Week 5 – Cult TV

In the opening section of their book which discussed the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wilcox & Lavery (2002) set out to see how well the show fared against a set of attributes media scholar Robert Thompson felt were exhibited by “quality television”. For this blog post, I will be applying some of these attributes to HBO’s Baltimore set drama The Wire.

The first attribute discussed was one which related to the pedigree of a show’s creator. Wilcox & Lavery (2002) noted that while Joss Whedon’s work prior to the development of Buffy consisted mostly of being a sort of doctor for film screenplays. His pedigree comes from being part of a lineage of television writers who contributed to a number of popular shows of the 20th century. In the case of The Wire though, its creator’s pedigree arguably comes from their past work and experience. Prior to The Wire, David Simon (the show’s creator) was a crime journalist at The Baltimore Sun for over 13 years. During which he released his first novel titled Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Which went on to win an Edgar Award and was eventually adapted into an award-winning television series that lasted for over seven seasons on NBC (Britannica, 2019).

The second attribute discussed referred to the ongoing struggle of a show’s viability in the eyes of its broadcaster. Whilst critically acclaimed throughout its run, the amount of people who actually tuned in to watch The Wire could be described as middling, especially when compared with the viewership of other HBO shows of the time. With Simon citing a myriad of factors for its low ratings such as the show’s timeslot, or its heavy use of regional dialects and urban terminology that would have alienated some viewers.

The presence of an ensemble cast is also noted as being another attribute of quality television. The Wire featured an expansive cast of actors that included the likes of Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan and Lance Reddick. Who alongside their fellow cast members played roles ranging from police officers and gang members/criminals which are common place in crime drama and police procedurals, to anything from local politicians and dock employees.  Each of these characters are integral in helping accurately portray the various facets of Baltimore life the show attempted to explore. Which in itself lead to the show feeling like a blend of multiple genres at times. Which in itself is another defining aspect of “quality television” (Wilcox & Lavery, 2002). With scenes involving mayoral candidates and state senators giving the show the kind of overtly political undertones you’d expect from something created by the likes of Aaron Sorkin, and interactions between gang members and police giving The Wire its crime drama feel.

Lastly, there is memory. As noted in Wilcox & Lavery (2002), Whedon expressed disappointment over shows such as the X-Files whose characters seemingly forgot interactions or events in prior episodes. Both the characters of The Wire and the show itself however retain memories of past events. And use them to propel story arcs forward. Whether they be the death of recurring characters or a violent altercation. A prime example is the character of Omar Little, the show’s recurring stick up (a form of robbery) artist who enters a seemingly endless cycle of revenge and violence with the show’s focal gangs due to the death of a love interest.

If there is another characteristic to be added to this list. I would say that whether a show is discussed long after its run could be used as a defining characteristic of “quality television”. Something which Buffy fits the criteria for given talk about reboots or its use in a certain course at an Auckland based university. Or in the case of The Wire, its moniker of sometimes being referred to as the “best tv show ever” even to this day.

References

Augustyn, A. (2019). David Simon. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Simon

Wilcox, R., & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction. In Fighting the forces: What’s at stake in buffy the vampire slayer (pp. 3-9). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

 

Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining characteristics of ‘quality TV’ – can you apply any of these to other television series that you have viewed recently? Are there any other characteristics that you could add to their list?

A tv series is given the tag “cult” by media and network execs when a show is seen to be either ‘edgy’ or ‘offbeat; when they appeal to nostalgia or is considered emblematic of a particular subculture. According to these criteria, almost any television series can be described as cult. Whether a show is a ‘quality’ show is a different question as to whether a person ‘likes’ a show

The nine qualities that make up “quality” tv are as follows:

1) Is the show historical, displaying or becoming part of the national culture?

2) Is the show well written, well acted, and so on?

3) Does the show display high production standards?

4) Is the show popular and/or durable?

5) Does the show appeal to a diverse range of audiences?

6) Does the show educate the audience in some way?

7) Does the show feature a technological edge?

8) Does the show represent minorities, human rights, and other social elements?

9) Does the show serve a specific market niche?

as a television show grows it’s fanbase grows with it. through the use of social media and fans artistic personal approaches to the show; the initial idea of the show itself changes to accomidate this. Joss Whedon began his idea of Buffy the vampire slayer as a reverse horror basically turning gender sterotypes in horror on its head so that instead of the damsel in distress, Buffy is in the “traditioanlly Male” role of the strong hero of the story. though apparently the name “buffy” actually means a lightweight girl; keeping her somewhat in a stereotypical role as a woman. Buffy is a stereotype in other ways however. though she fights against typical gender roles; when she fights she is wearing clothing made to show her figure and she has blond hair.

Reference:

Cult Television.  Sara Gwenllian-Jones. 2004  Book Published by: University of Minnesota Press

http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/blogs/on-the-box/5562830/What-makes-a-quality-television-show

Click to access Wilcox%20and%20Lavery%202002.pdf

What role does Hills (2004) suggest fans play in the construction of cult TV? How is new media now central to this? Discuss with examples.

Hills (2004)  attempts to define cult TV\in three ways. Firstly through textual analysis, secondly through analysis of secondary texts or inter-texts and lastly through observation of fan based practices. Without over stressing the role which fans play in the creation of a Cult TV show, as According to Hill their role is only as pivotal as his first two definitions, it is this process and the influence of new media which we will look at. Hill (2004) credits fan services with helping through the construction of non industry led groups which are basically groups which are formed without any official reason other than appreciation of that text. These groups then go on to create commentaries, fan fictions, episode guides and production histories which broadens the world of the show. Fans actively use the term Cult to distinguish themselves as an entity set to praise a certain work. Alex Gearins claims to have coined the term in 1983 in a magazine called infinity. finally it is these groups which lead to the creation of a market for props and memorabilia relevant to a certain show. This adds to the Cult like status of a certain work. 

The purpose of media in the creation of these shows is discussed as a specific processes of  development. For instance, the hiring of staff that have worked on shows previously, that are now regarded as Cult TV, Josh Whedon would be an example of this, having worked on such cult shows such as Buff, Firefly and now the Marvel movies. There are also certain particular narrative devices which are common place amongst Cult TV, Wilcox and Lavery (2002) list some, such as narrative puzzles, a strong sense of community and large ensemble casts. In some cases, a repressed romance that drives character development and plot. Look at any of the biggest TV shows of the last decade, Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Big Bang Theory, they all utilize one if not more of these common elements. What this suggests is that the status of Cult is not a grassroots movement driven exclusively by fan service but that these shows are developed with the purpose of them gaining these types of dedicated followings. Perhaps this is a two fold process. Where its inception is both a specific activity at the industry level and then a natural movement by fans at home? However media has changed overtime and these changes are forcing media to play a new role.

