A Look Back at BtVS ‘Family’

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: 5.06 “Family”

Today’s my birthday. So it only seems natural to avoid writing about the things I really need to (BunheadsDrop Dead Diva) and write about someone else’s birthday. How about the 20th birthday of Tara McClay?

I’ve written about this episode before. But this time, on this day of days when you can think about how you’ve grown up, it only really makes sense to look at how this episode really shows off Tara in all her glory (pardon the Season 5 pun).

When we first met Tara, there wasn’t much to write home about. She was hunched over, quiet, and tended to stick to the shadows. Wallflower isn’t exactly the right word, since I think the Tara of Season 4 would probably prefer to be in another room than sticking to the wall. She was unsure of herself and lacked confidence — so much so that most words out of her mouth came out with a signature stutter. In fact, quite frankly, I didn’t really think much about her.

But throughout Season 4, she became one of the gang. She had a more prominent role, we got to really learn who she was, and before our unseeing eyes, she began to grow in confidence and develop.

Why do I say unseeing? Well, let’s look at “Family.” The Tara at the beginning of the episode is the one we’re used to. There’s no change here. She’s happy and comfortable with Willow. She’s good with the group (though perhaps not completely one of the gang yet). But we don’t really think of that odd character of Season 4 beginnings. We see the character we know.

In fact, we forget about what she used to be with her made-up face and pretty hair until her family arrives. Once she sees them, the stutter is back. She starts to shrink down to what she used to be. And suddenly, we the viewers realize what having the Scoobies around — particularly Willow — has done for Tara. She really grew into a new woman.

We all know the rest of the story (and if you haven’t, I suggest reading my previous post — or even better, watch the episode), and there’s even more to be said about Tara later this season and into the next. But this episode really reveals what just a year with the Scooby gang did for this girl, and it is just so interesting to see how we may not have seen it. We’re used to getting to know someone and starting to like them as they enter a series (Dawn may be an exception). But I just love the subtle way that Tara became the strong, confident Tara, and the great way that growth is revealed on her 20th birthday.

Thursday Open Thread: Buffy or Angel?

It’s summertime, which means coming up with some good open threads (and remembering to put them up) is going to be tough. In fact, if you have any ideas, be sure to let me know. But for today, let’s go with an oldie but goody, a question that I constantly debate in my own mind:

Which series was better: Buffy or Angel?

Yep, it’s a Whedon faceoff, and it’s a tough question. One the one side, there’s always that argument that spinoffs are never as good as the series that proceeded them. And Buffy had some fantastic, iconic episodes — “The Body.” “Hush,” and “Once More with Feeling,” for example.

But then again, Angel had incredible ongoing story arcs and really took the show into a darker place (that, too, could be argued, given season six of Buffy). And hey, can you really argue with a show that turned its own leading man into a puppet?

Honestly, they’re both two of my favorite series, and when I debate this on my own, my answer changes every time. So which is your pick? Which series was better? Let me know in the comments!

Christmas Challege: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: 3.10 “Amends”

You didn’t actually think I’d do this Christmas Challenge without Buffy, did you? I mean, out of all the Whedon series, I think Buffy is the only one with a Christmas episode (or was there a random Christmas party in an episode of Angel that I’m forgetting?). “Amends” is a rare gem, and I love watching it every year.

To be honest, the plot’s kind-of boring after you see it over and over. Angel is being tormented by what he thinks are the ghosts of his past kills. They taunt him over and over to kill the Slayer, to give into his evil. Angel is feeling beaten and guilty, and finally decides that he should give up and leave himself to die.

Meanwhile, the Scoobies discover that these aren’t real ghosts (and Angel’s not really going crazy). The First is here to make sure Angel works with whatever plan he has in store. First and foremost, that’s killing the Slayer. But hey, if Angel just dies, I guess that can work, too.

