“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is arguably one of the most anticipated shows of the new fall season. And with Joss Whedon as executive producer and co-creator (along with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, experienced Whedonites), it comes supported with the combined fandoms of Whedon and Marvel comics. Before I get down to the praising, here’s my tiny criticism: this pilot is jam-packed. And because of that, the first half moves at a break-neck speed that leaves it feeling rushed. It’s The Avengers in micro but with the added problem of needing to introduce the majority of the characters and deploy them as a team in 30 minutes. Once the team comes together, the pilot actually catches its breath and settles into the final action sequence. And from there, I was hooked.
Whedon fans, rejoice!
Whedon vehicles seldom come without a familiar face or two, and in “S.H.I.E.L.D.” we get J. August Richards from “Angel” and Ron Glass (Shepherd Book) from “Firefly.” And even though this show seems like a meta-pop culture reference just by existing, we still get a barrage of other references, with my favorites being Terminator‘s T-1000, cosplay, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
If that’s not enough, perhaps the strongest indication that we’ve got the Whedon persuasion going on is the subversion of genre norms. The introduction to J. August Richard’s Michael Peterson character initially plays out like an early episode of “Heroes.” By the second half, instead of rising to embrace his abilities for the common good, he does a good job of demonstrating how power corrupts (“it’s an origin story,” he explains about his actions). Similarly, his act of heroism is tainted by the revelation that the woman he rescued at the outset is connected to his tech (she’s his doctor).
Whedon fans, take heed!
Yes, Joss Whedon’s name is splashed in all the right places, but the show still lacks a certain, obvious Whedon-y stamp. Not that it’s a problem, but initially the pilot plays as a really good impression of Joss Whedon writing; I found that distracting, especially all of the humorous bits. The lines had the same rhythm of a typical Whedon quip, but it lacked his voice. In other words, (and this might sound harsher than I intend it to come across) it sounds like Buffy fan-fiction I wrote in middle school. It’s striving for Whedon but failing, especially if you are experienced with the real deal.
Tie-ins from the Marvel Universe
I think I’ve seen all the Marvel Phase One movies and as a result have working knowledge of the callbacks to those plotlines in the pilot. Honestly, the baseline for what to watch prior to getting into the show is The Avengers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more references that went straight over my head. But that’s okay, because I may have missed them but I didn’t feel like I was missing them, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think any of the Marvel Easter eggs in the pilot would significantly hurt a blank slate fan from tuning in, which is very good. However, knowing the references definitely enriches the viewing experience. Some of those things:
- The attack on New York from The Avengers. The world has now seen superheroes and aliens. It’s a brave new world where these figures are revered like the fictional heroes that they are: just like in our reality, you can own your very own Hulk figurine, but in Marvel’s world you get to worry about meeting him in person. (Sort of like, “So They Say” from Joss’ Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…am I right?). Their exposure is a direct link to the mission statement of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. team and the show itself.
- Maria Hill. Further linking us to The Avengers film, Cobie Smulders reprises her role as Maria Hill, who along with Agent Phil Coulson, provides a direct link to the movie universe. With “How I Met Your Mother” ending, it’s possible that Cobie will make herself available to “S.H.I.E.L.D.” in subsequent seasons. Right now I feel optimistic in predicting another season since the premiere drew in the largest audience for a network drama debut in four years.
- Speaking of Agent Coulson, he is indeed back. While we initially get a lame explanation about how Nick Fury faked Coulson’s death to rally the Avengers and a running joke on Tahiti, something else is up. (“He really doesn’t know, does he?”). The guess on everyone’s mind seems to be: Life Model Decoy.
- Chitauri. The opening action sequence in Paris finds agent Grant Ward on the hunt for a piece of Chitauri tech, the alien race that invades New York in The Avengers.
- Best nickname for/allusion to Loki?: “Asgardian Mussolini.”
- Dr. Erskine. The doctor who perfected the super soldier serum used by Captain America in World War II is name dropped when the team attempts to figure out the tech on Michael Peterson.
- Extremis. As part of his transformation, Michael Peterson is revealed to be suffering the effects of “Extremis,” the tech developed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3. The explosion that kicks off the pilot is also revealed to be caused by another test subject under the effects of Extremis.
It’s no surprise that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” gifts us with a diverse, compelling ensemble. Along with Coulson, we meet: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), an agent who can obviously kick-ass but was perfectly riding a desk job for unknown reasons; Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), another agent with an implied troubled past; Skye (Chloe Bennet), a blogger who (again, for reasons unknown) wiped her identity clean; and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) as the geniuses in charge of all things science and technology. I am particularly excited to see what the show does with Iain De Caestecker, if only because I really miss “The Fades” and I’m excited for this to be his new gig.
