24 September 2011

BUFFY TIME: Too Much Drama and Not Enough Dancing

I'm slowly-but-surely working my way through Buffy (and now Angel) whenever my sister comes over.

Angel s02e02 ("Are You Now or Have You Ever Been") – hm

Here's a dodgy edit that someone made for your displeasure.

Angel definitely received a bigger budget along with its renewal, and I spent the second season's first two episodes being consistently impressed by stylistic improvements: its slick new camerawork (transitions without looking schlocky! a widescreen aspect ratio! a drastic quality upgrade in film stock!); its high production design (especially with those period sets). Herbert Davis and Stuart Blatt have definitely upped their game.

However, Angel continues to have issues in taking its dramatic stories way too seriously while simultaneously making its comedy over-the-top campy. It's unsettling to be forced to frequently travel between these two television extremes in forty minutes, and Angel has trouble establishing any sort of tone without immediately destroying it at the start of the next scene. The writers still know how to script some Buffy banter, but the comedy flings up so unexpectedly that it's hard to know how to react. This isn't aided by the weird pauses that often occur after jokes, which it took me until the second season's premiere to realize replicate the spaces during which there would be a laughtrack. And the dramatic moments usually relate to the Mystery of the Week, which means the audience has no emotional investment with the characters involved. The most egregious example of this is season one's "She" -- we have both the tortuously preachy story about female circumcision, and Angel dancing.

"Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" suffers especially from the latter of Angel's two recurring tonal problems, with the introduction of a woman erstwhile Angel condemned to a life of suffering, but this story plays out clumsily with too many "lessons" about racial tolerance and mob psychology that bore us out of caring before its emotional conclusion. The period sets look very nice, and I'm glad this hotel looks like it'll be a recurring location, because otherwise I'd say that money was wasted on an attempt at a glimpse into Angel's past that quickly becomes just another excuse for moralizing. (Also with the mysterious set-up, my sister and I actually rewound and watched the first scene again because we couldn't tell whether we weren't supposed to know why they were investigating the hotel, or whether the scripters were just failing at exposition.) It looks like Angel's setting on some sort of path to avenge his past wrongs or live life while he can or something, so hopefully that'll give this season a sense of direction that was sorely lacking in the last. Also: less Lindsay please!

-"It's cinnamon."
-I was really (pleasantly) surprised at the Faith tag in "Judgment," and the fact that they're addressing this previously-unconcluded plot bodes well for the season

Buffy s05e03 ("The Replacement") – good

TOO MANY XANDERS! Just kidding: not enough Xanders!

I started watching this episode with very low expectations after the two that came before it. First we had the Monster of the Week Dracula plot (okay, you're trying to hook in new viewers, I get it), and then the terrible Michelle Trachtenberg retcon (which I knew was going to happen due to accidental spoilage, but was still could never be prepared for) and the Harmony story that felt leftover from one of the weaker episodes of season one. So I had no idea that "The Replacement" would be so good!

Like season three's "The Zeppo," we get to see a usual Buffy story (a random demon wants to kill the Buffs), but from a Xander perspective -- and he's seein' double. Though quite a few Buffy episodes have dealt with identity and doppelgangers, they are often my favourites, and "The Replacement" is no exception. The "two Xanders" was bursting with goofy moments that made me laugh (the Snoopy dance!), and had a surprisingly heartfelt conclusion -- both the happy revelation that Xander's suave twin was just his better half (he's not so bungling after all!), and Riley's somber confession that he knows Buffy will never be in love with him. I still am not adjusted to the retcon (so they're seriously playing it off like she's lived there all along and wasn't just with Buffy's dad or something? will this at least be revealed as a "Superstar"-like alternate reality? and why is Buffy living at home again?), but throw me a Xander episode every once in a while, and I can get through anything.

Well, maybe not a "double Dawn" plot, at least not yet.

-"I've got it covered from A to Z -- from axe to... zee other axe."
-I didn't even realize Debonair Xander was played by Kelly Donovan and that Nicholas Brendon has an identical twin until RIGHT NOW when I was looking up the name of this episode! I formally retract my awe at their mad greenscreen skills.

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