Posted in Film, Television

Are You Drowning in Film and TV Content Like Me?

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It’s a great problem to have. Let’s start with that.

Too much of a good thing is usually better than not enough of it, after all.

But still. It’s been out of control the last few years, and especially, I’d argue, the last 12 months.

I love movies. And I love television. And there’s so much of it to watch lately that I’m struggling to keep up.

Even just a LITTLE.

I remember when I was a kid I dreamed of a future like this. Of having so many great movies and television shows to watch that I would never run out of excellent content.

My biggest dream for the future was to be able to look at a TV screen, say the title of ANY MOVIE EVER MADE, and then have that movie start playing.

In the early ’90s, this seemed so impossible. There was no on-demand. There was no streaming. There wasn’t even DVD yet. The idea of bonus content on a movie was alien to me, let alone being able to watch any movie I wanted at the push of a button or with a few words uttered.

But here we are, and I rarely stop to think about it, but it’s true.

That future I dreamed of as a kid is definitely here.

All right, so not EVERYTHING is available on the TV. Amazon has a lot of big and tiny and obscure films at a low price of $2.99, but at least once a month there’s a movie I want to watch that I can’t find on Amazon, or on Netflix, or even on eBay for that matter. I just came across a review of a 1936 film called Dodsworth, an Oscar-nominee that is supposed to be amazing, and last night I struggled finding anywhere, anyplace, that would allow me to see it.

But for the most part, think of a movie, and boom, you can pull it up on your TV, and that’s kind of amazing.

But now that we’ve hit that future I wanted so desperately as a kid, am I a happier film lover having all of these amazing movies at my fingertips?

Well… yes and no.

Yes, of course, I love the easy access to so many films new and old. Movies that were just released in theaters a few weeks ago suddenly show up on Apple TV for $5.99. Independent films that don’t come to my town often show up fast on Apple TV too, sometimes for a few bucks extra.

I love classic film, so I’ve been a huge supporter of FilmStruck, the Netflix for classic, indie, and foreign titles. This service has been around for nearly two years now, and I make the effort to watch at least one of their movies a week.

I love horror movies, too, it’s my favorite genre, so I’ve adored Shudder, the Netflix for horror films, also for the past two years. Like with FilmStruck, I try really hard to watch at least one horror film from Shudder each week, too.

There are so many ways to watch movies nowadays.

There aren’t video stores anymore, at least where I live, which is a shame. But otherwise, there’s never a lack of film content.

  1. There’s Redbox, which I use once or twice a month for new releases.
  2. There’s Apple TV, Filmstruck, and Shudder, which I mentioned before.
  3. There’s Netflix streaming of course, which I use all the time. Their film library isn’t nearly as impressive as their TV library, but still, they have some good stuff if you look hard enough.
  4. There’s Amazon Prime, which has lots of great films new and old.
  5. There’s Amazon itself, which houses almost every movie ever made for streaming $2.99 and up.
  6. There’s cable, where I record lots of movies on AMC, Spike TV, Sundance, IFC, and, most often, Turner Classic Movies.
  7. There’s my own library of DVDs and Blu Rays at home, which amounts to at least 200 or so.
  8. There’s my local Reno library, which has thousands and thousands of DVDs and Blu Ray, many of which I borrow every three weeks.
  9. And then of course there are movie theaters for the first-run films, still the best way to watch a movie in 2018.

All of this takes me to the NO part of my answer from above.

I wouldn’t want these outlets for movies to ever go away, but at the same time, it’s a lot. And most often, IT’S TOO MUCH!

It’s overwhelming.

On any given day I struggle to decide what to watch because there are SO MANY OPTIONS. I feel like I should be watching two, three movies every day to keep up, but I don’t. Even though I work a lot at home, I’m averaging now one movie a day, and sometimes it’s less than that. I won’t get to everything I want to watch, not even close. And I have to learn to live with it.

But this would all be manageable to some degree if I didn’t also love television, and try to watch everything in that medium as well.

Yep, the film world alone would be enough for seven lifetimes, but then there’s TV. And if the amount of films I can’t get to stresses me out, the sheer amount of TV to watch has hit the point of absurdity.

I can’t keep up.

Who can?

And what’s so frustrating about the world of TV is that the majority of the content is fantastic. I’d say 80% or so of the television I’ve consumed in the last two years has been great. There’s so much variety in genres. There’s so much diversity. There’s so much awesome material that no longer translates to the film world and instead gets brought to TV. There’s something for everyone, and if you’re like me, you try to see as much as possible.

Here’s the reality I’ve hit: I won’t get to all the TV I want to watch.

Hell, I’m not going to get to 50% of it.

And what stresses me out more than anything is that as soon as you finish one season of one show, five new seasons of other shows have dropped. You start one of those seasons, and when you reach the finish line, eight more seasons of other shows are now available. I feel like at this point if you watched television 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you STILL wouldn’t be able to keep up with everything.