 TV time slots would have played a role in the development of cult television in the past. This theory was presented in the book, rewriting the x-files (Reeves,Rodgers &Epstien 1996) The idea was that some shows were aired at prime time hours but failed to gain an audience. It was then after this first airing, when the show had been either cancelled or moved to a different time slot, did the avid fans emerge and create what would be regarded as a cult following. The reverse of this example would be shows placed at non prime times, but managed to gather a large following despite this. This process has now changed and this is largely due to the changes in technology. Television has lost its prominence as the device with which people consume TV. McDonald & Rowsey (2016) Note that internet and streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have overtaken cable networks and have created the era of TV binging. They go on to explain how now these streaming services offer a continuous feed of your favorite show, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in a narrative for hours on end. In a Guardian article, Netflix Co-founder, Marc Randolph, talks about the creation of the streaming service Netflix and its rise to dominance. Netflix began as a DVD hiring service that came into competition against the giants in the industry of the day, blockbuster. Surviving the early years where Netflix struggled to stay afloat, the company would eventually out last its competitors. There is now only one Blockbuster left. Once this had happened and the internet had grown into a useful tool, the service switched from a DVD hiring service to the platform we know today (Levin 2019)

Though the history is still relevant. Just because the technology has changed does not mean that the more crucial elements of the formation of cult TV have. Hill (2004) touches on this when he talks about the internet. It is worth mentioning that his version of the internet was still rather limited, however what he says is that Cult TV, at its heart will only be developed by avid fans who religiously worship a show. Without the in depth knowledge gained from this obsession, one can not be regarded as an avid fan. New media has made TV more accessible, but it has not changed this important rule.  

What Hill summarizes is that Cult Tv can not simply be the product of one definition. Cult television is developed by an industry to be just that, however fan services are also a massive component of creating a cult status. In a sense, it is the audience which carries the show onwards. From its conception as a possible cult show, the fans are the ones who cement this definition with their dedicated practices and devotion to the text. Seen in fan fictions and online discussions. 

References

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge

Jimme L. Reeves, Mark C. Rodgers, and Epstein, (1996) Rewriting Popularity: The Cult Files

 McDonald, K. Smith,Rowsey, D (2016) The Netflix Effect: Technology and Entertainment in the 21st Century. Bloomsbury Publishing USA

levin, S (2019) Netflix co-founder: ‘Blockbuster laughed at us Now there’s one left: retrieved from; https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/sep/14/netflix-marc-randolph-founder-blockbusterlevin, S (2019)

Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002) Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Week Five-Six: Cult TV

Question: Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining
characteristics of ‘quality TV’ – can you apply (with justifications) any of
the 9 characteristics on this list to another TV series (including those on
Netflix, etc.) that you have viewed recently ? Are there any other
characteristics that you could add to their list?

Answers:

This weeks question were quite difficult for me to respond to due to one
reason,

1: This weeks questions were based on comparison & similarities between the core points made through the readings and recent TV series. I have not engaged with any TV series from 2001 till date, plus the last time I remember being evolved with a TV series was Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), unfortunately, I hardly remember anything from that show. This was my personal take on this matter and I am totally happy with my decision. As a result, it took me a while to look for a possible solution which may assist me on this assignment.

As I am not familiar with TV series and unable to draw similarities between the text and the TV series, I decided to take question number one, which is,”can you apply (with justifications) any of the 9 characteristics on this list to another TV series (including those on Netflix, etc.) that you have viewed recently ?” and based it on a movie sequel which I did personally engage with, that is the movie, The Fast and The Furious (2001- present), as I find this sequel of movies beautifully befitting the definition of “Quality TV“.

Quality TV is defined profoundly by Dorothy Swanson as, “a quality
series enlightens, enriches, challenges, involves, and confronts. It dares to take risks, it is honest and illuminating, it appeals to the intellect and touches the emotions. It requires concentration and attention, and it provokes thought” (Wilcox, Lavery, 2002, pg. 5).

The movie sequel, the fast and the furious tends to have all the key words prescribed in the definition of quality TV. As a result, I would now link some characteristics mentioned in this movie sequel which is pointed out by Wilcox and Lavery (2002). The first characteristic which I would like to expound upon is, Quality TV has a memory (Wilcox, Lavery, 2002). The cast remembers each other and the happenings which took place between them. This also reminds the viewer and makes it feel real. Just as Wilcox & Lavery (2002) states, “the characters remember, and we remember with them” (pg. 6). An example from the movie sequel is, Han Lue ends up in a crash which leads to his death in the third Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift movie and then reappears in the 7th movie where this incident is reignited and  it is revealed that Deckard Shaw, Owen’s brother had driven the car that crashed into his (Wikipedia, 2019). Similarly, the vehicle Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) used in the second movie 2 Fast 2 Furious, blue R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, he used the same vehicle in the fourth movie also. That skyline became so famous that it began to represent Brian O’Connor. You could see that the streets were being filled with that model of Skyline and it was considered to be a honorable position if one was able to acquire that. Sadly, that was the last movie which Paul Walker played the role of Brian. RIP. When the news of the death of Paul Walker reached the global attention, there were many who could not believe that this report is true, many were shattered into bits as if their own family member has passed on. As a result these all link to the first characteristic of quality TV and that is, quality TV has a pedigree. Just as Joss Whedon, the creator, writer and director of the famous, Buffy the Vampire Slayer explains his purpose behind the series,

“I designed the show to create that strong reaction. I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can’t be loved. Because it’s about adolescence,…. I wanted people to embrace it in a way that exists beyond,…. I wanted people to internalize it, and make up fantasies where they were in the story, to take it home with them, for it to exist beyond the TV show. And we’ve done exactly that” (Hocking, 2019, pg, 30).

This movie franchise also achieved this goal.