The flashbacks don’t really do it for me anymore, but I really just watch this episode for the ending. Buffy and Angel stand on a hill overlooking Sunnydale, and Angel gives a speech about the little kids that are sneaking out of their beds on Christmas morning to see what they got. Getting up before the sunrise. The same sunrise that will kill him. Buffy argues with him, and they briefly fight. It’s too hard to be a monster, and the thing that needs killing is the man inside. What does Angel have to live for?

Well, what about Buffy? She killed him and it didn’t even help. And if he wants to kill himself, then do it, but don’t let him think that it’s showing his strength and don’t expect her to watch —

And then it snows.

Ok, I seriously tear up every time this happens. Last night I was barely watching the episode, doing a little online shopping at the same time, and even at that moment, I looked up and saw that snowfall, I was instantly brought back to that moment when I first saw it. The world was telling Angel that he can’t die. There would be no sun today.

It’s just a beautiful scene, and for a place like Sunnydale that never gets snow and where everyone was complaining about the heat, it just emphasized that a higher power somewhere was watching out for Angel that Christmas Eve night.

Recommendation: Of course. Of course. And yes, of course.

Three Buffy Episodes to Watch This Halloween

I have a tradition. I think from the headline you can tell what my tradition just might be.

You can’t get through Halloween without watching some of my favorite vampire series. Yep, that’s Buffy. And while there are tons of fantastic episodes you could watch every Halloween between Buffy and it’s Tuesday night lover Angel, I always tend to lean toward these three favorites. Check them out (with my reasons and promos) below.

1. Fear Itself

I have no idea if this is a real promo or one developed by a fan (probably the latter), but it gives you the gist of Buffy’s  Halloween-themed episode from season four. Start your mini-marathon off with a laugh with this great episode. Giles is desperate to be traditional, while Anya is just…Anya. We’ve got Oz as God, and Xander as insecure (ok, so maybe that wasn’t his costume). Anyway, the episode does a great job balancing some humorous moments with hauntings and death, so it’s a good one to watch on Halloween.

2. Hush

You’re gonna die a’screamin’ but you won’t be heard. This episode is still my best contender in the list of “Best Buffy Episodes Ever,” and it’s just perfect for Halloween. The majority of the episode is unspoken, and the creepy music just adds to the suspense. Watch it with no lights on and see when you jump — even when you know what’s coming your way. Definitely a nightmarish premise and one you can’t miss out on this Halloween.

3. Conversation with Dead People

Finally, possibly one of the creepiest episodes. At least in my book. Sure, the Buffy storyline is weak in this one, but the rest more than make up for it. This is really one of the few episodes that really make me feel for Dawn, and if you can make it through her story without getting shivers down your spine, you’re better than me. Plus, add in Willow’s desperate pleas for Tara during her conversation with her own ghost, and well… Let’s just say this is a good one to cap off your ghostly evening.

So what did I miss? What other episodes would you recommend? It doesn’t need to be Halloween-themed, but any other suggestions for the mini-marathon are welcome.

Muah-ah-ah-ah!!!

Does TV Deserve Actor Loyalty? Do Fans?

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’ve been keeping track of the next — and final — season of One Tree Hill. The series thought last season would be its last (and the finale was certainly set up that way), and the upcoming season is only getting thirteen episodes. They’ve made it clear: This will be its final season.

So much like last season, with Brooke’s wedding, we wonder if fan favorites Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton, who played Lucas and Peyton respectively, will make a final appearance. With Brooke’s wedding, it was a no-go. Well, in the newest of news, Murray has officially signed on to make one more appearance with the show. The word’s still out on Burton, but according to one source, it probably won’t happen.

This really isn’t much of a surprise for me, at least in Burton’s case. Murray didn’t exactly leave the show on great terms, but he’s got nothing going on in his career right now (well, nothing of note, as far as I know). Burton, however, has a child and a bright and shiny role on White Collar. So at least in this TV viewer and reviewer’s head, it means it’s probably harder to get her lined up in an already busy schedule.

