Watching Mars

For truly, now, Joss Whedon is my master. He is the wind in my ears, the quiet voice in my mind, the crunchy cookie center in my Twix, and even the bam in my bam-a-lama-ding-dong. I pretend that I am a creature with free-will, but I am a puppet – totally like that episode of Angel where he turns into a puppet, but still kicks ass! – and Joss' hand is the one lodged firmly in my "… you know, I don't like where this is going. The point is, and this should be clear enough, that I am comfortable in this skin of an obsessive. I wear my obsessions unabashed, still keenly aware of their transient and often silly state. And I'm never happier than when one obsession leads directly into another, which is why when Joss told me to watch Veronica Mars, I did.

I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm a sucker for genre television in a not dissimilar fashion to the way that I'm coming to the conclusion that my blood requires oxygen. Give me a season long arc of twisting allegiances and outlandish situations so divested from reality that I keep expecting water to flow uphill and EA to release an original title not already franchised to death. Let me swim in innuendo, misleading ambiguity, bad guys turned good, good guys turned bad, questionable parentage, hell, heaven, broken heroes and invincible enemies. Take everything to its polarized extreme and then snap it back like an over-taut rubber band tossing everything into a chaos that you just know won't be resolved until May sweeps.

I get a lot of strange looks when I admit to being a fan of shows like Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly, or X-Files, or Battlestar Galactica, or, now, Veronica Mars, which is why I don't mention it in person all that often. I do not, for example, open business meetings by asking everyone if they saw what happened between Veronica and Duncan last night, or if they think that Gaeta is actually a cylon. The fact is that a significant number of people see these shows as formulaic celebrations of excess and vapidity, television aimed at a youth demographic without the patience or sophistication to read a book or watch something really smart like CSI, or that other CSI, or that one CSI that's not as good as the other two, or the 24-hour Law & Order channel. I know this because I used to be quite the naysayer myself, completely put-off by the very concepts behind shows like Buffy and Angel. It sounded like so much junk slapped together as filler between Gap ads.

I almost miss those days. The days before the obsessions. Now I have box-set seasons of these shows jammed into my entertainment center. I gorge myself on their keenly hip vernacular, wallow in their bloodletting, and wash myself in the certainty that, no matter the monumental odds, Buffy will slay vampires, Angel will brood about his self-imposed mission, and Mal will remain faithful to his crew while walking the tightrope of the modern code of ethics that vaguely define good and evil. And now, I am equally certain that Veronica will impede crime. Oh, Veronica! (cue Elvis Costello)

Here's what inspired my glut only a few weeks ago, the very words that Joss wrote for me alone – though he cleverly posted it on a rather large site for thousands to read: "["…]I can no longer restrain myself. Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I've never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn't making, and maybe even more than those. Crazy crisp dialogue. Incredibly tight plotting. Big emotion, I mean BIG, and charsimatic actors and I was just DYING from the mystery and the relationships and PAIN, this show knows from pain and no, I don't care, laugh all you want, I had to share this. These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me. It's the Harry Potter of shows. There. I said it." – linkage

I won't try and explain Veronica significantly for those who have not seen it, but will say that if Veronica Mars were a soufflé it would be baked as such: Pour 3 cans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a large mixing bowl. Add two cups Twin Peaks. Sautee one petit, quick-witted blond girl, and add to mixture. Boil two tablespoons of Magnum P.I. in chicken-broth and skim off top layer of hairy male sexuality. Pour into a baking dish with one can of Cream of Mushroom soup and cook at 350 for two hours. Garnish with a sprig of 90210 and serve warm.

So, I don't know from cooking.

But, I don't come here merely to extol the virtues of Whedon written or sanctioned television. I mention this because I've come to a moment of horrible self-discovery about this television, and though I know I will move beyond what I am to tell you, it has deeply colored my image of these shows and even myself for watching them. It happened last Friday night when I fired up the Tivo to watch the latest Battlestar Galactica. I suppose minor spoiler warnings are necessary here.

You see, Helo, Kara, and Sharon had just escaped Caprica and returned to Galactica. After Lee had attacked Sharon, because Sharon's twin cylon had shot Lee's father, Helo and Kara stepped in because Sharon was carrying Helo's baby and had also helped Kara escape from the hospital where she had received a mysterious surgery. Lee and Kara – who had briefly kissed moments before, were now suddenly very angry at one another, which was only more awkward, because, of course, Kara was once in love with Lee's dead brother, and, of course, is in many ways the reason that Lee's brother was killed in a horrible accident.

