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TV Spotlight: Joss Whedon

February 12th, 2008 12:00pm EST
Joss WhedonJoss Whedon is the 43-year-old writer/director/producer who is best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The son of Golden Girls scribe Tom Whedon, Joss followed in the family business when, after receiving his film degree from Wesleyan University in 1987, he found work as a writer on Roseanne. It wasn't until the early 90s that Whedon would begin walking the path to becoming the creative force he is known as today.

A Ditzy Cheerleader with a Destiny

In 1992, Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Kristy Swaonson hit theaters, with a resounding thud. Scripted by Whedon, the movie suffered from a reliance on camp rather than satire and was seen as a forgettable horror comedy flick that had become commonplace in the early 90s. Buffy seemed to have come and gone without much of an impact until 1997 when she made her small-screen debut.

Rather than rehashing the plot of the movie, Whedon brought the slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to a new school and gave her an entirely new start on life. This life would be full of laughter as well as heart-wrenching moments. Exercising full control over the show, Whedon surrounded himself with a team of like-minded individuals all with the same goal: tell the story of a strong female character. Starting as a midseason replacement on the fledgling WB network, Buffy would eventually run for seven seasons with Whedon penning memorable episodes such as "The Body," "Hush" and the musical episode "Once More with Feeling." Spanning two networks, the show spawned action figures, comic books, games, and a spin-off.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In 1999, following a successful three season run with "Buffy," Whedon took Angel (David Boreanaz), the vampire with a soul and relocated him to Los Angeles along with fellow "Buffy" cast member Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). Lighting struck twice when the spinoff, aptly named Angel, found its own legs and became a cult hit, running for five seasons and providing fans with more Angel/Spike (James Marsters) fan fiction material than ever before.

Space, the Western Frontier

2002 brought with it Joss Whedon's re-imagining of sci-fi epics. Having already turned the horror genre on its ear, Whedon turned to the stars and created Firefly. The series told the story of a group of morally ambiguous space pirates, complete with the character types Joss had been known for - strong women and good, if not exceedingly heroic, men. "Firefly" stood out from shows of the genre by creating a world more akin to a western, complete with horses and southern drawls. Critical reaction was mixed, and the show was bounced around the Fox Network, running only 11 out of the 14 completed episode before the show was cancelled in 2003.

A story that should have ended there did not however, as "Firefly's" release on DVD proved to be a phenomenon unto itself. Sales were so astounding (it was considered a failed show) that Universal Pictures green-lit a big-screen adaptation of the show. With all cast members returning and Whedon in the writer and director's chair, Serenity was released in September 2005. Unfortunately, as seemed to be the case with much of Whedon's work, "Serenity" was critically hailed but performed rather poorly at the box office.

Firefly

Highs and Lows In the Movie Business

While Whedon has achieved an amount of commercial and critical success with his Buffyverse and Firefly properties, his work in film has been a mixed bag. A particular highlight was his work co-writing the Disney/Pixar hit Toy Story, which he along with three other writers were nominated for an academy award. Less successful was his work on Titan A.E., which caused the shutdown of Fox Animation Studios after its poor box office performance.

This was not the first of Whedon's disappointments; his work as the screenwriter for Alien Resurrection was met with poor critical response. Whedon himself was unhappy with the direction his script was taken, and this may have lead to him exercising a greater level of creative control over his future work.

Though not credited, Whedon has provided treatments for X-Men, Twister, Speed, and Waterworld, although little of his contributions made it to the finished films.

In late 2006 it was confirmed that Joss was working on a script for a Wonder Woman movie, being made to complement the success of the Batman and Superman franchises. However, after months of rumors and speculations as to the direction Whedon was taking the character he announced in early 2007 that he was no longer working on the project.

Finding Himself in the Funny Books

Not content to merely work in film and television, Whedon has recently gained the respect of comic book fans for his work on "Runaways," "Astonishing X-Men," and his massively successful Buffy followup dubbed "Season 8." While shipping dates for the comics tend to be a bit slippery, readers and critics rarely have an unkind word when it comes to the finished product. Fans can also look forward to the continuation of "Serenity's" story line in comic book form. This medium seems to be where Whedon has succeeded in both finding a large audience as well as the critical respect his work deserves.

Angel

Playing with Dolls and the Future

As we look ahead to the future, Joss Whedon isn't done creating new works for television and film. He is currently developing the sci-fi show "Dollhouse," which will star former Buffy cast member Eliza Dushku (Faith). Fox has already committed to airing the new series, which is surprising considering their treatment of "Firefly." Also in the script stage is "Goners," a horror film Whedon has spent a great deal of time writing and rewriting, though no deals have been confirmed.

Whether Film, TV, or comics, Joss Whedon has demonstrated his ability to create unique stories, compelling characters, and some of the most entertaining dialogue ever put on the page. While his career hasn't achieved the same mainstream success of Lost creator JJ Abrams, Whedon has a dedicated fan base that eagerly awaits his next project. His support of women and equality can be viewed in his work, and it is that passion that keeps him telling stories.

At a 2006 benefit for Equality Now, Joss Whedon pointed out that he was constantly asked the question, "Why do you write these strong female characters?" His response: "Because you're still asking me that question."

Story by Dan Chruscinski
Starpulse contributing writer