Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ten things you might not have known about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, gleaned from PaleyFest '08

PaleyFest is a wondrous thing, falling somewhere between a serious chance to discuss some of the more important television of our times (and the past), a journalistic attempt to get inside these shows and complete, utter, insipid fan service for the very fanniest of fans (and if you've never met Buffy fans, hoo boy). It's the sort of event where the theme songs that play endlessly before the show get scattered applause, and the clips played of the various shows that will be appearing before the event also get applause (most popular with the Buffy crowd? Chuck, The X-Files, Pushing Daisies, Friday Night Lights and Gossip Girl in that order. Sadly, only Libby and I were cheering for Mad Men).

I had intended to attend most of the PaleyFest events this year, but I'm going home for Easter (so, naturally, I won't be blogging much, just as I said I would be back and blogging hardcore again), and the tickets got more expensive this year. At any rate, I went to the Buffy event and will be attending the Mad Men event (look for me, fans!). I also might be at the X-Files thing, though I have yet to procure a ticket. Anyway, if you want more concrete tales of the Buffy event, you'll surely find them here, here, here or here. Or go check out TV Guide. Rather than take copious notes, I wanted to just enjoy an evening with some of the writers and actors involved with one of my favorite shows of all time. I'll try to get you more on the Mad Men panel, though, as I'm starting to think I'll be the only person at that session.

Moving on then. . .

1.) Buffy looks really fantastic on the big screen. I never got to attend the "Once More With Feeling" singalongs, so I was surprised the episode (screened before the panel discussion) blew up as well as it did. Most TV stuff feels static when sent to the big screen, but Joss Whedon's directorial compositions and use of primary colors in this musical episode made it feel almost as if it belonged there. The VFX were never the high-point of Buffy, and putting them on the big screen made them more cringe-worthy than usual, but the makeup (which the show won several Emmys for) looked terrific, even on the heavily prostheticed monster-of-the-week. Of course, the Whedon written and directed episodes were famous for their level of invention, so it's entirely possible any other given episode of the show would have looked fairly blah (and, as I recall, Buffy's direction -- outside of the Whedon episodes -- was rarely its strong suit). But watching one of the finest and funniest hours of one of my favorite shows with an audience that was really into it (and, mercifully, didn't sing) was an incredible treat.

2.) Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Marti Noxon all came to the same conclusion about season six at roughly the same time. While the panel was relatively free of the sorts of apocrypha students of TV writing (and most of the rest of the writing staff was there, whether on the panel -- as Noxon and David Greenwalt were -- or in the audience -- as David Fury, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard were -- and there were others I missed) and fans eat up (I would have loved to hear Whedon explicate on the original plans for season four that had to be adjusted when they lost Lindsay Crouse), a story about how Whedon, Noxon and Gellar (the three primary creative forces behind the show at the time) all decided that Buffy had fallen too far down a pit of despair on the same day in separate conversations was interesting, primarily because the much-maligned at the time season six has become much more admired on DVD and with latecomer fans. Whedon felt the show had "lost Buffy," and Gellar, in particular, worried that the character had become less of a hero, thanks to being subjected to the ephemera of life (and, oddly, that's what I really like about the season). Whedon also had gone into the season with the goal of returning the show to its comedic roots, and, obviously, that didn't work out.

3.) Emma Caulfield finally nailed perhaps the series' most moving moment when she just really had to pee. Caulfield's monologue as Anya in "The Body," the season five episode where Buffy's mother dies, is one of the more moving explanations of the sad inevitability of death I can think of, but Whedon subjected Caulfield to take after take, wanting her to get just the right mix of humor, anger and grief. Caulfield, who had to use the bathroom and was really hungry, only got it when her sheer desperation to get off the set was funnelled into her performance. (Whedon also repeated the story of how Gellar inadvertently prompted the episode when she told him that she could hear where the music would rise in the scene she had just performed. To that end, he decided to do something more emotionally raw, with no music. In general, the discussion of The Body was the most interesting and thoughtful portion of the evening, particularly when Whedon and Gellar talked about blocking out the first-act scene where Buffy discovers her mother's body over the course of a half-day.)

4.) Whedon and Greenwalt used to call Gellar "Jimmy Stewart." Unbeknownst to her as well. The two producers were so impressed with Gellar's ability to channel emotions nakedly up on screen and still seem humane early in the show's run that they gave her a nickname after the famous actor, the one American actor most capable of going "dark" and still seeming likable at the same time. This came as news to Gellar and the other assembled cast members.

5.) The Buffy set was probably a fun place to be. While there have been assorted stories over the years of rifts between some of the major players in the cast, it certainly seems as though the cast members had a good time together. Seth Green, in particular, had a nice interplay with Nicholas Brendon (who frequently made jokes no one in the audience or on stage could understand) and James Marsters, though even the relatively reclusive Amber Benson got involved at one point, giving a long answer on why she didn't return to the show that basically boiled down to her desire to sit by the bedside of her dying lover, Marlon Brando (Green seemed sort of blown away that she came up with a comic riff of that caliber).

6.) If Angel had failed, Charisma Carpenter would have returned to Buffy. When Whedon and Greenwalt decided to spin off Cordelia to the series Angel with the titular character, Whedon took Carpenter aside (usually a bad sign in Buffy world) and told her that he was going to send her to the new show. When Carpenter asked what happened if Angel failed, he assured he she would "always have a net at Buffy." Considering Carpenter reportedly parted the show under rather bad terms with Whedon, the story seemed rather poignant.

7.) That "monsters as metaphors for real-life problems" thing was perfected by David Greenwalt. Whedon and Greenwalt were breaking the third episode ("Witch") when Greenwalt came up with the idea that the mother of the character Amy was stealing her daughter's youth (by switching bodies with her). Whedon seized on it as an example of the metaphors and darker things the show could do and made it the series calling card, going well beyond what was accomplished in "Witch."

8.) Similarly, composer Christophe Beck inadvertently prompted season two's finale, "Becoming, Parts 1 and 2." Whedon and the other writers were having a hard time coming up with what, exactly, would happen in the season's two-part finale (one of the more epic finales in TV history when all was said and done). While doing the final mix on the episode "Passion," Whedon listened to Beck's music from the episode and began to see what would happen in the finale -- how Buffy would gradually have absolutely everything stripped away from her in a devastating fashion. From there, he knew how to make the story work.

9.) Oz will be in the comic books. The shows "season eight" was a big topic of conversation (particularly when it came to Buffy's fling with a fellow slayer -- something moderator Matt Roush seemed more interested in than any panelists -- particularly Gellar, who found out about it five minutes before the panel) for a short while, and Whedon assured a fan that the character of Oz -- whom Whedon specifically left the door open for a return for -- would be back in the comics.

10.) Michelle Trachtenberg is the palest person on the face of the Earth. Nona Mecklenberg, what on Earth has happened to you?!

There was a lot of other stuff covered, but this was what interested me enough to keep it in mind. For a really detailed rundown, go to one of the sites above. We'll see you next week!

1 comment:

Todd said...

Just want to say that Buffy fans -- at least the ones we sat near -- are REALLY annoying. The person we were in line in front of was one of those irritating alpha-fans who shares every opinion loudly in a conceited tone and had brought a self-produced Firefly novel for Whedon to sign. The people we SAT next to kept stepping over us so they could go talk to OTHER fans seated well behind them or go out into the hall to see if they could spot Whedon. All of these women appeared to be in their 30s or 40s.

I love Joss Whedon. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'm glad both have fans. But come on!