But that doesn’t mean the show or the fans won’t hurt for it. Despite the reports that Burton wouldn’t return last season, I still expected her to make a surprise appearance at Brooke’s wedding. Think Jessie at the wedding of Zack and Kelly in Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas. I guess I can understand, but the fan side of me was ultimately disappointed.

So does a show deserve actor loyalty? Commitment to a character that you’ve portrayed for years and years would certainly make you think that someone would have a connection and commitment to see that the character and world at which she lives would get a fair sendoff. But there is one thing we forget sometimes: Acting is a job. True, some jobs may hold a larger connection than others, but it is a job. Should someone rearrange their schedule and do what they can to reappear in a show that they’ve already signed off on? Well, it sounds cold and heartless, but it really all depends. Money, time, role. Sorry, but it’s a business.

But what about the fans? I remember reading an article with Amber Benson (Tara, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) shortly after the seventh season episode “Conversations with Dead People” aired. In case you’re not familiar with the episode, a large chunk involves a recently deceased girl trying to convince Willow to kill herself. Originally, they sought out Benson for the role to reprise Tara, and part of the reason she didn’t appear was because she thought it would be too much for the fans to see Tara as bad. It would destroy the character of Tara to see that she was trying to convince her love to kill herself.

Is it the same? Well, in some way, it is. It’s that loyalty of the fanbase that really took part in the decision. The pendulum could easily swing the other way. Perhaps it was that dedication to the fans that would bring you back to a show for an appearance or two.

Whether that’s really the reason bring Murray back (I doubt it), I don’t know. I doubt many actors make their casting decisions solely for the fans, but it’s nice to know the occasional person does. But either way, the question of loyalty does make you wonder where you should fall on that blurred line between business and personal connection.

For me, well, I don’t blame Burton. She’s a busy girl with a brand-new life, and we waved good-bye to her already. If her appearance would just be for the big finale, perhaps it wouldn’t have been worth it. Would it have made Brooke’s wedding better to have her there? Possibly. But that’s in the past. We’re talking a finale here. No real plot purpose. For the most part, just to get a big splash in publicity. At least, that’s my guess, based on what other shows have done in the past.

So what do you think? Do TV shows deserve loyalty — even after someone has left a show? Does the legacy of character mean anything? And what about the fans? Do their memories and impressions of a character deserve consideration?

A Back-to-School Open Thread

I can tell by all the new Facebook photos of kiddies in backpacks and statuses groaning about grad school that it’s back-to-school time. Of course, the numerous commercials promoting markers, crayons, and glitter — lots of glitter — gave it away, too. So in the spirit of scholarly wisdom, let’s talk TV.

What’s your favorite campus-based series?

There are so many options here. My first thought, of course, was Saved by the Bell. After all, by the time I get my books and I give myself a look, I’m at the corner just in time to watch the bus fly by. When your theme song chats buses, school bells, and general tardiness, it’s all about the high school. Plus, you’ve got cheerleaders, lockers, and one Zack Morris speaking to the camera.

But you know, there is another favorite — one of my all-time TV shows. Hello, can we get a Buf-fay? That’s right. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, in fact, a story about high school (then college). Definitely a keeper.

Finally, let’s give a hand for Gilmore Girls. The whole series is built on the premise of Rory going to Chilton. Definitely quality.

So I’ve run the gamut. From directly high school to premises to the background for demon slaying. So what’s your favorite? Can I get a rah rah rah for your favorite campus-based TV show?

Oh, Saved by the Bell. If only I could find the Tiger cheer. But hey, if you want more cheerleading, check this out from Buffy (the movie).

Moment of the Week: The Buffy Musical Gets Remixed (well, kinda)

Remember a few months ago when Amber Benson tweet-chatted me about Cat’s Claw? Well, she continues to be awesome, and she shared on her blog that if 200 people read and reviewed her book on Amazon, she’d offer up a spoof of her famous solo from the Buffy musical, “Under Your Spell.”

