I grew up watching Joss Whedon television shows. It started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, followed quickly by Angel, later by Firefly and then the most recent (and underrated) Dollhouse though not exactly in that order (I, unfortunately, missed out on Firefly when it first aired). But what is it about these shows that compel not just me to tune in? Why has Joss Whedon become such a staple name? (And not just because of The Avengers).
Going back to the beginning with his first show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I can’t help but remember how Buffy and Angel immediately turned into one of the first TV relationships I rooted for before I had ever heard of the word ‘ship.’ The star-crossed element hooked me as a teenager. I can still recall the intrigue of Angel in that first episode when he gave Buffy the cross. Who was he? I knew I wanted to discover the mystery to this handsome stranger. The eventual, yet shocking discovery that Angel was indeed a vampire was so exciting and romantic to anything I could have imagined. So entranced by this impossible relationship (I also rooted for Xander and Willow at first), I don’t think I fully appreciated the humor then as I do now that I bought the full box set of the series and re-watched it from the beginning.
Spike’s entrance into the Buffy world also holds a strong memory in my mind because he wasn’t your typical villain. His Byronic nature and sarcastic one-liners never ceased to amuse me. Joss Whedon’s gift as a writer knew no bounds it seemed. He is a prime example of how to write 3 dimensional villains, flawed heroines (right up to Buffy’s season 6 depressed state of being), tragedy (yes sometimes I wanted to slug the guy for ruining my favorite romances or killing off my favorite character), compelling mythology, and witty, satirical dialogue.
And while no show for me will ever match my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer perhaps because it came first, his three other television series continued to prove Whedon’s original talent for storytelling. Angel, a spin-off to Buffy, lasted five seasons with similar humor and great characterization (though it did waiver a bit in season 4 and the horrible decisions to write out fan favorite Cordelia).
Years later, I tuned into Dollhouse though I thought it had a slow beginning. Once Whedon began to unravel the mythology, however, I was hooked. The themes also made for strong science fiction, asking important questions about humanity and human nature. How far will people go to fulfill their fantasies? Even more compelling than the fantasy theme, were questions about what made someone real. This is likely one of the most complex shows you will ever watch.
Firefly took me longer to discover. My brother and sister-in-law always attempted to get me to tune in but for some reason I was resistant. Perhaps it was the western vibe to the series? Whatever the case, I finally watched this series and finished it in two days (including the film that I rented off Amazon). Pure brilliance is the best I can describe this short-lived, but entertaining and intelligent series.
So, why you might ask, am I talking about Joss Whedon and his television series as this week’s highlight? Because this week Joss Whedon is returning to television! Tuesday night, September 24 will premiere The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a spinoff to The Avengers. And to celebrate the awesome return of Whedon to primetime television, I thought this would be a great opportunity to look back at what he did before by listing two of the best (or at least my favorite) episodes of each Whedon series. Hopefully, it can help remind us of the quality of original programming that he has given to us in the past as we consider the opportunity his new series has to shine in the future. I hope The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can become the next Whedon classic (and let’s hope it lasts longer than Firefly).
My Top Episodes
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Episode: “Becoming Part 2” (Season 2, Episode 22)
Writer: Joss Whedon
While Angel tortures Giles for needed information concerning a ritual, Spike strikes an unlikely alliance with Buffy to keep Angel from destroying the world. –DVD Blurb
Why I Love It: I love evil Angel and I love good Angel. This episode gives us both as good Angel returns to only be ‘killed’ by his beloved Buffy in a scene that made me fall in love with the pair all over again. More than just the epic fight between the lovers, however, is Spike’s entertaining alliance with Buffy because he liked his life and didn’t want the world to end. Indeed, one of my much-loved parts of the show is the relationship between Spike and Buffy’s mother. The little chat they have in the living room remains one of my all-time favorites. Spike’s other great moment of the many in this episode? The moment he stands up out of that wheelchair…
The Episode: “Something Blue” (Season 4, episode 9)
Writer: Tracey Forbes
When Willow casts a spell in hopes of getting over the pain of losing Oz, the exact wording she uses causes mayhem among her friends. – DVD Blurb
Why I Love It: Buffy the Vampire Slayer can go from tragic to pure comedy instantaneously. And while there are several episodes that are laugh out loud funny (including the musical), this one stands out because of the comedic chaos Willow causes, most notably the engagement between still soulless Spike and Buffy. The look on Giles’ nearly blind face when he discovers them together is priceless.
The Episode: “Hero” (Season 1, Episode 9)
Writers: Howard Gordon and Tim Minear
Doyle gets a chance to atone for his past when Angel agrees to help a group of mixed-heritage demons being hunted by violent pure-blood demons known as The Scourge. – DVD Blurb
Why I Love It: While Doyle was only in nine episodes, he still remains my all-time favorite Angel character. I even stopped watching for a while after he left (and I still believe the show lost something in the heart of the show that could never be recaptured). Nevertheless, this episode was amazing and full of excellent characterization. With the entire story focused on Doyle and his heroism, I was spellbound from beginning to end. When it first ended, I sat transfixed in shock. This couldn’t actually be the end of Doyle? But it was and the haunting tape he made in the episode still haunts me thanks to the actor’s later death in real life. Every relationship gets a chance to shine from the friendship between Angel and Doyle to the romance between Doyle and Cordelia. We finally got our kiss but it was too late for it was followed by Doyle’s meaningful sacrifice. Heartbreaking is the only way I can ever describe “Hero.”