One element that makes my struggle all the worse is that I am in no way a binge watcher. I have never spent a weekend watching all 10 or 13 episodes of a season. The most of a show I’ll watch in a single day is two episodes, possibly three if I’m at the end of the season.

My thing is, if the show I’m watching is GREAT, I don’t want it to end!

I don’t want to speed through it and move onto the next. I spent four months slowly making my way through the new season of Twin Peaks. I re-watched my favorite show Buffy the Vampire Slayer slowly over three and a half years recently. When the television show is fantastic, I want to appreciate each and every episode, and so I always take longer to get through the season.

But there’s so much TV. SO MUCH TV. It got to a point about this time last year where I had maybe forty shows on my Watch List on JUST NETFLIX ALONE. Not including a few shows I wanted to watch on Amazon. Not including some HBO stuff. And Hulu, too. And it got so difficult trying to decide what to watch next, I came up with a strategy, something that’s been working for me just fine, and it could work for you too.

For the past year, I’ve been watching TV shows in alphabetical order.

Between June of 2017 and May of 2018, I watched almost everything on my list from A to Z, one season at a time. In June of 2018 I started back at the start, with season 2 of 13 Reasons Why, (13 I counted as the numerical and not as a T), then moved into A with The Americans final season, Arrested Development Season 5, and now A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2.

I’m still in A, and there are at least three more shows to go. Atypical. Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2. Alias Grace.

And so many new shows have been added in the last 8–12 months that I feel I might be in this new cycle of A-Z for the rest of my life!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles trying to get to all of this available content, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets a little stressed out.

At the end of the day, I’m happy there is so much great film and television out there, and so many ways to watch them.

But it’s impossible to keep up.

It’s impossible to stay updated in the latest conversation about whatever new great show just dropped.

And I have to make peace with that. Make peace with my drowning

Okay. Now I guess I’ll try to watch something while I eat my lunch. Maybe I’ll do a Netflix show. Or a FilmStruck movie. Or that new Amazon series.

Or… maybe I’ll just take a nap.

Posted in Television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7: Mini-Reviews

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During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 7 episodes!

Lessons *** (out of ****)

The FINAL season premiere is… not one of the series’ best. Joss Whedon wrote this episode, and there is of course some fantastic moments, like Willow and Giles in England, and a few genuine jump scares, but overall, this feels like a return to a middle-of-the-road season one episode, which this final season of Buffy, my least favorite of the series next to season one, ultimately feels like, aside from a few bright spots. Although that final scene that brings back ALL the big bads of the series is freaking AWESOME!

Beneath You **1/2

Such an unmemorable episode that I have almost no memory of this one less than two weeks since having watched it. As I said before, season seven is kind of a slog for the most part, especially in this second episode when Willow still hasn’t returned from England and little tension is to be had.

Same Time, Same Place ***

This is a solid episode that focuses on Willow’s return to Sunnydale, where she’s invisible to the Scooby Gang, except for Anya. The creature is super creepy too. There’s a definite sadness to Willow not knowing where her friends are for most of the episode, although it’s hard to follow at first how they can be in the same place at the same time physically and not see each other. Overall, good.

Help ***

This so-so episode is made better because of the performance by Azura Skye, who does a great job in her guest starring role as a student who knows she’s going to die in a few days, Buffy unable to stop it. A little slow in parts, but the tragic ending works.

Selfless ****

There are three stand-out episodes in season seven: the series finale Chosen, Conversations with Dead People (which I’m soooo looking forward to), and this, Selfless, an episode that shows Anya going berserk on a bunch of college jocks and then battling Buffy in a violent duel. Throughout the episode we get glimpses at Anya’s life, my favorite being a return to the Sunnydale Musical from 2001, where Anya belts out a brand new tune Joss Whedon wrote for this episode, I Will Be His Mrs! Emotional, funny, tragic, compelling. THIS is what Buffy is all about.

Him **

One of the best later episodes of Buffy is followed by one of its worst, a tired and silly episode where Dawn, Buffy, and others get struck with a love spell, a story that’s been much better at least once before on the series (with Xander). This episode seriously felt two hours long, which is a rarity for this series, in which most episodes seem to fly by. There’s exactly one great stand-out moment in the entire episode: Buffy holding a rocket launcher outside the Principal’s office window!

Conversations with Dead People ****

The last GREAT episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until the series finale (I’m pretty sure, at least) which has four storylines, each one written by a different person. Not just creative in its delivery, but also emotional and scary and powerful. The return of Joyce is creepy, Willow’s talk with maybe-Tara is super sad and filled with great drama, and Buffy’s chat with a vampire she used to know as a human at Sunnydale High is one of the highlights of Season Seven.

Sleeper **1/2

So, here’s the deal with Season Seven of Buffy. Starting this episode, the show really starts to devolve into a long lull until the series finale. There’s the return of Giles and Faith coming up, and I believe one more stand-out episode called Storyteller (and maybe one with Willow?), but for the most part this last stretch of episodes all start to feel similar to one another, without the typical unique touches painted across each and every episode in the previous six seasons. This is the perfect example of a shrug-worthy episode involving Spike and his possible evil ways… not terrible, none of this season is TERRIBLE, but not that interesting.

