Sunday, April 08, 2007

Buffy: Season Eight. Why are they doing this again, exactly?

I read the first issue of Buffy's Season Eight with some reluctance and only after a couple weeks had passed since its release. Call it one of those 'you can't go home again' feelings. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was probably the first TV show that I became absolutely obsessed with and, having watched it diminish with increasing speed over the final two seasons, I had no strong desire to see it fail to meet my (unreasonably?) high demands – again.

My emotional investment in the Buffy series will make this an odd sort of review – one much more like those reviews that talk about character and plot than my usual interest in what is, in all probability, more esoteric sorts of stuff. And my major beef with this first issue is the same beef that I (and many others, as I recall) had with the last couple seasons of the show. To list but two,

1. Too little interaction between the core Scoobie-gang and too many generic supporting characters. Xander's best lines – and granted, they’re pretty great – are played off some unknown newbie, and Giles and Willow don't appear at all. And connectedly...

2. Too many interior monologues that, by definition, lack the ironic back-and-forth that allow Buffy's take on the coming-of-age genre's characteristically hyperbolic melodrama to be enjoyed rather than merely tolerated. When Buffy used to whine and moan in the library, we could expect some sort of sarcastic moment of levity from any one of Xander, Willow, Giles. And the delightfully dark laughs that these moments supplied weren't just clever jokes, but were rather subtle jabs at the conventions and staleness of an entire genre. Unfortunately, there are few laughs to be found in Buffy’s private thoughts, and certainly none at her own expense.

These, and not the characters and premise in isolation, are the elements that make Buffy distinctive. And when they're lacking, the concept is lacking.

I have to express some disappointment, too, with the suggestion that this maxi-series will run for roughly 25 issues – more or less the length of a TV season in number of episodes. This issue felt like maybe the first half of an episode. Or at least it certainly didn't feel like an entire episode. This is, perhaps, because Whedon is already juggling far too many stories and far too large a cast: Buffy, Dawn, and Xander have their various roles and/or subplots and there wasn't even room for Giles, Willow, or Andrew, who are surely off on their own individual tasks.

What does make a certain amount of sense, though, is that Buffy and the slayer-ettes have finally aroused the interest of major military powers, who either/both doubt their intentions and/or fear their efficacy and coordination. It's fitting, given my opening comments, that this fear is generated in large part because of Buffy’s annihilation of Sunnydale. Alas, she truly can't go home again.