Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Damn you, Joss Whedon

(note: this post contains SPOILERS for the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seasons 1-5.)

Damn you, Joss Whedon.

That's right, I said it. Some of you reading this are probably already considering de-friending me on Facebook or unfollowing me on Twitter. Well, that's your right, but please bear with me. This statement will be defended, I promise.

So, I've been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the past couple months. I had never seen the TV show before and so many people talk about it that I thought I'd give it a chance. (I'm actually afraid that peer pressure will get the best of me and I will succumb and end up watching Lost in a few years, too.)

I struggled through the first season. In my opinion, there was little that was good about it. The concept - great. The execution - not so much. But I totally understood that I am not the target demographic for that show and could certainly see why teenagers, especially teen girls, would and did like that show. But a friend of mine told me to stick with it. So I did.

I'm now near the end of season 5 of 7. A lot of things have happened, they are in their second year of college (well, xander isn't, but he's still part of the group so he might as well be), and they are dealing with more adult issues. Yes, they are only 20 years old, but even for me that is more relatable than when they were 16 years old and in high school.

It is obvious that Joss Whedon is no dummy. Seven seasons is a good length of time for a show to run, and to have a spinoff during that run that then goes for 5 seasons (Angel) is another testament to the popularity of the Buffyverse. Why it ended after 7 seasons I don't know, but over the course of the series, it did get progressively better. Well, with the exception of the cinematography. (I have never seen so many boom mics, exterior lights and cameras in the shots than I have seen in this show. But that is a discussion for another time.)

And Whedon is clever. If you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog, go watch it and you'll see what I'm talking about.

But why would I say "Damn you, Joss Whedon"? Because he took a show that was about a group of high school kids who fought vampires and demons, a show that seemed to mostly focus on the demons, and turned it into a show that focused mostly on the characters. The demons and vampires may provide the background for the stories in each episode, but by season 5, the characters are what are driving this show. And let me tell you now, that is what I prefer. It's why I like all of Stephen King's really long books - he focuses so much on the characters, the story is more about them than anything else. And a number of my favorite shows follow this pattern. Six Feet Under was like that from the beginning. Freaks and Geeks. Bones, like Buffy, has turned into this. So what it comes down to is that I love the character-driven story.

Joss Whedon and his writers have made me care about these characters.

In season 5, they are on the verge of facing off with their toughest obstacle yet, Glory. Taking the form of a woman, the gang believed Glory to be a demon but the Watcher Council swoops in and reveals that Glory is not a demon but is, in fact, a god -- certainly not the news they were looking for. How the hell do you defeat a god? As in all other episodes prior to this, the gang begins to research in an effort to find a way to defeat "her." Then the unthinkable happens -- Buffy's mom, Joyce, dies. Who saw that coming? Some of you probably did, but not me. (Frankly, I never see that kind of thing coming.)

See, now that I care about the characters, I am fully invested in what they do and how their lives turn out (even Spike, for whom, by this point, I really feel sorry), Whedon pulls out the big guns. He kills one of them. Yes, I know, he didn't kill her. That's just what happened. But he might as well have. And now the show resonates with me so much more.

Since my dad died, I get this way anytime I watch a show where a parent or loved one of a character I care about dies. The last time it affected me so strongly was during Scrubs. You see, I know what that's like. I can empathize with this fictional character. And it makes me care for her more. It makes me relive what happened to me in February 2006. It's something that doesn't get better. It does get easier to deal with, but it never hurts any less. You walk around like a zombie for awhile. You don't want to do anything. Your friends try to console you, but most of them can't say anything that helps because they don't know what it feels like. You want to die, too.

Then, somehow, you wake up one day (which day that is depends on the person, but that day does come) when you can swing your legs out of the bed, you can sit up, you can get dressed and walk out the door and take a few more steps than you took the day before. Will Buffy be able to do this? Maybe. Of course, living on the Hellmouth, tends to make you deal with things more quickly than normal.

But here's what it will do more than anything, it will drive the gang to defeat Glory. In the midst of all the sadness, there is still Glory, who had threatened Buffy's friends and family. So it raises the question, was Glory responsible for Joyce's death? The doctors say it was an aneurysm. But isn't that something that Glory could have caused? Certainly.

Now, this part is all speculation by me because I have yet to finish watching season 5. But I suspect that this, like these things often do in the movies and on TV, will push Buffy to be stronger, will give her the added strength to defeat this nemesis.

Or maybe Whedon and his crew will turn it all on top of its head and do the unexpected.

Whatever happens at this point, I say, "Damn you, Joss Whedon." Damn you for making me care so much about these characters. Damn you for making me relive my dad's death a little bit. Damn you for making a show that is mostly fun to watch and keeps me clicking the "Next Episode" button on Netflix.

And I also say, "Thank you, Joss Whedon" for making me care so much about these characters. That's what truly makes TV worth watching.

(By the way, Joss, why didn't Spike ever get his own spinoff? Damn you, Joss Whedon!)