Sep 27, 2010

Joss Whedon: A Guest Post by Lightheaded

Today’s guest post is by a blogger I think of as my book twin, Lightheaded at everyday reads. Lightheaded and I have quite a few favourite authors in common, and when she recommends something, I know I can be 90% sure I’m going to like it too – which is why I should have listened to her about Atonement when she first recommended it to me some three years ago. And speaking of things I should listen to her about (not to mention to countless other blogging friends), Lightheaded’s post is about Joss Whedon, he of Buffy and Firefly fame. Yes, I’m properly ashamed of myself for not having watched season one of Buffy yet, even though I promised Amy I would last year, but at least I’m packing the DVDs to take with me to my new home. That’s a start, right?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Firefly

Hello, I am Lightheaded. I'm a book addict. Kidding. I'll be posting today because Ana's knee-deep in books, alas studying them instead of the usual thing we book bloggers do. I mean reading for the pleasure of it. And while she's away I'll go tinker with her blog a bit. Insert maniacal laughter here.

I will deviate from my usual rambles about books and instead focus on one other thing. One other person, I mean. Today I will share my total and complete adoration of Joss Whedon. I mean, if I'm going to do a guest post on my Book Twin's blog (I'm truly honored that Nymeth considers me her Book Twin, so much so I give it a proper noun designation, hahaha) what better way to "hijack" this venue by writing about someone she hasn't even discussed yet, right?

Well, "hijack" is such grave a term. And I do hope you guys enjoy this one.

I don't remember when was it that I started referring to Joss as a genius. I used to just watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, back in the days when torrents were but a hacker's dream. Of course I'm being overly dramatic. Then again, if you live in a tropical country like me and your source of foreign tv shows are channels that show them at least two seasons behind from the ones being aired in the States, today's sites for downloading are simply havens of delight. Too bad that there aren't any Whedon shows on air now. But I digress.

While I don't remember when I started referring to Joss as a genius, I knew early on that BtVS was special. Back then it was different. Of course it wasn't a procedural unlike other dramas. It had vampires and werewolves and your usual monsters of the week. But it was more than that. It had a story that kept you glued. It had adults that act like adults and kids that act like kids. And well, the monsters that act like monsters and some that don't. It had characters that make you believe that you were back in highschool, facing the demons (real or imagined) they were actually facing. And it was while watching BtVS and the spinoff, Angel that I started regarding Joss for what he is, a god, I mean a master storyteller.

And that's what ties all of us book bloggers together, you see. We all love stories. Good stories. We are charmed by characters that weave magic into our hearts and believe that they could overcome any plot difficulties - be it Tally Youngblood undergoing changes in the Uglies Trilogy, Christopher Chant becoming Chrestomanci, Liesel Meminger writing her stories in The Book Thief or even Briony Tallis trying to atone for her sins. We love stories because we see the truth in them. We adore authors that make us react, make us feel, make us believe. And I could say the same thing about Joss Whedon.

He created a heroine out of a cheerleader who eventually burned her school down. How awesome is that? And it wasn't enough she had to go through highschool, she did it while recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses as a Slayer. The Chosen One. Ok, so I'll stop there. I mean probably everyone knows who Buffy is anyway. But the good thing about having a master storyteller craft a show is knowing that the central figure needs strong support from other characters. And here we have an excellent cast: the bestfriend Willow, bookish, nerdy and powerful in her own right, the other bestfriend Xander who acts like the voice of (wimpy) reason, the librarian Giles who guides the Slayer, and the sulking, brooding Angel who's a vampire with a soul. And that's just the first two seasons. Of course I'm not here to write about every episode of the show. That would take "hijack a blog" to a certain extreme. Hahaha. But there are great, great episodes in the entire seven season run. My favorite is Once More with Feelings primarily because it's a musical. My other favorite is Hush, an episode with barely any speaking parts.

I do recognize that Joss had very strong support in the scripts. But it's his story that people are telling. BtVS is a great show but what's even greater is the spinoff, Angel. Sue me if I consider Angel more of my favorite. It's darker yes, but it's also geared for adults. It's a story for adults who have gone through a lot as most of us have. Angel is the tortured hero, a champion. He didn't want to be one. He was the meanest, baddest vampire of all called Angelus, until he killed a gypsy and her relatives cast a spell on him to bring his soul back. Hence all the people he killed and maimed and what-have-you weigh down on him everyday with that soul in his being.

And to make matters more confusing, only a master storyteller can craft a villain that will grow on you. A villain in the name of Spike. Also a vampire. An evil vampire. A former bumbling poet in the Victorian era turned into a fiendish rake who has killed two Slayers already. A villain who morphs into a hero when he fell in love with the enemy.

Typing that and I started seeing Spike arriving in Sunnydale with his too yellow hair. Hahaha.