Never Leave Me **1/2

Another ho-hum episode where Buffy spends time talking to Spike, and the others talk to Andrew about he might know about the First. It’s all building toward bigger things, but there’s not a moment of this episode in particular that makes for anything memorable or emotionally satisfying.

Bring on the Night **1/2

Giles finally returns to the show (and remains so, I think, until the finale, yay!) but with Giles comes the potentials, the new girls (aka new cast members) who crowd around Buffy’s house basically until the finale. I love the IDEA of the potentials, and I understand the necessity of them being in the show for the rest of the season (the notion that potential slayers from across the world will be able to band together to do what Buffy does), but their personalities are dull, and the addition of a new love interest for Willow is something I have always hated. MAYBE if there had been a season eight, but not for season seven.

Showtime ***

This episode works okay because of the epic final fight (although it takes Buffy so long to kill the one creature that it’s a bit silly when she and everyone are easily killing the same creatures in the series finale), but again, the whole endeavor seems to be just setting up things to come, rather than dealing with events pertinent to this one episode.

Potential **1/2

At this point, with about ten more episodes to go, you can really start to feel Sarah Michelle Gellar becoming bored with this material, like she’s already got one foot out the door… ready to go act in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed! Part of the frustration in these last episodes is the abundance of speeches Buffy gives to the potentials, always so overwritten and saccharine, not as natural as most dialogue in Buffy.

The Killer in Me ***1/2

Solid season 7 episode, one of its best, that has Willow kiss Kennedy and then turn into Warren in front of everyone. This is, I believe, the last episode of the show that deals with Tara’s absence, and the ending of Willow weeping about forgetting about Tara is so poignant and beautiful.

First Date **

Total clunker of an episode in every way, Buffy going on a date with Wood, Xander going on a date with Ashanti and getting tied up at the end, Giles shouting, “This is no time to be having fun!” Just an all-around dud.

Get It Done **1/2

So-so episode that in most ways just feels like filler for bigger things to come. Wood’s vengeful plans for Spike are kind of interesting, but overall not a whole lot happens here to warrant interest.

Storyteller ***

I love Andrew and this episode is a lot of fun, with Andrew walking around documenting everybody, instead of merely staying quiet in the background. Love that slow-motion shot of Buffy and Spike embracing. Not as creative as that Jonathan-centric episode where everyone loves him, but still a nice change of pace from a couple of the clunky previous episodes.

Lies My Parents Told Me ***

Solid episode where Principal Wood tries to kill Spike, complete with delightful flashbacks to when Spike was first turned by Druscilla, and to when he killed Wood’s mother. However, to me, the most compelling aspect of this episode is Buffy’s rapport with Giles, which takes a nasty turn at the end when she shuts the door in his face.

Dirty Girls ***

The first episode is truly concentrate on the end-of-the-world horrors to come in the finale, with the villain Caleb arriving in Sunnydale to let loose, and FAITH back in the show for its final five episodes, woo hoo! Love Faith and the energy she brings to show. The finale is super intense, with two of the Potentials getting killed, and Xander getting a thumb through his left eye. This Drew Goddard-written episode is solid all the way around.

Empty Places **1/2

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think Buffy Season 7 would have been perfect at 13 episodes, essentially repeating the amount of episodes of Season 1. At 22 episodes, this season feels too thin, too stretched out, and instead of the final few episodes being rousing and exciting, there’s too many long speeches and unnecessary padding. Outside of the brilliance of the series finale, I’d say the final 10 or so episodes of the series are mostly mediocre.

Touched **1/2

The final truly quiet episode of the series has some tender moments between Buffy and Spike, but for the most part, again, kind of feels like padding, without a ton of tension or suspense. I also never bought into the Faith & Principal Wood romance, which is given a lot of screen-time here. I wish there was more in the final few episodes of the core Scooby Gang, more terror of what they’re about to face.

End of Days ***

The second-to-last episode finally grows in tension, with a fantastic ending fight scene that goes on and on and doesn’t come at all easily for Buffy. Everything is adeptly set up for the big finale, and what better way to close out the penultimate episode than with the reappearance of Angel!

Chosen ****

A mostly disappointing final season thankfully goes out with a bang, with the emotional, action-packed, ultra-satisfying series finale. Joss Whedon was busy this final year of the series on both Angel and Firefly and so wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to Buffy as previous years, and it showed, especially in the season’s second half. But he returned for the finale, which, outside of a few lulls and lackluster visual effects, is the final every Buffy fan could have asked for. The final chat with Angel is magical. The Scooby Gang’s last banter before the battle is a wonderful callback to the series’ first episode. Spike’s concluding moment is a tearjerker. Anya’s death is unexpected and shocking, in all the best ways. And the last shot is perfect. PERFECT. It was such a pleasure re-watching this, my all-time favorite show, and I’m confident not too many years will pass before I’m pulled back to Buffy, to this incredible universe I love spending time in. I simply love this series. Buffy the Vampire Slayer forever!!!

