Friday, November 14, 2008

Angel, Buffy or Firefly...which one's the best?

This guy on IO9 argues that "Dollhouse" is going to be Joss Whedon's greatest work ever. His case is pretty compelling -- except for the bit where he says that most of Whedon's premises are weak, a statement with which I disagree vehemently. Everything he says about "Dollhouse," though, actually makes me look forward to it even more.

It also made me wonder, though, what IS Whedon's best work? "Aliens 3," right? Hahahaha, just kidding. Okay, what's his best TV series? That, for me, is a really difficult call. There's so much to be said for all of three shows.

"Angel" is of course the forgotten cast-off series but boy oh boy was that a great show. First, Angel was a great character -- the vampire equivalent of Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester. He was dark and brooding and guilt-ridden but he was also vain and inadvertantly hilarious. The episode where he could finally walk in sunlight and, more importantly, see himself in a mirror is brilliant, with this morbid dude frolicking in daylight and asking his friends if he always wears that much gel in his hair. And yet, the show could wring the emotions out of you too, whether it was Angel losing Buffy all over again or losing Cordelia or giving his son away to protect him. But best of all, he got turned into a puppet! "A wee little puppet man!" as Spike said. That in and of itself makes this resilient, creatively flexible show a masterpiece.

Which means it would be at the top of my list if it weren't for "Firefly." Thirteen episodes of pure perfection, a show that gave the world Nathan Fillion and a man named Jayne -- two things for which I will be forever grateful. "Firefly" always had the ideal mix of action, adventure, humor, hijinks, romance, familial love, marital love...and, as Joss always said, whores! (That was my favorite part of every pre-press interview Joss ever did for "Firefly." Every one of his descriptions ended with "and it has whores!" Wouldn't everything be funnier if it ended with "whores?" I say yes.) It's such a shame that Fox pulled the plug on "Firefly" so quickly because each episode was better than the last. This one would be at the top of my list, too, if it weren't for...

"Buffy," which, with all respect to the IO9 dude, is always going to be Whedon's greatest work. And here's why: it was his first show and it was genius from day one. Turning that horror movie cliche of the dumb blonde victim on its head...and then on its ass...and then back on its head again, "Buffy" paved the way for strong female characters who could also be funny and flawed. "Buffy" was an original. And holy cow, was it ever funny. Every episode was packed to the brim with absurd and unforgettable lines that I will continue to quote decades after everyone ceases listening to me. And just as "Angel" and "Firefly" did, "Buffy" could get manic clowns with blood made of Xanax to cry -- when Angel turned on her, when Giles betrayed her and oh my God, when Joyce died. That episode is one of the most heart-rending and crushingly disturbing portrayals of death ever shown on television and why Whedon wasn't given an eternal Emmy award right then and there will always be a mystery to me.

So no matter how great "Dollhouse" turns out to be -- and I have deep nerd faith that it will be awesome (despite my "meh" feelings about the previews) -- it will never be as good as "Buffy." And that's not a criticism. It's just that "Buffy" was the groundbreaker. She made everything else possible and for that one simple reason, it's a show that will never be topped.

Still though, nothing beats "Aliens 3."

What do you think?


Jess (fushmush) said...

Buffy is my favourite series too. I've been rewatching it lately. I got to the episode where Joyce dies and just couldn't watch it again. It was traumatic watching it the first time; I couldn't go through that again.

Michele said...

I love Buffy to bits, but season 4 was a bit "meh" and season 6 annoys me very much (the Nerd Trio are so LAME as big bads after Glory the God that I just couldn't take them seriously (and yes, I know all about the fact that Joss was portraying the evil of the mundane, or whatever, but it was still lame in my view!) - and I hated the Buffy/Spike stuff.)

Angel was pretty good (not least turning Wesley and Cordelia into solid, 3D characters instead of 1D caricatures) - and the puppet episode is the height of brilliance!

But my fave Whedon show is "Firefly". Not one duff episode in the 13+movie, and although I was mad that he killed off the lovable Wash, I can forgive him...

Of course YMMV!

Jean said...

My usual description when it comes to Joss goodness is "I like Buffy, I really like Angel, and I love Firefly!" I've been a bit "meh" about the Dollhouse promos as well. Guess we'll have to wait and see!

Kathe said...

I gotta agree with you Liz, as good as Angel and Firefly were, there will forever only be one Buffy and that was a masterpiece. I've been reading the comics (haven't gotten to the Angel ones yet) and they are pure gold. I truly miss that show. I am looking forward to Dollhouse because of what I've heard and seen of the cast and well it's JOSS WHEDON.

RedCochina said...

