Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Buffy vs. Smallville / Follow-up: Thoughts on Smallville

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After “Smallville” proved bad enough to justify an earlier text, I have turned to (among other things) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (BTVS) to survive the construction noise.

As BTVS is one of my all-time favorite series, possibly the favorite outright, I am surprised to find my latest viewing disturbed by exactly the type of long one-on-one talks that I complain about in “Smallville”. Now, those on BTVS tend to be much better made, with far fewer of the “almost always shallow, uninsightful, repetitive, poorly written, and often consisting of more cliches than true content” problems that plagued “Smallville”, and with absolutely no Lana Lang—but, unlike on earlier watchings, I am still often annoyed and I still find myself fast-forwarding a little here-and-there.

One possible explanation for this is that “Smallville” left me hyper-sensitized and reacting more negatively than I would have done otherwise—it is often the case that something grows annoying only after a certain threshold has been exceeded and that this annoyance can remain for a long time even after this something falls back below the threshold again.* Maybe, BTVS tends to stay below that threshold, while “Smallville” was (well) above it, and the true villain is “Smallville”.

*Construction noise and disturbances between neighbors is a good example. In normal circumstances, there is a wide range of noise that simply does not register with me, or which registers but is not annoying, for instance a single slamming of a door. However, the same noise during or within several weeks of construction-noise periods or the periods of stomping orgies (cf. older texts) can make me jump out of my skin.

Then again, it could be e.g. that my taste has changed/matured over the years or that my tolerance for a low tempo, a low information density, a low whatnot has diminished over the years—that my personal threshold has changed. (My last watching of BTVS is a long while back.) Indeed, it is not unusual for me to watch something (or a slow part of it) with the speed increased by 10, 21, or more percent.*

*I use mplayer, which has convenient keyboard shortcuts for increasing (and decreasing) the speed by a factor of 1.1 (or 10 percent). Doing so twice gives 21 percent, as 1.1 x 1.1 = 1.21. Going higher than 21 is usually possible without losing understanding, but leads to severe distortions of voices and music, can diminish the “mood” of a scene, and can lead to problems if something unusually fast happens. Of course, with completely boring scenes, using far higher speeds in combination with subtitles is an easy way out.

From an entirely different point of view: Is it possible that I have been disturbed by some of these in the past, but not truly been aware of it? Excepting Spike, I have found virtually all of Buffy’s romantic interests annoying. (Including Angel, who worked much better on the spin-off “Angel”, where Buffy rarely showed.) A partial explanation for this could be all the time spent in almost Lana–Clark talks. More generally, scenes on TV/in the movies that are intended to be romantic/sexual/intimate/whatnot rarely actually are, often leaving me put off. (I might go as far as suggesting a rule of thumb: if a scene depicts two persons who are not fully dressed, the scene is empirically unlikely to contain anything worthwhile and should be cut.)

While BTVS is far superior to “Smallville”,* it is by no means perfect. For instance, I have already complained about an undue amount of story arcs**/***, and a few unfortunate developments can be added, including the overall character arc for Willow, some disputable main antagonists (the Initiative, Adam, Glory, the Trio; although the Trio might have worked, if kept as a rare comedic-relief opponent) in the later seasons, and the utterly idiotic idea to make all “potentials” into slayers in season 7—anyone with common sense would have realized that the side-effects might be a greater evil than the invasion they were intended to stop, and would have found another/better manner to resolve the situation.****

*I would go as far as claiming that “Smallville” was to some degree made in the image of BTVS. Apart from early parallels like a high-school superhero with “regular” friends fighting a monster of the week, I note the strong involvement of Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali with both “Smallville” and the early seasons of BTVS. As is usually the case, the copy fell short of the original.

**Previously, I have used “arch[es]”. While I would still consider this the more plausible word, the standard term appears to be “arc[s]”.

***Interestingly, the first few seasons shows a use of “good” arcs that are not very intrusive and that allow a “monster of the season” to co-exist with the various “monsters of the week”. This changes for the worse as time goes on.

****This decision might ultimately be a side-effect of show-runner Joss Whedon being one of those politically naive who believe that Feminism is about showing strong women, and have swallowed the lie that “men are abusive and women must be empowered” (or similar). In this, he is similar to the naive vampire fans of the episode “Lie to me”—and just like they, he got into trouble when he encountered the real thing. This naive worldview might well have influenced other decisions during the run of the series.

Correction on “Dallas”:

In my earlier text, I spoke of “Bobby was dreaming an entire season”. This was, of course, not the case. Someone else had the dream and Bobby died in the dream. (I was never a “Dallas” viewer, and I misassociated in the information gleaned from indirect sources over the years.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 12, 2021 at 1:58 pm

One Response

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  1. […] on my list of diversions from construction noise (cf. [1], [2]) is “How I Met Your Mother”. (Unfortunately, very incompletely and often in the wrong season […]


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