Well, guess what? 200 of you were asked and answered, and now, Amber has to pay up.

And so she did. This week’s moment is devoted to Amber’s remix (and slightly terrifying but also catchy) new version of “Under Your Spell.” Check out her post with her new version on her blog or just click her lovely picture below.

Don’t know the song. Well, first, check out the Buffy musical. Don’t have a full hour? Well, here’s the song (with much lower quality) on YouTube.

*image from Yahoo! TV

Why the ‘Vampire Diaries’ Finale Didn’t Impress

Like many other Vampire Diaries fans out there, I watched the season finale on Thursday, itching to find out what big cliffhanger they’d leave us with this season. I haven’t been the biggest fan of the storylines this season — honestly, Klause bugged me (we’ll get to that) — but I do like the show and Damon was near death, so I had to see what they’d come up with.

After watching the episode, I can’t say I was impressed. I believe I had one OMG moment, but ultimately, the episode just felt kinda blah. Perhaps my expectations were too high, I don’t know. That’s why I gave myself the weekend to think it over, instead of hopping on the blog immediately to squash any fan excitement.

Well, it’s been a few days, and I must say, my opinion hasn’t changed. In fact, the episode has become more blah than ever in my mind. The one redeeming moment (Elena and Damon’s intimate deathbed moment and kiss) is a mere blurry recollection in my mind, and Jeremy’s OMG moment as he’s followed by Vicki and runs into Anna just feels…well…used. Let me explain.

Let’s start with Stefan. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, I compare Stefan to a piece of wood. He generally is. He’s a one-dimensional, boring guy. Yes, I realize packs of livid TVD fans are headed my way with pitchforks right now, but that’s my opinion. The man has no depth. I mean, you kind-of missed how absolutely one-dimensional he was in the first season, since we had Jeremy and Tyler sopping up the suck sauce in that season. But then, suddenly, this season, they became entertaining. They became interesting. And they got jacked. So because of these three things, suddenly, storylines started popping up around them. I mean, Jeremy was the one killed (so to speak) both in the premiere and the finale of this season! Goodness!

And in the shadow of all these crazy developments is Stefan, a boring piece of wood that made no change. So when Stefan is forced to become the evil man that Klaus wants him to, I basically say, “Here, here! Take him out of Mystic Falls, and don’t let him ever come back!” Somehow, I doubt the writers will here my plea.

Speaking of Klaus, he, too, is an incredibly boring villain. There’s a big risk in a show creating a villain without showing who he is. The majority of the season, we were supposed to be frightened of an invisible baddie. The stories and threats alone were supposed to make us shake in our Thursday night slippers, but when he appeared, he wasn’t nearly as threatening as I’d hoped. So what? He was able to force Katherine to stay in an apartment. Yes, gruesome, gruesome individual. The storyline really didn’t pull me forward, so having Stefan go back to him in the finale was just rather boring. With two characters I don’t care about, don’t give me so much time invested in them in the finale.

And should I even mention that Damon’s cure was predictable? When you have a werewolf/vampire breed, would it not be obvious to realize perhaps he might know something about surviving a wolf bite?

[Read more after the jump!] Continue reading

Thursday Open Thread: Standout Season Finales

We’re coming up on the end of the seasons for many of our shows, and while I’d love to dwell on how these shows might end this year, I’m much more inclined to think about how some of our favorite shows have ended in seasons past. Can this year really match up?

Name some standout season finales from past seasons of TV.

These can be shows that are long gone or ones still on the air, but they’ve got to be ones that stand out in your mind as something great. Something that kept you on the edge of your seat for the entire summer. Something that shows these days might just have trouble living up to.