I’m incredibly excited to see what this season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has in store and personally have high hopes for its trajectory and longevity.
Now that it’s summer, rewatch season is officially in full swing. One series that I am working through, fairly slowly, is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The snail’s pace is partly due to balancing it with other series and partly due to the millions of times I have seen most first season episodes. It has already paid off because similar dialogue to The Avengers keeps cropping up. Okay, it has cropped up twice and is not as egregious at the Sorkinisms video floating around but is a prime example of how writers have a (sometimes unconscious) stock of examples they reference.
While watching “Teacher’s Pet,” which gives us great phrases like “full-on exorcist twist,” a new section of dialogue stuck out in particular (probably because my sheltered younger self didn’t get it). With thanks to my Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One, Vol. One Script Book (yay, a decade later I found a use for it!), here is the excerpt from the original shooting script:
Natalie: I’m sorry, would you like something else? I just need to relax a little, I’m kind of nervous around you. You’re probably cool as a cucumber.
Xander: (mile a minute) I like cucumbers — you know in that Greek salad thing with the yogurt — you like Greek food? I’m exempting schwarma here, what is that all about, big meat hive…
Are there any other hidden shawarma references (the shooting script spelling was in fact “schwarma”) hidden in Angel, Dollhouse, or Firefly? Is this one of Joss Whedon’s absolute favorite food items? Inquiring minds want to know. Other benefits to the shooting script: the inclusion of scenes that didn’t make the final cut and even alternate lines…fun! The shawarma mystery deepens…
Moving on to “Angel,” another (sort of) throwaway bit of dialogue makes a bigger impression after seeing The Avengers. Let’s compare some Angel/Darla dialogue with some Hawkeye/Black Widow dialogue: both sets of characters who have a significant and murky past together.
Darla: Remember Budapest, turn of the century, you were such a bad boy during that earthquake.
Angel: You did some damage yourself.
Black Widow: This is just like Budapest all over again.
Hawkeye: You and I remember Budapest very differently.
Logo is airing Joss Whedon’s handpicked favorite Buffy episodes this weekend and as an experiment I decided to see where Joss and I meet in terms of favorite/best episodes. Before glancing over his picks, I gave a cursory glance over a Wikipedia episode listing. Obviously, some episodes spring to mind without question and because of that, Joss and I overlap 50%. I am not going to rag on Joss for choosing eight episodes that he either wrote or directed or both especially since it stands to reason those best represented what he wanted his show to portray. Any individual fan’s list is going to be populated with odd favorites or moments that personally resonated. I looked for those while also trying to pay service to each season. I approached it with the same mindset I would use if planning my own one-day only engagement of the Best of Buffy. But let us be real for a moment: the only way you are truly going to get the best is by watching all 144.
In the past Joss has also ranked these episodes (1 = Innocence, 10 = Prophecy Girl), but with two competing lists, season by season sounded like the best way to compare:
Season 1 – I like the beginning; Joss prefers the end.
My pick =Welcome to the Hellmouth (1×01): As a first episode, it expertly introduces you to Sunnydale, the Scooby Gang, the Slayer mythology, and the colorful vocabulary of the players. Joss fact!: he wanted Eric Balfour’s name in the title credits so viewers would be shocked when he died.
Joss = Prophecy Girl (1×12): As a season finale it demonstrated how high the stakes on the show could become and how heartbreaking: witness Angel being unable to perform CPR on Buffy because he has no breath and Xander stepping in to save the day only hours after getting rejected by Buffy. Pretty cool in a depressing sort of way. Joss fact!: He intentionally saved the Buffy and Master’s meeting for this episode to avoid a pattern of Buffy repeatedly beating him in every episode.
Season 2 – Once again I prefer the happier beginning (Surprise) to the gritty aftermath (Innocence). Although after thinking about it, I would prefer to compromise and say that together it is just one really awesome story. Joss and I agree that Becoming Part II is badass.
