Once More Unto The Buffy

Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. I spent a fair amount of time as a Buffy The Vampire Slayer obsessive. I watched it religiously when it was originally broadcast and it was the first boxed DVD set I bought and therefore the first commentary track I listed to.

But other things came along and pulled me in other directions, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and now Westworld, but like a heroin addict watching others fix, it doesn’t take much get me hooked again.

This time it’s a podcast called Buffering The Vampire Slayer in which Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo watch an episode of the series starting with season one and then do a show to talk about what they’ve seen. It’s so enjoyable to eavesdrop on someone experiencing for the first time something you’ve loved forever.

Normally, this is a funny, insightful hour with a wink and a nod at low production values and the requisite TV plot holes, but the latest podcast about an episode of BtvS called The Pack dropped at an alarmingly appropriate time.

Considering gamergate, the ongoing war against rape culture, slut shaming, Cosby’s accusers and a presidential candidate’s “locker room” talk, an episode brimming with sexual assault and “boys will be boys” excuses opens up all manner of unsavory topics.

Until they brought it up, I had forgotten about the scene where Xander (possessed by a hyena, don’t ask) corners Buffy in an empty classroom and proceeds to exorcise his sexual frustration by attempting to force himself on her.

It also includes this really unfortunate line: “The more I scare you, the better you smell.”

That scene, absent the hyena possession, plays out every day in high schools all across the country, all around the world, and it very often ends the same way as this episode. The entire incident is dismissed (along with the girl’s feelings) with a clumsy joke about hormones and Xander’s artless approach to romance.

And the thing is, I didn’t even think about this at the time. That idea of boys behaving badly, of women being put in the position of having to just let it go, is so ingrained into our society that it’s unremarkable even when you see it on broadcast TV.

Things are changing a little bit at a time as old patriarchal notions give up ground by inches. You probably wouldn’t see TV treat sexual assault like this today. And just to be clear, I think Joss’s point in making this episode was to call out this kind of behavior. He’s a vocal and ardent feminist and he used many episodes of BtvS as metaphors for this kind of institutionalized problem.

All in all, this is one of the worst, dumbest episodes of an otherwise great series. I’m glad that I got hooked on season 2 and went back to watch season 1 later, otherwise I might never have gotten addicted in the first place.


I’m so tired of starting statements about Gotham with, “I’m still a fan of the show, but…” The Mad Hatter is the worst villain ever and using Penguin as an ersatz Trump is just insulting to real monsters.


When I know I want to see a movie, I put myself on a media blackout diet. I don’t read any reviews, I ignore social media posts and I don’t talk to friends about their opinion until I’ve seen it fresh for myself. On the other hand, when my feelings are ambiguous or if I’m simply not predisposed to see it, then I readily allow the trailers, reviews and tweets to shape my decision.

I was not predisposed to see Batman Vs. Superman, because I’ve always thought the very idea of pitting the two against each other was a stupid one. Also, I really didn’t care for Man of Steel and the news about Suicide Squad was getting worse by the day.

It didn’t help that I’ve felt for a long time that Zack Snyder was a style-over-substance director and that his feeling for character was a little stunted. So it didn’t take too many mediocre reviews to keep me from going to see BvS in theaters.

Well, I just watched it on Blu-Ray last night and I have to say that it’s a much better movie than people give it credit for being. It has a resoundingly awful 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes from critics and an anemic 64 percent from the audience. Maybe it was a case of low expectations, but I found Dawn of Justice to be moving and powerful and beautiful.

Despite reservations, I found Affleck’s Batman-in-middle-age charismatic and driven. I believed his motivation for wanting to rein in the all-powerful, illegal alien Superman. And I really liked that this incarnation of the bat didn’t drool over his gadgetry. The car, the metal suit, his harpoon lines are just things that exist in his universe like tables, chairs and doors. Batman movies can sometimes verge on Inspector Gadget levels of toy nerd rage.

Also, this appears to be a Batman who kills, something that I find far more believable than Christopher Nolan’s rubber bullets. In a battle scene, with armed men firing all around, I don’t want my hero to be so concerned with not taking human life that he gets me and himself killed.

And that brings me to the “Bruce Wayne’s Nightmare” scene that had so many people so upset. I quite liked it. It was exciting, had the best Batman fight scene since Big Daddy worked his way through that warehouse in Kick-Ass, and perfectly elucidated the potential problem with having an all-powerful super being take up residence on your planet.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman only seems to have been brought on as a teaser for her stand-alone movie but I welcomed her presence. When she wasn’t kicking ass, she was being charming, beautiful and mysterious.

Jessie Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor on the other hand was the one sour note in an otherwise solid group of performances. I get the need to update Luthor to a Tech age bad boy billionaire who’s nearly completely unhinged but his choices seemed a little too Larry, Moe and Curly for my taste.

