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Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  A Discussion by Steve Sposato and Brian E. Wilson

Warning:  This discussion includes major spoilers and assumes the reader has seen the entire series.  Proceed at your own risk.  And now let’s cue the amazing Nerf Herder theme for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer…

Brian:  I have written a few essays for Wonders in the Dark solo, but for this piece I invited my BFF (Buffy Friend Forever) Steve Sposato to join me in a Q and A about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This groundbreaking series, set in Sunnydale, California, ran for seven seasons starting in 1997 and ending in 2003.  Based on a rather goofy 1992 cult film, the show (created by the movie’s screenwriter Joss Whedon) became one of the most acclaimed ever on TV with its surprisingly potent mix of supernatural horror, comedy, romance, and emotional drama.  Over seven seasons, viewers followed Buffy as she fought demons, vampires, monsters, other humans, and gods all the while trying to survive high school, then college, then life.  The series became quite existential as Buffy struggled with her role as the Slayer, her loneliness increasing with each new season.  Although she had a group of friends, affectionately called Scoobys by fans, attempting to help her, Buffy became angsty about being the one and only Slayer.  It became apparent from the start that this series was something special, trying new things, demanding a lot from its viewers, and rising above its jokey title.

Steve: People say we’re living in a golden age of TV, which is probably true, though I think current TV is sometimes self-servingly overhyped. To the extent that this is a golden age, however, I’ve always felt this VCR-era series has been underappreciated as a key show that paved the way. It departed from most TV of its time in ways that are now taken for granted: consistent quality, season-long story arcs (the season-is-equal-to-a-novel idea), and increasingly dark and edgy storytelling, violence and death exacting a toll on the characters. It’s not a show that re-sets at the end of every episode, although it easily could have been: Buffy saves the day, all’s back to normal again. How dull that would have been.

Also, it was aired on an outsider network (the WB for the first five seasons; UPN the last two) willing to support creative risks (though not always the budget for them) in pursuit of a niche audience, pretty much the standard model today. But Buffy wasn’t a male anti-hero, so she’s often left out of the Sopranos-based definition of the new golden era (which some have argued is over, anyway).

Brian:  Everything you say is true.  The creators of Buffy wanted to show that every action on the series had impact on its characters.  Things could not be undone. Everything accumulated, weighing down on Buffy’s shoulders by Season 7:  failed romances, fraught friendships, losing her mother, financial responsibility, moral responsibility, the constant being on call as the one and only chosen Slayer.  What I appreciate about the series is although we would sometimes get an angry and/or confused “I want to get away from this all” Buffy, the show ultimately didn’t make her an anti-hero.  She is the hero from start to finish, even though she makes mistakes and flips out in some key episodes.  When the burden is lifted from her shoulders in the series’ final episode, in the most beautiful way possible, I for one felt a sense of relief for her, that she deserved this happy resolution after 144 episodes. Continue Reading »

By Marilyn Ferdinand

If you were alive in the 1960s, chances are you were exposed to a little record album called The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Released in 1960, this clever series of one-sided phone calls about everything from baseball to Nikita Khrushchev took on historical and up-to-the-minute topics and poked at the ubiquity of public relations and marketing in determining our tastes. The album, a frequent visitor to my parents’ turntable, won Album of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards and the button-down mind behind it, Bob Newhart, was the only comedian ever to win a Best New Artist Grammy.

Bob Newhart is a native of my fair city, Chicago, and even attended my alma mater, Loyola University of Chicago. When it came time for him to carry on a tradition that younger Americans think was first begun with Jerry Seinfeld—stand-up comics getting their own sitcom—he set The Bob Newhart Show in his hometown. His office building is on Michigan Avenue, right across from the Tribune Tower, and his apartment building is on Sheridan Road, just a mile or so from the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola. Watching Bob Newhart, therefore, was as much an act of civic pride for me as it was a chance to enjoy his distinctive humor.

The Bob Newhart Show brings together a quirky cast of characters who function as worthy foils for Newhart’s character, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Hartley. Bob is married to lovely, sharp as a tack Emily (Suzanne Pleshetter), who’s great at tossing zingers but also enjoys the laughs around her. The Hartleys’ next-door neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Dailey), a forerunner of Kramer in Seinfeld, frequently barges into the couple’s apartment, sharing dinner and tales of his work and woes as an airline pilot. Rounding out the cast of regulars is debonair dentist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz), with whom Bob shares an office suite and a secretary, Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), and several members of a therapy group Bob runs, most notably gloom-and-doom Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), whom Bob unfailing refers to as “Mr. Carlin.” Continue Reading »

 

He was a towering figure in music, a country singer extraordinaire whose music inspired generations.  A lifelong fan, my favorite by him is Jimmy Webb’s love ballad “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” which Sinatra considered “the best torch song ever written”, but not even Sinatra himself could touch Campbell with the song for a number of reasons.  Brian Wilson thought he had the greatest tenor voice, and in country music he was a titan.  He outsold the Beatles in 1968, but there are so many other incredible statistics connected to his work.  Though ailing for years with Alzheimer’s it was still such a shock to hear the news today.  R.I.P Glen, a bonafide, venerated superstar.

