Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "Nightmares" & "Out of Mind, Out of Sight"

These two episodes have something in common that makes them somewhat unique in relation to the structure of other storylines. They both feature a real-life problem (child abuse/being ignored) that results in a supernatural occurrance (nightmares becoming reality/invisibility).

There was a tendency in Season One for the writers to hit us over the head with the real world message they were trying to convey. Their technique, thankfully, grew more subtle as time went on, but these particular episodes differ from most others because they goes beyond mere metaphor. "Nightmares" is particularly after school special-esque and I must report that it is one of my least favourite episodes of the series. However, I am a fan of "Out of Mind, Out of Sight".

I'm left wondering, "Why does "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" work for me while "Nightmares" does not?"

"Out of Mind" does get off to a bit of a lead given that Clea Duvall easily wins the award for "Best Guest Star" of the season, but there are other factors at play.

It's a nightmare come true

Putting something as intangible as a dreamscape on film is a challenge. It's something the folks at Buffy did a lot, particularly in earlier seasons when Buffy's semi-prophetic dreams were more frequently used as a plot device. Sometimes the dreams were quite vivid (see "Surprise" and "Graduation Day") while in earlier episodes they were more of a collection of images (see "Welcome to the Hellmouth"). It would be easy to say "Nightmares" doesn't work because it welcomes comparisons to "Restless", which is one of the best episodes of the entire series (if not one of the best episodes of television generally), but even without considering how amazing "Restless" is, the dreamscape in "Nightmares" is just poorly conveyed. What always stands out for me is the way in which the high school was decorated when Xander follows the chocolate bar trail and is attacked by the clown. To me it just looks like they hung up a bunch of white shower curtains (and perhaps they did), but for a show that was always used the resources they had to produce something of a certain standard, I found this and other aspects of "Nightmares" to come off as low-budget and rushed. In the same vein, I was never pleased with the Ugly Man's make-up or the special effects in the episode, particularly the vortex-like effect when the cemetery appears in the parking lot at the high school.

A lack of exposition

In most supernatural/sci-fi stories there is inevitably a scene in which somebody (in Buffy's case, usually Giles) explains what is going on and how they're going to fix it. The explanation of how Billy's coma results in everyone else's nightmares becoming real is incredibly vague while the explanation for Marcie turning invisible seems more feasible somehow. The appearance of the astral body of somebody who is in a coma is not a new concept, so I can accept that aspect of it, but that only explains why Buffy can see Billy around Sunnydale High when his earthly body is in the hospital. We are not provided with a satisfactory explanation as to why or how Billy was able to bring everyone's nightmares to the waking world.

In conclusion

The endsings of these two episodes provide an interesting contrast. "Out of Mind" features another cheesy supernatural ending (see "Witch" and "I Robot, You Jane"). I'm not a fan of this sort of ending to Buffy episodes. What I do appreciate is that this is the first suggestion of the U.S. government's awareness of paranormal activity and using it to their advantage. Season 4 and now Season 8 have extended this aspect of the Buffyverse.

Meanwhile, "Nightmares" has an after school special ending to go along with the rest of the episode (at least it's internally consistent). "Remember kids, if somebody is hurting you, tell your parent or a Vampire Slayer you trust."

Sunnydale High Faculty Death Count: 2 [1 attempted (Ms. Miller)]

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This was supposed to be good news

Zach Oat at Television Without Pity put it best: "For all of you Buffy fans out there, your wildest dreams are about to come true... and it's your worst nightmare." If, like me, you putter around entertainment news sites, you've probably heard the news that Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kuzui announced plans to "relaunch" the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise in the form of an "event-sized" feature film minus creator Joss Whedon and minus any of the TV series characters.

The initial reaction among fans has been a fairly collective, "Do not want!" (There's already a #buffyboycott hashtag on Twitter.) Keep in mind, though, it has been a matter of days since the announcement, and there are almost no details about the project. The announcement that J.J. Abrams would be directing the eleventh Star Trek feature and that it would be a prequel to the original series was met with skepticism from many Trekkies (perhaps primarily because Abrams was an outsider who admitted he had little knowledge of Trek lore), and look how that turned out.

In spite of this, I do find myself with the "Do not want" crowd. There are three main factors I've identified that have resulted in this negative reaction to something Buffy fans would normally be ecstatic about: (a) the Kuzuis and the original film, (b) the questionable timing and optics of a "reboot", and (c) Joss Whedon's non-involvement with the project. I will examine each of these in turn.

Shove your copyright up your Kuzui

Here's the problem: the part of the Buffy franchise with which the Kuzui team were most heavily involved was the 1992 film and they blew it. Fran Rubel Kuzui directed the film after "discovering" Whedon's original script. She and producer/husband Kaz took the story in their own direction and the result was an overly campy flick with mere traces of what would become the Buffyverse. They retain the rights to the original film and remained as executive producers on the TV series, but from what I've read, their involvement was nil to the point of having never been on the set.

