“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).
“Coming of Age”
December 14th, 2009
[This is Part Two in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]
I don’t intend to go into too much biographical detail in these pieces, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that I made the transition from teenager to adult in the past decade (which, yes, makes me fairly young as far as television critics go). As a result, shows that appealed to this period of my life (like, for example, the aforementioned Gilmore Girls transitioning from high school to university around when I was doing the same) often connected with me over shows that, well, didn’t.
However, when I sat down to craft these pieces and lumped these three shows together, the idea that they are important because they chronicle the lives of high school and college students (the two most dominant identifiers in my life over the past decade) proves to be an overly simplistic one. In fact, the more complex (and more meaningful) connective thread between them is the emotional center that parents (or the lack of parents) provide to each series. And while Freud would likely argue this is some unearthed family anxiety (which, since my parents will probably at least read the opening spiel of a few of these pieces, is fundamentally untrue), I think it’s more proof that shows about the most fitful and tempestuous times in our lives require something stable, something almost unfailing, to ground them in an emotional reality.
And that those of us who watch them want to see, simultaneously, a reflection of ourselves, a mirror universe in which we are quite the opposite, and some element of truth which cuts through those expectations to either break our hearts or convince us that there really is hope for the geeks, hope for the private dicks, and hope for the underdogs.
“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception”
May 22nd, 2009
There’s an argument to be made that Party Down is the season’s strongest new comedy, and it’s one that has become progressively easier to make as the season continues. Not to disparage Better Off Ted (which is good but not particularly revolutionary), or The United States of Tara (which was a drama before it was a comedy, realistically speaking), but this out of nowhere Starz series from Rob Thomas and John Enbom simply presented the most complete comedy to debut. A strong ensemble cast is supported by a series of constantly changing party scenarios, ranging from the ridiculous to the personal, where recognizable actors show up as guest stars to complicate the lives of the characters involved; it doesn’t sound too complicated when you really think about it, but it’s essentially an absurdist procedural dark comedy series, and one that has been remarkably consistent.
“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception” is a strong way to end such a consistent season, if not the show’s best episode: like many other comedies, the show is often as its most effective when dealing with heavier dramatic material but at the same time can lose something of its essence. The presence of Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) helps to elevate the finale from a comic level, and Jennifer Coolidge’s continuing guest stint in place of Jane Lynch brings something fun to the table, but this episode is far less about the scenario than it is about the characters. While the series has often ignored the reality of catering in order to allow the characters to mingle about and face little to no actual work, here the whole point is that there is real work: this is the real world, and if you can’t take the heat get out of the barn.
And by the end of the episode, everyone but Henry sort of does.
“Willow Canyon Homeowner’s Annual Party”
March 20th, 2009
Coming into this television year, Rob Thomas had the potential to be the next Greg Berlanti, coming off of one canceled show and suddenly ending up with about three of them balancing the airwaves. He was the first person to take a crack at bringing back 90210, he got a new version of his 90s series Cupid up and running at ABC, and there was something about some half hour comedy on Starz, I never really remembered the details.
And yet, by some twist of fate, 90210 was taken out of his hands early on, and Cupid’s release was delayed by ABC (although it will soon arrive, on March 31st). The result is that, while we could have technically had more Rob Thomas than we could handle on our hands, all we have is the quirky Party Down, a show that surprises a lot of people not just for being on a network that people don’t associate with original series but also because it features a lot of very familiar, and very hilarious, faces.
I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a show about washed up, or aspiring, showbiz types would be engaging, but what could have felt tedious finds that right balance between formulaic and spontaneous, pitting these archetypes against one another in a setting where their only job is to wear a crisp white shirt, a pink bow tie, and serve food, drink, and entertainment as per the client’s requests.
And while it might not have been “on the radar,” Party Down is worth searching out.
“Who Do You Think You Are?”
January 18th, 2008
While I am certainly not overly antagonistic towards the most recent episode of Friday Night Lights, I can’t help but ask whether or not the titular query should be posed to the series itself rather than its character. On a night in which two guest stars evoked two similarly praised drama series featuring teenage storylines, it would have been helpful if the characters were in line with what we’ve seen in recent weeks.
However, everything was completely out of whack: Smash and Noelle’s relationship went from being dangerous due to her influence to dangerous due to her whiteness, and Riggins went from running from the law to pining after Lyla Garrity. It’s one thing to switch gears, but these two storyline were abrupt shifts to say the least. Combined with a heavy dose of thug life for Santiago and Buddy, and the tragic tale of Matt’s First Quinceañera, I can honestly only say that Eric and Tami Taylor came out as people who understood just who they are.
As for who those guest stars were, and how the episode went off the rails, read on.
“Fight or Flight”
October 22nd, 2007
Five episodes into its first season, Future Hiro showed up on a subway train informing Peter to “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.” Five episodes into its second season, it might take more than Kristen Bell’s much-anticipated arrival to save a series struggling to get a grip on its own storylines. Will she bring with her the overarching storyline the season so desperately needs, or just a fanboy surge without any last impact?
Obviously, considering that her arc will last a fairly long period of time, it’s hard to judge what impact Bell will have. Her scenes were both sparse and uneventful, her impact limited thanks to either low budgets or the show’s deluge of storylines being juggled. I think her character at least introduces something new to the equation, which is at least the kind of step forward that the show needed at this stage of the game. While it doesn’t quite happen in this episode, even though Peter’s storyline moves forward slowly, there are more redemptive elements present than in weeks before.