Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Yearly Defense of TV (and love for Buffy)

I was feeling sentimental and reflective this week after the announcement that Warner Brothers was going forward with the idea to reboot Buffy The Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon. For the record, I do think it's quite early to reboot Buffy, it hasn't been 10 years since the show went off the air. And I love Joss Whedon, especially for Buffy, Angel, and Dr. Horrible, though I did enjoy Firefly and Serenity. Even so I think Buffy is an extraordinarily important character for our culture and I'm not opposed to the idea. It might, after all, introduce a new generation to Buffy as the show becomes more dated.

So since I was thinking about Buffy, I spent some time watching my favorite episodes from the sixth and seventh season, taken aback, again by how a story can reveal itself to you in fresh ways. While stories remain told as is, we as people change and new life experiences, relationships, and circumstances help us see the same tale from different perspectives. I loved it just as much as ever, fell in love with Buffy all over again, and was utterly delighted and moved again. I've watched the series through twice and some episodes multiple times but it's been awhile. I completely enjoyed feeling like I was both visiting a dear friend and discovering the show again.

This may be a politically incorrect thing to say on a book blog, but Buffy is one of the most important stories of my life. One that shapes the way I see story and the world, one that is in my personal "canon", when discussing other stories, I'll often say, "it's like when on Buffy..."

It's not, of course, just because it's a great story. I watched season 2 of Buffy when it originally aired. I went to college after that and when I heard a certain character was back on season 3 I felt like it cheapened the beautiful and dramatic ending of the second season and I stopped watching. I didn't watch again until I was living in Japan. The year and a half I spent in Japan are some of my most formative much more happened than simply living in Japan and teaching English my entire worldview started to shift or expand and during that time I discovered Buffy again. I was completely obsessed. (this is how I get--can't help it!) I'd go home on Saturday night and my friends and I would order pizza and watch Buffy. (the cable channel would show 2 episodes at a time--this is also when I started watching Felicity, Friends, Sex and the City, and Angel--after years of not watching TV!) I loved it.

So I think that while I was changing as a person there was this story with these fabulous characters that I loved so much that filled in the down time in my life. The show of Buffy taught me so much about what I value in storytelling, it taught me about how deeply moving and transformational even watching TV can be. I realized it could be touching, funny, and thought provoking. And how could I not love this character--so complex, powerful, and yet alone. And even though Buffy isn't flawless, I love it for exactly what it is--as I always do with the most significant stories and art in my life. (think: Mockingjay)

Of all the arts TV gets the worst reputation. While you may be called nerdy for liking to read, when you like TV people assume you sit there in a vegetative state unable to think for yourself. While people will admit there are "fluffy" books, they think the act of reading is superior to watching TV. The assumption is that quality television is rare and that most of it is, well, American Idol. Reading--even if you've shut your brain off--somehow taxes you more.

But when I think about the stories that have impacted my life and the characters I love most, they are equal parts television characters and characters from books. I love both Scarlett O'Hara and Brenda Leigh Johnson, Katniss Everdeen and Buffy Summers, Jo March and Felicity Porter, Harry Potter and Dean Winchester, Peeta Mellark and Desmond Hume, Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars.

Television is just another excellent medium for telling a story, for inviting us to reflect on our own lives even as we get swept away into the lives of others. It IS an art and it can change your life if you let it. The best shows raise new ideas and reflect on age old concepts and entertain us all the while. They are layered and open to interpretation, discussion, and debate. Like books, it's up to the viewer to decide how much they want to invest.

I enjoyed my visit back to Sunnydale and will probably go back sooner this time. The end of the year makes me crave the comfort of dearly loved stories.

Want to give it a try? Some of my favorite smart shows are: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Closer, and Damages.

What are yours?


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