I've read a lot online over the years from Buffy fans and nobody I know of has a soft spot for the Kuzuis. They're not going to win anyone over by going forward without Joss. Fans very much have the sense that the film was swept out from under Joss. It was he who went on to develop the TV series. It's highly unlikely the film was ever used as a selling point when looking for a network to air the TV series. If anything, the pitch would have been, "Remember that Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie from a few years ago? You do? Ok, so, forget about that movie..."

The Kuzuis are now saying they want to take the franchise in a direction that is darker than the TV series and have brought in producer Roy Lee, whose specialty is remaking (mostly) Asian films for American audiences (The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, The Departed, The Strangers). What I glean from this is that (a) the film will likely be devoid of Buffy's characteristic wit and (b) the Kuzuis may have never watched an episode of the series if they believe the show was not dark (if it wasn't in Season 1, it certainly was from Season 2 onward.)

A question of timing

Closely tied to the Kuzui dislike factor is the questionable timing of this announcement, which may have a lot to do with optics, but raises valid doubts if one considers when a "reboot" is necessary.

Let me explain what I mean by the problem of optics. Fran Rubel Kuzui, the not-so-acclaimed director of the 1992 Buffy movie, believes that now is the time for a new Buffy feature. However, regardless of her actual motives, many see this as a case of a money-grubbing exec producer with zero creative vision trying to cash in on the recent success of vampire stories (Twilight; True Blood) and reboots (Star Trek; Wolverine).

Where the line is drawn between remakes, reboots, relaunches, and re-imaginings, I don't know. What I do know is that I am always skeptical of remakes and their ilk. I don't reject them en masse on principle, but I don't like the way in which Hollywood film has been increasingly devolving into the land of adaptation devoid of original content. Much of what gets produced these days are remakes, book-to-film adaptations, and "based on a true story" films and the original stories tend to be fluff (taken to the not so extreme, even crap like Observe and Report could be considered a "re-imagining" of Taxi Driver). Graeme McMillan at io9 points out that "our culture has become endlessly recyclable" and he's right.

My second problem in this vein is the timing in terms of need for a reboot. Is this really, as the Kuzuis believe, the right time for a reboot? Consider when you reboot your computer - it's frozen or slowed to a crawl. The same should go for an entertainment franchise. Generally, a film/TV franchise gets rebooted when significant time has passed and its formula has gone stale to the point where even die-hard fans are looking for a change (or they're too old for producers to care what they think.) Admittedly, Star Trek needed a reboot, and for the most part J.J. Abrams delivered. Old fans aren't up in arms and mainstream audiences are becoming one with their inner Trekkie.

Making a Buffy movie in the next couple of years is poor timing in at least two ways: (a) insufficient time has passed since the "conclusion" of the most recent large-scale (non-comic book) incarnation of the franchise (the TV series ended in 2005), and (b) the TV series is too fresh in the minds of the public to attract people who don't already like Buffy. With the Scooby Gang having graduated from high school just ten years ago, Buffy's original core audience is still within or just beyond the target audience of movie bosses.

In contrast, the original Star Trek TV series aired in the 1960s with the cast appearing in films through to Star Trek: Generations in 1994. The success of the film franchise was dwindling, but die hard fans can only go a few years before they demand something on the big screen. The solution was Abrams' reboot in the form of an original series prequel film. The original Star Trek audience is not in the 16-25 demographic any longer, so a great shift in direction was able to draw a new audience to the franchise.

What I'm trying to say is that when Sarah Michelle Gellar is as old as William Shatner, then you can go and look for a shiny new Buffy.

Does Not Compute: Buffy - Joss = Grrr...Argh!

Finally, Whedon's non-involvement with the development of the film has been, perhaps, the most influential factor leading to the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the fan base. Cast members from the series are now starting to weigh in on the matter. In an interview with Lorrie Lynch at USA Weekend, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) said:
The Kuzuis didn’t do a great job on the movie the first time around. It was Joss’ script at the age of 19, but they changed a lot of it. They said, ‘Look, we know best and we know how to make this movie,’ and it became quite schlocky and high camp. [...] The bottom line is if a movie was ever to be made, it should be made with Joss Whedon, whether it’s a retrospective or not. But it would be madness to do it without him. [The Kuzuis] have the rights to because they have the rights to the original movie, but it should be interesting to see. It may be a bit like watching a car wreck.
Given the circumstances outlined above, I'm inclined to agree with Head. However, McMillan argues, "Just because Joss created Buffy and did the franchise proud for more than a decade doesn't mean that someone else can't come up with something equally as interesting, and almost as enjoyable." I'm willing to accept that people other than Joss are capable of taking care of Buffy and telling great stories. Obviously, Joss did not write and direct every episode of the show, or write all the novels and comics. Heck, there are people out there who who write some pretty decent fanfic.