The gang with Angelo D’Arminio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

by Sam Juliano

The family is half way through our nine day Sunset Beach, North Carolina vacation.  We’ve certainly had a splendid time, visiting the beach, pool, miniature golf spot, turtle nesting ground, and a full day down in Myrtle Beach, SC where we met up with our longtime friend Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr., who presently resides there, though he plans to move back to Fairview in November.  We have been enjoying the magnificent, spacious condo owned by our very dear friends, Dawn and Joseph Murray (I was best man at their wedding some 32 years ago) in the Sea Trails complex, and remain eternally grateful for this relaxing location.  We do plan on seeing the film Detroit at a multiplex in town on Tuesday evening, and will be meeting up with Angelo again this evening for a seafood dinner at a popular eatery in Myrtle Beach. Other daily activities will continue until our departure on Friday morning (August 11) when we again face that marathon 12-13 hour ride.  Two of Lucille’s female first cousins from Atlantic Beach, Florida (part of Jacksonville, Florida) are “kidnapping” her on that same morning we depart, to take her down with them to spend time with their mother (Lucille’s mother’s sister) and their large brood until August 16th when Lucille will board a flight to Newark, where we will be waiting.

The wildly popular Top 80 Greatest Television Series Countdown (Part 1 now actually) will be continuing on Saturday, August 12th with an essay from Marilyn Ferdinand.  It will run unabated till late September, when it concludes with the #1 review.  I’ve stated this before, but I’ll say it again.  By way of quality comments, page views, likes and masterful essays we have a monster hit, one of the site’s all-time best projects.  Thank you to all who have made this happen. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

With the Greatest Television Series countdown closing in on the half-way point we are taking a break, as per the original specifications.  The purpose is two-fold:  to allow the writers and those placing comments to regroup and take a rest, but on a personal note I found it mandatory in view of our family’s nine day vacation in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (just a few miles from the South Carolina border), commencing on Wednesday morning when our Honda Odyssey departs Fairview, New Jersey.  In order to administer the project -though many of the writers have handled their own postings quite well- and keep abreast of the dialogue, I felt I need to take a break.  Many have e mailed me to let me know how happy and relieved they are to receive the extra time, so I think it was a good idea no matter how you cut it.  Hence for the site readers there will not be any other posts aside from the Monday Morning Diary of next week (August 7th), which I will post from Sunset Beach.  Our ace witer extraordinaire Jim Clark, may be posting, and if so I easily enough negotiate it.  Once again -and I can never thank everyone enough- I want to express my appreciation to the many people who have worked on the essays, in the comment sections or just to view and click likes.  All of it has worked to bring this remarkably worthwhile project to fruition.  This week I sent on the new schedule revision, which included a few more assignments that now are getting a bit more breathing room.  Note:  The countdown will resume on Saturday, August 12th with an essay from Marilyn Ferdinand. 

As I have announced on the previous group e mail, I have received several requests from writers and friends to move forward on the second half, as a television polling is massive by its very essence.  80 essays is far too few, in fact it should rightfully be at least doubled.  Of course this will mean more work from many, but I assure you I will be keeping up my end of the bargain.  We will begin on January 17th, 2018 and will contine through late April.  It will be a full 100 (now revised to 108), meaning this entire project (both parts) will be covering 188 shows.  If Allan was able to do 100 British shows in his Top 100 all by himself, well our group can do this methinks, especially as we are covering the entire span of the art form and from all countries even with US and UK dominant as expected. My co-chair Adam Ferenz and I feel that 81 through 188 (why the strange final number of 188?  Well it has to do with the cut off of point totals), will be the best way to give television its full due.  Needless to say there will not be another WitD project for 2018, aside from the much, much shorter 12 to 14 day Allan Fish tribute in May which may well happen for the second year in a row.  The TV extension project is our main 2018 project, and it is a whopper to say the least!!  I expect to hear some groans, but my e mail box has been recipient to nothing but excitement for the expansion! Continue Reading »

OFFICE 1-6

by Robert Hornak

Weird to think, but in the late ’90s, Ricky Gervais was Stephen Merchant’s boss at the London radio station Xfm. In a prime example of life imitating future art, Gervais claims he lied to get his job as head of communications and needed someone around who actually knew what they were doing, and Merchant’s application was the first that looked reasonably good. “You’ve charmed me,” I can hear him saying to Merchant in the interview. The squat boss and his lanky assistant were fast friends, their bond being comedy… and comedic ambition. Later, Merchant made a short film for his BBC production course that featured a game Gervais as a sniveling, loutish boss. BBC saw it, commissioned a pilot, and The Office was born. Not a hit at first, it would eventually win BAFTAs and spin itself off into multiple international versions, including the American iteration, which barreled through nine successful seasons. Yet even after the world consumed it, then reconstituted it into its various images, the British original still stands as the greatest, purest examination of its themes, namely negotiating in realistic terms that critical gap between the tedium we must endure to sustain our lives and the relationships to be mined from the perfect strangers who populate that tedium.

Continue Reading »

 

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“It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something….. for no reason……just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it…..how do you even know it’s you?”

– Angela Chase

 

It’s hard to overstate the impact of My So-Called Life and the long shelf-life it has had, considering it only had one truncated season. No other show has ever captured the daily angst and passions of teenage life with as much honesty and intensity as this one. It is both a time-capsule piece and a progressive, universal kind of work. Had it played on premium cable, no doubt it would have survived long past its initial year. It has thus inspired an obsessive cult following since its initial run with strongly devoted followers and critics often labeling it as one of the 10 greatest cult shows of all time and/or the greatest teen drama in all of television. It inspired a whole generation of fans that have continued to keep the show alive and relevant through (indulge me here) the creation of binge-watching guides, revelatory sexual awakening GIFs, fashion tributes, fashion analysis with the costume designer– including an outfit-by-outfit breakdown of everything Angela wore during the show, a book of critical analysis and essays, a breakdown of the show’s use of music, fantasy reunions, rumors of reunions, actual reunions, continued discussions with Winnie Holzman (writer), and re-watch analysis as an adult, among many other things. There is simply no end to the insatiable passion the show has inspired and continues to inspire. Continue Reading »