Friday, August 29, 2008

Review - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Conversations with Dead People"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Conversations with Dead People"
2003 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

I don't plan on reviewing both dramatic presentation winners in the same week typically but I am going to follow this up with The Two Towers tomorrow mainly because both 2004 dramatic presentation winner tie together.

So here we are at the start of the short form Hugos and I have to say that this was one of the best changes they've made in recent years. In the past decade science fiction and fantasy on television has exploded and there is a lot of high quality material being produced. At the same time it will often be overshadowed by theatrical productions. Look at the history of the Hugo awards and you'll see that before the short form award was created only four television shows ever won the Hugo: The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Babylon 5. It was far more common for a weak movie to be selected in preference to a television show.

Enter the division between long form and short form dramatic presentations. Now television episodes had a category essentially created just for them and the first winner selected I think says a lot about the changing nature of SF fandom.

By this point in history we're well into the Internet fandom focusing period. I'd put the first two shows to take advantage of the effect of the Internet to mass fandom in one location as Babylon 5 and X-Files (Star Trek fans may have been on the net as long as it existed but Trek fandom was larger and scattered as the Internet started taking over) but Buffy the Vampire Slayer was among the first big shows to have its entire run in the connectivity era. A large, organized fandom a more than half the battle toward winning these awards and Buffy had that to spare.

To keep things simple for both of you who found this blog and are unaware of the series Buffy is a girl and she fights vampires. There's the show's premise in a nut shell and it kind of helps that it's all in the title. The show started off witty with some action and a hint of soap opera angst but by the last season when "Conversations with Dead People" aired the soap opera angst had taken over the series. Episodes, particularly in the sixth season, were more likely to be about the personal relationships between the characters than fighting monsters or even being amusing.

"Conversations with Dead People" was one of the episodes from early in the seventh season where it showed promise to not fall into the patterns that made the sixth season the least popular portion of the show. Unfortunately pretty much all of the great set up in this episode never really comes to fruition and the series manages to go out with a whimper. In this episode Buffy chats about how screwed up her life is while fighting a vampire psychologist and other characters are visited by dead characters who make threats and/or warnings about the future.

Really this award has more to do with the history of the series than the quality of this particular episode. It's a good episode but not a great one and by the time the Hugo award voting had rolled around the series was over and people had seen where it all lead to. I can't say I mind that very much since the times when the show truly deserved the award it was steamrolled out of the dramatic presentation category by theatrical films.

The cast does a fine job with this episode and that's to be expected since they had years to grow into their roles. I've never been fond of Sarah Michelle Geller's Buffy since she had a tendency to lay it on a bit thick but she's almost subdued in this episode and attention is spread among other better actresses.

I have to mention the transformation of one of the dead toward the end of the episode as being among the creepiest things I've ever seen broadcast on television. I don't want to say anything about it since part of what makes it effective is the shock of the transition.

If Buffy the Vampire Slayer had maintained this quality through the entire last season then no one would have with complaints but as it stands "Conversations with Dead People" is one last hurrah for a series that had been worn out. I'd recommend watching episodes from season two and season three instead of this one if you want a sample of what made Buffy an entertaining series.