This complex and convoluted scenario inspired my wife, who was working in the other room, to ask precisely what the hell I was watching. I responded impatiently to her poorly toned and obviously scornful question, at which point she made a remark that I immediately discarded, but has an increasing ring of truth the more I think about it.

"Sounds like a soap opera to me."

Indeed. No, my dear. It doesn't just sound like a soap opera. It is a soap opera. Take away the pieces of legitimacy that I've clung to for weeks – namely big and very manly space battles – and it might as well be set in Oceanview, or Port Henry, or some kind of very general hospital.

Worse still, the comparison doesn't end with Battlestar. Every damn one of these shows that I've been passionately watching are glorified soap operas. C'mon, Buffy/Spike of season 6? Hell, Buffy and pretty much any vampire she dated is only one slight occult step over from All My Children – which, incidentally, SMG was cast in from '93 to '95. Angel, X-Files, Lost, Alias, and, yes, Veronica Mars, all soap operas of a kind.

And now that I have that information, I have to decide what to do with it. After careful consideration, I've decided to stick it in the part of my mind where I keep most of the memories of parties I attended between 1991 and 1993, the place in the dark, back corner of a closed off room in my mind where there is a pile of unwanted information that I pretend does not exist. After all, the new season of Veronica starts at the end of September, and I just can't live without knowing what happens next in Neptune California.

So, let's just all pretend like we didn't know; that I didn't say anything at all. And, to those of you who do not watch these shows, and think less of those who do, whatever you do, don't drink the tasty tasty Kool-Aid. That luscious, tantalizing, ambrosia of sugary goodness. Oh, just look at it sitting there, so cool, so refreshing, man I can practically taste it ... and it's so hot. It smells like honey, and winning a million dollars. So, definitely, don't even take the tiniest itiest bitiest sip of that sweet sweet Kool-Aid. Now pardon me while I grab a big glass.

- Elysium

Comments

Oh how I wish I could know or understand what you're talking about. Soa..p Op...er.a? What is this thing. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch my Buffy DVDs for the 8th time.

Oh and it wasn't "Sharon's twin cylon", it was simply the same model. That's not technically a twin, and what's up with Starbuck and Apollo kissing? That made no sense in the emotional continuity of the series.

See, if you nitpick technical details and speak in terms of "continuity" and "realism" it's way less gay.

I don't think things like these: "I suppose minor spoiler warnings are necessary here" at the end of a large paragraph, followed immediately by a spoiler sentence do a good job of stopping the person from reading that sentence.

Also, after detecting the spoilered paragraph I started reading the beginning of the next paragraph but that meant that I simultaneously read parts of the ending of the previous paragraph.

___

To actually add something relevant to the rhead , I too am addicted to all kinds of shows even if they're all just dressed-up soap operas. I live vicariously through feelings of others relayed to me at a 29.97fps framerate.

Listen. My grandfather, a paratrooper in WWII, who was shot down twice in Europe - once in Holland, where he was captured by the Germans and held in a prison camp and starved and interrogated for almost a year - and who, after returning from the war, lost all four fingers on his right hand and somehow could still hold a beer and light a cigarette at the same time, watched soap operas. If that man didn't have a problem with it, then neither do I.

Heh funny, after I read some Whedon interview I decideded to check Veronica Mars out too. I had heard good things about it but just never quite got around to putting it into Tivo, probable my lack of ability to do it from work, by the time I actually turn on the TV my brain has usually stopped caring about such to do items.

I have only seen a couple episodes and I have not been sold enough yet to go get the first season from netflicks.

The show has good writing, quirky characters, some interesting sub plots, a not so subtle constant barrage of sub text... but I think where it fails for me is that there is no underlying reason for all the almost super lucky super hero-ish oh so smart hijinks to keep working out.

Where with Buffy or Angle you have well prophecies, and higher powers at play clearly shaping such events and more then just dumb luck working for the characters. Even then a good portion of the time things fall apart.