But see, a master storyteller just doesn't stop at the mythology of the slayers and vampire. He creates other worlds, other series. There's that much missed Firefly, of course. It could have been his greatest work yet but hey, he was subject to the powers-that-be of Fox which cancelled the show just when we were starting to look forward to more adventures for Captain Mal and his crew.

Me, I actually watched Serenity first. The movie. [Aside: Talk about cool, here's a link to an old interview with Joss Whedon and that other master storyteller, Neil Gaiman prior to the release of Serenity years ago. Total geek goodness.] Then I backtracked with the Firefly DVD. It's a story about the future. A future that is bleak. A future controlled by the Alliance. Dystopian? Yes. With a merry ragtag team of eh, thieves who refuse to submit to the Alliance's control? Oh yes. If there's one show I'd like to see more of it's this. Really, Serenity is just the start. I want more. I know there are a lot of Browncoats out there like me, too.

The latest show to get the ax was Dollhouse just this year. Not a lot of people liked this but I did. It is a show about mind control, touched in part by the film Serenity but explored here to more destructive proportions. The Dollhouse is a place for dolls: people whose memories have been wiped off and installed new ones depending on a client's wish. It was wrapped up too soon but at least that was better than the early cancellation of Firefly.

And then there's Dr. Horrible and His Sing-Along Blog. It's a web show spun from the Writer's Strike a couple of years back. It's a musical, again. And it's a story about a villain, Dr. Horrible, trying to get into the Evil League of Evil. And yet, and yet this villainous guy who blogs his evil exploits has a serenade in mind for the girl of his dreams. Unrequited love captured to perfection:

I know I'm rambling. Sorry.

But see here, he wouldn't be a master storyteller without these stories and the characters in them. He writes not just strong women characters but believable ones. Even characters with a smidgen of airtime has lasting significance. When he writes about stereotypical characters you tend to know them beyond such labels. See, first you had the snobbish, spoiled cheerleader Cordelia during the first three seasons of BtVS. It was quite easy to hate her. And yet she starts growing on you. Then the geeks Warren, Jonathan and Andrew. You see some of them throughout the course of the seasons until they come and haunt you with the fact that they actually studied you from afar and are now formidable enemies in their own right. Supporting characters such as Sierra and Victor who are as formidable as Echo. The Empath Demon of Caritas who can read your life through any song you sing. You have stories of heartbreaks in all the series because a master storyteller isn't afraid of anything: neither death nor destruction. Everybody feels, nobody's safe. And that's what life is all about.

Of course tv shows aren't like books. A network decides on the airtime of shows unlike in books where the author decides for himself or herself when to stop. That notwithstanding, Joss Whedon will always be my favorite master storyteller. And that's actually surprising, coming from a book addict like me. Yay for confession time!

And I thank my Book Twin, Nymeth, for allowing me a space to ramble about my complete and total adoration of Joss. Rambling is probably an understatement. So may I suggest you get the DVDs of Whedon's shows and experience the highs and lows of life. You just might like them too.


  1. I love anything paranormal, yet I have to admit and hold my hand up and say,' I have never watched Buffy!' I clearly need to rectify this.

  2. The thing I adore most about Joss's shows is the writing. They're so fabulously written that I could sit and watch them over and over and just let the fabulousness wash over me.

    And thanks for the link to the interview. That is geeky goodness.

  3. I was just watching Angel yesterday and admiring how beautifully the writers manage to undercut all the stereotypes of the supernatural and noir-y genres. Without sacrificing the high stakes of the show. It's quite remarkable.

    (No mention of Anya? My most favorite character of all the Buffy characters?)

  4. I think Firefly is the best television show to grace primetime, and I just wish it had made it longer than one year.

  5. This is a well timed post. Me and my Husband saw the film Serenity when it came out and had no idea it was a TV show. We brought the full box set a couple of weeks ago and saw the first two episodes last night and we are hooked! thanks goodness there are so many episodes to get through LOL

  6. I'm sad to say that I never watched this series when it was on the air here in the States. My friend Margo begged me for years to watch it. I have to say that your post has me completely intrigued and excited to get my hands on that first season DVD set. I know my son will enjoy it too.

  7. I think Joss Whedon is a genius too! I was obsessed about Buffy and Angel (when I was supposed to be writing my thesis - so easy to be distracted by the wonderful stories!) and wasn't sure about Firefly. It seemed such a change in direction. But I watched one episode and was hooked and was so upset that they axed it. What's with all his shows being prematurely cancelled? Whedon's supposed to be one of the greats and he just doesn't get a break. Makes me want to cry. Thanks for a great post and reminding me that I need to watch them again!

  8. I'm a big fan of Firefly and just recently watched all the Buffy seasons. I can't wait to try Angel out next.

    Thanks for the Gaiman/Joss interview. It's awesome!

