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.


Nitz the Bloody said...

Given the way Whedon writes comics, I'm inclined to reserve full judgement until the first arc concludes. Though S8's pacing isn't as slow as Astonishing X-Men, it is very much a set-up issue, like the first act of a 5-part episode.

That said, I don't have terribly high expectations for a storyline that picks up where the excreable Season Seven left off. Hopefully we'll get more characterization and less Slayer Army....

neilshyminsky said...

I think there's plenty of characterization, in the general sense, here - we get a lot of Buffy thinking and talking, we get a lot of Xander talking. The problem is that we don't get a lot of them talking to one another. The charm of the show was always in the dynamic between characters, the way in which they filled obvious archetypes but could undermine and burst them in comedic self-reflexive moments. That's what made the show worthwhile - and so it sets a terrible precedent for there to be so little of it in the first issue.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've never been a fan of Buffy. I don't know...I figured a lot of the times the show did itself in with some running in-joke that was too cool for the average teen, of which the program was pretty much aimed at. A little self-defeating, couldn't you say? I note your letdown of the program and, thus, would like to offer you some new gristle to chew on (of which, hopefully, you'll be inclined to comment on in a future blog). It is of this film and here are two links:

After you read that, try these two clips (and I hope you have a strong stomach). You will not disagree with me when I tell you that Miss Adjani's performance is just beyond words:

These two clips are the best in the film, I believe. So make sure you see them both. What are your thoughts?

neilshyminsky said...

Anonymous: I don't think that Buffy was ever aimed at democratizing TV, so I never found its inaccessibility to be all that much of a problem. It was a sort of secret club for geeky teenagers - you had to know the lingo to be a part of it. It wanted us to feel that were privileged to 'get it', and so it succeeded more than it failed.

On the clips - wow, what can i say? That is some disturbing and powerful stuff. I actually found the first clip the more powerful of the two - but I tend to be more impressed by a performance of anxious restraint than one of burgeoning madness, since the former requires a subtler touch.

But if you're the same 'Anonymous' that responded to my Authority post, I have to ask again - what prompted you to respond to the original post with something so very different?

Anonymous said...

Hello there,

It's just my nature to detract from a topic with another one completely unrelated. Call it a selfish way to either get attention or swing the converstaion my way. Hope that doesn't bother you. Any plans on seeking out "Possession"? What did you think of the synopsis from the links? Isabelle Adjani's performance in the subway station is completely unmatched by any other performance filmed. Indeed, performances like that nowadays are a kind of "lost art".

neilshyminsky said...

I don't know if I'd go out of my way to see 'Possession'. As interesting as Adjani's character/performance seem in those two scenes, I've never been one to seek out great acting performances for the sake of seeing great acting performances. You can probably see from the rest of my blog that I'm mostly into esoteric kinds of theoretical issues - critical theory, cultural studies, genre, and so forth. I'll keep it in mind, though, just in case.

Anonymous said...

Well, you see, it's not just her performance in the film that's interesting. It's also what the film represents. In the two film synopsis I sent you links for, they also discuss the backdrop of the film, drawing parallels of a broken/dissolving marriage to the division of Germany. The Berlin Wall eerily becomes its own character in the film, always an opressive and daunting presence in the story, even in the scenes where it isn't shown. Sewn into the thematic patchwork is the doppelganger motif; both husband and wife have one. Adjani's character "gives birth" to her husband's doppelganger. Which at first, materializes as a bizzare, tectacled creature (which she keeps hidden) before slowly morphing into her husband's twin. This is actually a political statement for 1980's Berlin, which may appear inscrutable to some. And believe it or not, this is NOT a horror film, as many believe.