As is the case with the Star Trek franchise absent Gene Roddenberry, there is a group of people involved with Buffy who care about the franchise and about the fans (I'm looking at you Fury, Noxon, Espenson et al.) They care more than the Kuzuis and the fanbase trusts them as much as they trust Joss. If the franchise is to move forward without Joss at the helm, it should be them, not a pair of uninvolved executive producers who take the wheel.

Read More:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

See me bloggin'

The Gazette posted an article between issues about the Studley Debate during the DSU Elections. In the accompanying photo, you see my fellow pundits, Jen Bond and John Hillman, and myself hard at work. (I am in the front with the stripey shirt; Jen is the ginger behind me with Hillman to her left). Notice how everyone else looks intently at Rob LeForte while the three of us type maniacally on various electronic devices. I must say, I'm glad I gave my clipboard a rest this year. Although typing with one's thumbs is a bit tedious, it really speeds up the debate recap process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DSU Elections 2009

It's that time of year again - DSU Elections! For a DSU-lifer, such as myself, this is pretty much the highlight of the year.

For the past number of years, MikeSmit.com has been the online hub of election-related commentary. Mike wrote the blog based on his own observations and on tips from other observers.

This year, comprehensive and snide commentary of the DSU Election has a new home: Punditry.ca. Mike has compiled a panel of DSU hacks, including your truly, to offer our thoughts during the campaign.

Check it out!

Yearly referenda would jeopardize much-needed funding

This article appears in the March 5-11 edition of The Gazette. It is my first time appearing as an Opinions Contributor. You can read my friend John Hillman's counterpoint, as well. He makes some very valid points.

Yearly referenda would jeopardize much-needed funding
Lisa Buchanan
Opinions Contributor

A handful of Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) student societies, including The Gazette, DalOUT, and Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG), receive funding by way of a levy from all students. These levies were each approved by students through a referendum and are part of the fee each Dal student pays to the DSU. To ensure the societies are using their funding in the way students intended, each society should maintain the mandate it had when its referendum passed. But because, in some cases, years have passed since the referendum, the societies receiving money from the students aren’t always faithful to their original mandates. For example, this year a student union committee was created with the sole purpose of resolving inconsistencies as between a “Dal-PIRG” referendum question and the NSPIRG constitution. A mechanism must exist to keep these societies accountable and to ensure they are entitled to the money they receive.

To accomplish this, the student union’s ad-hoc referendum review committee is proposing all referendum-mandated societies be sent back to the polls at least every four years.

Unfortunately, this recommendation goes far beyond addressing the problem at hand.

Societies that do not remain loyal to their mandates as endorsed by students are the problem. This would not be a problem if there were an effective way of assessing society mandates from year to year to ensure compliance. There is currently no incentive for societies to keep their original mandates. The DSU’s vice-president (finance and operations) and board of operations are meant to review levies annually; this has not happened in the board’s first two years in operation. Alternately, any student can call for a referendum question targeting a specific levy; this should not change.

The problem can be addressed by only sending to referendum those societies that break their mandate and refuse to go back to it, rather than voting on all societies that are in compliance with their referendum-approved mandates.

Some argue that because of the four-year rotation of undergraduates, a re-occurring referendum will allow all students to vote on all levies during their time at Dal.

But there are other ways for students to reject particular levies. If students feel a levy has become unnecessary or irrelevant, they can start a referendum process to eliminate the levy in question.

With re-occurring, referenda, students could end up voting on the same levy more than once in their time at Dal. If a referendum fails and a society loses its funding, you will likely see that question back on the ballot in the next election, as the society attempts to re-establish its funding. If this happens, we will be faced with perpetual referenda, since levy questions are less likely to succeed when there are other money-related questions on the ballot.

Societies can be held accountable without having to run a referendum campaign every four years. All referendum-mandated societies must make an annual presentation to DSU council about their activities of the previous year. This could be a way to assess each society’s compliance with their mandate. If council finds a society has strayed from its original intentions, it can opt to send the levy to a referendum.

I know from experience that it takes a lot of time, energy and people to run a successful referendum campaign. Societies involved in a referendum rely on their membership to get the word out about their campaign. I have seen firsthand the peaks and troughs of society attendance and involvement. If the referendum review committee’s proposals are made reality, a society that has been meeting its mandate could lose its levy simply because not many of its members are attending regularly or because the executive members, who might be great at running their society, are not adept at running an effective publicity campaign.

To meet the timeline for changes to the DSU constitution, the committee met only once to discuss this portion of its mandate. If these proposals do not pass, further discussions should take place at the committee level. Consideration should be given to what other student unions do to hold their societies accountable. If and when this happens, referendum-mandated societies, most of whom do not have a representative on council, should be consulted.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"They just made it up."

