Tag Archives: Catchup

Cultural Catchup Project: Bewitched, Bothered but Familiar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Bewitched, Bothered but Familiar

May 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.

As viewers of television, we value the element of surprise: we like to be shocked, to see things we didn’t expect and get that surge of adrenaline that comes with the best kind of storytelling. However, at the same time, we want to feel as if things are familiar: we may not want to be able to predict precisely what will happen, but we do want to have some sense of how things would play out should something unexpected unfold. In short, the best television delivers familiarity within the unfamiliar, going beyond our expectations without shattering our understanding of these characters or this universe.

With a show like Buffy, the greatest challenge is separating the intense fan responses to the series from the characters themselves. When Angel suddenly returned from the realms of Hell and struggled to reconnect with his past life, I was pleased: he’s an interesting character who complicates the protagonist’s life in fascinating ways, so why wouldn’t I want him to return and bring with him the baggage from “Becoming?” However, I realized in “Revelations” that the rest of the show’s characters wouldn’t be quite so pleased to see him, their own reactions to Angel as a character separate from their enjoyment of complex serialized narratives.

Angel’s return was unpredictable (except for the decision to keep him in the opening credits, of course), but the way in which characters respond feels familiar, continuous with what we’ve seen in the past two seasons. And when the show turns over the spotlight onto the character’s past in “Amends,” as he becomes weighed down by the intense guilt pervasive within his soul, it manages to capture the unique qualities which make the character so difficult to relate to and thus so easy to empathize with – this is not a show with one-dimensional struggles, and Angel’s return manages to be both dramatic and intriguing without turning any of the show’s characters into single-minded archetypes in the chaos surrounding his mysterious return.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Faith, Hope & Trick” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Faith, Hope & Trick”

May 8th, 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 this project indicates, I didn’t exactly get introduced to the work of Joss Whedon in the traditional order: going from Firefly to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and then to Dollhouse is probably a little bit bizarre, but for the most part I was able to enjoy those series on their own merits without too much concern that a lack of previous experience was detrimental.

However, when I was watching Dollhouse, I didn’t really have any context for Eliza Dushku’s rather horridly weak central performance. To her credit, she improved as the show moved on (and Whedon moved Echo into a supporting role), but early on I was fascinated that anyone would ever think she was capable of carrying a television series. I was perplexed as to why Whedon had not cast Amy Acker instead, and frustrated that this project having been conceived “for” Eliza had become the deciding factor in casting. I had never seen Tru Calling, so I was just struggling to understand what anyone would see in Dushku that would recommend her for that role.

Whenever I would make these complaints, or read similar concerns, people would always say that she was “only good at playing Faith,” a comment which had very little meaning to me: I knew that Faith was a character on Buffy, and I knew that Dushku played her, but I had no other information. So as people kept returning to Faith as proof that Dushku is capable of being an action star, especially in episodes where Dollhouse allowed Echo to enter into that mode and the show was a whole lot better for it, I started to create this image of Faith in my head based purely on these stray observations.

I don’t think I ever really compiled these observations into a definitive image, but I’d like to believe that it would have emerged looking awfully similar to Faith’s introduction in “Faith, Hope and Trick,” the third episode of Buffy’s third season. Looking past the latest in a long line of inconsistent accents for the series, Faith is cocky without being immature, vulnerable without being weak, and strong without seeming indestructible; in this episode, Dushku shows confidence and range that was either buried in Dollhouse’s premise or has simply been lost with age.

However, what was lost has – through my rather odd way of making my way through the Whedonverse – been found, as Faith’s introduction is a breath of fresh air in an episode which manages to balance three different purposes and deliver on each of them in order to set up a foundation for the remainder of the season.

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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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Cultural Catchup Project: State of the Project Address

State of the Project Address

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.

