TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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Ausiello: “Terminator: TSCC” is finished

EW.com’s Michael Ausiello says that “Terminator: The Sara Connor Chronicles” is all but done.

Resist the urge to nuke the messenger, but multiple sources are telling me that Fox will not be renewing Terminator: The Summer Glau Sarah Connor Chronicles for a third season.

“It’s done,” maintains a source close to the show. “Everyone has pretty much known for a couple of weeks.” Adds a network insider: “Consider it canceled.”

The one bright spot? Despite horrific ratings, Fox isn’t ready to declare SCC dead and buried — at least not officially. “No decision has been made yet,” insists a network rep. “We will be announcing our fall schedule on May 18.

I think the show’s slow pacing was ultimately its downfall. Fans of the “Terminator” movies are used to rock ’em, sock ’em action, and while the series had a few episodes that could be described that way, it had neither the budget nor the inclination to be a full-fledged action series. The final four or five episodes of this season were terrific, so from a creative standpoint, the series was about as good as it could be at the end.

It would be nice if Fox gave it another season, but I’m not holding my breath.

  

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.13 – In this world, we’ve got to find the time for the (death) of Riley

So this is how the second season of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” was supposed to end.

It’s the 13th episode, which is all they were originally supposed to make when the season began. And this is how they were going to end it…with three episodes that practically stood still. The episode fades to black with Sarah passing out from a gunshot wound, but then they follow it with scenes from the show’s second half (it relaunches in February), and we see that Sarah is very much alive. Exactly how she’s alive, I’m not sure, since she went into that warehouse by herself and didn’t tell anyone where she was. It reminds me of something someone said to my wife when she was trying to carry a bunch of luggage through the London tube station by herself: “You are either very brave, or very foolish.” Sarah’s tough, but this was just dumb.

We finally get Riley’s back story, and man, what a disappointment that was. She goes from feral street rat in the future, to undercover mark assigned to seduce John Connor, in what seems like a matter of weeks. I can see why Jesse would choose someone that doesn’t fight for the resistance (thus making it less likely any fellow Resistance members would recognize her), but surely there was someone more appropriate for the job, right? And would Riley really go from having doubts about the assignment to committing suicide in John’s bathroom? Really? We all knew that Riley was going to die sooner or later, but suicide? That’s just lazy. I would rather have seen Riley try to confess everything to John, only to have Jesse kill her before Riley could rat her out. It’s cliche, but that would have been much more tragic. As it is, John’s only take-away from this is, “Man, that Riley was a crazy bitch.” Methinks the Future John is now even more into Cameron than he was when Jesse and Riley traveled back in time in the first place.

“Hi, I’m a slightly unstable, combat-ready paranoid who sees these three dots everywhere. Oh, and I’m going to get you killed before all is said and done.”

Sarah, meanwhile, is hanging out with a cross-dressing Man Who Knows Too Much, in a blind pursuit of the three dots. She finishes her quest, of course, but not before getting both the cross-dresser and the hypno-therapist she recruits to open his mind killed in the process. Wouldn’t you have thought, after the first attempt on their lives at his/her storage facility, that Sarah would have realized that taking Abraham into the city was not a good idea? Nope. Instead, she brings him back for an “emergency” session with the clearly busy therapist. Who does that? “Excuse me, I need you to fix my car.” “Well, we’re very busy, so you’ll have to make an appointment.” “Nope. It’s an emergency.” “You heard the man, get these cars out of here and get to work on his problem.” Uh, sure.

Ellison and Cromartie/John Henry finally return, and while it has the makings of an interesting dynamic, I’ll stop short of saying that thie will actually lead to something interesting. This show has been nothing but missed opportunities, so there is no guarantee they will follow through on this one. Still, they did hint in the previews that John Henry eventually figures out that Catherine is a machine, which means that Ellison’s concern that John Henry will grow far too powerful to be controlled may will indeed come to fruition. Speaking of Catherine, she had the episode’s best line: “Cows are more powerful than humans, but I’d still rather be the farmer with the rifle.” Curious choice of phrasing, since you could argue that in her mind, we’re the cows, and she’s the farmer with the rifle. However, if the show doesn’t get its ass in gear in February, “Terminator” will be the cow, and Fox will be the farmer with the rifle.