Finally, the characteristics which was underpinned by Wilcox & Lavery (2002) coherently matched with the movie sequel The Fast and The Furious. Definition of quality TV and the two characteristics, the memory which quality TV preserves and the enthusiasm which stays awaken after the movie has finished were discussed and multiple examples are listed. I hope this blog was an interesting read for you. 

Qays Buksh 

References:

Hocking, Darryl. (2019). Popular genre: Cult television [Lecture Material]. Retrieved from, https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz

Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the forces: What’s at stake in buffy the vampire slayer.Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Wikipedia, (2019). Han Lue. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Lue

Week 5 & 6 Responses

Week 5

Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining characteristics of “quality TV” – can you apply any of these to other television series that you have viewed recently? Are there any other characteristics that you could add to their list?

According to Wilcox and Lavery (2002), there are nine characteristics of quality TV.

Before analysing those characteristics, I tried to figure out what is the definition of “quality TV”. Quality TV is a term for describing a genre of television programming that considered as a high quality piece owing to its content, style or subject matter to television scholars, broadcasting advocacy groups, and television critics (Caldwell, 1995). Since I used to watch Korean drama in my spare time, I found out that South Korean woman script-writer, Jae-Jung Song’s drama, Memories of the Alhambra contains some of these characteristics of “Quality TV”.

The reasons why her dramas are considered as a quality TV with regard to Wilcox and Lavery’s (2002) defining characteristics of quality TV:

Jae-Jung Song’s filmography

The first characteristic of quality TV is that the script writers have their own filmographies that had succeeded before (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002). One of Jae-Jung Song’s recent dramas, Memories of the Alhambra (2018) was highly expected among K-drama lovers since her last dramas such as W (2016), and Nine (2013) became popular since the subjects were extremely impressive as her drama always interestingly demonstrate the world that people can travel through time and space. People who loves her dramas were impressed by the shocking reversal and plot lines that lingers in their mind.

Large amount of budgets and non-appreciative audiences

Although most of audiences were interested by her drama’s quality statistically as Memories of Alhambra’s highest rating was 13.592 percent (AGB Nielsen Media Research, 2018), not all of the audiences were enjoyed or entertained by her drama. Especially, those audiences who were not satisfied about this drama said that the ending scene was confusing as well as the foreshadowing of this drama had not explained properly enough through it. Wilcox and Lavery (2002) said that acceptance of criticism is one of the behaviours that quality TV should do. Also, the production team had budgeted 20 billion US dollars on producing Memories of Alhambra (Top star news, 2018). Therefore, despite its popularity, the production team had to search the best way to satisfy audiences’ demands to be entertained by the drama as well as the profits which has been expected to exceed the budgets they had spent. The quality TV also care about generating the profits (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002).

Different characters and Casting actors and actresses

The quality TV casts many actors and actresses who play the important role (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002). Memories of the Alhambra casts the famous South Korean actor, Hyun Bin as Yoo Jin-woo, the CEO of investment company called “J One Holdings; Doctor of Engineering who is talented at developing games” (Memories of the Alhambra, 2018). Moreover, Park Shin-hye as Jung Hee-joo and Emma (the key character to solve the mysterious VR game’s violence and danger). The female protagonist, Jung Hee-joo is the owner of Bonita Hostel. A former classic guitarist who came to Spain for further studies, but took on several jobs there to sustain livelihood following the death of her parents. She has artistic sensibility but zero financial sense. Her brother, ‘Jung Se-joo’ is also the important character in this drama although he is not considered as a main character since he is the fountainhead of the whole situations to be happened which means he was the mysterious VR game developer. The actor of Jung Se-joo is a K-pop idol, and this was the hot issue of this drama as well. There are antagonists, other supporting characters, and even cameos from previous dramas that Jae-Jung Song wrote. Like this, the casting of the show is the important part when considering it as the quality TV.

“Quality TV has a memory” (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002).

Latest episodes of the quality TV are throwing back to the past episodes that had reminded audiences of current situation is happening now to protagonists because they did something in the past. It is pretty much like cause and effect. Memories of the Alhambra also throwing back to past that why Se-joo created the character of Emma who has exactly same appearance as his sister in the game as well as every time when Francisco Tárrega’s eponymous classical guitar piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra has been played, the virtual enemies of the games appear and actually fight with the players in the real world and they are actually damaged by the virtual enemies. (Cho, & Kim, & Ahn, 2018)

Most importantly, “quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old ones” (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002).Memories of the Alhambra is the genre of fantasy, suspense, sci-fi, romance, as well as melodrama. Besides, all of those genres are harmonized in the drama quite well. As mentioned, the script writer of this drama played an important role. However, she said that the VR game, ‘Pokemon Go’ inspired her to set the basic plot line of this drama (Kim, 2019). Therefore, although Wilcox and Lavery (2002) argue that literary and writer-based sources can influence the quality TV, I could say that trendy entertainments could also contribute to produce the quality TV.

References:

AGB Nielsen Media Research (in Korean). (2018). AGB daily ratings: This links to current day-select the date from drop down menu. Retrieved from http://www.nielsenkorea.co.kr/tv_terrestrial_day.asp?menu=Tit_1&sub_menu=3_1&area=00

Caldwell, J.T. (1995). Televisuality: Style, crisis, and authority in American television. Rutgers University Press (p. 67).

Cho, H., & Kim, S. (Producer), & Ahn, G. (Director). (2018). Memories of the Alhambra [Television series]. South Korea: Studio Dragon & Chorokbaem Media.

Kim, M. (2019, January 15). [N interview] ‘알함브라’ 송재정 작가가 밝힌 #증강현실 #느린 전개 #현빈(종합). Retrieved from http://news1.kr/articles/?3525060

Top Star News (in Korean). (2018, December 12). Memories of the Alhambra, 20 billion US dollar of budget… The existence of original work receives an attention since it’s got the highest ratings (in Korean). Retrieved from http://www.topstarnews.net/news/articleView.html?idxno=544106

Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds.) Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Week 6

What role does Hills (2004) suggest fans play in the construction of cult TV? How is new media now central to this? Discuss with examples.

According to Hill (2004), there are three characteristics that can define cult TV – firstly, textual analysis; secondly, inter-textual analysis; and lastly, fan audiences. The author especially emphasized that the particular fandoms of cult TV thoroughly influence on its success. Those fandoms are somehow similar to soap fans. However, while soap fans are into industrial genre such as romance comedy, cult TV fans are focusing on the genre of ‘cult’ itself. Cult TV fans are not just simply watching ‘TV’, but they are actually love to criticize it, write a fan fiction about it, as well as inspire cult TV’s producers with their thoughts. Therefore, the plot of cult TV is written with the engagement of the cult TV fandoms (Hill, 2004).