Surprise (2×13): It is Buffy’s birthday and the Scoobies aim to make it special. Spike and Dru return to raise the stakes while Jenny reveals some hidden motivations. Angel gives Buffy a claddagh ring; Buffy gives Angel happiness which…
Innocence (2×14): …ends with him reverting to Angelus. Now Buffy has to deal with the Judge, Spike, Drusilla and her soulless boyfriend. Ugh, I think I am being convinced by Joss’ choices over mine. According to Wikipedia, this is also the highest rated episode ever and the one that Joss usually lists as his number one favorite episode. Glad people tuned in to one of the best. Joss fact!: I like the line from Joss in the commentary about fans wanting Buffy and Angel to be together: “What people want is not what they need.” Oh Joss, never change.
Becoming Part II (2×22): The season two finale is definitely the show firing on all cylinders. Seemingly impossible odds, strong character moments, and the ultimate sacrifice, all on display. And Sarah Maclachlan could still be used in the closing scene, without irony.
Season 3 – Joss likes Vamp Willow and I like the final moments at Sunnydale High.
The Wish (3×09): Cordelia wishes that Buffy never moved to Sunnydale and we get to see what that world would actually look like: it is no cakewalk. It is an interesting exploration into all the good that Buffy does in such a short period of residency.
Doppelgangland (3×16): Vamp Willow comes to torment our story’s timeline as the result of Anya’s failed attempt to get her powers back. And Joss does an excellent job of using all of what we have come to learn about our characters over three seasons.
Graduation Day Part II (3×22): The whole graduating class coming together, prepared to fight off the Mayor’s plan? That was beautifully executed. As were goodbyes to familiar characters like Cordelia and Angel. Joss Fact!: The WB delayed the airing of this due to Columbine, but it was not delayed in Canada, prompting Joss to say “bootleg the puppy.” Brilliant.
Season 4 – We are in total agreement here; two very interesting experiments:
Hush (4×10): The only episode to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing, Joss decided to tackle critics that believed dialogue drove Buffy’s success. Joss fact!: The concept for the monsters (the Gentlemen) originated from a childhood nightmare. Holy hell Joss, that is freaky.
Restless (4×22): Like Hush, the fourth season finale is a very experimental episode. I think it captures dreams in a very realistic way (and far less disturbing than The Cell). I realize that not every week can explore sweeping epic themes but when Joss goes for innovative concepts, he hits them out of the park. Joss facts!: This is a coda to season four because Joss wanted to create a character-focused episode that concentrated on what had just happened and what might be in store for the future. The Cheese Man has no meaning.
Season 5 – Joss places more emphasis on Season 3 (or Vamp Willow) whereas extended an extra season episode to Season 5.
The Body (5×16): This is just a great episode. Upsetting, thought-provoking, so much realism it hurts. It is painful to even discuss the various aspects that make it so great. Really a triumph in television. Joss fact: His mother also died of a cerebral aneurysm.
The Gift (5×22): I don’t know how fans would have coped with this being the actual finale, but it definitely has the feel. The apocalypse is nigh, everyone bands together in an epic final push to save Dawn and the world. Buffy dies. But if the show ended here, we wouldn’t have Once More with Feeling so, thanks UPN!
Season 6 – When I think of this season, Once More, with Feeling is the primary episode that comes to mind. Since this is the only episode written and directed by Joss this season, I guess he feels the same.
Once More, with Feeling (6×07): Multiple Joss facts…: After a Shakespeare reading at his house turned into an impromptu singalong, Joss realized that many cast members would be game for a musical episode. He finally found time in the sixth season, learning how to play guitar in the process of creating the score. Adam Shankman choreographed. Us fans got what is probably the most effective use of a television musical episode ever. Another groundbreaking episode.
Season 7 – Joss goes for the isolated character/death exploration and I go for the funny.
Conversations with Dead People (7×07): The result of different writers working on different characters, this episode isolates the storylines while continuing to move the plot. Buffy, Spike, Dawn and the remaining members of the Troika (Jonathan and Andrew) are each presented separately but united around a common theme: you guessed it, dead people. Secretly, a pretty ambitious episode with a lot to say.
Storyteller (7×16): When I originally watched season seven, I was stuck in a depression over the series ending. When I rewatched it a few years later, I was struck at how disturbing and unnerving this season turned out to be. While Storyteller ends on a negative note, the majority of the episode is hilarious. Andrew utilizes his unique humor and observation skills to tell his version of what is going on at 1630 Revello Drive.
Special mentions: Fool for Love and Tabula Rasa
Joss Whedon posted on his blog about the success of The Avengers and it is predictably awesome. He confirms that he is an unemotional alien and that he is ditching us to “concentrate on fame [and] Euro-trash guy-jewelry.” But seriously, he acknowledges the buzz about his new big shot status and confirms that his modesty is intact: with The Avengers he will now be recognized at Comic-Con, be able to pay for a meal that includes truffles AND direct that much anticipated Air Bud reboot. What did Whedonites need to hear? Exactly what Joss tells us: “What doesn’t change is anything that matters.” He calls us his peeps and himself a cult oddity.