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Chosen (7×22)

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Him (7×06)

Posted in Television

Season 6 is the best season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

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During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 6 episodes!

Bargaining ***1/2

Yay! My favorite season of my favorite show!! I’m really going to enjoy re-watching these episodes from the ultimate Buffy season… what many refer to as the worst season of the show (including Sarah Michelle Gellar herself), but it’s my favorite because it goes to some extremely dark places, has Willow turn evil, and features my favorite episode of the entire series — Once More With Feeling. The two-part season premiere has its problems — it feels padded at times, and the final part goes on way too long — but it’s a mostly successful re-launch after Buffy’s heroic death. Perfectly sets up Willow’s growing obsession with magic, as well as the uneasy manner Buffy comes back to life that will haunt her character the rest of the season.

After Life ***1/2

Well-modulated third episode finds Buffy trying and failing to get back to normal after being brought back to life, and the awkward ways her friends try to make her cope. Having her face a demon that followed her from the grave was the right call, an eerier creature than most on the show. The episode is solid, but it’s that final scene with Spike, where Buffy tells him she was pulled out of Heaven, that is the true heartbreaker.

Flooded ***

Buffy dealing with financial problems may not seem like great drama to most, but it’s the issues like this Buffy deals with that make me love season six so much. Just because Buffy is back doesn’t mean she won’t have money problems, and worries about her future, and so this episode takes these issues head on… with a few demons for her to fight, of course.

Life Serial ***1/2

For some reason I thought season six was pretty grim up until the musical episode, but I forgot about this hilarious early-season entry, where the three geek “supervillains” manipulate Buffy in various ways as she tries to get her life back on track. The absolute gem of this episode is Buffy’s Groundhog Day syndrome in the Magic Shop as she tries to sell a woman a Mummy’s Hand. Hilarious at times, but also effective in how it comments on Buffy’s tough role having to face her real world problems.

All the Way **1/2

The weakest of the early season six episodes (which is quite all right, since the following TWO episodes are two of the best of the entire series) is mostly a drag because it focuses too much on Dawn and her interest in a cute high school boy. That long stretch with Dawn is mostly a yawner, but we do get Xander finally announcing to the gang he’s engaged to Anya, and then that chilling moment at the episode’s end where Willow enacts a spell to make Tara forget her anger… which of course plays a heightened role in the musical episode. A few important moments here, but it’s mostly a transitional episode to get us to the show’s ultimate triumph — Once More With Feeling.

Once More, with Feeling ****

The classic, the amazing, my all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite show. Am I allowed to give it 10 stars? 100 stars? Seeing this episode at the Majestic Theatre in Los Angeles with Joss Whedon in attendance is one of the highlights of my LIFE, and it was a thrill to watch the episode again after many years. It truly is perfect, the ultimate Buffy episode ever.

Tabula Rasa ****

What always amazes me about season 6 of Buffy is how its landmark musical episode was followed up by a hilarious, absolute gem of an episode I would rank in the top 10 Buffy episodes ever! Willow causes a spell that backfires and ends up erasing everyone’s memory. So much imagination and humor throughout, with a downbeat and earned ending that works beautifully.

Smashed ***

This episode is a step-down from the previous two, but still with its strong points, like Buffy finally consummating with Spike (it would have been a cheat for their romantic storyline to be tossed aside), and Amy’s unexpected return.

Wrecked ***

This episode takes things even darker, if that’s possible, when Willow gives in to her inner demons more than ever, causing Dawn to almost be killed. Alyson Hannigan’s acting at the end, where she bawls her eyes out and asks desperately for help, is stunning.

Gone ***

After two very downbeat episodes, this one is a return to form in the humor department, with the geeks accidentally making Buffy invisible. This allows for some very funny moments, like when Buffy messes with the child protective services lady.

Doublemeat Palace **1/2

Often thought of as the worst episode of Season 6, but if that’s the case, this still clearly the finest season of the show. Too much time is spent at the fast food restaurant and all its shenanigans, but there’s plenty of effective humor and even a surprising monster reveal at the end. This would have been a solid Season 1 episode, but in Season 6 it’s just merely adequate.

Dead Things ***

One thing (of the many things) I love about season 6 is that the show is able to breathe and not focus every episode on the big bad. Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren factor in to this episode because they kill Warren’s ex-girlfriend, but ultimately Buffy takes center stage as she tries to deal with the consequences of killing (or thinking she killed) a human.

Older and Far Away ***

Okay, so in some ways this episode feels like a way to save money — isolate the entire cast in Buffy’s house for most of the episode — but that aspect is what makes this episode solid in a way, having everybody stuck together in scene after scene. Not a revolutionary story-line but certainly fun to see the cast together for nearly the entire episode.

