Category Archives: Cultural Catchup Project

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: The Disc Stands Alone (Angel)

The Disc Stands Alone

June 10th, 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’ve been falling behind a bit on my Angel catchup, although it isn’t without reason. After finishing the first disc of Season 3, I found myself confronting three very different episodes that were slightly more distinctive than I might have expected. Some offer standalone stories which gesture towards future developments, some look to focus on our supporting characters and their journey to this point, and some offer a more general thematic consideration as facilitated through a carefully designed monster of the week.

There just wasn’t any sort of hook for me to focus on which would unite “That Vision Thing,” “That Old Gang of Mine,” and “Carpe Noctem,” and the recent heatwave zapped away my energy to dive any further into the series to try to find that thread.

And so, while I would like to offer something more, here’s a fairly basis episode-by-episode rundown of the remainder of Disc 1.

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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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Cultural Catchup Project: Angel – “Heartthrob”

“Heartthrob”

May 18th, 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.

There’s a bit of whiplash in covering “Bargaining” and “Heartthrob” back-to-back. Whereas Buffy seems to be heading into a period of intense transition, dealing with a whole lot of plot development that necessitates an eventful and complicated premiere, Angel is in a far more stable place without any of the same broad upheaval.

This may be considered a viable reason to watch the two series entirely separately, but for me it offers a nice juxtaposition that does much to highlight the strengths of both series, and the strengths of Angel in particular. While “Heartthrob” ends up being pretty simple, and more than a bit on the nose in regards to its central theme, I think there’s an economy to the storytelling that is equally matched with a certain swagger (which was understandably absent in “Bargaining”). While Greenwalt has to deal with questions of grief after the conclusion of Buffy’s fifth season, he’s far enough removed to be able to have a bit of fun at the same time.

Although “Heartthrob” may not have the same emotional resonance of “Bargaining,” it also feels more finely tuned in its shorter running time and in its thematically (rather than narratively) convenient standalone storyline which also proves a stealth transition into the budding mythology introduced at episode’s end. “Heartthrob” is in no position to become an all-time great episode of the series, at least based on what I’ve seen of the series thus far, but it quite comfortably lives in this particular moment while laying the groundwork for the season that comes.

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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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