The Episode: “You’re Welcome.” (Episode 100)
Writer: David Fury
In the 100th episode, Cordelia awakens from her magically induced coma and returns to help Angel fight an old enemy who has reappeared even more powerful than ever. -IMDB
Why I Like It: Like Buffy, Angel has many comedic episodes. Still, my second choice is tragic once again, marking the series’ 100th episode and the return of my other favorite Angel character, Cordelia. Cordelia returns at just the right time too because she can remind Angel of what a hero is and what he needs to do about Wolfram & Hart. The nod to Doyle before Cordelia also succumbs to death was also touching. This was a truly memorable 100th episode.
The Episode: “Out of Gas” (Season One, Episode 7)
Writer: Tim Minear
“On Simon’s birthday, Serenity’s engine stops turning and an explosion knocks out auxiliary life support, severely wounding Zoe. With few options, Mal orders the rest of the crew off the ship, but he stays behind hoping for a miracle. The story is told in multiple time frames shifting from Mal’s time alone on the ship to the events prior to the crew’s departure. Flashbacks to Mal’s initial meetings with many of his crew members are also a part of the narrative, showing how and why Mal and Zoe decided to buy the old Firefly-class ship, as well as revealing it wasn’t love-at-first-sight for Zoe and Wash when he was hired as the Serenity’s pilot, as well as how Inara charmed her way into letting Mal rent out one of the Serenity’s shuttles for herself, how Mal met the mechanic/engineer Kaylee in a compromising position, and how the crew met Jayne who was an tough, but dumb, interplanetary bandit. “- IMDB
Why I Love It: Because quite frankly this is a great character piece. We finally get to see the beginnings of each character with the ship and Mal, none of the backstories disappointing in the slightest. My particular favorite moment: Zoe’s distaste for the new pilot Wash! Captain Mal’s devotion to Serenity also reiterates what a strong character he is when he refuses to give up on it. This is a stellar episode on all fronts.
The Episode: “Jaynestown” (Season 1, Episode 8)
The Writer: Ben Edlund
“When the Serenity crew travels to a planet to strike a smuggling deal, Jayne discovers the populace worships him as a hero; Inara makes a man out of a magistrate’s 26-year-old virginal son; Book’s nerves fray as he tends to River.” -Amazon
Why I Like It: This may be one of the funniest episodes to ever be on television…ever. The idea that there could be an entire town worshipping the self-absorbed Jayne because he accidentally helped them out is hilarious. While I could care less about Inara’s subplot, the rest of the episode makes up for it with riotous fun.
The Episode: “Man on the Street” (Season 1, Episode 6).
Writer: Joss Whedon
Echo becomes the perfect wife for a lonely internet mogul (guest star Patton Oswalt), and Sierra’s attacker is revealed, while a TV reporter prepares an exposé on the Dollhouse. Meanwhile, Mellie’s life is in danger and Agent Ballard’s investigation takes a surprising turn when he comes face-to-face and fist-to-fist with Echo for the very first time. (http://dollhouse.wikia.com/wiki/Man_on_the_Street)
Why I Love It: This is the episode that begins to unravel and explore the mythology of the show and marks (for me anyway) the moment this show started coming together and actually working. Furthermore, not only do we finally get a 3 dimensional look into one of the Dollhouse’s clients (Echo taking on the persona of his dead wife) but we also get to see the start of Paul and Mellie’s romance that leads into the first true shocker of the series: Mellie was indeed a doll. While the first showdown takes place between Echo and Paul in this episode, I find the story between Mellie and Paul to be more complex and interesting. For Paul, Echo was this ideal woman he was trying to save but Mellie became a woman he fell for without knowing she wasn’t exactly real (or was she?). This was truly an explosive episode that remains unforgettable for me. The side story with Sierra also captured my interest.
The Episode: “The Hollow Men” (Season 2, episode 12)
Writers: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters and Tracy Bellomo
“Forced to flee the Los Angeles Dollhouse in the aftermath of the Rossum attack, the survivors of the Dollhouse head for Rossum’s headquarters in Tucson, where they hope to prevent the apocalyptic future they’ve seen by destroying the company’s mainframe computer system and the prototypes and plans for the remote wipe technology. But they are still unaware of the identity of Rossum’s mysterious founder, and Echo/Caroline is unable to tell them. Meanwhile, Priya and Anthony reject their chance at a free life together in favor of returning to help their friends – but find everyone gone, and must piece together what happened in their absence.” -IMDB
Why I Love It: While I liked the final episode of Dollhouse, it is the episode prior to the finale that stands the strongest. Everything comes to a head when our team of heroes attempt to take down Boyd who reveals himself (a HUGE shocker) as Rossum’s evil founder. Everything about this episode was epic from Sierra and Victor (as their true selves) to Mellie being commanded to kill Paul only to end up killing herself in one of the most heartbreaking moments of this dark series.
On a final note, even though it wasn’t a full-blown TV series, everyone should, of course, watch Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog starring Neil Patrick Harris! It’s free on Netflix.
Do you have a favorite episode from a Joss Whedon Series? Sound off below…