Veronica Mars reminds me just a bit of the 90210-ism of TV where you as a teenager don't need to actually do anything instead the world will simple deposit adventure and romance at your doorstep in a nicely wrapped package.

I'll keep watching this season, the writing is good enough to keep me interested but it's just a bit to pointlessly cliché to really inherit a mantle like "The new Buffy" that has been batted around the net.

I guess I missed most of these obsessions... although I used to collect comics for like 15 years.... and for one brief season (#3), I was totally enamored with Buffy... alas the last 4 seasons just killed my interest. Never saw Firefly, never saw Battlestar... never watched Veronica Mars (although I BT'd something like the first 6 eps or so).

Part of it is that I am totally turned off (like seeing your grandparents having sex turned off) by FANS of these shows... like the people who buy Joss Whedon is my Master t-shirts, call themselves Browncoats and sing ditties from the show... or poeple who wear their trek uniform to jury duty... or well, I think you know where I'm going with this. I am a nerd by nature, and someone who loves genre TV, but part of me just doesn't want to jump into that deep end of the pool.

Umm, Helo, Kara, and Sharon did not in fact return to the Galactica but to the Astral Queen. Sheesh, some soap fan you are.

^^^ thanks ^^^

SommerMatt wrote:

I guess I missed most of these obsessions... although I used to collect comics for like 15 years.... and for one brief season (#3), I was totally enamored with Buffy... alas the last 4 seasons just killed my interest. Never saw Firefly, never saw Battlestar... never watched Veronica Mars (although I BT'd something like the first 6 eps or so).

Part of it is that I am totally turned off (like seeing your grandparents having sex turned off) by FANS of these shows... like the people who buy Joss Whedon is my Master t-shirts, call themselves Browncoats and sing ditties from the show... or poeple who wear their trek uniform to jury duty... or well, I think you know where I'm going with this. I am a nerd by nature, and someone who loves genre TV, but part of me just doesn't want to jump into that deep end of the pool.

My parents watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica with me, loved it (which strangely includes my mother, who always hated science fiction), and I don't see them buying Battlestar Galactica uniforms.

Neither am I aware of them suddenly being forced to go to fan clubs or Galactica internet forums. They simply have more important things to do.

I think there's an important distinction to be made between watching a show because you LIKE IT, and watching a show JUST because Jess Whedon/Peter Jackson/Super Talented Marshmallow Man made it. The category of people who do the latter I would classify as being a cult.

shihonage wrote:

^^^ Why, thank you for that. Please, do it more often. ^^^

Poor guy... Spoiler warnings, people!

I think there's an important distinction to be made between watching a show because you LIKE IT, and watching a show JUST because Jess Whedon/Peter Jackson/Super Talented Marshmallow Man made it. The category of people who do the latter I would classify as being a cult.

true enough. I know that you can just watch a show and enjoy it, and nevermind any of the other stuff... funny how certain shows inspire these obsessive behaviors while other, more mainstream-ly popular shows don't. Think I could make some cash selling "Jerry Bruckheimer is my master now" shirts?

the people who buy Joss Whedon is my Master t-shirts, call themselves Browncoats and sing ditties from the show

heehee - I'm adding the Firefly themesong to my acoustic open mic set list - just for my own pleasure really, but I'm also looking forward to seeing if anyone recognizes it. I was hoping there was a lost verse somewhere though, the song's just too short. I'm probably going to have to add The Hero of Canton too...I just love those songs!

Listen. My grandfather, a paratrooper in WWII, who was shot down twice in Europe - once in Holland, where he was captured by the Germans and held in a prison camp and starved and interrogated for almost a year - and who, after returning from the war, lost all four fingers on his right hand and somehow could still hold a beer and light a cigarette at the same time, watched soap operas. If that man didn't have a problem with it, then neither do I.

Well said Fletch, here's to the man! I spent many afternoons napping on a pallet on my grandmother's floor while she watched her "stories", quite comfortable afternoons as I recall.

I hear she's really hot, so why not give it a watch? =)

Elysium, you just spoke to the inner voice of mine that I don't let out -- except at a quarter to three a.m. every third full moon. I love Veronica Mars. I love BSG. I have grown to acknowledge and accept that they are different varieties of the nice body-wash with the exfoliating and moisturizing beads. Veronica Mars smells like sea foam and BSG, something akin to what I imagine that new Axe(tm) scent smells like.

