The Best of Joss Whedon Television

I had a little bit of a hard on for Joss Whedon’s work when I was younger and it seems to have stuck with me. I have recently re-watched Firefly and Angel and the episodes of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer that I  heralded as my favorite. I couldn’t watch all of Buffy again because some of the episodes are painfully cheesy. Even though I remember liking the entirety of the show as my younger self. Maybe I was a bigger dork than I realized.

Joss Whedon has worked on a lot of projects that his generation has seen. Whedon had a part in X-Men, Thor, Captain American and is the screenwriter and director for the upcoming Avengers movie. He was the co-writer of Toy Story and Titan A.E. and wrote Alien Resurrection, which some of you might wish never happened. I’m going to leave Speed out of this conversation.

Regardless of your thoughts on his film work, Joss Whedon  brought us some of the best television growing up.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – “The Zeppo

This is one of the best episodes of television…evvverrrr. I’m saddened to say that when I checked Best of Buffy lists this episode was usually not on the list. If it was on the list it was placed towards the bottom. This, i find, to be bullshit.

The Zeppo, a reference to the forgotten Marx Brother, is an episode that reversed the usual story structure of heroic television. The world will come to an end unless Buffy and the gang can thwart evil. Nothing new here but instead of following the courageous efforts of the “main cast,” the camera follows the character that has been thrown to the wayside.

Xander Harris has only been around to provide comic relief and high school angst/crush story lines. In this particular episode he is even told out right that maybe he should stop helping the gang fight because he’s only going to get in the way. As the cast prepares for their final battle, we only see small fevered and teary eyed glimpses into this story, Xander stumbles upon a plot to blow up the high school where the final battle is taking place. Needless to say he stop the bomb from going off and saves the gang. The best part? He never tells anyone.

Firefly – “Out of Gas

Here’s another episode that is stylistically different than the rest of the series. In “Out of Gas” the story is told alternately in three time frames: events in the present; events in the near-past that led to the present; and events in the past that led to the formation of Serenity’s core crew.

The episodes starts out with Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillian, falling to the floor of Serenity’s cargo bay, bleeding from a stomach wound. The rest of the crew is no where to be found and the innards of the ship are in a disarray. The episode then flashes back to Reynolds showing off the cargo bay of Serenity for the first time to his partner Zoey. It then flashes forward/backwards to the beginning of the day Reynolds is injured. The episode focuses on the ship because the engine is malfunctioning and the life support systems are shutting down.

The last shot ends up being Reynolds stumbling upon Serenity in a junk yard.

Angel  – “Not Fade Away

I still consider this the best ending to a series. In fact, the entire last season is such spectacular work.

Angel, hero of the show, has been linked to a prophecy for five years. The prophecy, which tend to be accurate in this universe, foresees him becoming human again and finally redeeming his soul from all of the atrocities he committed when he was first created. In this season he decides to say fuck the prophecy and signs a contract that nullifies the prophecy just to take out some major players on the evil side.

Anyway, back to the episode itself. Not only do some of the good guys die, or are mortally wounded, but we are led to believe that the entire cast is wiped out in an alleyway at the end of the show by a hoard of demons and a dragon. The final line of the show solidifies this as the best series closes. Angel says, “I kind of want to slay the dragon.”

My inner child/dork just got chills.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – “Hush

Can’t even shout, can’t even cry, The Gentleman are coming by. Looking in windows, knocking on doors, they need to take seven and they might take yours. Can’t call mom, can’t say the word, you’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.

The Gentlemen referred to in this nursery rhyme are monsters that came into a town and cut the hearts out of people. Their task is made easier by a box that they use to steal all of the voices of everyone in town. It’s almost like space, where no one can hear your scream. The episodes makes you uneasy and frightened by the prospects of this happening.

Joss Whedon’s impetus to create “Hush” was his reaction to hearing that the primary reason behind Buffy’s success was the dialogue. He felt that he was stagnating as a director, turning into a “hack” by making formulaic episodes. Whedon tended to concentrate so much on the visual aspects of the series’ production that he was chastised by Fox executives in earlier seasons. Thus, writing and producing “Hush” depended almost solely on visuals and not on dialogue.

I still have nightmares of the monsters from this episode.

Firefly – “The Message

Another flashback episode by Whedon, this one follows Reynolds and Zoey during the revolutionary war they took part in before the series started and one of the young recruits that was with them during battle. The history lessons is sparked by a piece of mail they receive in the form of a coffin with the dead recruits body inside. He’s not actually dead though, just using a form of sedative that slow the heart that you always see in television and movies (the flaw in this episode.)

The recruit awakens on board Serenity and tells the crew how he’s been surviving since the end of the war. Unfortunately, his life choices have left him at odds with his former military comrades. Reynolds ends up shooting him without blinking an eye when he tries to take one of his crew members hostage. It finishes up with the crew bringing his body back to his home planet and lying about his death.

Dollhouse – “Epitaph One

I could never get into Dollhouse. I couldn’t tell you why. The story was a cool future tech idea. The characters were casted well and I enjoyed their previous work but I never got into it. This episode didn’t change my overall like for the show but this episode (and it’s sequel) was definitely on par with the rest of this list. Again, it has to do with the surprise/unexpected factor.

The rest of the series takes about in a round-a-bout modern day setting and this off-the-wall episode takes place in 2019. The technology that the series is based on has found its way into the wrong hands and it has brought about a type of Apocalypse. The technology, in its original incarnation, programmed individuals referred to as Actives (or Dolls) with temporary personalities and skills. Wealthy clients would hire Actives from Dollhouses at great expense for various purposes. Sex. Espionage. Murder. Sex.

In the future, China has found a way to spread the imprint through phone lines and by blanketing an area with radio-type waves. As a result, the humans of the world have been imprinted to kill those humans who are not imprinted.

Angel – “Hero

This episode will bring a tear to a woman’s eye. Or an Irishman’s. Nine episodes into the first season the audience is treated to the death of a character that was seemingly in for the long haul of the series. The surprise and execution of this episode is what puts it on this list.

Towards the beginning of the episode Doyle films a commercial for the shows supernatural detective agency. The episode ends on the camera view of the commercial and Doyle saying the lines, “Come on over to our offices, and you’ll see that there’s still heroes in this world.”

And finally he asks:

Is that it, am I done?


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One Comment on “The Best of Joss Whedon Television”

  1. Kele
    01.22.12 at 6:12 PM #

    Shawn, if only I knew you were as huge a BUFFY fan as me we could of snuggled up and watched the entire series on your mattress

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