Friday, April 23, 2010
A Second Look at Buffy.
My boyfriend loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I mean loves. He has all the DVDs and I think he's watched them more than once, maybe a lot more than once. Before last night I hadn't seen a whole episode of Buffy. I caught a few random clips here and there, but it never grabbed me, in fact it kind of turned me off. You could even say that I have been an unapologetic Buffy naysayer.
However, since M is one of the smartest people I've ever met, I am reexamining my attitude.
I watched the first 2 episodes last night with M. They were pretty much what I expected. Sarah Michelle Geller is one of the most annoying actors I've ever watched. The writing is clumsy and forced.
For instance, early on there's a scene in the school hallway where the cute boy wants to meet Buffy, the hot new girl. She drops her books, he sees his opportunity and runs to her side. He says, "Can I have you?" There's an awkward pause and then he corrects himself, "I mean, Can I help you?"
Let's take it apart. It's a standard sitcom-style joke. A nervous character tries to say something but stumbles and mixes up the words in some way that makes the statement suggestive. The joke depends on 1) the intended statement being completely believable and natural, and 2) the mangled version of it being completely natural-sounding if inappropriate. A high school boy who wants to help a girl pick up her dropped books is not going to say, "Can I help you?" He's not a cashier at McDonald's. And "Can I have you?" is sort of suggestive if you think about it, but this kind of joke depends on you not having to think about it. And "Can I have you?" is not anything that anyone would actually say. Most of the dialogue has this sort of artificial feel. I see the jokes, but they don't make me laugh.
Besides these technical criticisms, there just wasn't anyone in the story I identified with or cared about. They were all broad stereotypes, and just the negative stereotypes: shallow cheerleader, absent-minded smart girl, the bitch who everyone worships, the clueless self-involved parent. None of them seems to have any kind of inner life. Even Buffy's desire to fit in -- which is set up as the narrative engine -- never feels urgent or poignant or real. I don't know if that's because of the writing or because Geller's face is always just sort of blank.
The show felt like a cartoon. I didn't believe any of it. I was unmoved. Not once did I spontaneously laugh.
But! I said I would watch more of it and reserve judgment. Okay, it's too late for reserving judgment, but I will continue watching and try to relax my expectations and be open to unexpected rewards. It's not giving me what I want, but maybe I just don't get it yet. Maybe it's like Glee -- another show M loves and I think is dreadful. Another show full of unlikeable high school kids.
I have a hunch my distaste for Buffy and Glee is related to my dislike of comic books and superheroes. In fact, when I was watching Buffy and rolling my eyes at the ridiculously implausible librarian character, it occurred to me that a character like that, and in fact the whole setting and premise of the story, would be completely at home in a comic book. Here's a short essay I wrote a while back about comics.
My taste in high school pathos TV is more My So-Called Life -- which also dealt in high school archetypes. I guess I just prefer a more naturalistic style of storytelling. I watched every episode of My So-Called Life and cried like a 15-year-old girl. Maybe I just like my high school drama more sentimental than ironic:
Addendum: On the subject of comics and the Archies, here's some fun news. It's interesting that the only comics I enjoyed as a kid were the Archies, not the superhero stuff. Yet, there have been several gay superheroes in comics in the last several years, and only now a gay character in the Archies.