Now, if I could just find a nice loofah to go with this soapy goodness....

Double Post. Because I am just that sad.

Aw, I thought this article was going to be about amateur astronomy. Now I am sad.

I actually enjoy fandom that has a sense of humor, in all it's absurdity it can be quite funny.

For an example,the TV forums at Something Awful were raving about Veronica Mars months ago, complaining about how the network didn't advertise it to the point they bought banners encouraging people watch the show (Banners at SA are like $10 a month or something).

So in typical SA fashion everyone got tired of that pretty quickly, so when the new season of BSG started, banners started popping up with Adama telling Veronica Mars to shut her cylon bitch mouth or they'd shove her out an airlock. Veronica looked very pouty.

As for the show itself, I managed to get my sister and her fiance to watch about ten minutes, then we all became horribly annoyed at watching Veronica try to solve the mystery of the creepy text message just after some conversation about who her friend was trying to date, or some crap. I didn't want to listen to 16 year old girls when I was sixteen, why would I listen to them now?

Ode to the one sentence nitpick:

Out of Gas aint no soap opera, tex!

I will definitely check out Veronica Mars next season.

PyromanFO wrote:

As for the show itself, I managed to get my sister and her fiance to watch about ten minutes, then we all became horribly annoyed at watching Veronica try to solve the mystery of the creepy text message just after some conversation about who her friend was trying to date, or some crap. I didn't want to listen to 16 year old girls when I was sixteen, why would I listen to them now?

griffon wrote:

Veronica Mars reminds me just a bit of the 90210-ism of TV where you as a teenager don't need to actually do anything instead the world will simple deposit adventure and romance at your doorstep in a nicely wrapped package.

These accurately sum up my impressions of Veronica Mars. I couldn't ever get into this show whenever it was on. Also, everything is so glossy, hip and airbrushed, including "Veronica" herself, its like watching the Truman Show.

In addition to the fact that "watching a show with no otherwise redeeming qualities just because there's a pretty actress" seems like a really dull waste of time for me, I don't find her that attractive either, as her face seems to be buried under layers of typical Hollywood makeup, aimed to hide any possible imperfections.
I am not exactly a big fan of Buffy, but at least she looked like a human female instead of a glorified doll. I also distinctly recall Sarah Michelle Gellar actually being capable of expressing emotion.

SommerMatt wrote:

Part of it is that I am totally turned off (like seeing your grandparents having sex turned off) by FANS of these shows...

I can't possibly think of a more pointless reason to ignore something.

Plus... GAMERS, anyone?

shihonage wrote:

I also distinctly recall Sarah Michelle Gellar actually being capable of expressing emotion.

Except happiness. She was great at "woe is me" and "life sucks" and "I'm very sad", but - straight from the Joss - she can't laugh on cue worth a damn.

Thanks for making me feel better today, Elysium.

I've been boring all of my friends to death about "VM"- I like to believe it's the crisp writing, good acting, and interesting "sub-mysteries" that got me. Gosh, everything about the show has got me. The "missing husband" case was great; seeing Trina's BF get beat up was awesome...the list goes on....

But hey, I just want to leave you with this...(c*cks finger-gun).."No, you're super-fine."

I've been a big Buffy and Angel fan. I have the first 4 season's of it on DVD and run thru them about every couple months. No better writing and acting anywhere. Battlestar Galactica, after some initial pre-viewing doubt's because it seemed so much different then the original according to many previews, I'm so totally hooked. It's a great Soa..well, what you said. I call it 'good character development' with good acting myself:>) I especially am enjoying it more then the two SG's. I really like Claudia Black and Ben Browder is o.k., but for some reason he irritates me too. I miss Jack and where the heck is Sam(RL having a baby and back tonight). What was my fav is now third on the Sci-Fi Friday night fest. (well I am enjoying Firefly the second time around.

I was a tremendous X-File fan from the get go. Even got my name on the show before it became such a hit (a story for another time). So Elysium your taste definitely run with mine. And although I was there for VM at the beginning and for the first several ep's, it just didn't grab me. But with all the recent chatter and now your article I shall give it another go for sure(!). Especially if Josh Whedon say's things like he did about it.

