azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 10:51pm on 23/12/2004 under
As far as I can tell, opinion is unanimous that Smile Time is the best episode of AtS5, though presumably there are dissenting voices out there somewhere. It's certainly my favourite, in spite of some stiff competition from Damage and TGiQ (though I'm aware that [livejournal.com profile] sistakaren is probably the only person who shares my enthusiasm for that last choice). Like my beloved OMWF, Smile Time is an episode whose subject matter is its own medium, it's a TV show about TV. And just as the climax of OMWF has Buffy singing and dancing for an audience, the climax of ST has Angel and Gunn fighting a battle on live TV, their vicious dispatch of the evil puppet demons being broadcast to the nation's (thankfully semi-conscious)children. But not only is ST satisfyingly self-reflexive, it's also packed with great moments - beginning with little Tommy leaning round his mother's body the better to keep watching his TV show - and it's hysterically funny. There are so many wonderful bits I'd be hard-pressed to choose my favourite - the fight between Puppet!Angel and Spike would be a strong contender, as would "Stupid plastic piece of crap", "bad Nina!", Angel taking a flying leap behind his desk when Nina comes in, the Power Walk, that horrifying moment when Polo puts his hand up Framkin's back, Fred and Wesley sharing coffee, Lorne threatening Framkin etc etc - except that there is one sequence that, for me, is head and shoulders above all the others. The bit of the episode I like best doesn't even have any of the regular characters in it. It's when the cute-looking, foul-mouthed puppets sit around the conference table, drinking whiskey out of mugs and discusssing their plan to drain the innocence out of their demographic (Ooh! How satirical!). No, seriously, I love it, I can recite all their lines off by heart and frequently have to be made to shut up, but there's one thing that I don't understand. Polo starts the conference off with the words "Okay, which one of you short bus bastards turned the CEO of Wolfram and Hart into a puppet?" What the hell is a short bus bastard? (okay, I know what a bastard is, but short bus? I somehow don't think the writers would have balked at saying "short ass bastards" if that was what they'd meant, so I'm guessing it's an Americanism that I've just never stumbled across before). Can anyone help me out with an explanation? I'd be hugely grateful.
azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 06:58pm on 29/05/2004 under
They grow not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not wither them, nor the years condemn.

- Rupert Brooke

I have quite a lot more to say about Not Fade Away, in particular about the themes of hope/despair and loyalty/betrayal, but I’m really short of time at the moment and this has turned into a really long analysis as it is. I’ll try to tackle the rest some time next week, when my life should be less busy.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 09:44pm on 17/05/2004 under
I have to apologise for this review, which is more a collection of observations than an analysis as such, but I’ve got so little time this week that I haven’t had a chance to organise my thoughts properly. However, given that there’s only one episode to go, it seemed a shame not make the effort to write at least something, so here goes.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 07:42pm on 09/05/2004 under
I wasn’t going to write about The Girl in Question because I had nothing to say about it, until a conversation with thedeadlyhook and toysdream crystallised some vague thoughts that had started to occur to me. Thanks guys! Of course, whether or not this is a good thing remains to be seen...

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posted by [personal profile] azdak at 09:24am on 03/05/2004 under
Angel 5x19 'Time Bomb'. Once again, it's all about power.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 02:47pm on 18/04/2004 under
Inordinately long grumblings about 'Underneath'.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 10:32am on 07/03/2004 under
Thoughts on Angel 5x16, 'Shells'.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 10:17am on 29/02/2004 under
In which I whinge about Angel 5x15, A Hole in the World.

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azdak: Face of Klimt's Music II (Default)
posted by [personal profile] azdak at 03:10pm on 22/02/2004 under
Heh. This was a great episode. For the first time I found myself getting in touch with friends and saying ‘You know how I’ve been saying all along that Angel isn’t as good as Buffy? I was wrong.’

It’s always a good sign when the really funny lines aren’t funny because they’re written to be witty but because of the context and the way they’re delivered. My absolute favourite was ‘Stupid plastic piece of crap!’, closely followed by ‘Pretty sure you don’t,’ and ‘Hey, it’s Smile Time!’ (the Kermit gape that followed was just perfect).

The opening sequence was beautifully shot (one of my biggest complaints about Angel is the directing). I loved Tommy tilting his head to see past his mother, and the way we never saw her face and until after he’d collapsed. How clearly can you say ‘Kid addicted to TV and no longer interacting with reality’? And then right after the credits Werewolf Girl walked through the door, and then in short succession Knox appeared and got the brush-off from Fred, and Gunn went to see the doctor about his upgrade. I got that feeling you get when your train’s been stuck in a station for ages and finally moves off and picks up speed – wow, plot progression. Rapid plot progression!

Of course, the whole thing was really damn funny. I have nothing to add on this front. The puppets were excellent. I liked the maths news, and I was seriously impressed at how Polo’s expression could be changed from innocent to evil just by pulling down his cap to the level of his eyebrows. Funniest of all was the Angel/Spike fight, which actually looked like a fight (nice cross-cutting). And for all that the whole sequence can’t have lasted above a minute and a half, it contained lots of layers. Spike’s immediate reaction is concern, and only then laughter. Angel’s fury at Spike is what makes him come out of the closet, paving the way for his apology to Nina (see, Spike is good for Angel, it doesn’t only work the other way round). Spike is still out doing good, even after the Lindsey debacle, and Angel’s lending him resources. It seems the boys have reached an accommodation with each other.