I think in total that it was a better movie than most people realized and that a lot of the negativity was related to baggage the audience brought with it into the theater.


More than three decades before Michael Jackson changed MTV forever with his Thriller video, Boris Karloff hosted a series that now seems like a bold, dangerous prototype for The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone that would come a few years later.

I had heard about some of these episodes for years before there was any way to actually see them. In the days before home video, the only way to see an old show like this was for your local station to show it late at night as filler. But unlike those later series, Thriller didn’t make it to the magical 100 episode mark so it occupied space in very few local TV catalogs.

Now, however, Thriller is out on Netflix (DVD) and I immediately set out to avail myself of the chance to finally see the episodes that had been whispered about by horror fans since I was just a kid.

The first one I watched was “Pigeons from Hell,” based on a short story by Robert E. Howard. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to see old media like this in the context of its time period and the bar for shock value has been set so high in the intervening years that it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1960 watching a character come stumbling down the stairs of an old, decrepit mansion with an axe buried in his head, but I”ll bet their dentures popped right out of their heads.

Thriller is kind of like a pre-Hays Code movie of television shows. It’s bloody and violent and characters don’t necessarily get what’s coming to them. It’s not as sentimental as Twilight Zone nor as kooky as The Outer Limits. It tells its stories with a kind of gruesome glee, reveling in what must have been quite shocking back in the day.

One thing that always gets me when I watch old TV shows is the languid pacing. They had a full 50 minutes to tell their stories (though some of the shows are actually listed as being an impossible 60 minutes long in IMDB) and they take full advantage of it. Today’s 42 minute running time has necessitated more efficient storytelling via the use of jump cuts and lots of implied action.

I have to say I prefer the modern pace. I find myself wishing they would just get on with it when they’re showing me a guy get out of a car and go into a house and then cut to the living room so we can see him come through the door and then follow him to the kitchen. I mean, come on. In “The Hungry Glass” we watch William Shatner go through the entire process of developing a photograph.

That’s all technical stuff and once you get used to it, it sort of fades away and you’re left with just the stories. And, oh, what stories they are. Writers like Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch provided the stories and the screenwriters adapted them with the no-holds-barred enthusiasm common to young media before the grownups move in and take over.

I also watched some episodes of The Outer Limits that I had heard about but had never seen. Some, like Demon with a Glass Hand, are excellent and hold up perfectly well. Others, such as The Zanti Misfits are bizarre misfires that make little, if any, sense.

But at least I’ve finally scratched that itch and gotten closure on the long rumored shocking episodes of a legendary series.


Note: Just watched the episode “Grim Reaper” that includes a terrific scene with William Shatner waiting for the approach of the title monster. We don’t see the Reaper, but we hear his scythe whipping back and forth in the air as he approaches.

Don’t Breathe

This is an interesting entry in the cul-de-sac of modern horror that has to do with home invasions but only because its narrative and characters are so confusingly motivated. In most cases we’re wired to root for the people inside the house against the invaders, but Don’t Breathe tries to take us in a different direction.


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Star Trek: Beyond

Sigh. Is any Star Trek movie ever going to live up to the original reboot? Probably not. That is damn near a perfect Star Trek movie, in that is about people, about big ideas and it’s more existential than a Star Wars movie.

Into Darkness was… I don’t know what that one was. A mistake, I guess. And they’ve come back strong with Beyond. This is a very good movie. A fun ride, a beautiful thing to look at, but it was a little emotionally flat. For a Star Trek movie.

Part of the problem, I think, is that they paid short shrift to the villain. He’s barely in the movie until the last third and his backstory comes at you fast and furious in the third act like they forgot about it and then just had to shove it in there at the end.

This might be because they wanted to preserve the element of surprise but I don’t know anyone who was surprised by that reveal.

The B-story between Spok and Uhura didn’t really amount to much. Kirk road a motorcycle and there was a cheesy callback to the original’s excellent use of Sabotage. Like I say, it was a good science fiction movie, it just didn’t feel like a Star Trek movie.

It felt like a Fast And Furious movie. Action scenes with a thin layer of emotional context applied as a veneer.

The proof of this, I think, is in how pumped I was when I left the theater but how I never really thought about the movie again until I sat down to write this post a month later.

But it was better than Into Darkness! That’s the real take away here. No matter what else might have been a little bit wrong with it, it was better than Into Darkness.


Stranger Things

A Spielberg production of a Stephen King novel directed by Richard Donner and scored by John Carpenter would not be better than this series by the Duffer Brothers.

Watching this show, I get the thrill of something unexpectedly new mixed with the chills of nearly perfect nostalgia. But I’m also struck by questions like where did they find so many kids who can actually act and who the hell are the Duffer Brothers. Sounds like a comedy juggling act.

My wife insists we watch just one episode a night (followed by a Mindy Project pallet cleanser so she doesn’t have nightmares) or I would have binge watched the whole thing in on Amy’s ice cream fueled all-nighter.

