Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bogus Developments in TV Shows

Nothing makes you go "hmmmm" all skeptical-like than when you're watching some sort of fictional visual media and someone acts out of character, a ludicrous plot development occurs out of nowhere, hearts inexplicably break, etc. This is most prevalent in TV shows. For if a show is successful and runs for an indefinite period of time, actors may leave, trends may change, writers might quit and new ones come on board--resulting in what comes across as clumsy shifts in the show's rhythm and storyline. Other times, it's more difficult to pinpoint the source of the disruption, and you feel like the writing's been screwed with out of nowhere. I'm not necessarily talking about jumping the shark. Sometimes that's what happens, or sometimes these spurious developments can be rather minor stuff that, while the show is still written well and entertaining overall, still sticks under craws like mine. Here are a few of my TV related pet peeves:

1. Liz Lemon wanting a baby, 30 Rock

 This one's been a part of Liz's character since the middle of Season 1, but it still rings false to me. Liz from the get-go has been portrayed as antisocial ("How could Liz win a fellowship award? She doesn't like people"), insensitive, emotionally immature, self-centered, a wee bit vicious, and not partial to that much touching or companionship ("Ugh, all the nodding and smiling and sibling-listing. And what’s the upside? It works and you have to have a bunch of sex?")--and we love her for it. She's a comical wonderland of disgruntlement, a lovable, misanthropic curmudgeon who will cut you so deep you'll actually have a chin if you touch her sandwich.

Yet we're supposed to buy that deep down this loving lady wants a baby.

This gets to me because, like Jack Donaghy says, it's too Murphy Brown. This specific trope has been done, repeatedly: baby-frenzied working gals.  The inaccurate and dated message is that all an edgy, working, single woman wants is to be a mommy. Who cares that her personality might be the very anathema of parenthood, and that you'd think she'd have the intelligence to recognize this. I fully realize that a lot of this in 30 Rock might have to do with Fey herself writing this element of the character. Fey is, in point of fact, a mother. But the thing is that while Liz is obviously based on Fey and therefore has inherited many of her quirks, Liz is the Comedy Show Character equivalent of Fey--meaning she's probably a lot more mean, exaggerated, and cartoonish than the real Fey. Not that Tina Fey's a namby-pamby weakling who can't get her bitch on, but I doubt she was her high school's unaware bully like Liz.

So wanting a baby? Liz? While many of her baby-related shenanigans turn out hilarious, it still doesn't fully come off for me because I just don't see someone like Lemon, who we viewers know pretty well by now, working so hard for something non-edible and who demands cuddling and love. That ain't the Lemon way, God bless 'er.

My mom just pointed out that Liz's baby-craziness might have more to do with her feeling like something's missing in her life than truly wanting a baby. I have to say I agree. I hope Fey let's that dawn on Liz, and our Lemon simply finds a healthier TV dinner to fill that void, served to her by Astronaut Mike Dexter. Possible series finale?

2. Spike's obsession with Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I guess when David Boreanaz left the show to start Angel, Whedon et al were like, "Gee! Which Vampire could drool pre-Cullen style over Buffy now?" And thus the Angelification of Spike began.

My problem with his love for Buffy stems from a variety of reasons.
1. It's too sudden. I'm sure you could argue that often when you like someone you've known for awhile, it does indeed suddenly come upon you. But I call horse-shit. In the space of two episodes he dreams about her, snaps, and acts like a scared sheep whenever he sees her from then on. One episode he hates her, the next he's her full-on unrequited Romeo. Too much all at once, without enough of a transition period. His devotion felt very thrown in for the sake of ratings.
2. The Angelification thing again. They kept Spike's dialogue punkish and all, but by Season 7 when he gets his soul back, he's just not the same Spike he was. Where once he was a jolt of psychotic, bubbling frenzy, he's now mopey and more subdued. He's Angel plus peroxide. And that kills much of his energetic, malicious joy that first drew us to his character.
3. Lack of chemistry. Marsters and Gellar ignite great sparks together as enemies, but I never felt the romantic, sensual stuff. Maybe Spike thinking she's cute and slowly growing fond of her, sure. But red-hot obsessed? Not with someone like Buffy. She's too American Girl Nextdoor for his type, aside from all the slaying. Mostly because....
4. She's not Drusilla. Many anti-Spuffers (did I really just type that?) will tout the very credible point that Angel/Buffy are Twoo Wuv incarnate in the Whedonverse, and Spike can't compete with that. But frankly, I'm more pissed off on behalf of the Spike/Dru relationship. In just one season, they captured my attention and support more than three seasons of Angel and Buffy a-pinin' fer one another. Now, if given the option, I'll usually go with Baddie in love with Good Guy over Baddie/Baddie and Goodie/Goodie. I likes me some opposites attract, yessir. So you'd think I'd go more for Spuffs than Spru (heh, I can make up kitchy couple names all by myself, yes I can!). 

