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Whedon Weekly: Harmony Bites and Dr. Horrible Wins

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Welcome to the first installment of Whedon Weekly, a weekly feature devoted to the goings-on of writer/director/generally awesome person Joss Whedon. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator has a lot on his plate right now: he returns to TV after almost five years with next month's Dollhouse, debuting on the ominous date of Friday, February 13; he's involved in two comic book spin-offs of his work, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight and Angel: After the Fall, both of which are canonical continuations; he's gearing up for production on the horror film The Cabin in the Woods; and there might even be a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog sequel at some point.

So, my fellow obsessives, the week in Whedon:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #21: "Harmonic Divergence"

Written by Buffy stalwart Jane Espenson, "Harmonic Divergence" finds the Buffyverse at an interesting crossroads. Bubble-headed vampire Harmony, previously Spike's girlfriend and Angel's assistant at Wolfram & Hart, apparently escaped being sucked into the hell dimension that consumed the rest of Angel's employ (as can be seen in After the Fall) to find stardom on an MTV reality show called Harmony Bites. The fine folks at Dark Horse Comics went all-out for this one, creating a MySpace page, putting out an online strip written by Espenson and drawn by Karl Moline of Fray fame, and drafting Espenson to write an in-character blog as Harmony over on the actual MTV's website.

Unfortunately, it doesn't entirely live up to the hype, and coming after last month's similarly underwhelming "After These Messages… We'll Be Right Back!," that's a bit of a disappointment. Having written such Buffy classics as "Earshot," "Same Time, Same Place," and "Conversations with Dead People," this isn't the comeback I was expecting from Espenson. The public's acceptance of vampires and Slayers is curiously casual; the way the issue handles it is confusing, to say the least. "Harmonic Divergence" is the first part of a five-issue arc in which vampires gain public support, so there's still time to explain this away, and considering this is the Buffyverse, who knows, it could always just be some sort of magical glamour anyway. Right now, though, it's an uncomfortable starting point.

Which isn't to say that it's bad. Harmony is as ditzy and hilarious as ever, and there's an effective subplot involving a newly-called Slayer who is turned off by Buffy's message of unity and togetherness, which she (perhaps correctly) implies to mean conformity. The girl decides to take on Harmony herself, with less than stellar results. But still, the season seems to be meandering in the wake of Joss' explosive "Time of Your Life" arc, and one hopes it will get back on track soon.

The next issue, "Swell," written by Steven S. DeKnight and illustrated by Georges Jeanty, is due for release on February 4. Also, solicitation info for #24 has arrived, showcasing another beautiful cover by Jo Chen.

Meanwhile, another insightful interview with Jeanty has popped up, and along with it a sketch for a possible future variant cover. We definitely haven't seen this image before, but there's no description accompanying it, so I'm just making an educated guess. It does seem to be a reversal of Chen's cover for #4; there, giant Dawn was holding regular-sized Buffy, while here a regular-sized Buffy is holding a tiny Dawn. Perhaps this is the last of Dawn's three transformations? From a giant to a centaur to Thumbelina. The girl's got no luck.

Blu-ray Blues

Some people seem to be having trouble watching the new Serenity Blu-ray on their PlayStation 3 systems. The movie seems to freeze at 1:12:54, with no way of getting around it. Not everyone is having this problem, though, so the cause is most likely a batch of defective discs; if you're a PS3 owner, be on the lookout.

The Horrible Team Puts Up Lyrics, and Wins the Public's Favor

So, if you're like me, you've already watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog an obscene amount of times before its DVD release last month (and you can still catch it online for free). And now that the DVD's here, it just keeps fueling my unhealthy obsession. A big factor in this is Commentary! The Musical, an all new musical sung by the cast and crew with songs almost as catchy as those in the film itself. Well, now our lovely Horrible team — Joss, brothers Jed and Zack, and Jed's fiancée Maurissa Tancharoen — have put up the Commentary! lyrics and liner notes, and now I kind of have to watch it again just so I can sing along. "I'm better, better than Neil…"

In other Horrible news, the movie won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Online Sensation. From what I gather, the category wasn't actually mentioned on the television broadcast, but oh well, you take what you can get. At least it wasn't left off the ballot, as happened to Buffy's "Once More, With Feeling." Anyway, couple that with all of the Dark Knight wins and I just might have to restore partial faith in my fellow man. Reading the crew's acceptance speech, though, makes me reconsider.

The Cabin in the Woods Readies for Production

So, Joss met Tom Cruise and the two talked about Joss' upcoming horror film The Cabin in the Woods, which is being produced by Cruise's United Artists. It was nothing of any real importance, despite the angle Sci Fi Wire took, but at least we've got word that the film starts production in March (and that the title now starts with The). The movie was co-written by Joss with Buffy scribe Drew Goddard, and is being produced by Joss and directed by Drew in anticipation of its February, 2010 release date.

Interview Round-Up

Joss has been giving out interviews left and right lately in the midst of the Dollhouse hoopla, and this week there was one at Sci Fi Wire, where he again discusses the show's development difficulties; one at The Futon Critic where he discusses the show's themes and the future of his career; and my favorite, an extensive biography/interview in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America. It's one of the very best pieces I've ever read about Joss and his work, and if you're a fan, it's required reading.

More Dollhouse Reviews

Reviews of Dollhouse's first episode have been coming in for a while, and they've been decidedly mixed. The two new ones which have surfaced don't change this trend. Here's a lukewarm review from The TV Addict, and a negative one from AfterElton.com. I haven't read either, as I don't want to be tainted before I actually see the thing, but I did watch this short interview with star Eliza Dushku that's got a brief but neat behind-the-scenes look at the filming of an action scene.

That about does it for this week, but in closing, I have to say that Neil Patrick Harris, Dr. Horrible himself, is hosting Saturday Night Live this week. That should be fun. I just hope he has a skit with Kristen Wiig. Ah, I could extoll the comic virtues of Kristen Wiig for hours on end… but that's a whole 'nother column.

See you next week!

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About Arlo J. Wiley

  • Shannon Howard

    Espenson’s “Conversations with Dead People” was something I rarely experienced in Whedon’s work–a truly horrifying episode. I love Joss Whedon, but he rarely scared me. Espenson did.