November 12th, 2009


An Open Letter to Joss Whedon

Dear Joss Whedon,

So, Dollhouse is over. What can I say? I'm not surprised; in fact, at the risk of sounding unintentionally mean, I was more surprised by the news that the series was renewed for a second season than by the news of its cancelation. I wish you no ill will, nor do I feel the need to rub salt in the wound during this difficult time, but I do think you and I need to talk. Because I feel like you've seriously lost your way.

Let's backtrack a moment. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, in my opinion, a masterpiece. The reputation you built for yourself on that series was well deserved. I would have followed you anywhere at that point, and in fact I did. But it's all been diminishing returns since Buffy--or, more accurately for me at least, since the end of Buffy's third season.

I felt that Angel always straddled the line between mediocre and unwatchable. Firefly succeeded in creating some of your best characters yet, and then proceeded to plunk them down into stories, and indeed into a whole universe, that, frankly, did absolutely nothing for me. Dollhouse was a misfire from day one entirely due to its premise--who is going to hire a "fake" hostage negotiator from the Dollhouse for a zillion dollars when one can get a real one much more economically and be certain that one is in good hands?--and, though I hate to say it, its leading lady. Eliza Dushku ruled as Faith on Buffy, but she's just doesn't have the acting chops yet to handle as versatile a role as Echo.

But it's not just the concepts that didn't work for me, I'm afraid. It was the writing. My God, Joss, you are a great writer! We see that time and again. Which makes it a crying shame that somewhere along the line you got caught up in replaying the same motifs, themes and sacrifice fetishes over and over again. Somewhere along the line you forgot that things can be both fun and dramatic without adhering to your own now unfortunately transparent formula. For example, just because it's sweeps or a season finale doesn't mean a character has to die, nor does it mean a character has to die every sweeps or season finale. Kill one important character and the audience is stunned and riveted, knowing the stakes have just been upped considerably (Jenny Calendar on Buffy is a great example of this). Keep killing off characters every few months and the audience becomes numb and confused and starts to wonder why they're bothering (c.f., the pointless and mishandled death of Anya in Buffy's final season).

Which brings us to Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, which is a freaking masterpiece. It's a gorgeous farce, a wonderful send up of superheroes and the villains who fight them. But you couldn't resist your own sacrifice fetish, could you? Killing Penny is a world like this one makes no sense. Aside from the fact that she's not treated as an actual human being so much as a plot point for the two male characters, you bring an element of the all-too-real into a world where a legion of supervillains is ruled by an evil horse, for crying out loud. Why bring the bummer and ruinously alter the entire tone of the piece? Because it seems you have fetishized sacrifice in the form of death, which I feel has become a detriment to your writing abilities.

So, before you become another of the writer/director/producers relegated to my "I used to think you were great but now I'm over you" file--joining the likes of Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Terry Gilliam--I'd like to offer my humble advice on what I think you should do next (after the very welcome news that you're working on a Horrible sequel).

Write a novel. The studio interference in both Firefly and Dollhouse is notorious, so I recommend cutting them out of the equation altogether. Also, the Buffy comics you wrote are amazing. One of the things I like a lot about you is that you're always trying to create new and original concepts, so I'd love to see what you could do with a novel, free of the constraints of budgets, studio suits and the ranges or schedules of your actors. You can write more of the masterpieces that are waiting inside of you with nearly complete freedom. So write, Joss Whedon. It's your strongest talent. Write to your heart's content, and do it in the form of a novel.

I stopped watching Angel after its third season. I nearly gave up on Firefly before the network canceled it. I dropped Dollhouse after its first episode. But a Joss Whedon novel? I would read the hell out of that!

Nick Kaufmann

Google Alerts Make You Feel Important Even When You're Not!

Wow! Through the ego-stoking magic that is the Google Alert, I just discovered that David McDonnell, the Editor of Starlog, is reading my Gabriel Hunt novel, Hunt at World's End!

Starlog was actually one of the very first magazines I ever asked my parents to buy for me as a child, along with Famous Monsters of Filmland. I think that makes this even cooler.