I teared up when I read your synopsis of why Buffy is Whedon's greatest work. I couldn't agree more. That show changed the way I watch TV! I never followed a series before because I hadn't seen a show that was more than just passing entertainment. Buffy made me fall in love with the characters, the story arcs, the metaphors, etc. The world was so real and tangible, I was just absorbed by it. There were episodes where I laughed out loud in between sobs. I've not been so attached to a show before or since. It truly was groundbreaking.

And season 6 was my favorite..."Life" as the big bad was brilliant and touched me on a very personal level. Watching our girl pull herself back from the brink of depression ("I'm sorry...William" - that line pulled my insides out), going thru Xander's relationship heartaches, and feeling Willow's devastating loss and rage made for a really dark but ultimately satisfying season. Whedon rules.

That said, I love Firefly to pieces and cannot stand Angel. I'm slowly working my way thru season 4 on DVD and wow, is it a chore...

crone51 said...

Firefly is magic. There are a couple of TV shows I will say that about. Northern Exposure comes to mind.
It is rare that characters and cast and stories come together so brilliantly. And I should mention the music as well because it is something that really puts Firefly in a very special place. The music is incredible.

Oh, and the amazing hotness of Nathan Fillion helps things ... and...uh....whores!

Anonymous said...

Firefly is at the top of my list, with Buffy close behind. Angel...well...I tried to like it, really I did. But somewhere in season three I just stopped watching it. My husband and I were working through the series together at the time (thanks to Netflix), and he continued to watch it. He summarized the rest of the series for me (I wanted to know how the narrative resolved but didn't want to spend my time wading through the details), and we were both pretty disappointed with it.

Buffy, though--"groundbreaking" is right. And amazing character-driven stories! Same with Firefly, which had all the best aspects of Buffy in a tighter, more focused production.

But hey, where's Dr. Horrible on this list? That's pretty good, too! :)

Jen said...

I must be the only one in history who prefers Buffy Seasons 4 & 6 (in fact, those are the only ones I own). Granted the Spike/Buffy stuff is ridiculous...

Angel had its ups and downs - in each season - for example - Evil Cordelia "give Momma some sugar..." I could die happily without having to rewatch that!

That said, FireFly is my go to lazing on the sofa with coffee and the remote control on a rainy Saturday (hmmm, it's supposed to rain here tomorrow...).

Anonymous said...

I loved Buffy through its first three seasons--some of the best television ever written, IMO. As soon as the kids got to college, though, eeeccchhhh! Joss & Co. never survived this transition--the transition of losing two major players (Angel and Cordy), the change of setting from high school to college, then losing Seth Green (Oz), then having the actress playing the most interesting adversary (Maggie Walsh)of the season bail after ten or eleven episodes.

You could tell that Whedon was more preoccupied with Angel, because his response to the shake-up was essentially to replace Angel with Spike, Cordelia with Anya, and Oz with Tara (retch). The stories became increasingly lame, the sense of menace drained away, the characters became pale shadows of their former selves, and the humor relied more and more on schtick instead of wit and irony.

The fifth season brought us the magically created Dawn, the sixth season brought us the Evil Nerds, and the seventh season broughts us the same plot repeated 22 times. It was obvious long around the show's move to UPN that the creative staff had collectively checked out, and the cast was phoning it in from Pluto. There were some exceptions, of course--the Spike backstory episode, the one where Buffy's mother dies, the musical--but IMO any show that gives you one or two good episodes out of 22 per season can no longer be considered a quality product.

Angel was terrific in most of its first two seasons, but once Lindsey and Darla departed, it quickly slid into the same rut that Buffy had fallen into: most of the interesting characters were gone, replaced by lifeless sock-puppets; the sense of horror (or at least the sense of something being genuinely at stake) was frittered away, and the plots started veering out into la-la land.

After watching the decline of two such terrific shows, I never bothered with Firefly, and I was fairly amazed at how funny Dr. Horrible turned out to be--a sign that Whedon is not as creatively bankrupt as I'd once imagined.

agent57 said...

Honesly, though? I liked Cordelia more on Buffy... or at least Buffy + the beginning of Angel. (I still haven't seen all of Angel, oh man the shame!) I think even on Buffy she had moments where you could see the third dimension of her character. I don't know if I just don't buy Charisma's acting as a kind and caring person, or if I really just kind of like the guiltless-bitch-who-sometimes-does-the-right-thing character too much.

It's kind of like the way I sort of liked Inara for Mal's sake, but the only scene where I really, really liked her was when she was gloating to YoSaffBridge at the end of Trashed. Snarky!

On the other hand, I liked Angel a lot better on Angel. He got to stop waivering between mopey and hurt, and start being interesting and kind of funny. I guess this tells you a little bit about the type of characters I like.

