Saturday, March 11, 2017

Buffy Bafflement

Buffy The Vampire Slayer -- Joss Whedon's seminal television series, not to be confused with the Alicia Silverstone movie even he laments -- turned 20 this week. Or so I'm guessing -- my various feeds are larded with celebratory Buffy pieces with the number "20" in their tagline, and I've only followed up on one or two. I never caught the Buffy bug.

I'm not sure what I was watching 20 years ago -- Teletubbies, probably. Our first kid was born shortly after Buffy aired, and after that television became a catch-as-catch-can business.

The only episode I did catch (while surfing) and watch in its entirety was the all-musical "Once More, With Feeling."
Demonstrating proper choral technique (except for the two sad-sacks in the back)
I had no clue what the back-story was to any of the song-and-dance shenanigans, but I dug the audacity of what I was seeing. What's more, the premise sold itself as explicable -- which, considering I was a first-time viewer, was a startling accomplishment.

I tried tuning in again the next week, but what I saw didn't grab me so it was back to either Barney The Dinosaur or Hockey Night In Canada.
Those years are a blur for us all, I know.
Since then I've taken a couple of runs at the series, even purchasing the DVDs at a screaming bar-goon. The last attempt was with my daughters in their early teens. We got through the first season and a half, then bailed.

If pressed to explain my antipathy I'd probably resort to the superficial. The episodic reliance on the choreographed karate-with-wooden-stakes climax quickly became tedious. As for the High School drama, well . . . there was enough of that at the dinner table, and it made what we saw on the screen look a tad self-indulgent, if not privileged. Also, there's a certain Kabuki-like stiltedness that Whedon seems to nudge his actors toward -- it's inherent to television serials, generally, but seems particularly pronounced when paired with the self-aware-geek dialogue Whedon writes. I imagine the effect fades with prolonged cast experience/viewer exposure, but it remains an initial barrier regardless.

The people who are fond of Buffy are passionately fond of it -- and were probably in their late-teens-to-twenties when they first saw it. As ever, it leaves me pondering the nostalgia-divide, which begins and concludes at different ages for different people. We are living in the Golden Age of Television, apparently. If given another 20-plus years of TV exposure, will I be nostalgic about any of it to the point of willingly indulging in repeat viewing?

Mm -- Arthur, maybe.
"'Buffy binge'? We are THERE!"


Joel Swagman said...

Nostalgia's a funny thing. My own theory is that it has more to do with your formative years than the actual quality of what you were watching. That is, I feel nostalgic for just about anything from my childhood.

But anything I saw after 25? I can't imagine ever feeling nostalgic about it.

Joel Swagman said...

By the way, I'm in your boat with this Buffy thing. I missed it when it was popular, and I never got around to catching up with it. I've read on-line that it was really groundbreaking at the time (at a time when TV was just starting to become good). But since that time so many other shows have come and done the same thing, or done it better, that nowadays Buffy wouldn't really stand out.

In other words, it's probably too late to catch up with the show. The moment has passed.

Joel Swagman said...

Also, apparently even hard core fans admit that the first season isn't very good.

To be fair, I suppose a lot of first seasons of shows aren't very good. But knowing that I have to slog through hours to get to the good stuff decreases my motivation to check out Buffy even further. And with so many other amazing things on TV these days...

Whisky Prajer said...

I originally intended to muse over my daughters' reactions to the show, but once I started writing I pretty much lost my way. They were both QUITE underwhelmed. And I'd heard the critique about the first season, so I considered moving directly to the third (a recommendation I got from Amazon), but one or two episodes later they felt like they'd already got the gist of these characters, and these weren't people they wanted to spend any more time with.

I introduced Veronica Mars after that, and that, too, proved to be an absolute dud with them. VM CLEARLY took a lot of cues from Buffy, but (mostly) ditched the supernatural trappings. Alas, its characterization was too similar to early Whedon-verse stuff -- which, at this perspective, is very clearly the slightest riffing off the SoCal template everyone in the 70s/80s grew up with. That template should be declared exhausted and retired -- it's way overdue.

Whisky Prajer said...

Question for you: how much of Whedon's stuff do you love?

For me there's a bunch that amuses me well enough -- his Marvel movies, say, or Dollhouse. But only Firefly has me absolutely smitten (a spell he broke with the movie follow-up). It amazes me he's considered a god amongst mortals, frankly.

Joel Swagman said...

The years 2001 to 2010 are all collectively in my television blindspot. These were the years when I was living abroad, and before it became incredibly easily to watch anything and everything over the Internet. So I missed Buffy, missed Firefly, and pretty much missed all of Joss Whedon's televison years.
I thought he did a fantastic job on Avengers, though. Or at least, as good a job as anyone had any right to expect given how many balls he was expected to keep in the air.

Whisky Prajer said...

I've like the Avengers movies well enough, but I don't think they really stand out from the other Marvel movies -- the first Iron Man flick pretty much set the tone and everybody's pretty much stayed on track ever since.

We re-watched Firefly last summer and it definitely stands out as good television. I was a little worried, because we'd taken a stab at watching the first season of Agents of SHIELD, which generated zero excitement. I understand it's the television series that finally nudged Whedon out of the Marvel stable. Perhaps if he'd had free reign it would have been stunning entertainment. We shall never know.

Joel Swagman said...

How much was Whedon involved with Shield? I know his name was attached to it in some way, but was he running the show?

Agents of Shield got nothing but bad reviews for most of its first season.

Apparently they were constrained because they couldn't start the main plot until Captain America Winter Soldier revealed that Hydra had taken over Shield. So the first season was just jogging in place for many of the episodes.

I'm told it got better later on. But like you I lost my patience with it, and just never came back.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Created by" is the chief credit, as well as "Executive Producer." Writer for one episode, director for same. His brother wrote a few episodes as well, but Joss is clearly top banana for the whole shebang.

I just Googled "Joss Whedon Marvel" and it appears his greatest source of unhappiness with Marvel occurred during the Age of Ultron, and is unrelated to his television experience. In which case, I hope he's getting some of his mojo back, because those are not movies for the ages.

paul bowman said...

Geez, next you’ll be dissing Highlander!

Whisky Prajer said...

I'd have to watch it first. >:)

paul bowman said...

Ah, perhaps your enlightenment is already complete after all.

Whisky Prajer said...

Or maybe it all depends on what the girls you hang out with are watching.