  9. yay for the Whedon love!!!
    I think Buffy is still and always will be to me one of the most fascinating and complex characters ever conceived and I often find myself referring to things that happened on Buffy as some sort of story canon. :)

    I admire TV writers a great deal BECAUSE they have to work around the constraints of a network and also on a whole big creative team. I do have to catch up with Dollhouse, and I didn't love Firefly like everyone else did, but Buffy and Angel are shows I love.

  10. Yay for Whedon love, indeed! Thanks, everyone. And thanks to Nymeth again for letting me hijack her blog :)

  11. Thank you Lightheaded for this post. I am also a Whedon fan and have watched pretty much everything he has created.

    I think his genius comes from the fact that all his series can be understood on different levels. You have the usual stories with vampires, teenage angst, space cowboy but at the same time he touches on many deep themes and topics - friendship, parenthood, love, death (The Body!), jealousy, loyalty, madness, personality/individuality, social status, morality, etc. - in a fresh and honest fashion. How 'geeky' must it have been to make Buffy and her gang find solutions from looking at books and reside in a Library! I loved this. All this is treated with a good dose of humour and excellent dialogue. Ultimately, his characterisation is second to none, with very strong and complex roles. I'll never forget Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Spike, Angel, Lorne, Darla, Mal, River, Zoe... all of them actually.

    From a vampire given back his soul who must atone for his past sins by constantly challenging himself to a former soldier who finds himself in a society he doesn't believe in while protecting his little disparate 'crew/family', from a companion who has more social status than a renegade to a human being trying to repossess her body and facing the issue of what makes us human, Whedon questions the world we live in a totally critical and thoughtful way.

  12. I'm lucky to have two grown-up sons who think Joss is god, and point out all the subtleties they think I might have missed.

    I've just watched the end of Dollhouse - it felt like a small tragedy, having nothing more to watch, but maybe I'm ready for Firefly again now, and then I could start Buffy again at the beginning - oh, the pleasure of Spike's first ever episode! The two you mention are my favourites, too - Hush is the best of all, I think.

    Hadn't seen the Gaiman/Whedon interview - bliss, thanks.

  13. Well said!!! I love all Joss's shows-Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse. He is definitely a creative genius. :)

  14. *Sigh* this post is dreamy. Great look at what makes Wheddon's series so awesome. You're right it's the stories that pull us in and the characters he's written.

    What I love about Wheddon's stories is that he's so willing to create flawed characters, who can end up doing things wrong, or just turning round and being evil. And he's not shy about killing off his main characters (he even killed Buffy, I mean we all knew she was coming back but it's huge for the heroine a show is named after to get killed off and not then replaced by an inferior heroine). He really knows how to mix the emotional jeopardy in with the romance.

    He really knows how to make viewers connect emotionally with all his characters and then devestate them by taking advantage of that love when he unleashes drammatic twists (Jonathan's death? Wesley's hand amputation? Who knew I'd fall so hard for these evil bit characters and feel their troubles so much - Whedon knew). Doyle! Agh I'm still sad about that.

    And there's just so much general coolness in his shows that add to the plots (especially true of Firefly). Thanks for the reminder that I need to pick up 'Serenity'. I hope it's as good as the Firefly series.

  15. I love Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but haven't been able to figure out much of the attraction of Buffy.

  16. Well, goodness! Lightheaded - you crack me up. I've only watched a few eps of BtVS here and there and never saw Firefly but I can't deny the fan's sure love Whedon! I hope someone picks up Firefly and continues it? Surely with all the buzz I hear about it.

  17. ah Joss Whedon! great post, great post. I agree with you, all hail the master storyteller, and his creations. I could never get tired of watching my Buffy dvds, and I believe a Firefly boxset is on my xmas wishlist. I liked Dollhouse, too, although I haven't finished watching it. I was so shocked by Dewitt's behaviour in one episode of the second season that I never went back, but I know I will one day, cause I need to know what happens at the end!
    Anyway, nothing could ever be as good as Buffy in my eyes. So many things to mention that make it such a great show, I could go on and on for the whole day and night. The feminism, the wonderfully developed story arches, the layers of meanings, the radicalism (Buffy-Tara hello!) and its open view on teen sexuality, the characterisation's depth, the mythology, the musical! and the dialogues...oh the dialogues. So much goodness packed in one single show.

  18. Oh and the TV show's ending! I don't think I've ever been so satisfied with an ending (books, movies or tv shows) like I was with Buffy's. So flipping good and so empowering.

  19. <3 <3 <3 <3

    You know the worst part about moving overseas? I had to leave all my DVDs behind! I've had wicked bad Buffy & Angel cravings for the past couple of months, and I can't do anything to get rid of them. It's hell. Thankfully, Dollhouse has started airing on New Zealand television, so I get a weekly Joss fix.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.