That bit of stalling aside, I really don't know if I can say which my favorite show of his is. It has to be between Buffy and Firefly. I can't ever discount Buffy, since it's what got me into Whedon, (for so long i didn't watch it just because it sounded lame and like one of those "popular kids and annoying pop music" shows.) but Firefly has the advantage of being more polished, being written by Whedon when he had more experience, and not being given a chance to jump the shark. I hate to say that, I would have loved the show to have been given a ridiculously long run, but sometimes one year of really great material is better than twenty of mediocre. Also, I think Serenity might be the best damn sci-fi movie ever made. Big talk, I know, but I'm serious.

Liz said...

Michele, I agree with you totally on Cordelia and Wes finally becoming real characters on "Angel." That whole show made me like characters I never enjoyed in the Buffy Angel himself.

In general, I agree that there were a lot of slow moments in "Angel" and not every episode was a classic, but I stuck with the show until the end and I have to say, I really thought it ended better than Buffy, which went the T.S. Eliot route and ended not with a bang (ok, except Spike all those times) but a whimper. "Angel" ended perfectly for me. I don't know...I guess it'll always just be the underdog show for me.

Redcochina, you summarized exactly what made me fall in love with "Buffy," too. It was so Dickensian in style -- every season was a book and every episode was a chapter. And it had so much depth. I've never ever been surprised that colleges teach courses on the show. I really believe it paved the way for other shows to have the depth of symbolism and textural narrative that have become more prevalent today, like "The Wire" and "BSG."

It's funny about "Firefly" -- I had kind of a difficult time liking it at first. I remember watching the premier (which, of course, was not the real premier) and it just didn't grab me. But of course it grew on me enormously. It's just funny that everyone else seemed to love it off the bat and I was so late to the party!

And Marsha, you're right -- how could I forget "Dr. Horrible?" For me, I'd put the first two parts of Dr. Horrible right there below "Buffy" but wow, was I ever disappointed in the last part. I'll have to try watching it again, but I was hugely unimpressed with the ending.

Crone51, I hadn't thought about "Firefly"'s music before but you're right, it's great. It's like its own character.

And there whores! :)

agent57 said...

Liz - I didn't like Firefly right off the bat, honestly. I'm terrible at catching shows when they air. I saw about ten minutes of Bushwhacked when it was first on, and was completely confused. I didn't actually watch the show until after it had already been canceled, and even then I thought the pilot (actual pilot) was really slow until halfway through, when Kaylee got shot. She was played by Jewel Staite, who played my favorite character on a show I was completely geeky about as a kid (Space Cases, anyone?) and my reaction was "nooooo!". I was really worried for the character. (The girl in a box thing, sadly, was spoiled by the previews... so that failed to be what hooked me.) And after that there was "I do the job, I get paid." and Shindig and Out of Gas and man, I love that show.

Now I rewatch the pilot and pick up little things about it that I love and just kind of missed the first time through.

The World is a Playground said...

I am a Firefly fan. It was a great show. Everything about it screamed hit, and yet it was cancelled. What would have happened if it had gone for another 4 seasons? Would the show have been able to keep up the quality of the first season?

I liked the first two seasons of both Buffy an Angel, but after that I just didn't care to watch anymore. Both shows lost me, and I didn't follow either, if I saw an episode good, if not, oh well.

I am almost glad that Firefly didn't have any bad episodes, it makes it that much more of a great show.

Dollhouse can be a great show, the actors are there, the premise is there, but will it all come together, along with a fanbase to support it?

Literary Feline said...

My husband and I both think that Buffy is the best of the three shows. We enjoyed them all, however. I can't wait to see Dollhouse.

Elimare said...

Oh I'll watch Dollhouse alright cos its Joss, but... So far the trailers ain't grabbing me.
Angel had moments of brilliance but that ending??! I taped the finale for my sis who was working that night and she watched it when she got home. I was woken sometime in the early hours by a screech and a 'IS THAT IT???' from her bedroom.
Buffy will always have my heart cos I stuck with it for all seven seasons - Joyce's death? oh god, SML at the couch whimpering 'Mommy?' - shit, even now I get shivers thinking about it.
Firefly I came to very late, completely missed it on telly so bought the box set a couple of years ago. Like that I was a bit confused about the premise in the beginning, but now its the most re-watched show on my DVD shelf.
I can't make up my mind... Probably Firefly and Buffy in a tie I guess.

grace said...

Buffy. Nothing touches Buffy.

That being said, I think that if Firefly had even half the time Buffy did to develop, it may have been an even better show than Buffy was.

Anonymous said...

Buffy will always be my favorite TV series in general, not just from those associated with Joss.
Angel would have to be next and then Firefly. I am definitely looking forward to Dollhouse.
I rate Firefly below Angel only because there were only 13 episodes and even with the movie it still feels like staring into a dark, unfulfilled future.
As much as I love Buffy, I wonder sometimes how I would've felt if it had ended after Prophecy Girl. Probably much the same as I feel about Firefly now.