Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is ending at the end of this present season. This makes me unhappy, as I adore the program with a passion. The cast and crew are suddenly being franker in interviews than has been in the case in the past. Sarah Michelle Gellar alludes to not being terribly happy with the darker storylines of Season 6, and series creator and mastermind Joss Whedon suggests that he has occasionally "settled" for writing which wasn't quite up to the standard he wanted. My guess is that he too is talking about parts of Season 6. I don't think the darker storylines of Season 6 were a bad idea, as Gellar apparently does, but I am not sure they were always well handled. The storyline in which Alyson Hannigan's character of Willow allows her magic to get completely out of control was at times played as an addiction storyline, whereas in reality what Joss was aiming for was deeper and more complex than that. It was all about Willow having been the shy, tormented and unappreciated (but extremely talented) character at high school, and the insecurities and unhappiness that come from that. You grow up, discover that talent gives you a certain amount (or in some cases a great amount) of power, but then, ultimately, you find that that same background was not ideal in terms of giving you the character and the background to deal with that power, and as a consequence things sometimes go wrong. And I don't think all the writers really understood that.

In any event, the show is now about to end. There has been lots of discussion of the possibility of there being a spinoff to replace the show on the UPN network. This will either start in September or as a mid-season replacement in January next year - we don't yet have a date. For a while, the rumours were that the spinoff would feature renegade slayer Faith as its central character, but this is now clearly out, as actress Eliza Dushku has committed to doing a pilot for another TV show instead. (Given that she made fewer appearances on Buffy over the years than the producers would have liked, and that that was due to her at least claiming she was focusing on her film career rather than television, there is perhaps a piece of the story I don't know). Fans have often thought that Joss Whedon might want to base a series around the character of Buffy's sister Dawn, but the plot of this years' buffy episodes has tended to discourage this idea. (Dawn is definitely not going to be a slayer, for instance).

The latest rumours suggest that the spinoff will be based around the character of Willow, but I really doubt this. Firstly, we have already seen the most important character arcs concerning her. There is perhaps a little bit of redemption to go for her actions in season six, but I am not sure this makes good television, at least not for a central character. The other issue, which is obvious to me, but not obvious to Hollywood, concerns the film careers of the various characters. The first confirmation of the end of Buffy was when it was announced that Sarah Michelle Gellar was "in negotiations" to star in a movie filming in August. She has made the usual comments about she now wants to concentrate on her film career. She is a good actress, but her film career is comparatively mixed. There are no big hits there in which you could say she was responsible for the movie being a hit. (As far as hits are concerned, there are two horror movies from the peak of Kevin Williamson's career in 1997, and there is Scooby-Doo from last year). In movies where she is the clear star (Simply Irresistable,Cruel Intentions,Harvard Man perhaps) she generally puts up a good acting effort, but none have been a hit. Plus, in her recent interviews she seems to have developed typical Hollywood bitchiness about past projects. If the films was not a clear hit, then tell people how bad it was, how it was not your fault, and consequently how it must have been the fault of everyone else who was in it. Out of her career, the film that gets this treatment is Simply Irresistable, which actually isn't as bad as it is sometimes made out to be. The most successful film actors seem to be able to avoid this kind of bitchiness. (As an example in top notch career management, let me mention Tom Cruise, who consistently promotes his films unstintingly, even those which are not perceived as successful, and who wouldn't dream of being bitchy about someone he has worked with in the past. After all, he might need to work with them again). So, I have mixed feelings about the likely success of Sarah Michelle Gellar's film career. It wouldn't surprise me if she is back in television in five years. If this happens, she will never again find herself working on a program as well written as Buffy.

As for the possibility of successful film careers from members of the Buffy cast, I shall instead suggest that the attention is going to the one place. Because the program is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and because Sarah Michelle Gellar is so photogenic, people who don't regularly watch the show assume it is a star driven show. And really it isn't. It is an ensemble cast driven show. The strongest actor in the case is Alyson Hannigan, who plays Willow. She gets less attention because she is less conventionally pretty than some of the other cast members. (She is actually gorgeous, but not in the really obvious way that Hollywood favours). This has also meant her film roles have tended to be smaller ones - fairly dreadful "person X's girlfriend" type parts. The most prominent film role she has had is the character of Michelle the flute playing band geek in the American Pie movies. These movies have been rather crass on the whole, but with one or two redeeming features. Alyson Hannigan's part has grown from a tiny part in the first movie to a much larger part in the second to the lead in the third (not yet seen). It has done this on the strength of Hannigans's wonderful ability to be both cute and knowing at the same time, and through her flawless comic timing. Half of the up and coming young actresses in Hollywood have appared in this series of movies, and although Hannigan has (thankfully) not appeared in the Entertainment Weekly photospreads in which "the girls of American Pie" appear half dressed, she has managed to completely steal the movies. What has been clear is that the writers and the producers of the movies have been smart enough to realise what they had in our beloved Alyson, and therefore have been making her parts steadily bigger. Other people are steadily realising this. While conventional boring Hollywood good looks are common, Hannigan has talents that are much rarer. And I think before long this will be obvious to everyone.

And that is why, I think, that a "Willow" spinoff is a no go. It is Alyson Hannigan's film career that is going to get in the way, even if not everyone realises this yet.

No comments:

Blog Archive