Absolutely everybody on the planet saw Joss Whedon's The Avengers a few times — but still, many of our fellow humans have yet to delve into the Whedon back catalog. Possibly even including you. With Whedon filming the pilot for his new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show right now, this is the perfect time to immerse yourself in the Whedon canon. Except that many people find that the full-on Joss is not their cup of tea, sometimes for reasons that are totally valid.
But sometimes, people are scared away from delving into Buffy, Firefly and the rest by a set of pernicious myths. Here are seven Joss Whedon myths that could be scaring you away for no good reason.
Top image: Tom Trager.
There's a widespread perception that Joss Whedon's work is all full of super cute people doing super cute things, and holding hands and wearing knitted hats and overalls. And as those of us who've delved into his ouevre know, he actually goes to some pretty dark places and explores some pretty intense themes, including sex, drugs and death. We've had to convince our friends and roommates in the past that Whedon isn't all fluffy bunnies — he gets pretty serious and heavy.
Compared to George R.R. Martin, Whedon is a wuss about killing off leading characters. Especially once you take away deaths in series finales — when you're supposed to off a few characters — Whedon starts looking downright restrained. There are a handful of surprising deaths the 12 collective seasons of Buffy and Angel, and none in Firefly. In Dollhouse, it's all just the series finale. In the two movies Whedon directed, there were deaths, sure, but that's the movies. Don't expect to see Buffy die at the end of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or anything. (Well, okay. But you know what I mean.)
Like the Spice Girls, sort of. Cute girls kicking ass while being cute. You can definitely question whether Whedon's work is feminist — see this discussion over at The Mary Sue — but the good news is, his female characters have come in some different shades than just "the cute ass-kicker." For example, there's the tough, no-nonsense Zoe on Firefly, or the icy, calculating Adelle in Dollhouse. In fact, Avengers does a pretty decent job of giving its one female character, Black Widow, some facets and making her main superpower her wits. And the much-maligned Dollhouse does set out to interrogate the "cute ass-kicker" trope, including the notion that this character is usually controlled by men, while asking some complicated questions about identity and complicity.
There are definitely some depictions of mental illness in Whedon's television work, including both men and women having emotional and psychological problems — but he's known for a few really intense depictions of mental instability among women. Notably River Tam in Firefly, but also Willow's "drug addict" phase on Buffy and arguably the results of the "brain hacking" on Dollhouse. But as mentioned above, Whedon also has lots of other memorable female characters — and his depictions of mental illness among women aren't usually static. He usually shows people going through a bad phase and then coming out of it again, and Dollhouse was very much about Echo claiming her personhood and becoming a more-or-less integrated person with agency.
Whedon is definitely known for the quotability of the dialogue, and the rhythms of the bantering and stuff. In particular, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became famous for the quippy teen dialogue with slang that seemed to come out of the language centers of Whedon's own brain. And yet, Whedon does pretty well at giving characters their own voices, and an hour of most of his shows isn't just non-stop quips or anything. Especially his later works, like Firefly or Dollhouse, deliberately pack in a number of characters with different viewpoints and ways of speaking, so that it's not all banter all the time.
People talk about the "Whedonverse," but there's no such thing — not as a coherent universe, in any case. Buffy and Angel take place in the same universe, along with Fray and various Buffy spin-offs. But other than that, everything he's worked on or created has been in a separate universe, with no crossovers whatsoever. He does tend to reuse some of the same actors a fair bit, though. Image via Fashionably Geek.
Joss Whedon has definitely had some TV shows cancelled prematurely. By Hollywood standards, his record is... decent. Not great, not terrible, I'd guess. Buffy lasted a full seven seasons. Angel lasted five, and if it were on The CW now, it would probably continue forever. (Look at Supernatural!) Dollhouse had a pretty good run, for a Fox show that's not Fringe. If you include all of Whedon's movies that he wrote but didn't direct, he's got a very decent track record on the big screen. Plus, of course, going forward there's less reason to be terrified that there's some kind of "Whedon Curse," since he's now the director of one of the biggest movies ever, and under the auspices of the House of Ideas for the next five years.
What are your favorite Whedon myths? And how do you refute them?
Thanks to Meredith and Annalee for the input!