"We now have the research showing that openly gay service just doesn't have any negative impact on the military. In fact, the ['don't ask, don't tell'] policy itself is what's causing us to lose soldiers and to force service members to lie to one another, and that's bad for unit cohesion." -Nathaniel Frank

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" back on the chopping block!

On Monday, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced Bill H.R.1283, which would replace the U.S. military's so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy with a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was instituted in 1993. While it ended the military's practice of asking potential service members if they are gay, it requires the dismissal of openly gay service members (and people who are already out, presumably, wouldn't be allowed to enlist). That's right, folks, we'll fire if you tell us or we find out that you're gay, but we're cool if you stay in the closet and live in fear that your homophobic co-worker will find out you have a subscription to The Advocate.

To hear the great Maddow speak on the subject, jump to 2:55 below:

Scary things I didn't know about "don't ask, don't tell" until Maddow told me:
- 12,000 people(!!!) have lost their jobs under the policy in the past 15 years
- 2 people get kicked out under the policy every day!!!

The full text of the current bill isn't available online yet, but you can read the previous bill Maddow references, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007. I expect they are substantially similar.

With any luck, this bill will pass through Congress quickly and President Obama will be able to follow through on his commitment to rid the military of this ridiculous policy.

In related news, this week both Argentina and the Philippines both lifted their bans on gays serving in the military. I'd say it's about time the U.S. caught up with the rest of the world.

More coverage:
- Associated Press
- Telegraph
- Pink News
- 365Gay
- Silicon Valley Mercury News
- The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Impressions: Dollhouse

**SPOILER ALERT** This post deals with the series premiere of the television series, Dollhouse, which aired on Friday, February 13. If you have not yet watched and don't want any tidbits of information, it's best if you stop reading now. The post does not reveal any future plot points, since I don't read spoilers.

I'm going to say something that is, perhaps, more troubling to me than it will be to any of you. I did not love the series premiere of Dollhouse. The reason I find this troubling is that I am a Joss Whedon devotee (if that wasn't obvious from my recent Buffy marathon) and I have been looking forward to this show for months. Based on past experience and downright adoration for the man, I expected greatness.

I intentionally avoided reading anything about the show beyond the brief plot description. All I knew about was an organization that implants people with new memories, sends them on specific missions, and wipes their memories when their task is complete so that these people have no idea what they are doing. I also knew that Eliza Dushku was playing the lead character, an "active" who gradually starts to become aware of her situation. Beyond that, I went in knowing nothing, so I had no specific expectations as to storytelling.

Quality Concerns

On first viewing, I found the production quality is a bit too...I don't know, shiny? I don't quite know how to explain, but it looks different than most shows I watch. Everything is too crisp or something. A couple classmates and I confirmed for one another that it wasn't just their TV or my computer that caused the show to appear this way. Perhaps it will just take some getting used to.

Bring on the Funny

Where's the trademark Whedon wit?! Sure sure, the show is about an illegal mind-control organization and human trafficking, but Joss is the master of finding the fun in the darkest of situations, as evidenced from Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. The closest thing to a joke was, "She also has asthma," and it really wasn't that funny.

The Dushku Factor

Eliza Dushku portrays Faith in Joss Whedon's latest television series, DollhouseThough Faith remains my favourite Buffy villain, I question whether Eliza Dushku has the acting chops to carry this series and provide what her character, Echo, will demand of her. [It's really hard to say that while looking at the accompanying photo.] While she was great as Faith and as Missy in Bring it On, I get the sense that there is a lot of Eliza Dushku in both of those characters. [I admit that, like a lot of people, I have not watched Tru Calling, so I can't speak to her performance in that series.] While she seems alright at being a mindless drone in the Dollhouse, her acting was a bit strained at times while she was portraying Eleanor Penn. Up to now, I hadn't seen Dushku portray vulnerability in this way, so it may have appeared strained simply because I'm not accustomed to seeing her behave in such a manner.

However, we do get a glimpse of a Faith-like character in what I will call "pre-Dollhouse Echo" during the opening scene just before she volunteers for the program. It looks like the show will be structured such that we will see bits of Echo's pre-Dollhouse days. The pre-Dollhouse Echo we see on the video at the end of the episode is not as troubled, suggesting a somewhat rapid change in circumstances. If this at all resembles Faith's rapid descent from bad-ass slayer to evil-ass slayer, Dushku may be able to pull it off.

The Fringe Factor

Source: watchingdollhouse

Fox sort of paired Dollhouse and Fringe in many people's minds last summer with their "hot chick semi-submerged in water" print ads. In addition, they are the two big sci-fi shows of this season helmed by two modern geniuses of television (Whedon and J.J. Abrams) and their main plots are both based in science, rather than fantasy/horror or future space travel. So comparisons will likely be drawn, and the presence of one threatens the survival of the other. I have been watching Fringe since it's premiere and am loving it, but I'm hesitant to compare the two at this time because Fringe has a 13 episode advantage having premiered in the Fall, so I will hold off for the time-being.

