Thursday, July 22, 2010

Life After Jacob's Foot: The Week of Whedon BEGINS

Welcome to the Week of Whedon + 2 days, friends and well-wishers.



The week will be grand fun. So fun that you will want to Charleston.

It is no secret that I'm a Joss Whedon fan. I began watching Buffy in the early aughts and then I began watching ANGEL. I had a fairly unorthodox approach to both shows. I bought season three of Buffy on DVD before seeing any other season. I watched ANGEL out of order. During its original run on theWB, I'd tune in every Halloween because I thought Buffy was the perfect show for one to embrace the Halloween spirit. I believe the only Halloween episode I caught was season four's "Fear, Itself," a favorite of mine. I also watched "Hush" when it originally aired but that's about it. The series ended and I would catch the odd repeat Saturday afternoons on FOX or some insane hour like 3AM on FOX. I enjoyed what I saw immensely. I researched the show and saw that season three is considered the best season of Buffy. I nearly purchased season six first. Thank the Smoke Monster that I didn't (that is just an expression--LOST was 2 years away from existing).

I loved season three and eventually bought every season but the first. Meanwhile, I became a huge ANGEL fan after seeing "Orpheus" repeat on TheWB combined with how much I enjoyed the odd rerun I saw on FOX.

The ANGEL journey is much more out of order than Buffy. Season five began on TheWB so I began watching it while catching repeats every day on TNT after I returned from Carroll. I had the experience of knowing major plot points but unaware of how the show arrived at those plot points so it was fun, believe it or not. ANGEL quickly vaulted over Buffy as my favorite Joss Whedon show. Of course, much of ANGEL's credit goes to David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Jeff Bell and Steven S. DeKnight. Whedon has said that he was involved with ANGEL as much as he was with Buffy, that he read every single script. I believe that but I think it's wrong to throw praise at Joss for a show whose vision and identity was largely shaped by David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Jeff Bell, Mere Smith, Steven S. DeKnight, Shawn Ryan and David Fury. Joss deserves his due praise and credit for ANGEL because he co-created the show with Greenwalt but Greenwalt ran the show on a day-to-day basis.

ANGEL always seemed like the stepchild show for Joss. He'll never love a show as much as he loves Buffy though he loved Firefly so much that he made it into a movie with the help of some friends at Universal. There are groups of fans who think Joss didn't understand or, rather, know how to write for ANGEL which is a bold statement in and of itself to suggest Joss didn't understand one of his own shows. His episodes had a different tone than most of ANGEL. He usually wrote stand-alone episodes like "Spin The Bottle" and "Waiting In The Wings."

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="406" caption="Joss directing Amy Acker and the late Andy Hallett"][/caption]

The big episodes of ANGEL were always reserved for Greenwalt before he left or for Minear or Bell or DeKnight. Joss did write the season five premiere, an episode that set the stage for the Wolfram & Hart era and he wrote a key season five episode when Fred dies but even "A Hole In The World" gets criticized for the Buffy-ness in the dialogue and the Buffy tone of the episode.

The quality of ANGEL never declined like the quality of Buffy did during the UPN years (seasons six and seven). Many, many fans blame Marti Noxon for destroying the seasons. Many fans point to Joss' focus on Firefly combined with Marti Noxon running the show with a less-involved Joss. The truth is hard to find because Joss and Marti refuse to agree with the opinion of many fans and no fans were in the writer's room on a day-to-day basis to figure out what the heck happened to the show. The duo defend many of the questionable things in both seasons passionately particularly the Spike/Buffy relationship and all of the nonsense that brought us. The same essential group of writers remained until the end, the same group that are responsible for the best Buffy season in season three and two strong seasons in four and five. Marti hired one of the most popular and best writers in the Whedon world--Drew Goddard--for season seven but he was a lone figure in a ship that had sunk and, somehow, managed to sink even further. It was like they were trapped in the box in the ocean that Connor trapped Angel in at the end of season three. Drew Goddard was not their Wesley, who pulled Angel from the depths and saved his unlife. The final two seasons of Buffy are a mystery that will remain unresolved.

