Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I never really considered this blog's career, post-college. Of course, I will be going to grad school in another year, so the subject matter won't be academia-free until 2010, but even so the prospect of a year of posting non-college related material is daunting.

Why is that, I wonder? Why is this blog daunting at all, when it serves as the proper outlet of my thoughts, or at least what passes for thought when I'm tired, wonky, and/or upset? I suppose I feel some duty, some responsibility, to post on here in a way that will give me some measure of pride when I look back on it (assuming it's still here, which I hope it is) years from now. Do I want to look back at the writing from my sapling years and see a bunch of LJ-worthy bitching and angst? I think not.

Not that this post is going to be angst-free. In my free time between finding employment--and yes, I am seeking gainful employment, not merely resting on my well-deserved baccalaurels--I've been studying the early efforts of Joss Whedon, the man who created Firefly--i.e, the shows Buffy and Angel. Don't get me wrong; I think Joss Whedon's a hell of a writer. His wit and compassion for his characters, as well as a deep understanding of the psychology of people living not just with others, but with themselves, comes through in all of his work. However, and I realize that I am probably leaving the party line on this one, I don't think either of these shows is anywhere near the level that Firefly displays. (If I got hate mail, this post would probably be one of the reasons.)

My problem with Buffy is not the subject matter per se, although the Monster of the Week format does wear a bit thin after a while. It's the fact that Buffy's problems and issues seem tacked on. It was as though, in the process of setting up a female superhero, Whedon And Company suddenly realized, "Hey! We have to make this girl seem more human. Quick, make her have some, uh, girl problems—teenage girl problems! Let's see, how about her hair...wardrobe...boys...okay, that works!" This leads to maudlin and predictable storylines in which the supposedly-infallible Buffy is left open to manipulation by a variety of menfolk. Fellow Whedon fans have insisted that this is meant to show the disparity between the way Buffy deals with the monsters she fights and the way she deals with her own personal demons. However, all it really does is create a contradictory picture of a girl who is, by her own admission, exceptionally strong both in will and in muscle, and yet heartbreakingly frail emotionally and psychologically.

The other main problem I have with Buffy is, interestingly, the dialogue. Normally I'm one of the first to laud the way Whedon et al create quirky and interesting conversation, but Buffy simply tries too hard. Every time one of the characters says something, it's either a quip, a sarcastic response to a quip, a sarcastic response to something serious said by one of the few adult characters, etc. It reminds me of those god-awful sitcoms where every other line is a smartass comment followed by canned laughter. The sparkling dialogue in Firefly serves as a reminder that one does not always need to TRY for funny in order to BE funny. Sometimes the smallest word or gesture--think of Mal's laconic "Huh...", from the pilot episode, in response to finding River cryogenically frozen in his hold--can do more than a long, drawn-out, sarcastic tirade a la Xander Harris or Cordelia Chase.

I will admit that I have a somewhat more favorable bias towards Angel. First of all, it taps into one of my favorite genres--that of the film noir detective. Angel, brooding aside, reminds me strongly of Spenser, the punch-first-ask-questions-later gumshoe of Robert Parker's mystery novels. The show itself has a much more dystopian feel to it than Buffy ever did--the perky youthful optimism is provided only by Cordelia, leaving Angel and his half-demon, half-Irish (so, really, full demon *rimshot*) assistant Doyle to provide melancholy angst and cynical running commentary, respectively.

While the dialogue is better and, overall, the characters are more real and sympathetic than those from Buffy, there is still something lacking in Angel that Firefly managed to grasp. Perhaps it's that out of the three only Firefly really taps into an adult world, of grown people doing grown-up things without the forces of an Old Evil making superheroic theatrics necessary. The drama of what they do lies in the little--and sometimes not-so-little--necessities of an adult life. The fact that Whedon was able to take that drama and make it into the beauty that was, and is, Firefly makes his triumph all the more admirable.