Of course, the first show that comes to mind is Buffy, which had some spectacular season enders. I’m thinking season 2, season 5, season 6 (oh, season 6!). And even though season 3 wasn’t a cliffhanger, it still stands out as one of my favorite eps of the season. Season 2, with “Becoming,” might be the one that stands out the most, though. Sadly, I wasn’t an avid Buffy watcher at the time, so I didn’t see it live. I can’t imagine what people thought after that episode.

Angel, too, had some goodies. Though, really, the one that stands out the most is when the team returns from Lorne’s home dimension, all happy and giddy, only to find Willow in the hotel waiting to tell Angel about Buffy’s death. There was nothing said, but it still gave chills that reached through the entire summer.

As for other shows beyond the Whedonverse, what about One Tree Hill? OTH has always had some killer endings (yes, really, killer), and the one that stands out the most to me was clearly when the wedding limo goes flying off the edge of the bridge, and Nathan jumps in after it, leaving a screaming and sobbing Haley on the side of the bridge, still in her wedding gown. But does that compete with the complete shock of having Clay and Quinn shot in their own home after such a happy trip to Utah last year? You tell me.

Well, spill yours, or just jump on my bandwagon and share more about the shows I’ve mentioned above. And while you think, why not watch the OTH limo crash I mentioned before. Sure, I would love to post the end of “Becoming,” but I can’t quite find it on YouTube.

Plus, I’m not sure I could handle that kind of emotion in the middle of the day.

Every time I watch this clip, I’m reminded I’m supposed to care about Peyton. Oops.

Tweet-sclusive! Five Questions with Amber Benson

Twitter is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It puts us up close and personal with our favorite stars without making them uncomfortable by literally being up close and personal. I follow a good handful of my favorite TV people, one of which being the delightful Amber Benson.

Amber, most known for her role as Tara in Buffy, has since had a very active life — on and off the screen. I was lucky enough to meet her a couple years ago when her first book in the Calliope Reaper-Jones series came out. Well, she’s on to her third book in the series, Serpent’s Storm, which was just published last month. I thought I’d reach out and ask her a few things about her new role as an author — including whether we’d see Calliope herself on screen some day — in Raked’s first Tweet-sclusive.

So check it out below. Five questions tweeted her way with her five answers. I was nice and didn’t demand her answers be under 140 characters, but she did a pretty darn good job of keeping them short and sweet nonetheless.

*****

Congrats on Serpent’s Storm! As the third book in the series, what about Calliope’s world makes you keep writing about it?

I just love writing a series where anything is possible — and where all religions and philosophies coexist together.  That’s what fun about writing in Callie’s world, everyone — kind of — gets along.

Out of the 3 in the series which was the hardest (or easiest) to write? Was there added pressure, seeing it as a series?

The third book, Serpent’s Storm, was probably the hardest book to write — there was a lot of tying up of plot ends in this story.  The second book, Cat’s Claw, was easiest.  It just wrote itself — I think it was all the time jumping — I credit that with making the book so fun to write.  Of course there was added pressure doing this story as a series — it still frightens me, especially because I’m doing book 4 now!

Your work crosses all media — movies, TV, bks. Think we’ll see Calliope on screen some day? Who could you see playing her?

I would love to see Death’s Daughter as a TV show — I always think of Zooey Deschanel when I think of Callie.

What else do you have going on? What other projects or appearances should fans keep an eye out for on the horizon?

Well, DRONES, the film I did with Adam Busch, is come out on DVD in the next few months – it’s On DEMAND now — and the paperback edition of AMONG THE GHOSTS, my middle grade book, comes out in September.

Finally, (since this is a Twitter-sclusive, after all), how’s it feel to be so close to your fans on Twitter?

I love being able to find out peeps thoughts in real time — I wish all these social media outlets had been around when we were doing BUFFY!

*****

Don’t forget to check out Amber’s book Serpent’s Storm, out now. And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check her out on Twitter: @amber_benson. And many thanks to Amber for being our first Tweet-sclusive!

*images from Yahoo! TV and, well, Amber’s Twitter feed