So, we are now two seasons and four weeks into this process, so it seems like a good time to check in on the progress thus far. I think I wanted to be through a bit more of the show by now, if we’re being honest, but my slow speed has resulted in more writing, and more writing has resulted in some more fabulous discussions, so I’m going to say that the project us off to a successful start.

However, there’s a few points I want to make as we head into the next stage of this journey:

1) Keep the Comments Coming

I am now starting to understand the reasons that Buffy fans are so devoted to this show by watching it, but your comments confirmed this long before I necessarily discovered it myself. While I am occasionally worried that my inability to participate in many conversations (due to fear over spoilers, or a lack of knowledge to be able to follow the sprawling conversation threads that have emerged), you have all been pitching in to keep conversations alive long after I expect them to be over. Every time I get an email notification about another comment on the pieces, it means that someone else has been inspired to talk about the show based on this project, and I have your great contributions to thank for that. I’m not used to getting a whole pile of comments around these parts, so it’s been really exciting and I look forward to more conversations in the future.

2) Quick Whedonesque Note

So, when I started this project, I knew enough to know that it would likely eventually get to Whedonesque, which is ideal: it lets a huge community of Buffy fans know I’m undertaking this project, which is sort of the point (I am writing this for myself and all, but the community element is certainly why I’m doing it the way I am). However, after two of the pieces went up on the site, the third was taken down due to what effectively amounts to oversaturation – at the site’s “Why was my post removed” blog, they noted that people are probably aware by now that I’m watching Buffy, and reminding them about it is unnecessary. This makes sense to me, so if you’re amongst those who’s submitted or considered submitting a piece (which, thank you), just let it rest and perhaps there’ll be a point down the road where a reminder may be acceptable (as this is going to be going on for a while).

3) The Schedule

Now, last week I was posting every day for a while because I happened to find a lot of episodes that felt noteworthy and that I had time to cover, but that sort of pace isn’t really going to work for me at this point. Also, I don’t want you to feel like you need to be constantly checking the site to see if a new piece is up: sure, if you want to visit and see what else I’m reviewing that’s wonderful and marvelous, but I want to try to stick to something of a normal schedule. As a result, my plan for the near future is to go back to my original strategy and post on the weekends: my goal is to write three pieces each weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), so you know when to expect them and so that I’ll have time to pull the pieces together (since there’s, at least for a few more weeks, plenty of shows to cover during the rest of the week). When we get into summer, it’s possible this schedule will change and I’ll switch to Saturday/Monday/Thursday or something (to give more time for comment threads to play out on their own and to keep down the high volumes of reading), but for now this is what works best, and what will start tomorrow morning with my thoughts on the start of the third season.

I want to thank everyone for reading along: it’s been great watching along with fans of the series (plus I know at least a few people inspired to watch the series for the first time by the project), and I’ve been humbled by the response to the project to this point – I’m very much looking forwarding to continuing on with the series, and look forward to many great conversations to come (whether I’m involved in them or not).

Cheers,

Myles

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

“Becoming”

May 4th, 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.

Every good drama series boils down to character development, and I started my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season talking about how Joss Whedon was willing to create clear consequences from the end of the first season within Buffy as a character. This wasn’t a show that was going to forget where it came from, where the events of the past were going to simple fade away. As we’ve discussed, there are occasionally episodes which offer a palette cleanser, a way to sort of wind down from particularly important episodes, but the show neither forgets nor forgives.

“Becoming,” the show’s two-part second season finale, is ultimately evidence of the importance of character to the show, but it’s an episode which feels like it’s doing a lot more heavy lifting than we’re used to. This is not to say that the show isn’t building on what has been done in the past, or that any of the character development in the episode feels unearned in any way, but the introduction of flashbacks and the ability for magic to undo substantial character development are nonetheless kinks in the series’ structure. It doesn’t revolutionize the show, but it very clearly reminds us that the rules can change at any moment, and that characters are sometimes slaves to fate or magical intervention in ways which threaten their happiness, their health, and their proper development as human beings.

