H, I miss the big, scary, demony big bads on the Angel side of things. Plus, everyone acts so creepy.

            But more on that when we get to it.

  9. greg

    I’m also curious as to whether you’ll bunch ’em up a few at time or watch alternating episodes.

    Keep in mind that, while ‘Buffy’ continues with the pattern of arc episodes mixed with monster-of-the-week episodes (though some of them are actually arc episodes in disguise; those crafty writers!) ‘Angel’ season one is much more like ‘Buffy’ season one – individual episodes designed to get the audience comfortable with the show. (Also, the first season of ‘Angel’ showed more of David Greenwalt’s influence than Joss Whedon’s – Whedon didn’t REALLY start to take charge until season two; you’ll notice more character complexity and witty dialogue as the series progresses) You may get the bends from flipping between the novel-like ‘Buffy’ and the short story-like ‘Angel’ for the first year.

    And don’t get frightened off by how odd the vampire makeup looks in the first few episodes of ‘Angel’; they tried to make the shows visually different. It was an experiment that didn’t work, and quickly had the makeup similar on both shows. But seeing vamps morph in those first few episodes is always disconcerting.

  10. Austin

    I’m not sure what everyone dislikes about Angel S1, I liked it and S2 the most (except of course the second half of S5 which is the best)

    I’m a little bummed that you made this choice, but I can understand the power and distractions that curiosity can cause.

  11. Gill

    I’m glad you’ve made a choice, and it’s not far from what I would have done – especially the reservation of the right to change what your gut thinks. Generally, if an episode of either begins with “Previously on [the other show]” it’s a very obvious clue that it’s worth backtracking to watch the other part of a pairing first. Angel has a couple of important crossovers early on to draw the audience in; sometimes you can tell because of related titles (Harsh Light of Day/In the Dark) sometimes you just pick up clues as you go along.

    The sheer passion and depth of the discussion here shows how intensely many fans feel about these shows a decade on. I hope you are getting a good idea why that is the case.

  12. Karen

    After reading all this, I had to laugh that such a partisan debate could erupt in which so many non-Buffy viewers would be scratching their heads.

    Bottom line – watching Buffy and Angel, in ANY order, is superior to not watching. There are still folks I can’t convince of this who love good TV.

    And this was spot on:

    Can’t wait to read more. I assumed you’d be watching Angel to *inform* your Buffy reviews but not actually reviewing Angel. Others seem to think differently. Did I miss a memo?

  13. Karen

    The missing quote>>>>Oddly, I think I’ll be able to better separate the two series, rather than combine them, by watching them at the same time: the tonal shifts and the like will be disarming, but in a way which allows each show to remain its own entity even while being watched simultaneously.

  14. Tausif Khan

    “Oddly, I think I’ll be able to better separate the two series, rather than combine them, by watching them at the same time: the tonal shifts and the like will be disarming, but in a way which allows each show to remain its own entity even while being watched simultaneously.”

    This statement I think is critically important because I think one of the things that plagues spin-offs is that audience brings expectations of the original series into the spin-off and is disappointed if it is not like the original series. It will be interesting to see if you can seperate the mythos and see how Angel “Angel” and Cordelia “Angel” are different from than their Buffy character’s rather than developing differently. You might want to take a look through Angel and see how many writing credits Joss Whedon has for the show versus David Greenwalt and Tim Minear and figure out how that impacts character development as well. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Angel_episodes)

    Also in terms of watching to see if Whedon’s other work impinged on his previous series might lead you to consider watching Firefly simultaneously with Season 7 of Buffy and Season 4 of Angel. Whedon has mentioned that Firefly is the first time he had met any of the cast members for that show except Summer. He met Summer when he cast her on Angel. When other Firefly members show up on Angel Firefly has finished. (I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler saying that Firefly cast members show up in other Whedon shows, is it?) It gives you an interesting perspective of how short of a time Firefly spent on television.

  15. Brr

    Interesting and well-thought-out decision. While it’s not what I personally advocated, I think that it will work well, given that you have no pre-conceived notions of either show’s season. Also, the crossovers during s.4/s. 1 are among the strongest episodes of both shows.
    Enjoy! I look forward as always to your reviews.

  16. Chrystal

    I think this decision will work well. And best thing is it’s done and now you can move on to watching, which is the important part!

    Also, I’d like to throw out a question for readers here just out of curiosity.. A lot of people say they wish they could go back and watch it all as though it was the first time with one Buffy/ one Angel, episode by episode (the way it was when the shows actually aired). But I’m just wondering how many people have actually done this as their *first* time watching? Not those of you who watched when it aired, because as I commented on the previous thread I think it’s quite different to watch a series having to wait a week for the next episode- with all the anticipation and speculation, etc.- vs. having the dvds and watching a few in a row or all of them in a weekend. The thought of watching 3 episodes in a night but them being Buffy/Angel/Buffy is just a weird thought to me, even having seen all of Buffy. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone watching it that way their first time, having to shift back and forth like that without even knowing what’s coming. Have any of you done it this way? I’m just curious! Thanks!

  17. AO

    Are you studying diplomacy Myles? 😉

    I have to admit that I’m disappointed {deeply and tragically) with your decision, but of course I’ll respect it (though I may have to be reminded later of having said this 😆 ). And it does make good sense to reserve the right to change course later. Season 4/Season 1 are when a fair number of the “crossovers” (such as they are) occur, so when the shows follow even more divergent paths in S5/S2 then perhaps you’ll reevaluate the situation then? (okay, okay, I promised to respect {sigh})

    I have only seen or discussed the shows separately, so this will be a strange experience, but I’ll do my best to adjust. 🙂

  18. Red

    Love reading your posts, your blog has sharpened the way I consume TV and books. And enjoying the comments as well.

    As for this quote: “I’m too intellectually curious to be watching Buffy and not wondering what else Whedon was up to at the time.” — will you be writing about Firefly when that starts overlapping with Buffy and Angel?

    I’ve been reading KungFu Monkey about the show Leverage and listening to the BSG and Caprica podcasts. They illustrate how much work it is to work one show. I can’t imagine how Whedon juggled 3 shows at once.

  19. Well done, Myles — in the end you can only do what feels right for you.

    I advocated watching the series (serieses?) separately, but I still wanted you to do B4/A1 together. So I think this will be great. If any two seasons ought to be watched together, it’s those two. And afterwards you’ll have a much better sense of exactly how the two shows intersect.

    Your comment about not wanting to constantly wonder what’s happening on the other show made a lot of sense to me. You know too much about the shows to watch them in a vaccuum, and constantly thinking, “But what if, on Angel…” would definitely drive me nuts too.

    Enjoy!

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