Highly recommended.

Purge: Election Year

You know how you sometimes go to a party for some innocent fun but you run into a guy who has very strong feelings on a certain subject and he won’t stop ranting at you all night? Even if you actually agree with him, he’s still a drag to be around.

That’s how I feel about the latest Purge movie. I’m a liberal, a progressive, someone who is extremely worried about the imbalance of wealth and power that has been created by the NeoCon policies of the last 36 years. I get it. I get all of it. But I really don’t need someone to shout it at my face while I’m in the movie theater.

Election Year is only slightly less subtle than a train derailment. It’s filled with stereotypes doing stereotypical things. Characters are what they represent, there is no subtext. It has more cliches than a Michael Bay movie. And it’s not fun. Here is a movie about a night when an entire country goes batshit crazy and, somehow, it’s boring. Really, really boring.

Except when it’s insulting. I’m not going to go into the whole subject of why liberals feel entitled to put the most racist and demeaning lines in the mouths of their characters of color. I’ll just say that the only response to the movie by the audience in this showing was when a black character uttered the line, “I see a whole lot of black people and we just sittin’ here like a bucket a chicken.” And the response was not a positive one.

Bottom line: Don’t waste your money. Go on Facebook and have one of your Aunts forward an ALL CAPS screed from a friend of a friend who knows Mitt Romney’s cousin’s gardener.

A Beautiful Corpse

American Horror Story started it, as far as I can tell, but Fargo and True Detective have picked up the idea of telling a new story, with new characters but in the same vein every season. I know some people think of this as cutting off your nose to spite your face but it does solve a very real problem with modern television shows: living too long to go out with grace.

Breaking Bad accomplished this with short seasons. It was on for five years but only produced 62 episodes. A normal, network TV show would have been over a hundred eps by the end of season five. And that’s the goal. Ultimately, it’s not about story or quality, it’s about syndication. Make 100 episodes and everybody gets paid.

Better Call Saul only comes to us in 10 episode chunks.

I can’t help but feel like the end is so ugly that it diminishes the beginning. Castle started out as an intriguing and funny take on the standard procedural everyone under 60 has gotten so tired of, but it has ended up a punchline, with its star’s waistline expanding to mirror the bloatedness of the show. Every major character has been kidnapped twice, shot twice and been suspected of being the killer at least once.

So Castle won’t be remembered with the same love that we have for Breaking Bad. Rather, it will get tossed in the same file as Wings, According to Jim, Smallville and 2.5 Men. Well, that’s not really fair. 2.5 men was never any good.

In other words, guests that overstayed their welcome and left the bathroom a stinking mess on their way out.

But shows like AHS and True Detective and especially Fargo, are more like reading a new book by the same novelist every year. New story, new characters but same story telling style. And it’s awesome.


Buffy laid the groundwork of season long arcs leading up to an ever worsening Big Bad. And it worked like a charm for them for three years. But that annual need to raise the stakes ended up leading to The Initiative in season 4, a concept that nearly undid all the good from the three seasons that came before it.

Here’s the problem with raising the stakes: Gothic stories need to be intimate and need to occur in confined spaces. The moment you open your aberration up to go worldwide you leave the vastly more interesting realm of the Gothic and enter the much more chancy world of weak kneed science fiction.

Rule #1: Never mix fantasy with science fiction.

If you create a world with shape shifting creatures who can be summoned by magic spell, do not under any circumstances create a high tech government facility to interact with them. Technology undoes mythology.

Don’t get me wrong. There are techno-gothic stories like Reanimator but in those cases the horror comes from the technology and is enclosed within the world the technology touches. No one chants a magic utterance to bring the dead back to life in Reanimator. It’s all technology. Grotesque and macabre but technology all the same.

It appears Grimm tried to correct its rambling, unfocused season 4 by going full on Initiative in season 5. All the tropes are there, the shiny underground facility, the grim (NPI), stone faced members of either side of the conflict reciting their justifications while our hero is trapped in the middle. There is some body swapping, lovers turn to enemies and vice versa. The product of a long forgotten story line returns as a powerful force of chaos.

Once a tight knit Gothic story blows up into a full blown world at war epic, it’s impossible to go back to the intimate storytelling that got the show going in the first place. To my mind, Buffy should have ended with The Gift, by far its most powerful episode and Angel never should gone to work for Wolfram & Hart.

And Grimm never should have jettisoned the Royals for the Black Claw. While I was never fond of the Royals story lines or the low rent green screen graphics that “took us to Europe” the idea of the Royals was far more in line with the Gothic mythology of the series than the awkward mix of high tech and ancient black magic that has defined this year’s arc.

Be honest with yourself. Wasn’t it more fun to watch Nick discover the world of the Grimm than to try to keep up with the huffing and puffing of this frantic and increasingly overwrought story?