By PATRICK MCCRAY
Covered -- Season 1, all episodes.
I’m twelve episodes in. Because I’d never seen these before, unlike DARK SHADOWS, it was understandably exhausting toward the end, but I commend Joss Whedon in the firmness of his vision. While the stories were a tad formulaic (excluding “Angel” and “Prophecy Girl”), he showed an extremely strong vision for the characters. So far, they seem to be both consistent-yet-dynamic, and I enjoyed tuning in to see them. Cordelia had a predictably humanizing arc, which I might have done without, but the rest are relatable and winning. The stories of the first season didn’t really help this, nor did the dialogue. It’s the kind of self-aware snark that plagues Straczynski. It’s like in ANCHORMAN, when Ron Burgundy enthuses to his crew, “Hey everybody, come in here and see how great I look.” I get the feeling it’s what the BUFFY staff had to do in Joss’ office more than once. There’s snappy dialogue, much of which actually belonged to the first principal, but then there’s line after line that felt shoehorned in to get a laugh or make someone Look Clever. That kind of writing may be the most delicate to execute, and to see it handled well, get thee to the works of William Peter Blatty. In this case, it feels self-conscious and takes me out of the show.
My hope is that he’s developing a distinctive flavor for the series, and I think that’s where it will be if the fans are accurate. At it’s worst, it’s emblematic of the show’s strange relationship with realism. On one hand, he seems to want a realistic, personal, sympathetic portrayal of twentysomethings in high school. On the other hand, that kind of arch dialogic treatment of stressful moments feels wholly engineered and removes me from the immediacy of the moment. The other place where helpfully focusing realism is abandoned in the pursuit of flavor regards the piebald presence of adults in the school. Adults are all over the place in schools, and even twenty years ago, played an active role. Too many moments and events go by with passive or completely absent grownups (save Giles). As Mission Control pointed out, that’s a Disney Channel treatment of a seemingly kid-run school and betrays the complexity of the power and relationships in that environment. It’s not about adults, but adults are intrinsic to where it takes place.
Highlights? For emotional messiness, I was especially fond of the relationships in the finale and how they criss-crossed regarding Xander’s pursuit of a date to the dance. I look forward to more of that, and if Whedon can keep it real and not maudlin, I’ll be happy. Joss certainly knows how to cast women. Both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan anchor the show, and the relatably effete Anthony Stewart Head isn’t far behind. Unfortunately, I have no idea what his fascination is with slope-browed brunette men. Both Xander and Angel look like Malcolm Reynolds, and all three have a strangely neanderthalish quality that makes me dyin’ for some Seth Green. As an actor, Green has the sort of likably nerdy, Gilliganesque quality that Whedon seems to be going for with Xander. Unfortunately, all of the lighting in the world can’t keep this supposedly loveless nerd from looking about as square-jawed-male-modelish as Angel.
So, all I really know now is that the show gets better. And that’s saying a lot, because it wasn’t bad in this case. I put Whedon under a microscope, yes, but it’s commensurate with his reputation. I know he learns a lot about shaping snarky dialogue in tough situations; the well-honed dialogue in THE AVENGERS is proof of it. Onward!