Before I analyse what new media does to focus on this phenomenon (fans role of media production), I wonder what is the definition of ‘new media’. Southeastern University (2016) cited from Robert Rogan that ‘new media’ is “digital media that are interactive, incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing” (Southeastern University, 2016). Therefore, the importance of ‘new media’ is linked to ‘interaction’.

Like new media itself significantly cares about interaction between individuals, it also cares about the fandom of cult TV (Hill, 2004). They are more like maniac than fan because the genre of ‘cult TV’ is sometimes hard-core and cannot understandable as well as most people either like it or not. There are few people who take a neutral attitude, but still, as cult TV’s plot is written to suit the tastes of fandoms (Hill, 2004), the people who are not in the fandom cannot understand or enjoy the story at all.

Once, I went to the movie theatre to watch “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016)”. I could say that I enjoyed the movie although I am not a big fan of the “Sherlock Holmes” series. However, I could not understand the special post-credit scene because it was added for the Sherlock Holmes fandom. It was not interesting at all as well as overall impression of that movie was slightly looking downward for me because I could neither laugh nor impressed by that scene. However, Sherlock Holmes series’ fans seemed like enjoying it. Thus, cult TV is definitely focusing on interacting with its own existing fandom rather than conquering new fans. Personally, I guess bringing the new fans is also difficult for cult TV since there are many seasons and episodes which had already released long time ago, and it is impossible to watch those episodes all together at the same time for new fans. It takes time. This phenomenon similarly occurs to those fandoms of “Doctor Who (2005)”, “Star Trek (1966)”, and “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (1997)” et cetera.

de Kloet and van Zoonen (2007) suggests that fandom “constitutes an alternative economy outside the mainstream” (p. 328). As I mentioned, fandom is necessary, especially for cult TV producers since they introduce their productions in various ways such as writing a fan fiction of it, or just simply involve their friends into watching it together. Cult TV is obviously maniac as well as the producers of cult TV are targeting the previous fans rather than gathering new fans. However, those ‘previous fans’ could help cult TV industries to be paid enough for their efforts to satisfy their fans and even introducing them the new fans.

References:

de Kloet, H.J., & van Zoonen, E.A. (2007). Fan culture: Performing difference. Media studies: Key issues and debates (1st ed., pp. 322-341). London, UK: Routledge.

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds.) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Southeastern University. (2016, February 15). What is new media?. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from https://online.seu.edu/articles/what-is-new-media/

Weeks 5 & 6

As I read the articles demanded of me, I kept wondering what I was going to write it on. But after I had finished, I realized quickly what I would write it about. The prolific and game-changing Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TCW), (Filoni, 2008).

I will be answering questions one and four and will be doing so while talking about TCW.

According to Wilcox and Lavery, there are nine main contributing features to quality television (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002). They are as follows:

  1. A quality pedigree. Regardless of what you may think of his later works, there is no denying that George Lucas has at least been very influential in the worlds of film and television. While he was not a writer or director on TCW he was important to its creation and gave the writers seeming free reign to do as they wished within the Star Wars prequel era. The show was headed up by Dave Filoni who had previously been an art designer on the seminal Avatar: The Last Airbender (Konietzko, DiMartino, & Ehasz, 2005).
  2. These shows must fight finically and critically to stay afloat initially. Star Wars was at the time a guaranteed money-maker having been shot in the foot by the lukewarm critical reception to the theatrical film that kicked off the series.
  3. A large ensemble cast. TCW has an entire army of them. The series is named for the grand army of the republic and its army of mass-produced soldiers known as Clone Troopers. Despite all of them sound alike (but not the same thanks to excellent direction, writing and the vocal talents of Dee Bradley Baker) and looking alike, each of them have unique personalities. From Captain Rex’s arc that takes him from a soldier’s soldier who always follows orders and believes wholeheartedly in the propaganda of the republic, to complete disillusion with the republic and the Jedi, eventually going AWOL with Captain Gregor and Commander Wolfe. Or Domino squad made up of Hevy, Cuttup, Droidbait, Echo and Fives, who we are introduced to early in season one and are all killed one by one by season six. Not to mention the several Jedi who were simply background crowd filler in the films, who are given entire personalities and full character arcs in TCW.
  4. There are consequences between episodes. Despite the episodes not being produced or aired in chronological order if an earlier episode is required to understand this one that episode has already aired. As mentioned above with Domino squad we are introduced to them as rookies on a moon of planet Kamino and simply following Fives we see him lose all of his friends and his eventually his own life as he uncovers the plot to have the clones kill the Jedi in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005), ultimately costing him his life.
  5. It mixes genres into something new. The blending of genres at play in TCW is inherited from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, however, in my opinion, is handled much better. It’s a blend of science fiction, fantasy, war and political intrigue. The science fiction and fantasy I feel do no need explanation, you’ve seen at least one Star Wars movie, it’s like that. The war is also in the films, but it is not the focus, we watch ou heroes carve their way through faceless enemies, but that is not their goal. However, in TCW there are entire arcs dedicated to the horrors of war and the toll it takes on the people who fight in it, watch the Umbara arc to see that in full. The Umbara arc being a pivotal moment in Captain Rex’s character arc. The political intrigue is also better, often being shady deals and assassinations
  6. Quality tv is usually writer based, or literary. While Star Wars is often very open to selling you toys, TCW’s writers understand that the writing must be of high quality in order to make you want to. Thus it puts its characters and stories first and its weapons and vehicles second. It almost feels like a collection of short stories in the Star Wars universe due to its anthology structure.
  7. Self-conscious. Sort of, because the show doesn’t take place in “the real world” it can’t reference other media beyond Star Wars, but it does that willfully and flagrantly. It takes every opportunity to throw in cute references such as Fives recreating Han Solo’s posing as a stormtrooper (Lucas, 1977). But it also will use to enrich the universe such as taking the opportunity to better seed Anakin Skywalker’s rage and cynicism toward to Jedi, turning his wife Padme’s life is in danger and failure to achieve the rank of Jedi master from the sole incidents that turn him to the dark side and make them the last two straws (Lucas, 2005).
  8. Controversial subject matters. For what is a basically kids’ cartoon TCW goes to some dark places thematically. Torture for life-saving information, a democratic government using an army of slaves, bio-warfare, political assassinations, corruption, terrorism, and deaths of friends and loved ones, just to name a few.
  9. Emotional realism. TCW does this excellently, mostly with the character Ahsoka Tano. We watch Anakin’s young apprentice Ahsoka go from a wide-eyed bushy-tailed Jedi learner to a loner, pushed so far as a child soldier that she ultimately leaves the Jedi order entirely after she is wrongly accused and hunted down over crimes she did not commit. And from being such an engaging character she went on to become a fan favourite, having her own novel and returning in Star Wars Rebels to continue her story (Filoni, 2014).