The Positive

Okay, it wasn't all bad. There are signs of promise that should keep people watching, and I'm not just referring to the co-ed showers and the flattering, yet comfortable-looking attire worn by the muscle-toned actives.

With my limited knowledge of the show prior to viewing, I was unaware that Dollhouse would be an illegal organization being investigated by some law enforcement agency (it's not yet clear to me which one). I sort of assumed that it would be a legitimate program. Instead, we've got a storyline dealing with an investigation into human trafficking, missing people, and their connection to Dollhouse.

Amy Acker's Dr. Claire Saunders has potential. In the brief minutes she was on screen in "Ghost", it is made clear that Saunders has her doubts about the Dollhouse operation, and is concerned for the psychological, as well as physical well-being of the actives. Also, who doesn't love Amy Acker? Unfortunately, for the time-being, she's just a recurring character, so it may take some time to develop her story.

The show has a racially/ethnically diverse cast to rival that of Grey's Anatomy. Complaints were often leveled at Buffy for not being racially diverse enough. In particular, there was a notable lack of Asian students at Sunnydale High, despite it's location in Southern California. Joss made some amends for this in the casting for Angel and Firefly. That being said, the people in positions of power in Dollhouse are all white, so I'll be interested to read any commentary on this subject.

In conclusion, Dollhouse just doesn't quite feel Whedon to me, at least not yet. I'm certainly not giving up on it; my faith in Joss is undying. I just hope that the first line of the show ("Nothing is what it appears to be") is true because so far, Dollhouse appears to be less than stellar.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Grammarians Unite!

Fellow grammarians, our beloved apostrophe is under attack! Birmingham City Council has voted to remove apostrophes from all its street signs.

This is so awful! I understand the desire for consistency in signage, but they should be consistently correct. "St. Pauls Square" makes no sense: (a) There is only one St. Paul, and this appears to be plural, and (b) if there are more than one, an apostrophe is still required (St. Pauls')! GAHH!!
"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," [Councillor Martin Mullaney] said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to have an A-level (high-school diploma) in English to find it."
If you need high school English to understand apostrophes, perhaps you should look into the failings of your education system rather than perpetuating ignorance among the people of Birmingham.

Long live the apostrophe!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "The Puppet Show"

Xander, Willow, and Buffy perform a scene from Oedipus Rex"The Puppet Show" is one of my favourite little one-shot episodes with no overarching plot development. This fondness is due in large part to Buffy, Xander, and Willow's performance of a scene from Oedipus Rex during the closing credits. Cordelia also has some funny bits in this episode, not the least of which is her performance of "Greatest Love of All".

Also in this episode, we meet Principal Snyder who has it out for all the students, but focuses particular attention on Buffy, Xander, and Willow. It would be easy to hate Principal Snyder if he weren't so funny. While he attributes Principal Flutie's being eaten to his "wolly-headed, liberal thinking", we all know now that one's approach to education does not determine whether one will be eaten.
Favourite Quote: "I don't get it. What is it, avant-garde?" -Principal Snyder reacting to the scene on stage when the curtain opens at the talent show

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "I Robot, You Jane"

In 1997, a "the Internet is dangerous" episode was par for the course. Teen magazines were full of warnings that you never really know who you're talking to online, so it would have been hard to find something innovative in such a story, but "I Robot, You Jane" pulls it off. Willow is our vulnerable teenager who becomes the victim of an Internet predator, but in a story that could only work in the Buffyverse, the predator is a demon that she scanned from a book into a computer and onto the Web. Like many of the morals conveyed in Buffy, the message is obvious, but it gets presented in a much more entertaining way.
The episode also raises the epic battle of books vs. computers. Perhaps because I am of an age where I clearly remember not knowing that the Internet existed or how to work a computer, I am of the mind that it is important to strike a balance between our reliance on print and digital information. Jenny Calendar's sheer coolness gives points to the techies, but I feel much the same way as Giles does with regard to the tangible experience of acquiring knowledge and the distinct lack of anything one could identify as "computer smell".
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer [...] has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly. -Giles
The writers don't come down on one side or the other of this debate by making it clear that while modern technology is dangerous (demon in computer could access launch codes for nuclear missiles), so are the old ways (demon wouldn't have been in computer if he hadn't been put in the book in the first place). We also see the two elements working together when Giles and Jenny bind Moloch over the Internet using the original incantation.

