Category Archives: Television

Joss Whedon – A Force to be Reckoned With

Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon

I recently (finally) went to see the movie “The Avengers,” a tale of several folks, some more super than others, who team up to fight a threat to Earth. This movie was written and directed by Joss Whedon. As it happens, I am also currently immersing myself in all 7 seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (I’m about 1/8 through the third season right now), a series that Whedon created, wrote for and executive-produced. Which is just to say, I am impressed and inspired (if not overwhelmed) by the creative powers of this guy. Talk about a superhero – Whedon, who is primarily a writer, has fought up through the ranks and given viewers several different visions of flawed and compelling characters over a span of 20 years. And these visions always focus on the fantastic in one form or another, whether it’s vampires and demons, spaceships and strange planets, living “dolls,” or superheroes.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If you’re a fan of Whedon, then you already know that his first big triumph was the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which ran from 1996-2003. This triumph came after the forgettable movie of the same name, which Whedon wrote (and which starred heavy hitters such as Donald Sutherland and Rutger Hauer, as well as Paul Reubens). His script was heavily rewritten for more laughs, however, and Whedon eventually left the set out of frustration with how his vision was being botched.

But then, a few years later, Whedon was approached to create a television series about Buffy. This time he was in control, and the result was a dark ride through high school and beyond, with various monsters representing the anxieties of adolescence. This series’ powerful writing and persuasive acting ensured that Whedon had a success on his hands.

Firefly

Firefly

Soon, Whedon was also writing and executive producing a spin-off series, “Angel,” which featured several characters from “Buffy” over its five-year run. And in 2002, Whedon developed a third series that he also wrote and executive produced, “Firefly,” a Western in outer space. The result – Whedon was behind the wheel of three shows between 2002-2003 (both “Firefly” and “Buffy” ended in 2003). That’s quite an achievement right there, to be the creative force behind three different shows on three different networks.

But even after “Firefly” failed to live beyond one season (although managing to garner quite the rabid fanbase), and “Angel” only lasted one season after the end of “Buffy” (even though it seemed to have gotten its creative mojo back after foundering for a while), Whedon kept on thinking up new creative projects.

Dollhouse

Dollhouse

In 2005, Whedon wrote and directed “Serenity,” a story showcasing the characters from “Firefly.” And in 2009, Whedon teamed up with Eliza Dushku for the television series “Dollhouse.” Although unfortunately short-lived, “Dollhouse” played with the interesting premise that a corporation is running underground dollhouses around the world, wiping their Dolls’ memories and temporarily instilling them with different personalities and skills, then renting them out or utilizing them in other nefarious ways.

“Cabin in the Woods,” a movie Whedon co-wrote, finally came out last year after being on the shelf as a result of the MGM bankruptcy. I unfortunately did not get to see this in the theater while it was out, but I do know that this movie, which plays with horror tropes, garnered quite a bit of buzz.

And so we’ve circled around again to “The Avengers,” a movie that came about after several other Marvel superhero movies, including “Ironman,” “Ironman 2,” “Captain America,” “Hulk,” “Incredible Hulk,” and “Thor.” Most of these (with the exception of the Hulk films) did very well at the box office, and whoever took on the task of writing, and of directing, the Avengers movie would have a monumental task before them. They would need to integrate 6 heroes and their back-stories, a credible villain, and assorted other characters from the Marvel comics canon into the mix, giving all of the heroes equality in terms of plot importance and screen time.

The Avengers

The Avengers

I think Whedon did a fantastic job with “The Avengers” on all these counts. The plot allowed all of the heroes to give a sense of their back stories to the viewer, it offered Loki as a very credible and complex villain, and other characters, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, stood out as well.

Whedon clearly has achieved a great deal as a writer who can generate all kinds of stories, whether involving fantasy, science fiction, or horror. I admire him for many reasons (trust me, there will be a Buffy post after I’ve gone through all of the seasons), including his ability to create incredibly involving characters, his structuring of plot, and his versatility. So here’s to you, Mr. Whedon – and here’s hoping you continue to create amazing stories for many more years to come.

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Fringe – Creativity in Motion

Fringe

The Fox network recently announced that Fringe, a show that’s been on the air for four years but has a tiny audience (it got moved to Friday nights this past year), will be renewed for a final, fifth season. This news, that one of the most creative and innovative television series in recent memory will be able to resolve at least some of the lingering mysteries that it has evoked, made me say “yay!”

As many ultimately rewarding TV shows often do, Fringe started off a bit shaky. It wasn’t always clear what the point of the wacky, freaky events was, and I myself was a bit wary, given the fate of Fringe’s predecessor, the X-Files. For most of the X-Files’ run, I worshiped the show, but eventually it became clear that there was no ultimate plot point to the black oil, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the alien abduction of Mulder’s sister, etc., etc.

X-Files

Nonetheless, I was intrigued by Fringe’s core trio of characters: Olivia Dunham the dedicated FBI agent, Peter Bishop the drifting con artist, and Walter Bishop, Peter’s father, the genius scientist committed for many years to an insane asylum. I especially liked the possibilities embedded in the tense relationship between Peter and Walter. It’s what ultimately kept me watching through some of the trials of the first season, as I suffered through Olivia’s devotion to her dead, possibly traitorous boyfriend John, and the apartment-crashing by Olivia’s drippy sister.

But then, with the ending of the first season, Fringe finally began to demonstrate some of the method behind the madness of the Pattern, Walter’s past experiments with William Bell, the Observers, and Olivia’s latent abilities – Olivia crossed over to a mirror world in order to confront William Bell. But not everything is the same there. She looks out a window and realizes she’s in one of New York’s Twin Towers. Yowza.

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Just like that, I was completely hooked. An Earth 2, where our doubles exist but have possibly taken different paths or met different people than we have. What are they like? What do they want? Since I’m exploring different worlds in my own fiction, I was very eager to see in what direction Fringe would head. I myself am going down the same road as Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – my worlds are different, but there are throughways between them.

Fringe is taking the other tack – the worlds started out the same, way back when, but all the different choices made have created changes in how the worlds approach things – everything from dirigibles vs. planes, to the type of ID people carry. With a mirror worlds concept, where every character has a double, there are so many paths to choose from, so many ways that people can change, based on both their choices and on their experiences.

And Fringe has proceeded to explore the possibilities in delicious ways. Olivia’s double is confident and brassy, striding into dangerous situations with her long red hair swinging. Broyles’ double is still married. Charlie’s double has a scar disrupting his face. Walter’s double is the freakin’ head of the Defense Department. But Peter – why, he doesn’t have a double…

Now that the creators of Fringe know that they have a fifth and final season, they are free to create a fitting ending to this rich and varied series. I just can’t wait! And you, dear reader, if you haven’t explored the universe of Fringe yet and you are a fan of imaginative TV, I highly encourage you to do so.

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