 

According to Hill there are three potential ways of defining cult TV. These are as follows. Cult TV as authored by the people working on it, cult TV emerging from inter-text surrounding it and cult TV emergent from fan engagement. I believe it is a combination of the people working on it and the audience engagement with the inter-text emerging as a result of the fan engagement (Hills, 2004).

Continuing with my use of TCW as an example, as mentioned above it was run by Dave Filoni and created by George Lucas.

The inter-text is a natural extension of fan engagement and it goes hand in hand that once you have a passionate fanbase the inter-text will follow as fans search for a way to show their appreciation for their series of choice. If you go down a youtube rabbit hole today there are countless videos of people showing off their Lego Star Wars collections that are in many cases based around TCW and little else. Many people have made money on the side by selling custom lego clone troopers painted in original and interesting ways to either recreate characters or create entirely new ones.

This inevitably leads to the new fan-made inter-text of the internet age. Despite TCW having concluded its original run in 2015, there are still to this day people on youtube uploading their fan theories and videos of them watching the series episode by episode and analyzing each episode as they go. Not only that, the series remains so popular that even after having many of its loose ends tied up in Star Wars Rebels, it has been renewed for one final seventh season set to premiere in 2020, five years after the show’s original cancellation and twelve years after the show originally premiered. A renewal and sequel being very rare for shows that were cancelled.

I think overall, while all of these definitions of cult TV are important and relevant, I think for it to truly achieve cult status a show must find a nice midpoint between all of them.

Filoni, D. (Producer). (2008). Star Wars: The Clone Wars [Television series]. Atlanta, GA: Cartoon Network.

Filoni, D. (Producer). (2014). Star Wars: Rebels [Television series]. Burbank, CA: Disney XD.

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences. The Television Studies Reader. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157821_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Hills%202004.pdf

Konietzko, B., DiMartino, M. D., & Ehasz, A. (Producers). (2005). Avatar: The Last Airbender [Television series]. New York, NY: Nickelodeon.

Lucas, G. (Director). (2005). Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith [Motion picture]. San Francisco, CA: Lucasfilm.

Lucas, G. (Director). (1977). Star wars [Motion picture]. USA: Lucasfilm.

Wilcox, R. V., & Lavery, D. (2002). Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157823_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Wilcox%20and%20Lavery%202002.pdf

Wilcox, R. V., & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction. What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157823_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Wilcox%20and%20Lavery%202002.pdf

Game of Thrones: The Once and Never-Again Cult Following.

  1. Discuss how Hill’s three characteristics of Cult TV can be applied to a recent TV series.

cq5dam.web.1200.675 When the millions of fans of HBO show Game of Thrones air the final episode on May19th, 2019, the internet collectively let out a resounding scream of frustration. Within a week, an online petition to remake the last season with competent writers had reached over one million signatures (Chatterjee, 2019). The immensely popular show, a fresh take on a tired old genre, meticulously crafted, narrative subverting, darling of cult TV threw away all its themes, all its clever dialogue, all its intrigue and in the process it’s definition as a cult show. Let me explain. In Defining Cult TV (2004), Matt Hills specifies three characteristics of Cult TV: specific qualities like genre; wide ranges of secondary texts that lend to the primary; and a strong liege of fan got_eq27practices and activities. Today that means fantasy and sci fi shows, subreddit pages and wikis, video essays and comment threads on lore, world-building and theorising. Game of Thrones fit perfectly into these definitions, until season eight was released, and the endless dissection of world-theory turned into an autopsy of the legend that almost was. (Cole, 2019).

 

Hills used the term Hyperdiegesis (2004) to describe a narrative world that is never fully explored; the audience gets hints of a vast world that goes on beyond the line of sight of the characters. Game of Thrones does this in droves, using primary text, secondary texts, fan theories and so on. The story begins thirteen years after the overthrowing of the MadKing Aerys Targaraen, who belonged to a wide family tree with thousands of years of history. The map of Westeros reaches far beyond the audiences experience (The shadow lands beyond Assaii, The Free cities etc.) and has entire languages and cultures that are created in the background, to stand as assistance for the main plot lines. The show writers even pay homage to fan theories and online memes in the primary text- at one point in season seven, Gendry Baratheon shows up again to the cd3quip “thought you might still be rowing,” reflecting a meme thread (Urquhart-White, 2017), because it was the last thing the character had been seen doing since his leaving in season three.

 

 

The kinds of genres that tend to become “cult” TV are generally fantasy and science fiction, which have the capacity for vast world-building possibilities, and therefore endless fan theories (Pearson, 2003.) In such worlds, Hill (2004) says, the rules of the world must maintain a delicate balancing act between maintaining believable continuitygame-of-thrones-infographic-why-did-they-have-to-die-1 and surprising the audience. GoT did that – until season eight. If you haven’t watched the show, it is hard to explain just how vast the world is- suffice to say that named characters reach from between 109 to 503 depending on your interpretation of the word “relevant” (Muoio & Renfro, 2016). In season eight, the characters with dialogue have been whittled down to twenty odd, and the discussion of in-world lore has drastically dropped- in fact dialogue itself has dropped, with the final episode reaching a whopping 70% of runtime as dialogue-free (Nguyen, 2019). I won’t get too deep into the why of it- that has been done countless times online on reddit, YouTube and every blog site in the world. (See Ellis, L, 2019). However, here’s a basic outline: the TV show is based on the book series A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, who hasn’t finished the books as yet, promising the last two books sometime in the future. In season five, the TV show had largely deviated from the books in many ways both minor and major, and in season six, the story was entirely up to the show’s producers – who still had enough of a maxresdefaultuniverse built to make that season and season seven on top of that. The main problem cited for the overwhelming disappointment of season eight was producers’ D.B. Wiess and David Benioff (or D&D, as they are called online)( Nguyen, 2019) pushing for a fast track to end the show at eight seasons, because they both wanted to move on to work on Disney’s next Star Wars film. That’s the short version – the long version would have us here for days. Anyway, the reason I mention all this is simply to give a basic explanation as to the why of the whole mess – but the reaction of fans to the butchering of their story has resulted in a particularly idiosyncratic result: the importance of the Hyperdiegesis of the Game of Thrones universe has been registered null in void. Online there are now blogs dedicated to finding dropped storytelling threads or narrative cul-de-sacs that have turned out to have no point to the overall plot or theme of the universe (Hein, 2019). One blogger said that on re-watching, there is none of the original joy she experienced, because now that she knows the ending, she knows that it is meaningless (Ellis, 2019.)