But what I liked best about the episode was that it was All About TV. Yup, it was self-reflexive, it was post-modern, it was meta-textual. All this and Muppet!Angel, too. What’s not to love?

I’m working on this really great song about the difference between analogy and metaphor.

One of the hallmarks of a truly great episode is that it is so tightly constructed that nothing is wasted. Grufus’s suggestion for a song works at the level of satire on children’s programmes like Sesame Street, with their overtly didactic content. But like the Self-Esteem Song, which is clearly intended to function as a comment on the Fang Gang’s own various inadequacies, it seems reasonable to suppose that the choice of subject matter reflects on some other aspect of the episode. So what is the metaphor and what is the analogy? Both seem pretty obvious – Angel is a puppet of Wolfram and Hart, or at least he’s afraid he is. His transformation into Muppet!Angel is an externalisation of his deepest fears. Framkin making a deal with demons to save his show when the ratings plummet, only to have them take over completely, is as obvious an analogy for the deal Joss Whedon struck with WB to save S5 as anyone could wish. But there’s more to the episode’s take on TV than ‘networks are run by demons’. The more interesting metaphor is concerned not with Muppet!Angel but the relationship between producers and consumers of television.

At one level, the episode is critical of unconstrained TV watching by children. It opens with a little boy absorbed in a kids’ programme (already absorbed at 7am). His mother doesn’t approve. She doesn’t want him ‘watching this crap’ all day, but there’s not a lot she can do about it. Tommy’s mother is evidently a single parent, she can’t afford to take time off work to look after her sick son, and since she’s not there, she can’t control what he watches. Tommy clearly isn’t listening to her anyway; he’s entirely focussed on the TV, tilting his head to see round her when she blocks his view (that shot was the moment when I knew this was going to be a good episode). Her voice rambles on in the background, unattended to by her son, and, significantly, we don’t see her face during this entire sequence. She’s much less important to Tommy than the puppet faces on screen. Only when he collapses into his coma do we finally get to see his mother's face. Hannah’s parents seem to be even more irresponsible about their daughter’s viewing. The child is seen sitting alone in her bedroom, happily glued to her very own TV, while the adults get on with their off-screen life. We don’t get to see Hannah’s mother at all, just hear her voice, as she calls out in annoyance to find out what’s making all the noise. Hannah’s answer, that it’s the TV, seems to satisfy her curiosity entirely – clearly she doesn’t actually care what’s going on, or what her daughter’s watching, and Hannah feels no urge to tell her about the distinctly frightening experience she’s just had. So far, so moralistic.

The metaphor backs up this moral stance. Here we have TV sucking the life force from children, stealing their innocence (innocence, it turns out, is a marketable commodity, properly used it can be transformed into a ‘nest egg’ for the people who make TV). Smile Time the puppet show is all about decent values – who could object to a programme about the importance of self-esteem, or the value of a good education? But the loveable stars of the programme are also foul-mouthed TV executives, who talk with breath-taking cynicism about ways to exploit ‘our demographic’, even if Grufus naively believes that ‘upholding standards in quality edutainment’ is a worthwhile goal in itself (he’s wrong, of course, and not just from Polo’s POV. I’m with Tommy’s mum, who dismisses the entirety of children’s TV as ‘this crap’).

The children, though, know nothing of the reality underlying their favourite programme. They don’t even realise that a TV puppet shouldn’t be able to talk to them directly. This failure to distinguish between TV and reality is a theme that runs throughout the episode. Children like Tommy, who can’t tell where the boundaries between a TV show and reality lie, cross over that border and end up in a coma, completely cut off from the real world, a fake smile plastered immovably over their faces (just like the puppets). Getting too caught up in a TV programme is clearly dangerous.

The audience, however, is not a bunch of kids; surely we can be trusted not to make the same mistake? We are the ones who are shown the utterly unglamorous reality of the Smile Time studio lot, with its cramped, dirty corridors and zombie-like staff (Framkin may be a rags to riches fairy tale, but the business end isn’t wasting any of that gold on fripperies). We aren’t children, we can tell the difference. But it’s more complex than that. In the climactic fight, brutal violent reality invades the sanitised TV world (and it really is brutal and violent. If we’d seen people rather than puppets being killed like that, it would have been horrific – just the sort of thing concerned parents complain about). The audience of children is ironically already too out of things to notice that two realities are intersecting on their screens, with a strange new puppet and a human man slaughtering their Smile Time friends. However, what the viewers see are not two realities. Gunn and Angel are no more real than Polo and his gang. What we see is a TV show invading another TV show (a show which has no existence outside the show that is invading it); the puppets who are ‘really’ demons are in fact really only puppets; manpire Angel is no more real than Muppet!Angel. The fact that Angel remains a puppet at the end underlines this, as does the ironic use of the self-esteem song to accompany Fred and Wesley’s kiss (‘The curtains close on a kiss’ – Joss really does love his metatextual commentary).

So we have a TV show deconstructing the process of producing and comsuming TV, ending with an ironic reminder that the events of show itself are no more real than the events of the fictional TV show with which it appears to contrast. Given the news that Angel won't be renewed, this is a timely reminder that, after all, it's just a show.

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