Tag Archives: Alyson Hannigan

Cultural Catchup Project: Plumbing the Depths of Darkness (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Plumbing the Depths of Darkness

May 23rd, 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.

I am at the point in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s run where I’m starting to see the trends forming: when I hear that it’s Buffy’s birthday, for example, I know that things aren’t going to go so well.

However, I’m still capable of being surprised when I’m supposed to be surprised; when the show wants to pull the rug out from under me, chances are I’m still going trip and fall just like everyone did at the end of the last century. Part of Buffy’s appeal is the ability to zig when you expect them to zag, to turn a story from a playful romp into something much darker. What I’m finding really evocative in the third season is the ways in which the darkness seems darker (see: “Consequences”) even as the lighter stories are perhaps the lightest we’ve ever seen them (see: “The Zeppo,” although in a weird sort of way I’ll get into), two things which few shows rarely attempt to do simultaneously.

I think it ultimately works, both because it’s extremely well-executed and (more importantly) because it’s remarkably ballsy.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Breaking Up is “_____” to Do (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Breaking Up is “____” to Do

May 14th, 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.

I watched seven episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s third season in a single day, and came to an important realization: I didn’t really want to stop.

Yes, this week’s posts have been particularly tough to write because most the episodes have been really strong, and there are some interesting things at play that I know I want to be able to comment on but that I don’t necessarily want to stop in order to comment on.

What I’ve decided to do is take a look at how some of the show’s recurring elements throughout these episodes are handled, as I think it’s the best way to get to each episode without writing about each individually (which just isn’t something I have time for, at least not right now). In the process, I’ll effectively review all seven of them in some capacity, but I’m hoping that the connections between episodes (not necessarily in theme so much as structure or technique) will add some additional value.

The first thing that we need to discuss in the stretch between “Homecoming” and “Gingerbread” is the way the show lays the groundwork for Xander and Willow’s indiscretions and the consequences therein. While Angel and Buffy’s relationship (which I’ll get to when I look at “Amends” in a bit more detail on Sunday) has mythology on its side, Xander/Cordelia and Willow/Oz are both normal teenage relationships, although ones which have their own complications. The show seemed to shut the door on Xander and Willow earlier on, so to reopen it is going to take a bit of work, and this series of episodes does a couple of subtle things in order to create the circumstances where the dissolution of these relationships is both logical and heartbreaking, and shows how attempts to reconcile the relationships are in their own way just as complicated as Angel and Buffy’s struggles with curse and prophecy.

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Cultural Catchup Project: The Challenge of Clarity Amidst Chaos (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The Challenge of Clarity Amidst Chaos

May 7th, 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 say that Buffy the Vampire’s third season gets off to a rocky start, your immediate response should be “of course it gets off to a rocky start.” The show completely threw a wrench into things by having Buffy leave Sunnydale behind for the bright lights of a rundown neighbourhood in an unnamed urban centre we presume is Los Angeles, and the consequences from that event are going to be significantly more damaging than the more subtle psychological impact felt at the start of the second season. You can’t expect “Anne” to feel like just another episode of the show, just as you can’t expect for “Dead Man’s Party” to quickly bring things back to normal now that Buffy has returned to Sunnydale.

However, I do think that there are elements of both episodes which feel just a smidge too convenient; while the situations may be messy and complicated, the metaphors and themes are all clean and concise. They represent necessary parts of Buffy’s journey, and the emotional conclusions to both stories (first Buffy rediscovering part of her identity and then the gang coming to terms with what has changed over the summer) are well played by all involved, but the linearity of this particular course correction feels odd when watched directly after the depth of the second season’s final stretch of episodes.

This doesn’t mean that the show is off to a bad start, but rather that “Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” wear their purpose in their sleeve a bit too plainly for my tastes.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Twin Beds”

“Twin Beds”

May 3rd, 2010

When you create love connections between cast members on a long-running sitcom, those lingering emotional feelings are always part of the deal. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Robin’s relationship ended almost three years ago, and since that point the show has played out their relationship (the “friends with benefits” stage, for example) in ways which demonstrate that remind us of that past without making it the focus of the show.