I was 12 years old when this episode first aired. It makes me sad that a 12 year old watching the show today (who, frighteningly, would have been born the same year this episode aired) might not understand why Willow's phone line not ringing busy was an indication that she wasn't online and will wonder why the webcam feed is so pixelated. The concerns Giles expresses are even more of an issue today, with the advent of high-speed Internet, than they were in 1997. When I was 12, it still took work to find what you were looking for on the Internet and you had to wait, sometimes for more than a couple of minutes, for a page to load, and even longer for some things to download. Though my memories of my early days on the Internet may not have any olfactory associations, I can recall the sound of a dial-up modem and the way it felt to anxiously watch as images slowly loaded onto my monitor (often such images were Buffy publicity photos). In those days connecting to the Web meant you had to essentially disconnect your telephone, choosing one method of communication over another, and your computer had to be physically connected to the phone line. By that same token, you knew that anyone you were talking to online was also sitting at home or at the library on their computer, so there was an element of shared experience. Today, we can be "jacked in" almost anywhere and the Internet is somehow becoming even less tangible than it may once have been as touch-screen technology eliminates the need even for keyboards.

As much as I appreciate the wi-fi connection on my iPod Touch, I, like Giles, will always prefer the smell of a musty book.

Favourite Quotes:

Buffy: I mean, what if you guys get really, really intense, and then you find out that he has...a hairy back?
Willow: Well, no. He doesn't talk like somebody who would have a hairy back.

Xander: Sure he says he's a high school student, but I could say I'm a high school student.
Buffy: You are.
Xander: Okay, but I could also say that I'm an elderly Dutch woman. Get me? I mean, who's to say I'm not if I'm in the elderly Dutch chat room.

Jenny: You're here again? You kids really dig the library, don't you?
Buffy: We're literary.
Xander: To read makes our speaking English good.

Buffy Retrospective: "Angel"

Young and Handsome Forever

"Angel" does a lot of work in establishing some of the vampire mythology that is unique to Buffy. We learn that in the Buffyverse, when someone is turned into a vampire, the demon takes the body, but doesn't get the soul. Angel explains that the restoration of his soul is what distinguishes him from other vampires. This episode also establishes the connection between Darla and Angel, which is explored further in subsequent episodes despite Darla's dusting.

The obvious complications inherent in the Slayer falling in love with a vampire of course mean that there's no way Buffy and Angel will actually be able to "walk away from this" as they resolve to do at the end of the episode. As we all now know, Buffy and Angel's relationship is the epic love story of the series. It's also one of the main reasons I became hooked on the show, since, as I mentioned in my introduction, I watched "Becoming" on a loop the whole summer after it aired.

The obvious disadvantage of having characters who don't age is that the actors who play them do have a tendency to change in appearance. We encounter the same problem with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent films. Contrast Angel in Season 2 of Buffy to Angel in Season 5 of Angel.Angel still handsome, but less young
Source: ChosenTwo
Still handsome, of course, but obviously a few years older.

Favourite Quote: "This is exactly what happens when you sign these free trade agreements!" -Cordelia (This episode isn't big on laughs, but Cordelia's sighting of a classmate wearing a knock of of her one-of-a-kind Todd Oldham is vintage Cordy.)

Buffy Retrospective: "The Pack"

Herbert the RazorbackThis is an episode that I admittedly have not watched more than a couple of times, mainly because I wasn't allowed to watch the show until Season 2, and because it was not one of the six episodes included in the Season 1 VHS box set I subsequently acquired. Also, I don't like Xander when he's a meany, especially when he's being mean to Willow (when they are mean together in "Dopplegangland" is a whole other story, though). The episode does have a few things going for it: Herbert the Razorback piglet is adorable. Poor little guy left us too early, as did Principal Flutie (Ken Lerner), but his departure makes way for the delightful Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder. Also, I love the gym teacher, Coach Herrold, from his over-simplified explanation of the rules of dodgeball ("You dodge.") to his reaction to the cut-throat behaviour of Xander and his new friends ("God this game is brutal. I love it.")

Sunnydale High Facutly Death Count:2 (Principal Flutie)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date"

"If the apocalypse comes, beep me."

Buffy has a beeper! I don't recall the beeper ever being put to use, but its appearance does place the show in a very particular time in history. I have found it interesting that there was always a distinct lack of cellular phones on Buffy, even in the later seasons by which time most people were carrying them. Buffy gives Dawn a cell phone at the beginning of Season 7, but it is rare that we ever see someone using one.

Not A Workable Thing

This episode continues to explore Buffy's efforts to carry on a normal life, this time by going on a date rather than cheerleading. While the cheerleading thing didn't work out because Buffy didn't make the team, she comes to the realization on her own that she can't date Owen because she would be putting his life in danger on a regular basis.

Random Observation: Giles mentions that his father and grandmother were both Watchers before him. I appreciate the passing mention that the Watcher's aren't an old boys club like one might expect of such an group. We eventually meet some female members of the Watcher's Council.