 

The world of Game of Thrones was arguably as popular as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, and has plenty of secondary texts to add to it. Plenty of fandom sites, articles and the like that discuss at length details as minute as the meaning of a single word or the colour of the grass in a different part of Westeros (Ellis, 2019). For the GoT TV series, almost all those conversations ended after the finale of season eight. The response of fans turned from discussion over the politics of the world into a discussion of the politics of the people writing the story. I would like to add a side note- the discussion of theory over the books is still going strong- some could even argue stronger- despite the show’s shortcomings (Cole, 2019). This is the point, though, that the fourth wall has been well and truly broken. The fans who had invested so much emotion into their characters felt short-changed, and re-watching’s, lore discussion and the like have stopped. Game of Thrones had a cult following, but, for whatever reason, the show turned into something different and that cult just… stopped following.

 

References:

Chatterjee, P. (May, 2019) Sophie Turner Responds To Petition For ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Remake Like A Queen. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://in.mashable.com/entertainment/3561/sophie-turner-responds-to-petition-for-game-of-thrones-season-8-remake-like-a-queen

Pearson, R. (2003) Kings of Infinite Space: Cult Television Characters and Narrative Possibilities. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/scope/documents/2003/november-2003/pearson.pdf

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Cole, V. (May, 2019) Game of Thrones Post-Mortem of “The Iron Throne” Retrieved September 11, 2019 from http://watchersonthewall.com/game-thrones-post-mortem-iron-throne/

Urquhart-White, A. (August, 2017) ‘Game Of Thrones’ Made A Gendry Rowing Joke, Breaking The Fourth Wall In A Big Way.  Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.bustle.com/p/game-of-thrones-made-a-gendry-rowing-joke-breaking-the-fourth-wall-in-a-big-way-76319

Muoio, D. and Renfro, K. (April, 2016) It’s crazy how many more characters are in the ‘Game of Thrones’ books than shows. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.businessinsider.com/number-of-characters-in-game-of-thrones-outweighs-those-in-shows-2016-4/?r=AU&IR=T

Ellis, L. (June, 2019) We Need to Talk About Game of Thrones I Guess Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hys_m3BPTS8

Nguyen, H. (May, 2019) ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Marks All-Time Low for Amount of Dialogue Spoken in the Series. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://www.indiewire.com/2019/05/game-of-thrones-season-8-least-dialogue-hbo-1202145027/

Hein, M. (May, 2019) ‘Game of Thrones’: Story Loose Ends Left After Series Finale. Retrieved September 11, 2019 from https://popculture.com/tv-shows/2019/05/20/game-of-thrones-loose-ends/

Week 6 Cult TV

What role does Hill (2004) suggestive fans play in the construction of Cult TV? How is new media central to this?

In the TV industry, fans are one of the most important aspects in the success of a TV show, they not only support the continuous of a TV show but also supports each other in the process. According to Hills (2004) “cult arises ultimately from audience passion for a TV show”. Hills also suggest that cult TV not only depends on the fan’s devotion and support but also defending one’s fans passion, supporting each other means working together under their favorite TV show, resulting in their show being celebrated. Fans are also committed to write about their favorite shows, and in order to work together fans are able to critically analyze and appreciate each other’s favored text. Also, Hills (2004) suggests that cult TV fans depends on the shows because it identifies them as well as their lifestyles. All the fans gather for conventions, they share their interest with one another, it creates a sort of shared opinions through fans, the shows are also supported by the fans through their creativity, through fan fiction, commentaries and episode guides. The appreciation from fans as well as the conventions they set up can give the fandom a good view. The fans of cult TV creates props and other merchandise and is spread around or introduced to other cult TV fans by the web.

Reference:

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences. The Television Studies Reader. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157821_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Hills%202004.pdf

 

 

WEEK SIX: CULT TV – ATLANTA

Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining characteristics of ‘quality TV’ – can you apply (with justifications) any of the 9 characteristics on this list to another TV series (including those on Netflix, etc.) that you have viewed recently ? Are there any other characteristics that you could add to their list?

Atlanta (2016-present) is an American TV show created by comedian, actor and musical artist Donald Glover. It is a comedy-drama series set in Atlanta, Georgia and follows Earn, a college dropout, turned manager for his cousin Alfred, an up-and-coming rapper known as Paper Boi. Alfred’s best friend Darius and Van, the on-off girlfriend of Earn are the other mainstay characters of the show. 

Below are some of the characteristics of ‘quality TV’ defined by Wilcox and Lavery (2002) and how they can be applied to Atlanta

  • Quality TV usually has a pedigree

According to Wilcox and Lavery (2002) this characteristic refers to the credibility and calibre of the creator (or creators) of the series. Atlanta’s creator Donald Glover earned a degree in Dramatic Writing from New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 2006 and spent the next three years as a scriptwriter on NBC’s sitcom 30 Rock (2006-2013). Glover’s contribution in the third season led to the series earning the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Series. Glover then left the series to act in the sitcom Community from 2008-2014 before leaving to work on his own projects, including Atlanta. Glover’s formal training in scriptwriting as well as numerous years of experience in award winning television series add to Glover’s credibility as a creator as well as Atlanta as quality TV.