In the commentary for "Chosen," the series finale of Buffy, Joss talks about exhaustion and how he's not beaming about the work he did for the finale. A few days ago, Marti basically said the Buffy writers were tired and, possibly, ran out of stories to tell. No matter how bad the last two seasons of the show are, they do not diminish the first five seasons of the show. Joss did some amazing work during the first five years of Buffy and he did some great work in season six like the musical but those seasons are, largely, trainwrecks. Buffy did change television and the thought behind what television could accomplish. In a commentary for Reptile Boy, Greenwalt talks about the days when hour-dramas could only be serious but Joss changed that. He not only broke genre conventions but he broke the rules. He mixed drama, comedy, horror. He helped secure the credibility of TheWB network. The most defining part of the first five seasons are the stories, the weekly episodes. The season long arcs are great too but young, aspiring screenwriters can learn a ton by watching the episodes and listening to commentary tracks. The one thing you'll always hear is the importance of the story with Joss. He doesn't care for a lot of cool things happening in an episode if there's no story. "Innocence" is one of the best examples. The story is simple: a girl sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time and he's a bad guy the morning after. Of course, in Joss' show, the boyfriend becomes a soulless vampire.

The same structure and focus existed in ANGEL and, certainly, in Firefly. Firefly is a gem of a show. The fourteen episodes are a joy to watch with the exception being "Heart Of Gold." If Buffy had to suffer in quality because of Firefly then the trade-off is worth it. Joss attributes the quality of the show to the circumstances surrounding the production of the show. They were in constant threat of cancellation so they put everything on the table. Joss' devotion to Firefly is admirable. The man created nine distinct characters, characters who were fully developed with plenty of depth. Whedon said he had five years of the show planned and I believe him. Firefly is a show about the people in between the heroes. Normal folks like us. Joss took his love for the movie to the big screen after FOX cancelled it. He assembled one of the greatest casts ever with the help of his casting director. He was wise and let Tim Minear run the show with him. He had the eye to cast the lovely Christina Hendricks as Saffron. Some of Joss' best work is, no doubt, on Firefly.

He returned to ANGEL after the end of Firefly and Buffy. Jordan Levin would cancel ANGEL and Joss disappeared from television for a few years. During the writer's strike in 2008, he came up with Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. It won an emmy and starred NPH, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day. He co-wrote it with his sister-in-law and two brothers. He wrote the music and directed it. The web short won an emmy. He also brainstormed Dollhouse during this period of time, while eating lunch with Eliza Dusku. Dollhouse is a different show though it features many familiar Whedon elements. It is a story about people, identity. The first season is fairly uneven but the second season is one heck of a story. Like Firefly, the show didn't stand much of a chance at getting a third so Joss and his group of writers that included Tim Minear left everything on the table for season two. The season had a slow start but kicked into full gear by episode four, a brilliant Sierra episode and the show doesn't slow down until the last credit is shown.

Of course, during these projects, Joss began writing the season eight Buffy comic and overseeing the ANGEL: After The Fall comics.



He wrote a few x-men comics too, but years earlier. The season eight Buffy comics are wrapping up right now. I have not kept up with the comics because I've never been a comic guy. But Joss delivered a moving story, in issue five, about an unknown slayer who dies. The story for ANGEL was also riveting as we were told that Fred wasn't absolutely gone and that ANGEL became human. Also, speaking of comics, he wrote the Fray comics about a slayer in the future and he oversaw a few Firefly comics.

His next project is supposed to be Cabin In The Woods but no one is sure whether or not MGM will ever release it. He co-wrote the movie with writer/director Drew Goddard.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="440" caption="will this ever be released?"][/caption]

He's signed on to direct The Avengers.

Before I discovered Joss Whedon's shows, I wanted to be a feature film screenwriter and I wanted to write horror because Kevin Williamson did. Whedon, and all of the writers he hired, showed me the possibilities of television writing and made me want to become a television writer.

The time is right spend a week and a two days compiling lists for the best of Joss Whedon. Tomorrow, the top five Firefly episodes will be counted down in numerical order from five to one. A list of Dollhouse episodes will not be done because The Foot hasn't rewatched the show nearly as many times as Buffy, ANGEL and Firefly have been re-watched. In fact, I've seen the second season just once because it's not out on DVD and I haven't re-watched season one entirely. Yes.

TOMORROW: The Best Episodes of Firefly!

THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK

Joss Whedon as Numfar:

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.