Favourite Quote: "I had very definite plans about my future. I was going to be a fighter pilot...or possibly a grocer." -Giles

Buffy Retrospective: "Teacher's Pet"

Demon Magnet

Xander's involvement with Miss French marks the beginning of his habit of being attracted to women who aren't quite human, which was always amusing. As far as Miss French is concerned, who can blame the guy? Giles said it best: "She's lovely...in a common, extremely well-proportioned way."

Better With Age

The transition effect sort of sucks when the well-proportioned Miss French takes on her mantis form. As time went on, the CGI on the show improved significantly, probably due to a combination of bigger budgets and technological advancements.

The final shot in this episode is of some mantis eggs tucked away and hatching in Dr. Gregory's closet. Happily, the writers eventually dropped the rather lame "dun dun dun" endings like this one. This is another example of where the show was still finding a healthy balance of camp.

Random Observation: Some might say Willow's plaid pants should be on the list of wardrobe mistakes, but as someone who wore plaid pants in high school, I have a soft spot for them.

Sunnydale High Faculty Death Count: 1 (Dr. Gregory)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "Witch"

This episode does a good job of expanding on three important features of the show that are touched on in the premiere:

Buffy's ongoing quest to be a normal girl: Upon her arrival in Sunnydale, Buffy is intent on no longer performing her Slayerly duties. When it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't in the cards (though this won't be the last time she tries to quit), she becomes resigned to the fact to some extent, but is determined not to let her destiny get in the way of her having a normal high school experience. We witness her struggle with this for a great deal of the series, but most notably during high school. In fact, by the time Season 6 rolls around, Buffy isn't able to deal with the "normal" parts of her life, though there are extenuating circumstances in Season 6.

Not just vampires: At the end of "The Harvest", Giles informs the gang that the next threat they face could be something other than vampires, and sure enough, along comes Katherine Madison followed by a slew of different baddies. The villains become more sophisticated as the show progresses, as we see early on that the show was working on finding its footing in creating its own unique mythology without abandoning the sometimes cheesy bits of the horror tradition that viewers were used to. In this episode the witchcraft elements are rather simplistic and stereotypical compared to what we see in later seasons, and Giles' knowledge of witchcraft seems rather rudimentary despite what we learn in Season 2 about his past.

Love Hurts: The Buffy-Xander-Willow triangle is established from the get-go; the dynamic is made quite clear in "Witch". Of course, things get much more complicated as time goes on and more characters are introduced (Angel, Cordelia and Oz, for starters). As I watch, I'm working on an L Word-style chart of how all the characters are connected romantically.

Humble Geek-Infested Roots

Like Darla and Harmony, Amy Madison turns out to be a semi-recurring character. In fact, she appears in every season except Season 5 (though her appearance in "Something Blue" lasts mere seconds). Her part in Season 8 is still playing itself out, but it looks like she is going to be a key baddy this time around. I'd like to do a comparison of Amy and Willow's forays into dark magicks once I have reviewed Amy's episodes.
Sources: mouthfullofdust; Dark Horse Comics

Random Observations:
  • Why does her inability to see cause Cordelia to drive with excessive speed?
  • Continuity: Buffy casually mentions being a vampire slayer to her mother at breakfast, and Joyce's reaction is simply, "Buffy are you feeling well?" This is inconsistent with what we learn much later in "Normal Again" (Season 6) - Buffy's parents sent her to a mental institution when she first started slaying. Had this been a part of her story all along, Joyce would have likely reacted differently to the reference.
  • A positive bit of continuity is the blackness in Katherine's eyes when she casts her final spell, which remained a visual cue to the viewer that the individual was using dark magic.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Buffy Retrospective: "Welcome to the Hellmouth" & "The Harvest"

The Good Ol' Days

One of the first things the viewer will notice when watching earlier episodes of Buffy are the regrettable clothing choices people made in the mid-late 1990s. Low points in the premiere include Xander's mushroom shirt. I will make an effort to highlight glaring wardrobe errors along with some of the more favourable choices made over the years. I'm a big fan of the Master's leather jacket; it's so well tailored.

Xander in his ugly green mushroom shirt
Source: mouthfullofdust
You'll also notice some big honkin' computers. Hacking was deemed to be pretty cool at the time, and Willow's computer geek status came in handy for the first few years of the show until she began to rely more heavily on magic and until the general public realized that most of the stuff she was doing was pretty unrealistic. While sci-fi/fantasy viewers can suspend their disbelief to a great extent, but this proves more difficult when characters in a sci-fi show are doing something that happens in the real world. I would argue that because Willow's hacking wasn't unrealistic in a supernatural way, it couldn't really be sustained as a plot device to the extent it was relied on in early stories.