  • Quality TV has a memory

The characters of the Atlanta have memories as this is necessary to the progression of the overall arc. Although episodes contain a smaller story, it occurs within the overarching narrative of the entire season. In the first episode Earn shoots a man after an altercation resulting in both him and Earn being arrested. The next episode details their experience in the holding cells before being released on bail. Further in the season, the shooting actually gains Alfred notoriety and respect from others. Alfred’s actions are applauded by some characters as Alfred is a  “real gangster”.

  • Quality TV creates a new genre by mixing old ones

Atlanta combines many elements typical of drama, comedy as well as supernatural shows and juxtaposes them with a modern soundtrack influenced heavily by hip hop. “The series veers between deapan realism, existential melancholy, and wild absurdism.” (Press, 2018). There is gun violence, a prototype invisible car and even an episode shot entirely as a television interview show. The cast is majority African-American and this representation is important for telling some distinctly unique stories. However, just as importantly Atlanta tells stories that are relevant to all Americans, using the same characters, challenging attempts to as an African-American show.

  • Quality TV is self-conscious

Atlanta is full of intertextual references to other texts and popular culture. In the episode Alligator Man, Earn learns his uncle is actually keeping an alligator in his house for protection. Darius makes joke saying “This n**** got a full-grown Caiman in here surrounded by chicken carcasses. It’s like an Azealia Banks Snapchat”. Two years prior to the episode airing, rapper Azealia Banks was criticized for cleaning up blood splatters in her house. The blood was from sacrificial chickens as part of her practicing witchcraft. 

  • The subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial

Many episodes have controversial subject matters and themes weaved throughout them. The episode Streets on Lock, where Earn is awaiting his bail touches on police brutality, homophobia, transphobia and mental illness. With a combination of humour and disturbingly raw interactions it brings these subjects to the forefront of the mind of the viewer. Other episodes like The Streisand Effect, touch on relevant subjects such as internet trolling and exploitation on social media by influencers. 

  • Quality TV aspires toward ‘realism’

The Hollywood version of the stories about record industry are often epic journeys of extreme highs and lows with an evitable commercial success being achieved. This is a stellar opposite to the journey to stardom within Atlanta.  “The slow-going, aimless nature of Paper Boi’s early career is precisely what makes this series the most realistic portrayal of the Atlanta music scene to date” (Lee, 2018). In The Streisand Effect, Darius tells Earn he can get more money for phone than pawning it. Earn agrees but is disappointed when Darius reveals it is an investment that would take some time to return the much higher profit. Earn understands the logic, but is frustrated because he needs money in the present, not the future, even if it means taking less money now.  The characters and their struggles are more relatable to everyday people than infallible characters that were always destined for success This is what gives Atlanta its sense of realism. 

References:

Lee, C. (2018). What does Atlanta Hip-Hop think of ‘Atlanta’ the show? Retrieived from https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/what-does-atlanta-hip-hop-think-of-atlanta-the-show/

Press, J. (2018). Atlanta Is the Best Show on TV and Hiro Murai Is Its Visual Mastermind. Retrieved from  https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/08/atlanta-is-the-best-show-on-tv-and-hiro-murai-visual-mastermind

Wilcox, R., & Lavery, D. (2002). Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Cult TV Questions

What role does Hills (2004) suggest the fans play in the construction of cult TV? How is new media central to this?

Hills (2004) outlines three competing definitions of Cult TV but emphasizes that none of these are enough to understand the full extent of the term by itself, but a major factor in the second two definitions is the response of the fans and viewer to the work such as how they make create secondary texts/intertexts commenting on the show in some form, or how it inspires devotion and fan practices. With such a fluid definition Cult TV becomes largely defined by the circumstances and opinions surrounding the shows and their subcultural status. A large part of this is facilitated by the nature of these shows in that they are built  in a way which engenders discussion and long-term investment (often through a potential romantic pairing between characters, although this is not a requirement) and the creation of an interesting and varied world that is most often couched in “fantastic genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror” (Jones, as cited by Hills, 2004) allowing the audience to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.

A striking case study of how new media changed the status of Cult TV is Doctor Who, a show which has wildly fluctuated in popularity throughout the years, arguable falling in and out of cult status through these years. After a gradual decline that lead to ratings at an all-time low the show seemed to be picking up steam again when it was cancelled in 1989, leaving the franchise isolated from mainstream audiences. Due to the fact the show was not perceived one creator or team’s vision (as how Hills criticizes the discourse around shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Star Trek) and the fact that the format of a Doctor Who story allowed for various styles and genres, a novel series known as The New Virgin Adventures (NVA) became the de facto main timeline of Doctor Who in lieu of the show. This hardcore audience were generally older, and the writing changed to match them adult-oriented, and the series accepted both professional and amateur submissions elevating what would have been fanfiction into a near-canonical level. (Novitz, 2018) A stranger example of a venture by fans came from the obscure company “Bill & Ben’s Videos” – otherwise known as the BBV (possibly to create confusion about whether they were part of the BBC or not) which created straight-to-DVD films using the actors of Doctor Who as thinly veiled versions of their characters or using the show’s intellectual property. Much of this was of dubious legality or blatantly illegal. While it had been a staple of British television for many decades it was only in 2005 with the show’s revival spearheaded by Russel T. Davies, one of many authors who wrote for the NVA, that the show found a mainstream international success. The show also adopted many of the NVA’s such as story arcs and a greater focus on the personal lives of the Doctor’s companions. One of the show’s most critically acclaimed stories (Human Nature/The Family of Blood) is an adaptation of one of the novels.

Before the advent of new media fan practices had a higher barrier of entry, and even re-watching the show was a challenge. Shows such as Star Trek only gained an appreciation society over a decade after it finished airing. (Hills, 2004) Now that social media and platforms such as Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube and 4Chan (each containing their own culture and subcommunities) have allowed fans from across the world to form fanbases, the type of discussion that was once limited only to diehard fans now finds itself played out by people who can afford to be more casually invested. No show is ever truly off air as streaming and pirating have allowed shows to disseminate in unlikely circles and reach a wider audience.

I think that Hills’ outlining of ways that a cult show can be manufactured has actually been achieved for the most part by the entertainment industries, as they realize the value of nostalgic properties (which have attracted those with a strong devotion to their work) and of cultivating a dedicated fanbase. However, that is not to say the idea of subcultures have died out completely, and in fact has allowed many shows to find their own audience. For example – the obscure and quite bizarre Lexx. And while it may not be sci-fi or fantasy I personally would have never been able to watch one of my favourite TV shows, Ikebukuro West Gate Park, if it had not been translated from Japanese by a dedicated group of fans.

