Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saint Joss: Amy Pascale's Biography of Joss Whedon

James Marsters & Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"TV is a question, movies are an answer."
– Joss Whedon, from Joss Whedon: The Biography

Amy Pascale's biography of Joss Whedon, published as Joss Whedon: The Biography (Chicago Review Press, 2014) in North America, has a far less urbane, and in fact more honest, title in the UK: Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe. Pascale unapologetically approaches her subject from an initial position of awe, and the book often verges on the hagiographic. It is comprehensive: the book traces his early years, the impact of his mother and college professors, his long relationship with Kai Cole (his now-wife), along with the many frustrating false starts to his career as a screenwriter and script doctor in the 90s, through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, Dr. Horrible and The Avengers, up to this fall's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.DVery little, in fact, of his IMDB page doesn't make the cut, along with innumerable ventures (like his famously dropped Wonder Woman project) which never saw the light of day – more than enough to quiet any criticisms from those who may feel a person that is just barely 50, and whose career is far from over, is deserving of an almost 400-page biography. There is a lot to tell and Pascale tells it – unfortunately at the expense of the man himself, who often gets lost among the details and anecdotes Pascale collects about his many beloved projects.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Old Country: Starz' Outlander

Caitriona Balfe stars in Outlander on Starz.

Last night, Starz – the cable network most famous for Spartacus (though in my opinion should still be best known for Party Down) – broadcast the first episode of Outlander, and fans of the network were in for a bit of a surprise. Based on Diane Gabaldon's best-selling book series (the first book was published in 1991 and the most recent, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, came out just this past June), the first hour of Outlander sets the stage for a cross-genre epic: historical drama, time travel/fantasy, with a heady dose of romance. Set primarily in 18th century Scotland (and filmed on location), Outlander has already exhibited something recent ambitious television rarely offers: patient storytelling. Though it may come with some 21st century sensibilities regarding violence and sex, the tone of the show feels like a refreshing trip back in time for the viewer – ethereal music, lush scenery, longer scenes, and a comfortable pace that makes the series novelistic in more than its origins. Set for a sixteen-episode first season (with eight episodes airing now through mid-September and the remainder scheduled for 2015), that sober, languishing pace that is currently its most interesting feature may turn out to be its greatest weakness. Still, its first hour is well worth your time, especially if you are still recovering from Game of Thrones' fourth season.