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

Ahhhh...soap. It's funny - my college roommate and I watched "Another World" for a couple of semesters. After that, I was snooty about soaps, and the only soap I watched for a long time was Melrose Place, which friends and I turned into a drinking game. (Drink every time someone calls someone a b*tch, slaps someone, or hops into the sack with someone. We got pretty toasted those evenings.)

I see definite soap parallels with Buffy, Angel, Firefly, X-Files and Veronica Mars. So what? I have been CRAZY about all of these shows. Elysium roped me into watching all of them, and I resisted the whole way. With each show, I was hooked from the first episode I was finally forced to watch. I just finished watching all of the first season of Veronica Mars, and I devoured it like a Coffee Crisp. The writing is clever, the banter is witty, plot twists can be surprising, and the season finale left me incredibly antsy for my next Veronica fix.

I think looking down my nose at soap-watching "losers" is over for me - I'm just as bad as my former coworkers who used to schedule their lunches so they could watch Days of Our Lives. Can you believe who turned out to be the murderer of Lily Kane? Who's Veronica opening the door to in the last scene? Who will Veronica go out with this season? Will Wallace's mom end up marrying Veronica's dad? Hmmmm...I guess I'm a "loser", too.

I don't think there's anything wrong with soaps, per se. What are they but riveting, suspenseful storylines with a mix of engaging characters?

If you look at the history of human literature, you'll notice that lots of our stories follow the same formula as soaps. Shakespeare's histories, for example: Henry IV Pt. 1, 2; Henry V; Henry VI Pt. 1, 2, 3; Richard III - if I remember correctly (I may have been overzealous with my inclusion), they all follow the same batch of characters in the same family through the War of the Roses. That's a soap if I ever heard of one. Or what about serialized novels? All the greats were doing them: Dickens, Dumas, Doestevsky, etc. I mean, have you ever read The Brothers Karamazov? Change the setting from Russia to California and you have The OC.

We like soaps, we always have. I think its part of the same reason we like in-jokes. It's fun knowing the tawdry history of sordid people - its like we're part of a club, or a community.

See? Veronica, Buffy, Firefly - these are the future's historical dramas! Look at Katerin validating my little obsessions...