But when you think about it, part of the lure involved in Spike and Drusilla's dynamic is that it is rooted in opposites attract. Both are villains, but they're evil in very, very different ways. Spike's a little bit punk rock, Dru's a little bit Victorian harpsichord. He's the duster and the motorcycle, she's the tarot cards and the porcelain dolls. He's the muscle, she's the crazy. And his adoration of her is so intense, so pervasive, that it was shocking to viewers used to the show's portrayal of soulless vampires as strictly unloving and unromantic. Perhaps the show's sweetest moment came in the finale of Season 2, when Spike forces Dru to leave Sunnydale with him (um, spoilers, I guess). He's angrily driving along when he glances over at Dru's unconscious form slumped against the window in the passenger seat. Without changing his stern, devil-may-care expression, he grabs her with his free arm and hugs her to him tightly. VILLAIN AWW!

(I harp about this also because I just really, really love Drusilla. She's my favorite Whedonverse character, even over Fred Burkle a little.)

Spike and Buffy had their true loves, and they were not each other. It feels wrong to have either of them succumb to the other one's charms.

Speaking of Buffy....

3. Willow's lesbianism

It's admirable for a show not to shrink away from diversity, to bring in other sexualities and so forth at a time when it wasn't quite the norm yet. And it's of course not unheard of for someone you think was totally straight to totally be not all of a sudden. 

Or else there's something more cynical going on. Sometimes producers pick up on what they think is "hip," decide a topic like sexuality is trendy, and apply it when in a pickle--i.e., when Seth Green leaves the show and you need a replacement love interest. And seeing as Willow is unconventional in terms of who's usually popular in teen TV shows, why not make her a lesbian, especially now that she's a wacky, wild, wiccan college student? Because obviously gay = unconventional wiccan hippy. Always.

Making Willow a lesbian feels forced and out of place. While there were hints of her vampire doppelganger having Sapphic leanings earlier in the show, it doesn't really explain her longstanding infatuation with Xander and her sincere love for Oz. And I just don't buy the whole, "It's not women I'm attracted do. It's one woman." Because after they make her a lesbian, the writers often make a point of demonstrating how she's apparently just not into the opposite sex no more (like when she tries to turn that dude into a woman in that episode where all the women in Sunnydale fall sway to that football player's literal magic). 

It's like the writers didn't know how else to express Willow growing as a character, her transition into a self-confident witch from the mousy cesspool of adorable insecurity she was at Sunnydale High. Her relationship with Tara was a gutsy move, to be sure, and it did help bring homosexuality into mainstream television. And it's not that I dislike Tara as a character--in my ideal scenario, she would join the Scoobies of her own accord, keeping her sexual preference intact, without making a big, ratings-invested deal out of it: "No, Xander, I don't want to sleep with you. Y'see, I'm a lesbian." "Oh. Cool."

I've heard conflicting stories about how Willow/Tara came to be. Initially I read that it was Alyson Hannigan and Joss Whedon's mutual decision to turn Willow and Tara's relationship into something more than platonic. But then I've also heard it said that Whedon just didn't know what to do with Willow romantically once Green left to pursue his movie career, and Whedon thought Amber Benson entering the scene was a sign of what to do. Either way, I really miss Oz/Willow. 

