If you had any doubts before now that Southern Spines is my completely self-indulgent passion project, then the following blog post will disabuse you of the notion. I gave my husband Joss Whedon: The Biography as a Christmas gift, not just because I knew he would enjoy the subject matter, but because we’re both Whedon fans. I knew I would enjoy reading and owning the hardcover as well. Maybe calling this a “For Him” review of Amy Pascale’s biography is a misnomer. I just call it icing on the cake. Here’s Zach.
Joss Whedon is a third-generation television writer. His father wrote for television shows like Captain Kangaroo, The Electric Company and The Golden Girls. His grandfather wrote for The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. As you can see, television show names used to be pretty straightforward.
Is it because of this history that a book about Whedon is simply entitled Joss Whedon: The Biography? Author Amy Pascale, who used to hang out on the Buffy fan site The Bronze–back when message boards were a thing–writes an uncomplicated story about Whedon’s rise to the top of the nerd world.
Most Whedon fans are going to be familiar with the details of his un-meteoric rise to the top of the entertainment world. In a way, Whedon became the independent band that we loved that made it big, and we had to decide if our love could survive mainstream acceptance.
How did Whedon become “our Jossy”? He had the fortune to get a writing gig with the TV show Roseanne after graduating from Wesleyan University. It wasn’t immediate success, as he had to trudge through the stereotypical video-store clerk gigs before getting his shot. Whedon actually railed against becoming a TV writer because it was the “family business.” The Whedon name and a self-produced musical based on the Oliver North trial (performed by friends and family) helped him catch the eye of a producer.
There were successes and failures. He got to write a few scripts on his first season with the show Roseanne, but in his second season, he was isolated.Whedon didn’t waste his time. He continued working on an idea that was initially called “Rhonda the immortal waitress.”
It’s amazing that Buffy the Vampire Slayer even exists, let alone that it became a “cult” TV hit years down the road. After working on Roseanne and the first incarnation of the TV version of Parenthood, Whedon took a few script-doctor gigs while trying to get his own screenplays produced. All the cool lines in the movie Speed? Whedon. His breakthrough success was the film version of Buffy, which, in typical Hollywood fashion, turned out to be a very different film than the one he had envisioned. A lot of his future work hinged on the original screenplay.
Whedon considered passing on the small-screen version of Buffy, but decided that the television show would be his big shot to produce his own work. Through the show, he honed his writing skills and gained experience as a director. The little show that could became a hit, spawning The Bronze and other message boards where die-hard fans could discuss the show in the dial-up Internet age, along with Whedon and members of the cast and crew. Whedon’s accessibility is one reason for his rabid (or more accurately, intellectually excited) fan base. He’ll go to the Webs to discuss a project, including the failures, of which there have been a few. He’s had his share of unproduced screenplays and television frustrations.
Buffy was such a hit that Whedon earned a spin-off featuring Buffy’s vamp-boyfriend with a soul, Angel. Buffy lasted seven seasons and Angel five, with Angel concluding one year after Buffy.
My fine and dandy spiritual guide and wife introduced me to Buffy. Like a lot of people, I didn’t “get” the name, and even through the first season I was a tough convert. I remember that I had to record the Buffy series finale on VHS because Mrs. Southern Spines was on a business trip, and it was hard to avoid spoilers.
Remember the word failure? It’s key when considering Whedon’s career and his attempt at producing a “space western” called Firefly. I’ll admit that the television show didn’t totally suck me in during its brief run. The original pilot was shifted to later in the season, and the first episode of the show was a second shot. It’s hard to introduce that many characters at once. Firefly had an odd run of 14 episodes, three of which weren’t televised.
Thanks to DVD technology, I revisited the show years later and fell in love with it and its companion movie, Serenity, which Whedon wrote and directed. The film provided the TV show a bit of closure. Still, knowing that Whedon had years of Firefly storylines is frustrating for us fans, also known as “browncoats.” Firefly wasn’t a critical or financial success, so once again, Whedon was left in the lurch.
Buffy fans were introduced to Whedon’s love of musicals with the episode “Once More, With Feeling.” Of course I own the CD soundtrack from that episode. That love of musicals showed up again during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike when Whedon produced Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Another cult hit, Dr. Horrible stars Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion of Firefly. As a quick digression, isn’t it odd that Nathan Fillion will be known more for his role on Castle than for his work as Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly? Also, David Boreanaz has been on the show Bones longer than he played Angel. We can’t account for taste.
After Whedon’s fourth TV series, Dollhouse, came and went with a bit of a whimper, we weren’t quite sure what would happen next in his career. When he was announced as the writer and director of Marvel’s The Avengers film, fans may have thought it was a joke to see him running a big-budget movie franchise. But run it he did, and he was able to bring the movie in under budget and with the traditional Whedonesque turns of phrase. 2012 became The Year of Whedon. Not only did The Avengers set box-office records, but his “loving hate letter” to the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods, left development hell and came out to mostly positive reviews.
How does Whedon tick? Well, he decided after a grueling movie shoot that he would relax by–producing another movie. According to Pascale’s biography, Whedon loves to have friends over and perform Shakespeare. He decided to make Much Ado About Nothing at his house with some buddies over a weekend. Whedon and I have different ideas on relaxation.
What’s next for Whedon? Well, there’s the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, of which he’s more of an executive producer due to his Avengers work. The Avengers sequel releases this summer, and there’s already a two-part follow-up coming out in the next three years. He may no longer be a cult classic, but I’m not abandoning my favorite indy band just because it hit the big time.
If you read/buy a Joss Whedon biography, you’re probably someone who knows his work very well. You will read things about his career/life that you haven’t read before. Plus, it’s nice to put it all together from Roseanne to The Avengers and every step in between. We’d all like to be a part of a Joss Whedon dance party one day.
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