Watching Seasons 1-3 make me miss the library. I think it's safe to say the Sunnydale High Library is my favourite recurring set of the series. I find books and wooden furniture very comforting, so the library has particular appeal for this reason. The fact that nary a student outside the Scooby Gang ever set foot in the place was not only convenient for the characters, but served as a testament to society's increasing neglect of the printed word.

Buffy in the Sunnydale High Library
Source: Buffyverse Wiki

Humble Geek-Infested Roots

It's particularly interesting to consider how the characters changed over the course of the series, in terms of both personality and physical appearance. Buffy matures and I think she gets funnier; Xander was once a scrawny teenager; Willow goes through the most drastic change in wardrobe to coincide with increased self-esteem; and Giles becomes less stuffy and loses the tweed.

Buffy has a long history of bringing back characters who don't necessarily seem all that significant on their first appearance. A couple of them are introduced in the premiere. With the way Darla runs off from a little splash of holy water, few could anticipate how important her character would become, particularly during her arc on Angel. Harmony, who comes across as just one of Cordelia's hangers-on, also makes the move to LA to provide a substantial amount of comic relief on Angel. Most recently, Harmony appears in Issue 21 of Season 8.

Harmony Kendall in Season 1 and Season 8
Sources: mouthfullofdust; Dark Horse Comics

Random Observations:
  • I'm so glad they eventually had Anthony Stewart Head record the little "In every generation..." blurb at the beginning of the episodes. The original guy's voice is weird and does not suit the show.
  • You may recognize the guy Darla kills in the teaser. He's Carmine Giovinazzo and he plays Danny Messer on CSY: New York now.
  • Nerf Herder's theme music makes me happy to this day, as does the opening credits sequence.
  • Angel was sort of a douche with his whole "mysterious stranger" schtick
  • Who is cuter than Alyson Hannigan? Nobody, that's who.
  • Cordelia is probably the funniest part of this episode. Her delivery is spot on.
  • Though we grew accustomed to the vampires bursting into dust when killed, it really added a lot visually. Watching people collapse is really boring in comparison. For examples, see the movie.

Favourite Quote: "Excuse me, I have to call everyone I've ever met right now." -Cordelia

End of the World Prevention Tally: 1 (I'd say preventing the Harvest counts since it would have inevitably lead to the Master opening the Hellmouth)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Buffy Retrospective

Last weekend, when I should have been getting a head start on my readings for my final semester of law school, I fell into an unplanned marathon of Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I dreamed up a great tool of procrastination for myself. I am going to blog a full retrospective viewing of the series. Sounds like a daunting task, but I have already spent an excessive amount of time thinking about the show, and it's not as if I'll be viewing any unfamiliar material. I have set blogging goals for myself in the past, and I don't think I have achieved any of them to date, but I think my excessive dedication to Buffy will get me through. (If anyone questions my dedication to the show, I once wrote a blog defending Dawn after she was included on a list of the most annoying characters on television, and I stand by what I said. If that's not dedication to the series, I don't know what is.)

By way of introduction, let me share a few words about how my relationship with Buffy (and thus the cult of Joss Whedon) began. In 1992, at the tender age of 7 or 8, I rented Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, the movie. I recall enjoying the movie. Of course, I had no idea what was to come, but the film somehow stuck with me because when I got word of the series, I knew, before anyone told me, that it was based on the film and I wanted very much to watch it, though I didn't know how different from the film the series would prove to be.

Buffy premiered on the WB Network on March 10, 1997. However, I didn't see an episode until a few weeks into Season 2 because my mother, under the mistaken belief that the show was too violent and scary for an impressionable youth such as myself, didn't let me watch it (YTV was airing the show in Canada at this stage). I managed to sneak a few episodes and by the time the Season 2 finale rolled around, I somehow convinced my mother that the show was not going to scar me. I taped "Go Fish" and "Becoming" and proceeded to watch them almost every day over the course of the summer of 1998. I've had a pretty serious addiction every since. I started taping every episode and watching them repeatedly, and managed to get a few friends watching, as well. I also started collecting various forms of Buffy memorabilia, particularly comics, action figures, and books. The collection may warrant a special post someday. Since the series finale in 2003, I have continued to watch episodes on a regular basis and am enjoying Season 8, which is being conveyed in the form of a comic published by Dark Horse and produced by Joss.

So, here is the plan going forward. I am not going to follow any particular format in my entries, which will allow me to tailor each entry to the particular episode. In the interest of time and because there are thorough recaps available elsewhere online (my personal favourite site for all things Buffy is Much Ado About Buffy the Vampire Slayer), I'm not going to get into episode and storyline recaps to any great degree. Rather, my attention will be focused on what I can recall of my impressions of the episode when it first aired, how my perspective on the episode has changed in relation to subsequent episodes and after repeated viewing, and my favourite tidbits from each episode. I'm also going to work on compiling a few different lists because lists are fun.

With that, let's get on with the show!