Friday, October 28, 2005

Smallville Spins Buffy

It's nearly Hallowe'en and I got to thinking about the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mainly I got to thinking about them after a show last night, but I'll get to that in a minute. It seems to me that most of the cast - who were supposedly doomed to not working ever again according to a lot of people - are particularly active on TV this season. Allison "Willow" Hannigan is co-starring in How I Met Your Mother. Nicholas "Xander" Brendon has a supporting role on Kitchen Confidential. Charisma "Cordy" Carpenter has a role on Veronica Mars as a horny trophy wife and will be doing at least one episode with Allison Hannigan at the end of November. David "Angel" Boreanaz is starring in Bones, and Anthony Stewart "Rupert Giles" Head is seen in the British series Little Britain as the Prime Minister. He'll also be doing a second season episode of the new Doctor Who next spring. And while Sarah Michelle Gellar is apparently too good for TV (she's got a lot of films in production or post-production) "Buffy's" husband Freddie Prinze Jr. is in the truly dreadful Freddy so that's sort of guilt by association. And then there's "Spike" but I'll get into that in a moment.

With Hallowe'en becoming increasingly important in terms of merchandising and sales (apparently it is second only to Christmas in terms of retail in the United States and Canada) the networks have jumped on the bandwagon and are producing Hallowe'en episodes as well as Christmas episodes. In fact Hallowe'en episodes are easier for most show than Christmas episodes because you can schedule them closer to the actual day - Christmas comes in the post-November sweeps dead period - although this year the only network showing new episodes this Monday is Fox and they aren't showing Kitchen Confidential but rather two hours of Prison Break, and that place is scary enough without a Hallowe'en episode. Buffy The Vampire Slayer didn't always do Hallowe'en episodes but when t hey did they were memorable. There was the one where Ethan Raine sold cursed costumes to most of the kids in Sunnydale which made them - including Buffy who dressed as an 18th century beauty - take on the characteristics of their costume and forget who they really were. Then there was the episode where the gang goes to a party at a frat house and have to confront a fear demon (although the best thing about that episode was Anya dressed in a bunny costume because she was told to dress as something that really frightened her). With Buffy long gone from the air, other shows have to pick up the slack in this fun scary type of episode. For the past two seasons it's been Smallville which has done a couple of fun TV parodies.

Last year, Smallville took advantage of an ongoing story line which featured Lana possessed by the spirit of a 17th century witch to take a poke at another WB series, Charmed, with Lana inserting the spirits of two other witches into the bodies of Lois and Chloe. This season, with James "Spike" Marsters as part of the cast, the target was obvious - vampires with a Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin, - with a few shots at Batman Begins thrown in for flavour. In the episode called Thirst Lana decides to pledge a sorority at Metropolis University, but of course it isn't just any sorority, it's the most exclusive one on campus, which only allows one girl in per year. That's because the Psi Psi Psi Sorority is made up of vampires. They think Lana is "special" enough to join, so they initiate her in the old fashioned Buffy way - they drink her blood and then she drinks some of theirs. This actually isn't surprising since the head of the sorority is none other than Buffy - Buffy Saunders that is. The character is played by Brooke Nevin, but her appearance and attitude in this episode bears a strong resemblance to Mercedes McNab's character "Harmony" in both Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. There are some fun scenes - in one, Chloe tried to stop Lana with a cross only to be told "That only works in the movies." In another, Professor Milton Fine (played by Marsters) tells Clark "There's no such thing as vampires." In and of itself it's not funny but said by "Spike" it's the sort of in joke that this sort of episode thrives on as is the line delivered at the end of the episode by Daily Planet Editor in Chief Pauline Kahn (played by Carrie Fisher and a tribute to former DC Comics Publisher Jeanette Kahn) about "Slaying Buffy the Vampire." Even the way in which Lana is cured - being "staked" through the heart but with a hypodermic full of antidote rather than a piece of wood - refers to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. In the final scenes Chloe mentions that the events of the story were so strange that her room mate moved out and she was able to move under the same roof with her best friend - Lana. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy's roommate moved out and she was able to live under the same roof with her best friend, Willow.

There are other interesting references as well. Going to the sorority costume party, Clark tells Chloe that he "hates costumes." Clark is dressed as Zorro, which might be seen as a reference to the new Columbia Pictures movie The Legend of Zorro but actually has a much deeper reference to Batman. Bob Kane once state that his creation of Batman was at least partially influenced by watching Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920 Mark of Zorro (Robin was supposedly inspired by another Fairbanks film - Robin Hood - while The Joker was inspired by Conrad Veidt's appearance in the film The Man Who Laughs). Moreover Clark makes a comment about not liking masks because they're hard to see out of - odd for someone who can see through things - while Batman is famous for not only wearing a cape but also a mask.

This was scarcely the best episode of Smallville this year let alone of all time, but I don't think it was nearly as bad as the hardcore fans fo the show seem to think it was (of course the hardcore fans all seem to hate most episodes of the show). Moreover I think it's exactly the sort of show that a series like Smallville should do if they're going to do a Hallowe'en episode. They can't do straight horror or suspense and if the fans were outraged with this I can only imagine how they'd feel about an episode which dealt with all the characters hanging out at a costume party. So what's left for them is satire and why not do a satire which goes after well known series which approach the form with tongue at least partially in cheek, like Buffy and Charmed? As for the performances, most of the actors seemed to be having fun with it and it gave Kristin Kreuk another chance to play "Evil Lana", a character who is more wanton and assertive and generally wickedly fun than the normal version of Lana. Wisely they restricted James Marsters primarily to the B storyline which focused on the current season long arc and only linking it to the main plotline as needed. Making him a major player in the main story could have destroyed the character's credibility by reminding us more of the actor's previous part and leaving us with that memory. It wasn't a truly great episode but I at least had fun with it.

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