However, Barney and Robin’s relationship wasn’t given the same treatment: while Ted and Robin were never really “just” friends, Barney and Robin had a normal relationship, and since the show was so committed to forcing Barney back to his “normal” behaviour after the breakup Robin just sort of had to revert to her old self as well. And so the show never really looked at how Robin and Barney would be able to remain “just friends” after their breakup, nor was it something that the show seemed interested in doing at any length due to the necessity of Barney appearing as a human being for more than a few episodes.

“Twin Beds” is the furthest the show has gone towards suggesting that Barney can remain both a boobs-obsessed playboy and in love with Robin, something that I think the show should have dealt with sooner, but it also makes the bizarre decision to return Ted and Robin’s relationship to the forefront. On the one hand you have a story I think has been underserved by the show, and in the other you have something I think would easily classify as played out.

Throw in a silly little Lily and Marshall story, and you have an important (but not particularly spectacular) episode of the show.

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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: Promise and “Prophecy Girl” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Promise and “Prophecy Girl”

April 21st, 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.

Going into “Prophecy Girl,” I was expecting something big – everyone had indicated that this episode, as Whedon returns to writing and takes over directing duties, is when the show finally finds itself. Because I know that the series is going to eventually become heavily serialized, and that the first season finale is supposed to be the start of that push towards more complex stories, I expected to have all sorts of new potential to be writing about.

Instead, I’ve discovered that “Prophecy Girl” is ultimately a subtle rather than substantial shift in the series’ trajectory, a question of execution rather than some sort of creative shift. With Whedon behind the camera, the emotional resonance of the episode and its stories is the strongest its been thus far, and there are a couple of pretty key bits of character development which sort of clears the slate heading into the second season. However, produced like many first season finales, you can tell that this was either a beginning or an end depending on if the series was picked up, and so it spends as much time resolving as it does complicating.

The result is that all of my prophecizing and pontificating about earlier episodes is probably more substantial than what I have to offer about “Prophecy Girl”: it was entertaining and emotional, and signals the show is coming into itself quite nicely, but it’s only made me anxious to move on already. However, I made a promise to write about it, so some thoughts on the finale and the first season overall are necessary at this stage in the Cultural Catchup Project.

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The Cultural Catchup Project: Love is a Battlefield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Love is a Battlefield”

April 17th, 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 said you could slay vampires and have a social life, I didn’t mean at the same time.”

Early in a first season, the goal of any television series is to get viewers interested in the stories unfolding. This sounds really simple at first, but there’s a lot of different ways this goal is achieved: some shows simply keep retelling the same basic story in an effort to draw in new viewers as the season moves forward, while other shows try to tell as many different types of stories as possible in order to convince viewers that unpredictable and expansive are two very important adjectives in judging a new series.

However, what I’m finding really interesting about Buffy is that it seems to be both patient and impatient, willing to spend time on what one would consider “throwaway” episodes in “Witch” and “Teacher’s Pet” but then shifting gears entirely by diving head first into the complexities of the Angel mythos with two of the following episodes (“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” and “Angel”). Rather than these two episodes each feeling like an individual component of the series’ premise being revealed, “Never Kill a Boy…” and “Angel” are really like a two-parter (divided by “The Pack,” which was pretty nondescript and “standalone”): the first establishes the challenges of living a double life, while the second extends that particular theme to a more interesting and thematically complex place.

It’s a place that I know is the starting point for a fairly major component in the rest of the series, but I admit to being a little bit distracted by how its meaning has been altered by new points of reference that have emerged in the thirteen years since the episodes aired.

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The Cultural Catchup Project: Story and Scale in Hellmouth and Harvest (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Story and Scale in Hellmouth and Harvest”

April 10th, 2010

[This is the first in a series of posts over the next few months as I catch up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel for the first time. For more information about the project, click here. You can follow along with the 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 hosting a link to each installment.]

