Monday, November 7, 2011

Five random thoughts on Buffy (S1, ep 1-8)

Yes. I am watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time. No, it's not a comic book. But Joss Whedon has written comic books. And even Buffy itself turns into a comic book after it stops airing (if I understand that correctly), so please bear with me.

Here are 5 random thoughts after watching the first 8 episodes of the first season. I will post more thoughts as they come to me over the next several weeks as I make my way through this cult TV show, 15 years too late.

1. What is it with 20-somethings playing teenagers on American TV? I think it's mostly a logistical thing having something to do with child labour laws and maybe unions, but nevertheless, it's weird to me that so many people are willing to suspend disbelief and watch all these shows with very obviously adult actors pretending to be kids. Considering how this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I was surprised how easy it was to ignore with this show. I think that says something about how well written the characters are, that they can be convincingly read as teenagers despite looking so much older.

2. OMG, the 1990s. Especially evident at "The Bronze," the nightclub that looks like a warehouse and lets teenagers in indiscriminately and where they apparently have a different live band playing every night. Imagine if those places had actually existed in the 1990s! How much more exciting my teenage life would have been. It's also hilarious when this kind of thing happens randomly:

Grunge!

3. Speaking of fashion accessories, Giles' ties are driving me insane! Every time the character appears onscreen, all I can focus on is how crooked his tie knots are. I know it's part of his character, this mix of stuffiness and perpetual "disheveledness," but there's something too calculated about the fact that his ties are NEVER straight. I can tell that's exactly how the wardrobe department wanted it to look and it's just distracting to me. (I know. I'm a little bit crazy. But I'm very passionate about ties and tie knots.)

4. The lack of diversity in the casting took me by surprise. One of the most talked about aspect of the show is the real effort to subvert traditional gender stereotypes (and I think the praise is well deserved), so I think because of that I expected a similar attention to ethnic representation. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two non-white characters so far: one black bouncer at The Bronze who becomes vampire food, and one black student who had a few lines of dialogue in one scene, also at The Bronze, in a different episode.

I wonder if this is also a byproduct of the 1990s and I've just forgotten how much less diverse TV was back then. (I know, it's not like ethnic diversity is great nowadays, but it's definitely getting better, slowly but surely.) I'm also curious whether this will improve in later seasons or if it remains the status quo throughout. It's too early for me to really draw any conclusions, but it makes me slightly uncomfortable, especially when combined with the constant flirting with "exoticisation" of the Other. In the episode "The Pack," for example, the evil of the week the white heroes are fighting against comes from some tribe in Africa (via the imported hyenas at the zoo). It's definitely something I will continue to think about while I watch the rest of the show.

5. So far, each of the three main teen characters has had a brief romantic fling that ended more or less tragically: Xander with the praying mantis teacher, Willow with the Malcolm/Moloch, and Buffy with Angel (although obviously this one isn't over yet). I was definitely aware of this during the Moloch episode ("I, Robot... You, Jane") and was both surprised and delighted that the writers acknowledged this explicitly at the end of the episode. It was a good example of how the show gets away with a lot of clich├ęs by sort of winking at the audience. It's not quite meta, but it's just self-aware enough to keep things interesting.

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