As You Were ***

I love that the writers gave Riley one last return and send-off… there was something about his exit halfway through season five that seemed unfinished. Of course he comes back to basically give Buffy an incentive to break up with Spike, but still, it’s fun one final time to see Buffy and Riley together.

Hell’s Bells ***1/2

I know everyone shits on this season because it’s such a downer, but this wedding episode is all over the place in emotions, with maybe the most upbeat Buffy has ever been (love her doing charades for the crowd) and an overall hilarious tone for most of the episode. The central conflict is a brilliant idea, showing Xander what might happen in a life with Anya, and the sad ending is effective and earned, with that touching shot of a lone Anya walking while crying down the aisle. How was the episode supposed to end? With them saying I do and everyone happy? There’s no drama in that. Xander has to make this mistake so that his relationship with Anya can remain fresh and filled with conflict. This is Buffy the Vampire Slayer after all.

Normal Again ***1/2

Okay, so this episode I didn’t care much for back in the day, even when I knew how much I loved season six, but it’s grown on me throughout the years, and now I see it for what it is: a wildly courageous episode that basically says the entire series might have been made up in Buffy’s head in an insane asylum. Of course the most ballsy decision made is ending with Buffy in the asylum, which basically demands the viewer assume nothing in the series has ever happened. It doesn’t derail what comes before and after but instead offers an alternate, totally justified explanation for all these fantasy shenanigans. It’s great to see Joyce again, and I overall have come to really admire this unique episode.

Entropy ***

A fairly standard episode, Anya and Spike using each other to feel better, features enough of the way of surprises to keep things interesting, especially when Buffy finds out the big bads have cameras all over Sunnydale spying on her every minute, and when Xander finds out about Buffy and Spider, and that last scene… THAT LAST SCENE! Even knowing what’s about to happen, there’s such sublime happiness when Willow and Tara kiss that I’m able, almost, to forget that Tara is one episode away from death. Ugh…

Seeing Red ***

Kind of an odd episode in that in a way it feels like a season finale, Willow and Tara finally back together, Buffy basically defeating the big bads, but then everything changes in what is still the most shocking moment of the entire series: Tara’s death.

Villains ***1/2

The three-episode Evil Willow arc is one of my favorites of the entire series, obviously since it’s beautifully set up with Willow’s addition to magic earlier on. There’s so much emotion and terror and high stakes in these last three episodes I could watch them over and over, everything I love about this show represented by the darkness and beauty and ultimately uplifting drama that comes to pass.

Two to Go ***1/2

I guess there’s one frustrating element to these final three episodes of the season, and that is the writers making up ways to keep Willow from reaching her goals, when in reality she’d probably be able to find Jonathan and Andrew in a matter of seconds and rip their heads off. But the stumbling blocks work because they allow for classic moments like Buffy and Evil Willow’s epic fight, and then Giles’ return in the final shot that still gives me chills!

Grave ****

The season six finale doesn’t have the creativity of Restless or the epic awesomeness of The Gift, but it’s still one of the very best finales and overall episodes of the series, one that offers laughs (Buffy and Giles losing it early on when he learns what he’s missed) and surprises (Spike earning back his soul). But there are two things I just love, love, love about this episode. The first is that Xander, of all characters, gets to save the world, reaching out to Willow in a way only he, her best friend since childhood, could. The scene rings true, so painful to watch Willow break down crying, but lovely to see Xander support his friend. And the second is that, after an entire season of Buffy being down and uncomfortable after being brought back from the dead, she finally understands why she was brought back: so she can show her beloved sister Dawn the world. It’s a great arc to Buffy’s journey that leaves her in a fantastic place in her closing scene. There’s still one more season to go of my favorite show, but this is as good as it gets, and I will always, for the rest of my life, assert that season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the show’s best.

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Once More, With Feeling (6×07)

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Doublemeat Palace (6×12)

Posted in Television

How brilliant was Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

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During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 5 episodes!

Buffy vs. Dracula **1/2 (out of ****)

The infamous clunker that begins the second-best season of my all-time favorite show of course pits Buffy against the famous vampire. Kind of amusing but also super silly; the episode’s only great strength is that final moment introducing Dawn!

Restless ***

One of my favorite parts of early season five is how Dawn is just thrown into the mix with no explanation, the viewer having no clue why she’s there and why everyone isn’t confused by her presence. This episode is well-told through Dawn’s POV, although I can’t freaking stand Harmony!

The Replacement ***

This is one of those fun body-switch episodes, this time with Xander, although it’s not as entertaining as that classic make-everyone-love-me episode. The great part about this one is watching Anya try to make sense of two Xanders in her life!

Out of My Mind **1/2

Riley’s almost gone, Riley’s almost gone, let’s chant it! He leaves in episode TEN, we’re almost there. I know a lot of people hate Dawn, but it’s Riley I’ve never cared for. I even like him okay in season four, but he seems so out-of-place in the more family-centered season five, so I’m looking forward to his leaving. Spike, on the other hand, can stay.

