Thursday, January 21, 2010

Early Thoughts on Buffy: or, A Decade Late to the Party

I'm trying to pretend that I'm not heartbroken that I forgot to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on MTV today, particularly since it was the episode ("Faith, Hope & Trick") that introduced Faith to the series. She just happens to be one of my favorite characters in the entire Buffyverse.

My official story is that I'm hoping that I don't get hopelessly stuck on the series so I will not feel compelled to watch each and every episode. That way I won't spend time that I don't really have writing an infinite number of blog posts about Buffy. So, I'm stuck on having watched a grand total of two episodes of the series so far, and holding.

Lack of official knowledge has never held me back from posting anything, so here are my impressions on BtVS after having seen Season 3's "Anne" and "Dead Man's Party".

Buffy: the Series. I've been waiting my entire life to see something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seeing as how I went through most of my childhood without finding the perfect female role model to admire. I finally found the fantastic Diana Rigg performing as Emma Peel on reruns of The Avengers during my senior year in high school in the early 1980's, but by that time it was too late. It's ironic that when Buffy arrived on television, I had to wait well over a decade before I could finally start watching the series.

(Advice to anyone out there contemplating parenthood: having young kids running around underfoot really puts a crimp in your TV viewing schedule.)

It's unfair to compare one series against the other, and I find myself in the unusual position of comparing Buffy to Angel, rather than the other way around. Having said that, I'm preferring Angel because it's darker, more mature, more philosophical, and, in an odd way, appears to have a deeper sense of humanity.

The biggest drawback to me in Buffy is how it seems to be a typical high school adventure series where the collective interests of the clique are more important than the individual needs of its members. That was the facet that I really hated in Angel's Season 2 crisis of faith (in Angel: the Series), where Angel was constantly criticized by his friends and forced to atone for the fact that he'd had enough of Wolfram & Hart's machinations and felt the need to do something about it.

However, in the grand scheme of things, that's just nitpicking, and I'm willing to enjoy Buffy based on its own merits.

Buffy Summers. I had read how the TV Buffy, as played by Sarah Michelle Geller, is a lot more thoughtful and introverted than the Buffy that was played by Kristy Swanson in the movie version. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote a piece in The Atlantic called "Caring For Your Introvert". I've always intended to use this article as the basis for yet another Post That Will Probably Never Be Written, this time involving AtS Season 1 Angel and Cordelia. According to Rauch and social scientists, introverts are not necessarily shy or spineless. Introverts usually hold their own in conversations and are even capable of shining at parties for a few hours at a time. However, introverts need their alone time to unwind, collect their thoughts, and regroup for the next round of social interactions.

In "Anne", Buffy seemed to enjoy her anonymity in the Big City. In "Dead Man's Party", she was more than a little miffed when her small dinner party, which she didn't seem all that thrilled about to begin with, turned into a big party-crashing "hootenanny". Ignoring the fact that it's not a good idea for young underage women to be living on their own, in both instances Buffy was castigated for ducking her responsibilities and abandoning her friends. Particularly with the party scene, there was the general subtext that all teens should enjoy brain-deafening music and having their homes trashed by a bunch of unknown peers. Instead of making a federal case out of things, maybe everyone should have just periodically left Buffy alone for a while.

Joyce Summers. Kristine Sutherland, the actress who plays Buffy's mother Joyce, looks remarkably a lot like actress Blythe Danner. More importantly, she looks a lot like Sarah Michelle Geller, which is why I find them almost believable as mother and daughter. Joyce seems like she makes a valiant effort to keep the lines of communication open with Buffy, but will often slip back into the habit of mouthing off empty platitudes to her daughter, probably due to the time constraints she faces as a single mom.

Joyce doesn't seem like the right person for the job of being a mother to a slayer, but then she hardly signed up for that tour of duty either. Despite being irritatingly too accepting of a bunch of kids trashing her house, I was more than thrilled to see her acting quickly and quite bravely in helping to drive away the attacking zombies. She didn't hesitate to pick up large heavy objects and start whacking away!

I'm also grateful that I'm spared, at least for a little while, the drama of Joyce discovering, "Oh, how horrible, my daughter's a slayer!" and "You've been doing what in the middle of the night?"

Rupert Giles. So far I'm a little disappointed with Rupert Giles. I'm not sure if I can blame it on Anthony Stewart Head or not, but I'm finding Giles to be a little bit too bland. And I have an extremely high tolerance for blandness! On the upside, I'm finding promising potential in how he further interacts as Buffy's father-figure, as a mentor for the Scoobies, and as a not-quite Almost Something or Other for Joyce.

Cordelia Chase. I love Charisma Carpenter, and I adored Cordelia Chase in Angel, but it was a relief to find Cordelia somewhat in the background in Buffy, subsumed by the group. An analogy is, sometimes it's nice to find the "down" button in the volume controls. What I find absolutely amazing so far is how much more courageous Cordelia seemed in Buffy, rushing in to mix it up with the vampires and demons almost without thinking, in contrast to her, "I'll stand back and let Angel do all the work" attitude in Angel. I think it was a mistake for the producers to have her act much more timidly in Angel. Admittedly, as the series went on Cordelia became a much more effective fighter, but it's debatable as to whether she ever reached the same level of reckless abandonment that she achieved in Buffy.

In the creators' defense, Cordelia was working within a well-oiled machine with the Scooby Gang, where everyone knew their coordinated roles. In Angel, the demons seemed a lot more dangerous, and Angel needed lots of room to manoeuvre. Cordelia would have run the risk of being accidentally cold-cocked by Angel if she would have gotten too close to the action.

Willow Rosenberg. Alyson Hannigan is kind of an idiosyncratic actress who I think takes some getting used to. Once you get over her idiosyncrasies, she's actually quite delightful to watch. I thought I'd find Willow to be rather boring, but I'm happy to find that she's quite sweet and courageous. I'm enjoying her interactions with Oz, and I'm already kind of sad to know that she'll be coming out of the closet in a relatively short period of time. I think I'd accept her lesbianism a lot more if she had been gay all throughout the series run.

I'm also saddened to find out she'll be much more of a witch later on (in more ways than one), because I like her just the way she is right now. However, having her become skillful in witchcraft undeniably opened up a lot more possibilities for future plotlines.

Oz Osbourne. To me, Seth Green will always be Dr. Evil's son from Austin Powers. I'm therefore delighted that he seems to be the same laid-back, laconic character in Buffy. You hate to see any actor being typecast, but Seth plays this type of guy so well, you hate to ever see him change.

Xander Harris. The jury's out on him. He seems to be the alpha member of the Scoobies (excluding Buffy) with a lot of wonderful qualities. He's intelligent, funny, and sensitive, and shows a lot of great leadership qualities. However, I didn't appreciate how he took charge of the "Let's pile the guilt on Buffy" incident in "Dead Man's Party".

Perhaps he's just a little too sure of himself and of his moral superiority?

Angel. So far he's just been Buffy's dream boy. It's interesting to see him through Buffy's eyes, rather than as a powerful figure in his own right.

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