(and I'm afraid with Garner's pregnancy, Alias is not long for this world. A great ride and sad to see it go. I'm actually surprised it's going for another season. How it ended and then the new's of her pregnancy I thought for sure they had a easy way to cancel it. Good new's indeed they are giving it another season).

*Legion* wrote:
SommerMatt wrote:

Part of it is that I am totally turned off (like seeing your grandparents having sex turned off) by FANS of these shows...

I can't possibly think of a more pointless reason to ignore something.

Well, bully for you then.

My whole life I've been into hobbies where I see people around me who are just... out there, nutty, over the edge about things, and it turns me off. I don't WANT to be associated with such people. I liked collecting comics, yet I hate putting up with the slobbering fanboys. I liked Buffy, yet when I went to a Joss Whedon panel at a comic convention in Chicago a few years back, I was turned off by the... well... the slobbering fanboys who tripped over themselves with their fawning obsequiousness. Now same thing with FF. I hear all these people just going mental, and it turns me off. Sometimes thats all it takes to keep me from watching something, other times it's not.

But it doesn't help.

Never liked Buffy, couldn't watch it for more than 15 minutes. Angel more than 5. Watched two episodes of Veronica Mars with the girlfriend when it first came out, bleh, nothing special. I guess I don't get the whole obession with these shows, they just aren't for me.

This is probably the number one reason I haven't watched firefly yet. Everyone loves Buffy by Whedon except me. Everyone loves firefly by Whedon ________. Fill in the blank.

Sometimes thats all it takes to keep me from watching something, other times it's not.

I think that's probably what stopped me from enjoying some of this stuff originally so I do get where you're coming from. I got to a point, however, where I decided not to let myself be bothered by what other people do with our shared interests. People take virtually everything too far, out of context, and to an extreme, from Buffy to coin collecting to lepidoptery. I just didn't want other people dictating what my likes should be, actively or otherwise.

Not saying that's what you should or shouldn't do. Gotta go with what works for you.

Meh! Have you guys actually watched soap operas? Well, I'm married and if it's not Big Brother on in the background while I'm shooting Nazis at my computer, it's quite probably Days of Our Lives.

The thing about soap operas isn't that this Generic Guy 1 is in love with Generic Guy 2's wife while she secretly yearns for Generic Guy 3. It's that this applies to every single damn character and next week, everyone will be "in love" with completely different people.

It's not that Generic Girl 1 has amnesia; it's that this is the 4th time she's lost her memory and at any given time at least 1 person in town will have amnesia.

The difference between "drama" and "soap opera" is a matter of density. A soap opera crams this stuff into the script until it's packed to such ludicrous quantities that you start to forget that these people are supposed to be human.

So the next time someone says "Sounds like a soap opera to me", maybe you should reply, "Yeah, but without all teh Stupid."

Elysium wrote:
Sometimes thats all it takes to keep me from watching something, other times it's not.

I think that's probably what stopped me from enjoying some of this stuff originally so I do get where you're coming from. I got to a point, however, where I decided not to let myself be bothered by what other people do with our shared interests. People take virtually everything too far, out of context, and to an extreme, from Buffy to coin collecting to lepidoptery. I just didn't want other people dictating what my likes should be, actively or otherwise.

Not saying that's what you should or shouldn't do. Gotta go with what works for you.

I know... I agree with you. As I said, I collected comic books from the age of 13 up until about 25. Try being cool and telling THAT to a girl in high school I liked the comics, like the characters, but always felt somewhat dirty by association with those who were unwashed, smelly, social misfits. Same thing when I was into Star Trek TNG.

I railed against the stupidity of Buffy (without having seen it) for 2 seasons until I was home on a wednesday night and just happened to watch the season 3 opener. From then on, I was in love with everything about the show... I was so nutty that I actually bought a bootleg of that "columbine" themed episode that was banned, and sat and transcribed it and posted it on the web for those people who couldn't see it. But as the seasons went by... 4 was sort of lame... 5 was REALLY lame... I skipped most of 6 and all of 7. Yet everyone around me still seemed so feverish about it... it made me wonder if everyone else was just so in love with the guy that they couldnt find any fault. I know thats sort of an arrogant thing to think, but so be it.