No Place Like Home ***

It’s not until episode five that we finally learn who Dawn is — she’s energy personified! As of now Buffy tells Giles about Dawn and no one else. A solid if unspectacular episode that also introduces the season’s big bad — Glory!

Family ***

An episode I completely forgot about, one written and directed by Whedon no doubt, and also featuring a small role from Amy Adams!! I love Buffy episodes that reveal something deeper about one of the side characters, and this one we finally get some material involving Tara’s family and unusual backstory. Love the last shot of Willow and Tara dancing in mid-air!

Fool for Love ***

Cool episode where we see flashbacks of Spike battling two former slayers, including a black slayer in 1970s New York! The most surprising character on the entire show I think is Spike especially over the course of seasons four through seven, and this episode gives him a chance to shine.

Shadow ***

It’s funny watching these early season five episodes knowing what’s going to happen with Joyce and how Joss is toying with the audience, making them think she’ll be dead right away, but actually she’ll get better for awhile and then suddenly die near the end of the season. This and Listening to Fear give Gellar great material to work with, the slayer who can’t fight something for once — her mother’s illness.

Listening to Fear ***

Season five doesn’t have a lot of creepy horror episodes like Hush, but this one is fantastic, the demon creature a symbol in many ways for what Joyce is going through. Lots of scary imagery especially at the end!

Into the Woods ***

Yay! Riley leaves!! He had his part to play in season four, but his inclusion in the first ten episodes of season five always rang odd to me, particularly in regards to Joyce’s illness, so of course he was written off the show, and for good reason. My favorite part of the episode though is Xander telling Anya he loves her. Made me cry!

Triangle *1/2

One of the ultimate big fat clunkers of Buffy, so exceedingly awful that I thought to myself while watching it, “This must be an early January episode.” And when did it air? January 9, 2001! Everything feels off, Buffy’s goofy crying, the stupid troll, Giles disappearing for the whole episode. I have to admit it was sort of fascinating to watch a Buffy episode this awful, and I did like Anya and Willow sharing scenes together, but boy, this one was bad.

Checkpoint **

The worst episode of season five is followed by… probably the second-worst episode of season five. A couple of solid moments — Glory toying with Buffy in her own house, and Buffy’s final monologue to the Watcher Council — is surrounded by little action and suspense overall.

Blood Ties ***

The first real episode of the season that ups the stakes, Dawn realizing she’s not a real human and coming face to face with Glory. Sets up the major conflicts to come!

Crush ***

I didn’t have a lot of memories of the season five Spike crush storyline, but I actually really like how it’s handled here, with Druscilla’s return, and Buffy’s disbelief that Spike’s affection for her is even happening. The episode gets a little lame at the end when Buffy’s tied up, but otherwise a solid episode.

I Was Made to Love You ***

One of the sillier episodes of the season is perfectly placed because it precedes the heartbreaking episode The Body, one of the top two episodes of the entire series. There is a sadness to the episode, the robot breaking down and literally dying when she discovers her purpose is no longer. And of course this sets up the Buffy bot as well!

The Body ****

Not only the best episode of the season and the second-best of the entire series, but one of the best episodes of TV I’ve ever seen on any show. Joss Whedon took a significant risk depicting Joyce’s death in the way he does, with long sequences of grief, first with Buffy, then with Dawn, then with Willow and Tara and Xander and Anya (whose speech still chokes me up all these years later). I even used this episode in one of my English classes! It’s a magnificent episode, an important episode, a landmark episode. The Body is the best.

Forever ***1/2

As excited as I was to watch The Body for the umpteenth time, I was super excited to see the follow-up. I completely forgot what happened in the episode after, Dawn so distraught that she tries to resurrect Joyce from the dead. This episode is so well handled, Buffy’s reunion with Angel, Spike’s attempt to show his respect, the creepy shots of Joyce’s shadow at the end, Buffy’s emotional breakdown as she hugs Dawn. A near-perfect follow-up to The Body.

Intervention ***

Back to the season five narrative with this episode, Glory playing a big role again as she gets closer and closer to the key. Love how the Scooby gang think the Buffybot is Buffy herself, and the ending when the real Buffy kisses Spike for keeping Dawn’s secret.

Tough Love ***1/2

This is the episode where you really start to see Willow’s love for Tara as well as her power as a witch. She takes on Glory the best she can, but still fails. Also the episode where Glory learns that Dawn is the key!

Spiral ***1/2

The closest to a “road movie” that Buffy ever gets, the entire gang goes on the run from glory, engage with some knights in shining armor, and take refuge at a shelter before Glory rips Dawn out of Buffy’s grasp. Giles is injured and tells Buffy how proud he is of her. So much action and suspense!

The Weight of the World ***

Weird episode in between the action-packed Spiral and emotionally devastating The Gift that has Willow travel into Buffy’s psyche and see why she’s gone momentarily comatose. I like a lot of what this episode does but it also in many ways feels like filler, like the writers realized late in the season that they had one more episode to fill between Spiral and The Gift and then came up with this. Still good, though.