I went into Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s two-part series opener, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “Harvest,” expecting an origin story. When it comes to mythology-heavy shows – or what I presume to be mythology-heavy shows – like Buffy, there is an expectation that they should start with an episode that tells the origins of (in this case) our eponymous heroine. Considering that I knew the show was at least marketed based on the novelty of a teenage girl slaying vampires, it seemed like those first moments of discovery and revelation would be a logical place to start.

However, as I’m sure fans are very aware, “Welcome to Hellmouth” does not start with an innocent teenager learning that it is her destiny to fight vampires. Instead, it starts with a teenager fully aware of her destiny and fairly adept at handling her superhuman skill set, skipping over the “bumbling rookie” phase and moving right onto the phase where Buffy is confident, jaded, and just wanting to move on with her life.

Perhaps this is because Joss Whedon decided that the 1992 film, despite the liberties taken with his script, had already dealt with the origin story, or perhaps it was a decision designed to help explain how Sarah Michelle Gellar (20 at the time) could pass as a 16-year old. Or, perhaps, Whedon was just very keenly aware of what kind of story would best serve as an introduction to these characters and this world: it may not be a traditional origin story, but the precision with which Whedon plots out his vision makes up an occasional lack of tension, and results in a strong introduction to just what this series means to accomplish (and what I hope it accomplishes in the coming months).

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How I Met Your Mother – “Jenkins”

“Jenkins”

January 18th, 2010

When Marshall and Lily got married, their friends were worried that they would no longer hang out with them, and their lives would change. And while that never entirely materialized, the show has had a bit of a tough time writing the characters since that point. Putting them into debt never really went anywhere, their new apartment has become an afterthought, and it feels as if they’re just marking time until the point where they decide to have a baby. I don’t meant to suggest that the characters are no longer funny, but they lack a drive forward, and surrounded by characters like Ted and Robin who have a more uncertain future they can sometimes feel less interesting to viewers, and to some extent the writers, as characters. Lily, after all, disappeared for part of last season without the show losing a beat (although, as I’ll get to below, there have been exceptions).

“Jenkins” demonstrates that the writers are self-aware to this point, as the title story basically turns into Marshall doing everything in his power to convince Lily that their relationship is not almost problematically safe and secure. It’s not a bad story idea, and it reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it’s another sign that the kind of storytelling that often sets How I Met Your Mother apart from other shows just no longer jives with Marshall and Lily’s day-to-day lives. They will always remain an integral part of this ensemble, but I think they’re going to have to get moving on that baby before they can carry an A-Story.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

November 23rd, 2009

I’ve been having a back and forth with other critics over the past few weeks about the current state of How I Met Your Mother, as there’s a general consensus that the show got rid of Barney and Robin before its comic potential had been fulfilled but a disagreement over whether this is all part of a broader plan. And, on Friday, co-creator Carter Bays did an interview with Michael Ausiello that managed to do absolutely nothing to settle this argument. On the one hand, Bays noted that this could just be one part of a larger journey between the two characters, which seems encouraging. However, on the other hand, he also said the following:

“None of us wanted to see Barney wearing a sweater-vest and going to bed-and-breakfasts,” says Bays, adding that it makes sense the relationship would “flame out fast” given that “neither of them, at their core, really wanted to be tied down.” Bays also believes that, deep down, viewers prefer single Barney to attached Barney. “It’s one of those things where you can give people what they think they want, or what they really want.”

It’s one thing that Bays is remaining coy about their future, but for him to have internalized what I feel is a close-minded and limiting audience reaction to the character is highly problematic for me. The show didn’t give Barney a chance to adapt Single Barney into Attached Barney so to judge so quickly is so short-sighted that it is either a misquote or a sign that my faith in Bays/Thomas is lower than it’s ever been.

And while “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” seems built to regain my trust and sympathy by tapping into the show’s most slaptastic mythologies and by actually giving Lily and Marshall a story of their own, it does nothing to deal with my overall concerns about Barney as a character (proving a wash in this area) and disappoints by feeling like a strange mash-up of sentimental and comic that feels far less organic than the original “Slapsgiving.

Accordingly, How I Met Your Mother remains “on notice,” even during this holiday season.

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