When Firefly came out, I was so burned out with Angel and Buffy that I never watched it... and as it just seemed to get these totally hyperbolic reviews for the DVD set, I was also turned off... I actually AM curious to see the show, but at this point I feel like its been so hyped my expectations will never be met. And again, the fanatics are a turn off
(I mean, seriously... it's a tv show, not a religion people!). If I actually knew someone locally who would lend me the DVD set, I'd probably watch it anyway.

I actually have nothing against VMARS... never watched it, but heard it getting pretty good reviews. I've got like the first 6 episodes around here somewhere...

As I said before, I don't let other people decide what I do or what I watch, but if I'm looking at something from the outside, wondering if I should get involved, it doesn't HELP to see the fanatics.

Why is it acceptable in our society to spend hours each day watching shows which have been going on for ever, have very low production values, little acting talent, and the plot got lost somewhere halfway through the first episode, and yet any show that dares to show a world that is different from ours (be it vampires or spaceships), is frowned upon irrespectively of how well crafted it is? Are we really that afraid to have our imagination titillated?

Donan wrote:

(and I'm afraid with Garner's pregnancy, Alias is not long for this world. A great ride and sad to see it go. I'm actually surprised it's going for another season. How it ended and then the new's of her pregnancy I thought for sure they had a easy way to cancel it. Good new's indeed they are giving it another season).

Man I hate that show, the Chick is cute yeah but it started right after Le Fem Nikita ended and I gave up shortly after I realized the writers truly believed that a nice American girl would never simple pick up a gun and (much less cary one) and shoot the dam bad guys. Also choreography was pretty typical hollywood can't kick can't punch so cut out the middle. Feh.

24, now at least that shows has some death and the bad guys and hero's are able to you know, kill each other and not stand around talking until, yep there it is another pointless fist fight while machine guns go off all over the place with nobody getting hurt. Though talk about over done soap opera sub plots, certainly a weak point of 24 from time to time.

Alias = A-Team with a female lead.

Ok now I'll sit her hoping the rabid fans don't come and blow up my house, because unlike in an alias script I doubt everyone will get out in the knick of time.

Sorry, people get shot all the time in Alias. On the other hand, the agents do get disarmed startlingly often. Still, I think your point is off the mark.

griffon wrote:

Man I hate that show, the Chick is cute yeah but it started right after Le Fem Nikita ended and I gave up shortly after I realized the writers truly believed that a nice American girl would never simple pick up a gun and (much less cary one) and shoot the dam bad guys. Also choreography was pretty typical hollywood can't kick can't punch so cut out the middle. Feh.

24, now at least that shows has some death and the bad guys and hero's are able to you know, kill each other and not stand around talking until, yep there it is another pointless fist fight while machine guns go off all over the place with nobody getting hurt. Though talk about over done soap opera sub plots, certainly a weak point of 24 from time to time.

Alias = A-Team with a female lead.

Ok now I'll sit her hoping the rabid fans don't come and blow up my house, because unlike in an alias script I doubt everyone will get out in the knick of time.

I've watched 2 episodes of Alias so far, and it seems just like La Femme Nikita - only with less silly sunglasses and outfits, and a more convoluted plot.

Yes, Alias has typically Hollywood fight choreography, where a match-like thin female manages to take on male agents using strategies that are often completely unsuitable for her body type, and does it all in a bunch of quick cuts.

However La Femme Nikita choreography was even worse. At least I've seen Garner, in some of her quick cuts, perform circular redirection maneuvers which seemed to have actual intertia/timing in them.

Also, I find it a good sign that when a bomb starts ticking down, it doesn't always get stopped at 1 second mark. It may be as well 11 seconds.
Its too early to tell, really, but I will keep watching this with my parents on our "movie nights" unless we all get tired of it and it proves to be a mindless La Femme Nikita rehash with nothing really new.

Newsflash: Most evening TV shows that are not 30-minute comedies are, indeed, soap operas.
They may have extra glitz, bigger production values, different storylines/environments, but come on, they're soaps.
Sopranos, mobster soap. Deadwood, western soap. Rome, history soap. Heck, go back 20 years and there's more of them. Dallas, Texas oil soap. Falcon Crest, California wine soap. Etc, etc, etc.

Even reality TV shows are very soaplike.

If the show can be described as a drama of any kind, odds are, it's a soap.