The Gift ****

The best of the season finales. I’ve watched this episode at least five times and it is still something special, a true emotional work-out, with Xander proposing to Anya, Willow saving Tara, Spike thanking Buffy for treating him like a man, that beautiful opening scene where Buffy saves a teen boy and he tells her “but you’re just a girl” — and then of course that ending, where Buffy sacrifices herself to save her sister and the world. Beat for beat, this is one of the most perfect Buffy episodes ever that I would rank only behind Once More With Feeling, The Body, and Hush.

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: The Body (5×16)

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Triangle (5×11)

Posted in Television

Why I Abandoned Sports for Cartoons

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I wanted to sprawl out on the living room couch and watch my Saturday morning cartoons, but my mom insisted I get ready for my T-ball game. It was supposed to be a high of 101 degrees that mid-July day, but I still had to wear the tight, sweaty uniform, with the long sleeves, the long pants, the ridiculous hat. I hate hats. Always have.

I’ve also had a total disinterest in sports. I understand why people love to play them and watch them, but I’ve always been more attracted to stories. If I have the choice of watching a basketball playoff or watching the new Wes Anderson movie, I’ll pick the movie. I’ve played golf my whole life, I like to ski, and I was a stellar fullback in soccer until I was fourteen, but sports have never really been for me — a hot day in the summer of 1991 marked one of the reasons why.

I’m grateful to my parents for never pushing me into any sport I didn’t want to play — I was six feet tall by the time I reached the sixth grade, and they still didn’t force me into basketball — but they, as all parents should, exposed me to all the different sports, in the off-chance I wanted to pursue one further. During the summer following first grade, I played T-ball, the kiddie version of baseball so lame there wasn’t even a pitcher.

No matter. I was still miserable.

I stood in the pigpen behind the mound, surrounded by ten or more players cheering on the kid at bat. I tried to cheer, too — the guy attempting his second swing was my best friend Brandon — but I spent more time wiping the sweat from my forehead than waving my hands in the air in excitement. The sun wasn’t merely shining above me like any other day; it was holding me in a firm grasp with no chance of letting go.

“All right! Rowe! You’re up!”

I licked my lips. Coughed and sighed. Felt vomit rise up my esophagus, but I swallowed it back down. The heat was so intense that the baseball diamond before me went blurry, creating enough diamonds in my mind’s eye to allude that I was filthy rich.

I tried to stay focused on the baseball. It sat so calm on that thin perch, like it wanted to stay put for the rest of the afternoon. I lifted the heavy bat into the air and found my proper stance. I didn’t want to let the heat beat me, but at that point it had already won. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be at home, immersed in air conditioning, in my turquoise pajamas watching Bobby’s World.

I swung once. Missed.

“That’s okay!” my dad shouted from the stands. “You’ll get the next one!”

I swung again. Another miss.

My teammates clapped, knowing that I, the tallest player of the Granite Bay Pirates, could not, would not, fail them.

I swung at the ball a third time, but collapsed on the ground before my bat could make contact. For the first time in my life — still to date the only time — I passed out from the heat. I came to, just a few seconds later, but that was it. I was done.

My Bobby’s World marathon the following Saturday was GLORIOUS.

Posted in Television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 4 Mini-Reviews!

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During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 4 episodes!

The Freshman *** (out of ****)

A solid season opener that shows Buffy trying to fit in during her first days of college. The villain of the episode is weak, but exciting to start a new chapter of the series.

Living Conditions **1/2

Of course Buffy has a demon for a roommate, which this episode pushes to the limit. Nothing special, but fun.

The Harsh Light of Day ***

Spike is back and better than ever! The storyline about the ring that allows vampires to walk around during the day, a storyline that transfers over to Angel 1.03, is compelling.

Fear Itself **1/2

We’re introduced to Anya’s fear of bunnies — yay! — but overall this Halloween episode is nowhere near the greatness of the season 2 Halloween episode. Feels a little too familiar at times.

Beer Bad **

I’d consider this one of the five worst Buffy episodes probably. Even before I got to it, I was dreading it. I suppose an episode about Buffy getting drunk in her early days of college seemed inevitable, but the drunk college kids turning into cavemen-like doofuses is just silly.

Wild at Heart ***1/2

The first great episode of season four tears Oz away from Willow, when he becomes drawn to another girl on campus, who also turns out to be a werewolf. Alyson Hannigan’s acting at the end of this well-constructed episode is absolutely heartbreaking.

The Initiative ***

The episode that sets up the rest of the season, what I love about this one is that Spike finally gets his chip that prevents him from hurting humans, and therefore, becomes a part of the Scooby Gang!

Pangs **1/2

Nice but unmemorable episode. Angel’s back, hooray! Most interesting because it sets up the amazing Angel episode, I’ll Remember You.

Something Blue ***

I’m a sucker for the what-if episodes, the ones where a spell causes everyone to change personas. Here, Giles goes blind, and Spike and Buffy get engaged! The Spike and Buffy scenes are about as funny as this show gets.