It’s a non-linear, unpredictable sort of character development which offers a nice conclusion to a non-linear, unpredictable sort of season.

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Cultural Catchup Project: Post-“Innocence,” It’s Personal (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Post-“Innocence,” It’s Personal

May 2nd, 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 wrote about “Surprise” and “Innocence,” I entered into the posture I tend to take at certain points along this journey: when you know that things eventually get very dark and complicated, you tend to cry wolf at any sign that things are becoming very dark and complicated. It was clear from fan response that these two episodes represented a turning point of sorts, and watching them you see a dramatic character transformation that does in fact “change” the series in a way that seems pretty substantial.

However, the interesting thing about the episodes which follow “Innocence” is that the changes are for the most part subtle rather than substantial. While people tended to agree with my statement that Angel’s transformation represents a true “game-changer,” I have a feeling that the impact has more to do with the series’ long term changes than with any sort of immediate shift in the series’ narratives. While you could argue there is now more darkness in Buffy’s world, that doesn’t really change the tone of the series, nor does it dramatically alter the kinds of stories the show decides to tell.

Rather, the changes during this period come in the form of the supernatural becoming personal, with supernatural phenomenon presenting itself (primarily) in ways that tap into something inherent to these characters rather than inherent to the Hellmouth or some sort of demonic power. It’s a subtle shift in the series’ dynamics, but it is nonetheless a fairly important development which reinforces the events of “Innocence” within, rather than against, the series’ typical narrative structures.

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

“Bad Eggs”

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.

When I was going through the first season, I was warned by many that there were some weaker episodes which weren’t indicative of the show’s future quality. However, to be honest, most of it worked fine: we expect there to be kinks, and the episodes only felt like failures if you were holding them to standards that the show simply didn’t have at that point in time.

However, I think “Bad Eggs” is a complete failure regardless of one’s expectations, an episode which never once evolves into something worthwhile or even all that interesting. You can see what the episode is trying to accomplish, and you can even see how the script tries to work around its inherent flaws, but none of it actually comes together into an episode that manages to stand on its own two feet.

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

“Ted”

April 28th, 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.

What strikes me about “Ted” is that it was entirely possible that the story within the episode could have been real. Being that this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not Buffy the Normal Teenage Girl, we presume that Ted is some sort of demon, and that his sudden intrusion on Buffy’s life as an unwanted father figure is some sort of dastardly plot. However, the less-than-malevolent stepfather figure is both a real circumstance and a fairly familiar trope independent of the supernatural, which means that for much of the episode we’re wondering whether this could really just be Buffy and her mother being victims of an angry, abusive man rather than a robotic Frankenstein monster obsessively trying to recreate his creator’s wedded bliss.

It results in the right kind of standalone Buffy episode, one which captures a unique tone that differentiates the episode from the rest of the series while still fitting into some ongoing storylines and the dominant themes of the season.

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The Cultural Catchup Project: “What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“What’s My Line Parts 1 & 2”

April 27th, 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 end of what is almost a four-episode arc, the two-part “What’s My Line” manages to play perfectly into Buffy’s crisis of identity which stems from both the concerns regarding maturity and the future in “Lie to Me” and the threads of responsibility and consequences in “The Dark Age.” Buffy has spent a few episodes questioning the life she leads, and the Career Fair does a great job of both crystallizing those concerns and transferring them into the realm of the ordinary teenage girl who wonders about her future.

Just as Giles’ inescapable future as a Watcher led him to leave Oxford and fall in with the wrong crowd in London, Buffy watches her classmates become excited about their future and starts to worry about her own. However, “What’s My Line” introduces so many different roadblocks, including a trio of assassins and the wonder that is Kendra the Vampire Slayer, to her experience that she starts to reconsider what it’s like to live a day in her shoes, and the show nicely unites a potentially chaotic episode within key themes that resonate throughout the second season.

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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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