Hm, a lot of these pet peeves of mine center around people messing with my favorite pairings. Sorta like....

5. Jackie and Hyde breaking up and Jackie moving on to Fez, That 70s Show


...Actually, I can't even write about this one. It makes me too damn mad. Man, I don't even like sitcoms like this all that much! But...damn! What were they thinking?

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*PLEASE READ*:   I don't even feel vaguely qualified to tackle what's happening to Japan in my blog. Anything I'd try to say would sound pretentious and uneducated, even more so than usual. And that's the last thing I want to do in a situation like this. Blah-blahing about TV is one thing, but this? I started this blog to expound on my frivolous musings, which you so couldn't determine from the above subject matter. I'd only end up frustrating myself trying to express in this format the effect this devastation has had on not only Japan, but on the world as a whole. The least I can do is remind my undoubtedly already aware readers, few and awesome as you are, of that one organization called The Red Cross that's currently accepting donations for the relief effort, as it tends to do. I know money's tight for just about everyone right now, but if you feel like donating just a bit, follow that link. Thank ya much.

4 comments:

  1. Wowee. Where to start...I recently read somewhere (perfect timing!) that both Whedon and Marsters had the Buffy and Spike as an item idea as early as season 2 (though I think that was a typo and they meant season 3/4 because, honestly, season 2??) Whedon called it a "duh!" moment when they decided to make it happen, and felt they had been unconsciously leaning in that direction for a while. I'm not so sure about this, because I do agree that Spike's sudden obsession seems pretty...well, sudden. Though I don't think it's far-fetched at all. As a suddenly "neutered", heartbroken vampire somewhat already obsessed with pain and violence, it makes sense that he would turn his focus to the one person who has beaten him time and time again and can, in fact, supply him with loads of pain and violence. As Buffy is dealing (or not dealing, rather) with her own perverse and demented self-loathing by the time they get together, it's clear their attraction to each other lies in that same self-loathing. Love is out of the picture. (I'm deliberately avoiding season 7 because that's a whole nother ball game.)

    I absolutely agree with Willow's sudden lesbianism, though ("not that there's anything wrong with that!") I like Tara as a character (though she could have been a bit less pouty) but I just cringe every time Willow calls her "baby". It's just so out of place and so very un-Willow. Willow does not call her honeys "baby". Plus, *sigh*, I just love Oz-Willow.

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  2. I also have to risk any flying tomatoes and add that I was never a fan of Drusilla (who I thought was played waaay over the top, and annoyed the hell out of me) until her appearance on Angel.

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  3. I guess my real problem with Spike/Buffy stems more from what I snootily deem as the fans' overabundance of enthusiasm for it, getting carried away with the idea that the two of them were soul(less?)mates an' all. When instead, like you say, the relationship was obviously rooted in self-loathing on both ends from the beginning. Plus, I was never a fan of the angsty vampire angle even with Angel (which is why I refuse to get into Twilight). Spike was so much fun because he was kickass, brutal, and didn't give no crap about it. I mean, I sort of like he turned out all redeemable because it makes me feel less evil for liking him, but by the end of Buffy they just went way, way overboard in making him brooding and miserable on behalf of his unrequited lurve for Buffy. Ironically, it wasn't until he was on Angel that he got any of his old zip back.

    Don't worry, you're actually not the only one who disliked Drusilla, and a lot of people have the same problem with her: too over the top. Me, that's why I liked her so. For me personally, Buffy was at its best when it combined super-camp with self-conscious snark. Plus, in my opinion, Drusilla's backstory is the most tragic, so that adds some real pathos to her character instead of making her flat-out cartoonish.

    Yeah, the whole Willow thing is just indicative to me of a lot of characters acting unlike themselves starting around Season 5. Sexuality shouldn't be used for the sole purpose of making a character seem more hip n' happenin'.

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  4. While I agree with you on the Spike and Buffy thing, I am a true Willow/Tara fan.

    Hell, most of my professional writing career working on the Buffy RPG was based completely on my devotion to those two as a couple!

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