Hush ****

Click here for the rest of the reviews!

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Posted in Television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3: Mini-Reviews!

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During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 3 episodes!

Anne ***1/2 (out of ****)

A dynamite season premiere written and directed by Joss that sets up one of the strongest seasons of the show. Mostly a stand-alone about Buffy living in the big city, it’s rich not just with action and bigger and better set pieces, but also fascinating thematic material. Love the hug at the end!

Dead Man’s Party ***

One of my favorite aspects of Buffy is how there’s always consequences for everything. Episode 2 could just focus on a new monster-of-the-week (well, it kind of does), but it also focuses on the fall-out Buffy has had with her friends, who are pissed that she just took off for the summer without a word. This episode has that, but it’s also super fun, too, with zombies!

Faith, Hope & Trick ***

Faith!!! I forgot how early she shows up in season 3, and her darker version of the slayer makes for such a great chemistry between her and Buffy. Another monster-of-the-week, but mostly memorable for Faith’s introduction.

Beauty and the Beasts **1/2

Episode that focuses on Oz isn’t as memorable as some of the other early season 3 episodes, but I like when any episode zones in on a character who’s not normally the centerpiece.

Homecoming **1/2

This episode is a little too similar to Out of Mind, Out of Sight, but it’s still fun to see Cordelia and Buffy in scene after scene together, especially when it’s known that Cordelia will be leaving Sunnydale for Angel’s world in just a few episodes.

Band Candy ***

This one is very silly… like super silly… but oh my God, it is so much fun to not only see Giles and Joyce in scenes together but to see them acting like annoying teenagers while Buffy in many ways plays the adult. Doesn’t amount to much, but it’s great fun.

Revelations ***

What I’ll remember most about this episode is the Scooby Gang’s reactions when they learn Buffy has been hiding Angel… that scene where Giles lays into Buffy for being irresponsible is chill-inducing.

Lovers Walk ***1/2

This Spike-centric episode is the first truly revolutionary episode of the season, where some big shit goes down! First, Willow and Xander’s affection for each other finally comes to light before Oz and Cordelia. Second, this is the episode where Cordelia falls and then the director cuts to a funeral scene, panning down to find Buffy saying “So Cordelia’s gonna be fine, that’s good.” Third, Buffy tells Angel good-bye, once and for all. So much happens, setting up the rest of the season!

The Wish ****

One of the very best season 3 episodes, that shows what Sunnydale would look like if Buffy never came. Willow and Xander as vampires, and they die! Angel dies! Buffy dies! Such a powerful what-if episode, one of the show’s best!

Amends ***

Not super memorable, but I love the end where snow falls over Sunnydale, and Buffy and Angel walk hand-in-hand through the town. Love it!

Gingerbread **1/2

A pretty weak Buffy episode that lacks much excitement still entertains due to Joyce. I love any Joyce-centric episode, and she’s great in this one, taking on her ridiculous mission with gusto!

Helpless ***

Powerful episodes has Buffy stripped of her powers on her 18th birthday in order to see how she’ll defeat a demon as just a regular girl. Love the scene where Buffy lashes out at Giles. And a new Watcher is coming!

The Zeppo ***

I always enjoy Xander-centric episodes, and while this isn’t quite as memorable as the love-spell one, it’s super entertaining. And he sleeps with Faith!

Bad Girls ***1/2

YES! Now the season really starts rocking. Faith kills a PERSON and ultimately doesn’t care. Sets up the great dynamic between her and Buffy the rest of the season.

Consequences ***1/2

Further explores the consequences of killing a person, and what it does to both Buffy and Faith as they try to move on. Another moving and chilling episode that shows the dark road Faith is going on.

Doppelgangland ***1/2

Evil Willow’s back!! Loved Hannigan’s performance as Evil Willow early in the season, and the great twist of this episode brings Evil Willow to the main reality with Good Willow. Lots of fun!

Enemies ***

Effective episode where Angel FAKES being bad… messes up Buffy big time!

Earshot ***1/2

One of the best Season 3 episodes, one that was supposed to air right after Columbine, but was pulled at the last minute. Aside from a goofy reveal of the actual killer, this is one of the seasons stand-outs!

Choices ***

What’s Buffy going to do after high school? Where is her life headed? This episode introduces these weighty questions, and then some!

The Prom ***1/2

Love this episode! Angel breaks up with Buffy for her own good… and she receives that special gift at the graduation ceremony. Love!

Graduation Day Part I ***1/2

Buffy fights Faith! Great finale to this first part.

Graduation Day Part II ***1/2

Lame CGI work is the only detriment to this fantastic season 3 finale, with Snider being eaten, Buffy and Angel saying their long good-bye, Willow and Oz having sex, Cordelia and Wesley’s awkward kiss, so much goodness here! “We survived high school.” Now time to go to college!

BEST EPISODE OF SEASON 3: The Wish (3×09)

WORST EPISODE OF SEASON 3: Beauty and the Beasts (3×04)