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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wherein we find I don't like Joss Whedon very much. 

TV/movie/comics auteur Joss Whedon is back on TV with a new series on Fox starring Buffy regular Eliza Dushku. The sci-fi series Dollhouse will premiere next year; Whedon has a seven-episode order.
More here.

Early estimations by esteemed parties (me) state that of the several beautiful young women cast, one will play a sexpot, another will play a geek girl so geek boys won't feel threatened, still another will be a hardass, and Dushku's character will be the lead by virtue of the fact she will possess two (2) of these traits.

Further, Whedon fans will claim that this series is great action/sci-fi/horror, by virtue of the fact they have not actually been exposed to good examples of any of those genres. Alas, they will be denied a "Best Referential Humor" category in the Emmy's. Again.

Dushku will play Echo, one of a group of secret agents who can be imprinted with different personalities depending on the assignment.
Further, the esteemed parties (still me!) will be enraged that despite the likelihood of Dollhouse possessing one-quarter to one-half the IQ of short-lived DC Vertigo title Human Target, it will receive ten times the audience.

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So you can probably tell I don't like Joss Whedon. I think he (along with guys like J.J. Abrams) represents a sort of new laziness in the fantasy/sci-fi/horror field, wherein referential humor, half-smart genre mash-ups, plot crutches disguised as "idiosyncracies," and high concepts rule the day. But what really gets me -- and I admit I should probably discount considerations like this when weighing someone's artistic merit -- are the fans. They are astonishingly pleased with their perceived sophistication, despite being the fan base equivalent of people who think the Olive Garden qualifies as fine dining.

Take Whedon's thing with female characters that bothers me. They all break down into the archetypes listed above, and the lead character is defined by her ability to possess more than one of these traits. This is "empowerment" according to his fans, and I have had people -- people smart enough to form sentences -- actually tell me that his inability to render women beyond these insultingly simplistic categories is some kind of virtue. "At least he's doing that much," they say, leaving unsaid the assumption that the rest of TV has the gender politics of the WWE.

But the real damage? You never have to improve yourself as an artist with that kind of fan base. Take Firefly: It's like the Wild West, but in space! Take careful notice of this, because it will only be reiterated every few minutes. Here's the captain and he's Han Solo but wearier, here's the amoral guy, here's the ah... sexpot woman, here's the geek girl woman, and the hardass woman, and.. erm... yeah. You're getting the idea.

One season, one comic book mini-series, and one thoroughly mediocre movie was enough to forever enshrine Firefly into the hearts of "Browncoat" fans everywhere. It's kind of a handy trick, really; do just enough material to tantalize the easily impressed and then let them make the legend for you. It helps that Firefly was aired incomplete and out of sequence before getting canned, which gives everyone the cozy feeling of being an underdog. The legend writes itself, and Whedon reaps the reward of infinite good will while the fans do most of the work for him by dreaming of "what might have been."

Now, I don't think he's an evil man, just kind of a creative lightweight who has unfortunately found the kind of fan base that have programmed themselves to like everything he does. It's not exactly the best environment for artistic growth. So here we are back at square one again, with pretty young women doing the "hot girls who kick ass" routine one more damn time...

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