Reports indicate that when Fox brings back “Terminator” in February, it will be moved to the Kevorkian death slot of Friday night. If that is indeed the case, this will likely serve as my last blog on the show. Thanks to everyone who read my rants (quickest way to hate a show: start blogging about it), and here’s hoping that the producers of the show finally get it right in the new year.

  

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.12 – Sydney saved my life tonight, sugar bear

Remember the scene in “Animal House” where Pinto takes the checkout girl to the Delta Tau Chi toga party? She gets drunk, they fool around, and then she passes out right when Pinto reaches under her bra and realizes she’s artificially padded her rack with a bunch of tissue?

“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is the checkout girl.

The last two shows have been nothing but padding. Enough, already. If you have a story to tell, then tell it; please don’t waste our time with these episodes that completely ignore half of the cast to focus on people who will not likely be seen or heard from again. Yes, Terminators are coming back to kill people besides John, we get it. You’ve made that abundantly clear. Now for the love of Jebus, start pushing your story forward. If we’ve hung in there this long, I think we’re entitled to some kind of payoff. Lord knows, we’ve been patient.

Outside of showing “When Derek Met Jesse” in the future, the only important takeaway from this week’s episode is that John Connor is not the only savior of the resistance in the future. John might lead the resistance, but a girl named Sydney – still in the womb when tonight’s episode begins – gives the humans a huge advantage when she turns out to be immune to a biological agent the machines use to wipe out a compound. Derek and Jesse save Sydney in the future, and then her blood saves them both from dying from the virus. Cut to our present, where Derek is helping Sydney’s mother deliver her before she dies, and realizing that Sydney’s sister Lauren is the one who gave him the antidote. Sweet and surreal, yes?

And completely pointless, in the current economic climate. If the story arc at season’s end hasn’t given up a little sumpin’ sumpin’, they’re getting canned, and they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for being so prudish on the front end. Sorry, but that’s just the way society works these days. Blame Lindsay Lohan.

In fairness to the uber-conservative show runners, there is another takeaway from this episode: Cameron gets the bejeezus kicked out of her by the Triple-8 assigned to kill Sydney, and is even knocked “unconscious” at one point. They’re setting up that ‘faulty chip’ plot device, to be sure. God help them, then, if they do nothing with it in next week’s final episode of the year.

  

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.11 – Baby, the stars shine bright

Sarah’s not nuts after all. Well, let’s qualify that: she may very well be nuts, but she’s not nuts about the three dots, as a lengthy flashback episode – gin joints! The Charleston! Twenty-three skidoo! – explained that the machines use three particular stars in relation to the other stars around them as a means of telling time…in years. Very valuable information to us now, but couldn’t Cameron have figured that out before Sarah decided to get medieval on the bathroom mirror? Just a thought.

Tonight’s episode reveals that Cameron has been spending her sleepless nights (cyborgs, apparently, do not dream of electric sheep) at the Hall of Records, reading up on…oh, who the hell knows. One night she stumbles upon a picture from a speakeasy fire in 1920…and she recognizes someone. Soon she’s researching the written history of a man who built a real estate empire from nothing – while another real estate baron suffered a suspicious string of bad luck at the same time, including the death of his son in the speakeasy fire – only to disappear completely in 1925. Where did he go, and why would he erect a building in the name of his rival’s dead son? Cameron knows, but can’t tell. She visits the building, given landmark status and due for reopening in 2010, and finds her man, behind a wall…with a Tommy gun. Nice!

Of course, she kills him, and as far as we know, she leaves the body, which is just nuts. N-V-T-S nuts.

Gotta be a bad girl in this world.
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