 

Reference List

Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.

Novitz, J. (2018). “Too broad and deep for the small screen”: Doctor Who’s new adventures in the 1990s. M/C Journal, 21(5), 1–3. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=134034472&site=eds-live

[QuintonReviews]. (2018, December 1). Doctor Who Knockoffs | Quinton Reviews. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acI7DRYFUPk

 

 

Wilcox and Lavery (2002) identify 9 defining characteristics of ‘quality TV’ – can you apply any of these to other television series that you have viewed recently? Are there any other characteristics that you could add to their list?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (BtVS) made a huge impact on the landscape of television, providing a model for longform series that is still in use today. One example of it’s profound impact is the 2005 Revival Series of Doctor Who. Showrunner Russel T updated the show from a multi-part, 20 minute per episode serial format to the modern forty-five minute per episode show (with occasional two-part stories, similar to BtVS) which the show kept in use until 2018. Although the previous incarnations of the show had built a cast of characters over time they seldom appeared throughout the show. The Revival series which shifted a much of the emotional focus and the story arcs of the series onto the companions. In the first series of the revival this is through the Doctor’s companion Rose, and her relationship with her boyfriend and mother on Earth. This grounded the fantastic sci-fi premise of the show with “emotional realism” (Whedon, as cited by Wilxcox & Lavery, 2002), and saw the development of an ensemble cast – both elements the show shares with Buffy (Wilxcox & Lavery). The show was also writer-based in that Davies had great influence over the scripts (and ever since the show’s eras have been largely defined by the showrunners in charge) but he also created a team of writers that could bring their own voices to the forefront. Notably Steven Moffat was one of the episode writers and would go on to become the showrunner, as well as to create the BBC series Sherlock.

 

This influence extends to two of the shows spinoffs, which shares many of the same qualities but also lifts actual plot elements from the BtVS franchise, although few would argue the latter is an example of quality television – both Torchwood and Class feature rifts in time and space which spew forth aliens and monsters for the protagonists to defeat (functionally identical to the Hellmouth of Sunnydale) which act as metaphors for the themes of the episode. Class has a lot more obviously similar to BtVS as it takes place in a high school, and similarly attempts to deal with controversial and heavy issues facing teenagers (“the subject matter of quality TV tends toward the controversial”, (Thompson, as cited by Wilcox & Lavery, 2002, p. xxiv)), but it is fraught with problems in tone and presentation. Torchwood perhaps parallel’s BtVS’s own spinoff, Angel, in that it follows the exploits of an anti-heroic supporting cast member from the parent show on a quest for redemption – the show even goes so far as to cast James Marsters (actor of Spike) as a rival to Torchwood’s lead protagonist, similar to Angel and Spike’s rivalry in BtVS. Torchwood dealt with controversial issues with varying degrees of success, particularly in its early seasons (the second episode features an alien who is literally ) but eventually found great critical acclaim. However, the majority of the cast was shown to be openly bisexual and the lead character of Jack Harkness, originally from Doctor Who, entered into a relationship with another male cast member, giving representation to same-sex relationships on television in a manner similar to Willow and Tara’s relationship in BtVS. To it’s credit Class does the same with one of its main protagonist, although overall it is the lesser show.

 

Both shows are strange in that they involve much more sex and violence than their parent show, clearly being aimed at a different audience, although in Class’ case this audience may not have existed as the show varied wildly in tone (Jeffrey, 2917) while BtVS was clearly aimed at teens but had enough substance to crossover age demographics. Russel T. Davies was the showrunner for Torchwood and brought much of the same qualities over from that show with a consistent writing team, but Class is more surprising in it’s confused tone as every episode’s script is attributed to the same author – Patrick Ness. Here we see the idea of “high pedigree” as a characteristic challenged, or at least in need of further definition as arguably Ness may not be considered high pedigree depending on how well one likes his work. On paper Patrick Ness seemed perfect for the job – he had already written a hit Young Adult novel and written a screenplay for a fairly successful film. Class itself only had the surface appearance quality TV, stretching itself too thin to delivery on its ensemble cast (with five main characters in only eight episodes) and attempting to tackle controversial subject matter and emotional realism without a proper handle on tone – one particularly jarring scene occurs in the first episode as one of the characters’ girlfriends is murdered in front of him by an alien, showering him in her blood before The Doctor (protagonist of the family-friendly Doctor Who) arrives to save the day, robbing the show’s actual main characters of all agency and relevance to the solution of the episode’s plot.

 

Overall, while I think these characteristics identify many of the key aspects which make this kind of show good I think they are too narrow as they only describe a certain model of television which BtVS pioneered. Quality is largely a matter of taste, and it may be because I live in a post-Buffy world where this sort of discourse in normalized but I see no reason why BtVS needs to prove itself. While BtVS should be applauded for mixing lighter genre conventions with this level of emotional realism, this is not the only valid form of artistic expression television can take. Doing so discounts critically acclaimed shows such as Fawlty Towers or the surreal Monty Python, or the heightened theatricality of Twin Peaks (all shows which existed before BtVS). And while self-conscious television can refer to it’s lineage or other texts to allow extra enjoyment in it’s audience it can it can also be used a crutch to receive praise via association. The worst of form of this is simply name-dropping or referencing franchises with little to know real relevance, as in the film and book Ready Player One. A big part of BtVS’s success in the regard is the fact that most of the characters are teenagers naturally preoccupied with pop culture and references (although this sometimes leads to characters sounding too much like each other or more clever or knowledgeable than they should), but in a show such as Breaking Bad or the almost documentarian approach of The Wire leaning too heavily on the fourth wall in this way would simply compromises the believability of the world they portray. Wilcox & Lavery’s article does not account for the full breadth and depth of what the medium of television has to offer.

 

Reference List

Jeffrey, M. 2017. Here’s why the doctor who spin-off class just didn’t work. Retrieved from

https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/cult/a830699/doctor-who-spin-off-class-why-it-just-didnt-work/

Wilcox, R. & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction, in R. Wilcox & D. Lavery (eds) Fighting the forces: What’s at stake in buffy the vampire slayer. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

 

Dominic McAlpine