A Beginner’s Guide to Joss Whedon

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So you just got out of The Avengers, you had a blast, and you want more, but you don’t have the cash for another exorbitantly overpriced trip to the theater? Lucky for you, there’s plenty of Jossy goodness to be found in his TV back-catalogue. First of all, welcome to the party! Some of us have been following Whedon since the ‘90s, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to TV on the brand spanking new WB network. Others jumped in with Firefly or Serenity or perhaps Dollhouse. We’re a friendly lot and we love breaking down the Whedonverse with new fans. There are several different jumping in points for those looking to explore Whedon’s work, and this is far from a complete list of his work, TV or otherwise, but the suggestions below should be enough to get most curious viewers started.

For the completists: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1 or 2

An easy place to start is at the beginning. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most influential TV shows ever made. Its season arc structure is now common, particularly for genre series, and observant viewers will enjoy watching Whedon hone his voice and gain confidence. The series takes much of its shortened first season and the beginning of its second season to find its feet, but once it gets going, it’s utterly engrossing, and even the early hit-and-miss episodes have great moments and memorable dialogue. If you have the patience to see, and interest in seeing, it all, this is the place to start.

For the noir fans: Angel, Season 1 or 2

After Buffy’s third season, the WB greenlit a spinoff centered around Angel that took the character from Sunnydale to LA.  The geographic move is indicative of the series’ change in tone. Where Buffy centers on female empowerment and (usually) features a quippy, bubbly atmosphere, Angel explores existentialism and is much darker, both visually and thematically. The series takes a few episodes to find its feet, but does so quicker than Buffy. The early seasons feature a small group dynamic, but over the course of the series, this expands, fitting into the common Whedon theme of self-selecting family. If you like philosophy and soul-searching with your fantasy, this is the place to start.

For the time-crunched: Firefly

Unfortunately, Firefly is a convenient place to start for those without the time for Buffy or Angel. It’s unfortunate because, though Firefly is an exciting, genre-blending series, it only lasted one shortened season. Peopled with a surprising, lovable crew and set in a unique, fully fleshed-out future, Firefly, and its feature film follow up, Serenity, marry the constructed family dynamic of Whedon’s previous series with a rollicking sense of adventure and fun. Fans of the western will see the main cast as deconstructions of familiar character types while sci-fi fans will see a crew of space smugglers eking out a living. If you’re limited on time and don’t mind getting attached to a series that ended far too soon, this is the place to start.

For the meta fans: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

During the ’07-’08 WGA strike, Whedon and a lot of other talented people had a lot of time on their hands. So they made Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Filled with meta commentary about the strike, the internet, and fickle fandom, this short, written and produced on a shoestring budget (as far as traditional musicals go), is the closest thing fans will likely ever get to Whedon being able to just play. Produced with little to no promise of income, and as more of an experiment than anything else, Whedon and his collaborators had complete creative control over the project and their excitement at and appreciation of this comes through. If you’re interested in seeing Whedon uncensored, this is the place to start.

For Avenger-holics: Astonishing X-Men (Issues 1-24)

Yes, this doesn’t quite fit as it’s a comic instead of television, but no list of Whedon works to check out post-Avengers would be complete without a mention of his ’04-’08 run on Astonishing X-Men. It’s action-packed, exciting, and filled with Whedon’s trademark wit. As a lifelong X-Men fan, Whedon has a strong relationship with the characters, which he drew upon to give the run a sense of history, despite its inevitable role as a reboot. Hardcore comic fans will undoubtedly be split on Whedon’s take, and some may issue with how “Whedony” the dialogue is, but it’s certainly worth checking out. If you’re looking for another hit of Whedon-penned Marvel, this is the place to start.

What’s your favorite Joss Whedon project? How did you come across his work? What would you like to see him do next? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

2 Comments
  1. Ursula (Germany) says

    When “Buffy” started on German television, I thought it was another show for teenagers and wasn’t interested. But then somehow I stumbled across the episode in Season 2 when Angelus killed Jenny – and I was hooked. It’s definitely the series I’ve watched most often, and I’m even trying to make some of my students become interested in it (I succeeded at least once! ;-)). I did also enjoy “Angel” (even though I’m still a bit mad at Joss for its ending) and loved “Firefly”, but “Buffy” is my all-time favorite TV series. “Dollhouse” was interesting but didn’t quite touch me as much as the other series.

  2. Dan Heaton says

    Kate, this is a tough choice, but I have to go with Firefly as my favorite Joss Whedon project. Buffy is close, especially during its amazing run in Seasons 2-3 and then again in Season 5. I also love Dr. Horrible. I came across Whedon through Firefly, so that probably plays a role in why it’s my favorite. I also liked Dollhouse even if it was inconsistent and had a tough start. I still have three seasons left of Angel, so the jury’s still out on where it fits.

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