Friday, June 11, 2010

Buffy 1x08 - "I Robot, You Jane"

The boy Willow is getting romantically entangled with turns out to be more than he had seemed at first. In other words, this episode seems in some ways to be a bizarre parody of the previous one. But aside from some extremely cheesy usage of technology, this episode held up pretty well. More after the jump.

"I know our ways are strange to you, but soon you will join us in the twentieth century - with three whole years to spare!"

- Miss Calendar

As I mentioned last week, it's really difficult to get around the show's dated references to technology, which must then have seemed aggressively hip and cutting edge (or maybe not, it's tough for me to tell). Some particularly cringeworthy moments involve Willow talking while typing and Buffy asking Dave a question about an "e-letter." When this episode aired, I was nine. By the time I was in high school in 2002 the Internet was taken for granted as a ubiquitous fact of life, so the extent to which any of this is accurate is lost on me. In any case, the technology versus books theme is well-executed, and the basic premise is interesting enough. I do think this could be done better nowadays, though, because our familiarity with computer virus outbreaks in fiction and reality would make it easier to communicate the high stakes of the problem.

Getting past that, this is a fine episode and it provides the first real showcase for Alyson Hannigan as Willow. The series has focused more on Xander thus far, but it's been less than successful because the writers aren't interested in Xander's potential for drama, only comedy. Miss Calendar's introduction is also handled very well, providing a great foil for Giles and presenting her as a likable character in her own right. So Willow and Giles get to hog the spotlight while Xander and Buffy are given less screen time. It's nice to change things up every once in a while.

Another aspect where this series is kind of dated is how it handles the serialized aspect. Nowadays even shows like Fringe, which alternates between arc episodes and standalones, like to flavor the standalone episodes with references to the ongoing story arc, just to keep the momentum building. Buffy has done this a bit in season one but this episode largely stands on its own. With the exception, of course, of the episode's closing moment, in which the characters lament their unsuccessful love lives so far this season. It's a classic moment.

In any case, I think that as the television audience has become more segmented, the audience for genre shows like Buffy has become a bit more sophisticated and more demanding of complex narratives. I don't mean that as a slight against Buffy as a show, because I think shows like Buffy helped develop that audience sophistication. I'm just noting that it's a particularly jarring experience for someone like me who first became a TV junkie in the latter part of the '00s.

In any case, man, can you believe we're already almost done the first season? I know it's a short one, but it's just flown by. See you all for the last few episodes next week.

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