“Because you knew me when. If you think topping a box office record compares with someone telling you your work helped them through a rough time, you’re probably new here.” Insert many emoticons of happy sobbing. But topping a box office record is “super-dope”! Hooray!
My fellow Whedonites, he is taking us with him into the mainstream: “this is our time of streaming into the main, to crow. To glow. To crow and go ‘I told you so’…”. He momentarily jumbles my mind by mentioning Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan became one of my favorite directors with Memento, and he has gone mainstream with relative success at staying true to his vision. So, even more hope for a continued world of Whedon.
Anyone concerned about Dr. Horrible 2 and Much Ado about Nothing? He says Dr. H is cooking and Much Ado is on its way. Also, TV is his great love. I am pretty sure growing up with Buffy has shaped my life into Joss Whedon’s image.
Finally, as if this post didn’t just make my life complete already he concludes: “Hope you’ll continue to carry the banner even though other people may have joined the parade. (Kind of a gay pride/Newsies vibe…”. He did it. He effin’ concluded with a Newsies reference.
On the Occasion of Buffy’s 15th Anniversary: “Then there’s that period of estrangement where I think we were both growing as people…”
No, it doesn’t stop. It never stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or, god, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again.
-Becoming, Part II
The origins of my television fandom may lay in The X-Files, but the show that I owe the most to is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am lucky to have been at a very pivotal age when Buffy came into my life (granted when I started watching it was the end of its third season) and as a result, the show played a major part in shaping out the entirety of my teen years. And because of its special place in my heart, a reflection, on the 15th anniversary of its premiere date.
Can everyone pinpoint a year in their life where they radically changed? For me it was the end of 1998 to beginning of 1999 (okay, a year that stretched into another). It was like I finally decided to really watch television, to pick out my musical tastes and order CDs, and to come out of my shell as a person. Of course the CDs I asked my mom to order (remember getting CDs in the mail…remember CDs? gross) were Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, etc. but hey, I was on top of ’90s pop culture. But magically that year I sat down and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on. The episode? Band Candy. And if there were any other reasons for my instant fascination I have long since forgotten. That Christmas a barrage of presents helped me to get on top of my obsession: select episodes from season one and eventually season two were being released on VHS (ack!) and I got to see the beginnings of my new favorite show, while sitting on my Jurassic Park bean bag chair. What episodes I hadn’t seen (before the show finally went into syndication on FX and my world was a better place) I meticulously memorized facts about, using guidebooks and my Buffy trivia book. And this this was my life:
Buffy merchandise any and all, had to be owned by me. Figurines, guidebooks, scripts, jewelry (plus a claddagh ring like Buffy’s that I still wear to this day), soundtracks, trading cards, watches, posters, keychains etc. I read a Buffy standalone novel in which I really liked the plot; I wrote a fan letter to the Powers that Be and was rewarded with a signed postcard from the cast. To this day I am obsessed with this line of jewelry that Claire’s used to carry in their stores; throughout the years I have lost some pieces and others have broken, but there is no trace of these items on fansites/ebay/anything which depresses me.
I did not stop with the merchandise. I modeled my hair (with style and yes, Sun-In), my fashion, and my general personality after Buffy. I started to wear a lot of crosses (which in retrospect probably gave my teachers the wrong impression). And surprisingly, Buffy made me a lot cooler than I used to be, I think, because it gave me a level of confidence that I didn’t possess in the past. It also involved me adopting a general Joss Whedon/Jane Espenson fueled brand of vocabulary and speaking. And since Buffy was only my gateway, other movies and television shows provided me with more influences and characters to adapt into my life.
It might sound scary that my life has literally developed around a television show, but I can only be thankful. Without Buffy, I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today nor have the same circle of friends. And I have to thank Joss Whedon for his vision and his beliefs: to have created such a powerful, female character in a time where it was so urgently needed. And yet, we still need more of them. It would be fitting to say that while Buffy was my role model in my formative years, I have found an adult one in Joss. Just like him I want to not only entertain, but also create change in our society. And hell, if he can do that with a show about teen angst and vampire slaying, then the future seems pretty bright.
Happy 15th Anniversary, Buffy and Joss. For these 15 years the world has been a better place for girls like me and the teenagers in us all.