from the terrifying to the merely annoying

Few things are so pathetically distressing to the obsessive mind than watching a beloved bit of serial entertainment fall completely off the rails.

Yes, I’m about to whine about a TV series. Familiarity with show continuity is assumed here. Avert your eyes, this is fan-wankery at its most unpretty.

Watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” used to be a pleasure of nigh-sinful nature. There was a certain clubbishness about it: while most of the TV-watching public watched the ads and saw “Transylvania 90210”, those of us who were willing to look past the minimal budgets and horrible fight choreography were treated to some of the snappiest writing on television, some excellent ensemble acting, and a subversive and engaging metaphor for all of the trials of growing up and establishing an adult identity.

Or so it used to be. Then the writers got overextended and burnt out and the actors got bored, and we are left with episodes like last nights.

A small list of issues from just last night’s episode here:

1. To recap quickly, the following is a (non-exhaustive) list of the people we know for a fact are aware that a bleached-blonde vampire named Spike killed Buffy’s predecessor, Slayer Wood. (And is this poor woman ever going to get a first name?)

  • Buffy
  • Giles
  • All of Buffy’s friends
  • Slayer Wood’s Watcher
  • The entire Watchers’ Council
  • Angel
  • Drusilla
  • Every person still living or undead who has hung around Spike long enough for him to mention it. (Conservative estimate: six to ten thousand.)
The complete list of people who did not know this:
  • Robin Wood, her only child, raised by her Watcher

2. Two of the many reasons why having the “First Evil” be this season’s nemesis was a monumentally dumb idea:
  • Constant repetition of the word “evil” has turned extended portions of the show’s dialogue into an un-funny version of the “Doctor Evil/Scott Evil” riffs from Austin Powers except ironically lacking Seth Green.
  • …and one of the best lines of the third season was the one in which Buffy pointed out directly how lame it sounds.

3. Robin Wood, freelance Fighter Of Evil™, has carefully manuvered himself into the position of Principal of Sunnydale HS, in order to keep tabs on the Hellmouth and do battle with the demons who are gathering around it. He carefully disposes of the many bodies that he continually finds around it. He does not, however, bother to remove the block-and-tackle sacrifice suspension apparatus installed by the First’s minions that allow anyone with a knife, a rope and a struggling victim to use the room as a sort of cosmic Ubervampire Dispensing Machine.

4. …and the Hellmouth, wisely unexplained macguffin from the show’s early days, is, in fact, an Ubervampire Dispensing Machine? That requires exact change?

5. Falling prey to the same inexplicable madness that made George Lucas decide that The Force was actually a bacterial infection, Buffy’s writers have decided that Slayer-dom is actually a quasi-genetic trait that can be wiped out by killing everyone who carries it. Okay, that’s bad enough, but if Principal Wood is Buffy’s new love interest, doesn’t that make him her brother? Oooh, kinky. Wait, no, lazy.

I could go on. And on. And on. This season actually started out pretty promisingly, so if I didn’t know that the scripts were finished months ago, I’d strongly suspect that Joss Whedon was trying to punish his fans for not having watched Firefly enough to keep it from being cancelled. But no, this is just another case of a serial show breaking down for all of the standard inevitable reasons: everybody wishes they were working on something else, but nobody had the sense to pull the plug when they should have.

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