What Makes Joss Whedon So Good --TV SPOILERS, NO MOVIE SPOILERS



What makes him so good? Well, he is a genius. He is simply great at what he does. For example, it is one thing to put jokes in the middle of the action. It is another thing to put really good jokes. You can’t copy that by using a formula.

However, there are some aspects of what make him excellent that can be identified.

  1. He puts jokes in the middle of the action. Usually very organic to what is going on. Sometimes silly.

  2. The main characters always have at least two dimensions. The aspects are not usually in contradiction of each other. This helps with stories where they can be brought into conflict, and gives room for stories when you have several seasons to fill.

  3. He starts with a grabber. This is one reason he chose to have a beginning sequence before the credits in his shows.

  4. He usually thinks of a metaphor for the story, based on some common experience, to structure the story around. The metaphor isn’t always clear, but the fact that the story has inner logic is.

  5. He picks good actors. From commentaries and elsewhere, it sounds like he looks at a lot of actors before he gets what he wants–he doesn’t settle.

  6. He doesn’t shy away just because something will take a lot of work. This is how he wrote a musical for a TV episode!

  7. He is a “control enthusiast,” yet he still manages to bring good energy to the team. The team and crew seem to adore him, probably because they can see the quality of what they are doing.

  8. He respects the classics, and uses them, but usually with a twist. He does not take a classic situation and change it so that you feel cheated.

  9. He usually has a twist, but it will be an earned twist. Even if there are some twists that didn’t seem well set up…it is clear he meant them to come from the action, not just come to shock you out of the blue.

  10. Ensembles for TV shows. He gives himself a lot of room for story development by having a lot of characters to tell stories about, since he may have to do it for years to come.

  11. He embraces change, especially character evolution. His series are not just a sequence of cool events, rather, the characters grow or at least change.

  12. His shows have a memory. On occasion they have been planned out years ahead, like Dawn coming. On other occasions, they look back (whether this was always planned at the time or not is open to question, but it is still way cool), for example, how Conner was conceived and why. This memory is very cool for fans, and keeps us watching. It can, on occasion, be annoying for newbies.

  13. His shows have consequences. People don’t do terrible things one show and then everything is roses the next.

  14. He makes the tough decisions. His shows have teeth. People die. He wants you not to feel safe. However, people will die only on a clearly serious show–he wants to earn it, make it as important as it should be. On the other hand, he is not above making you think somebody died on one of the lighter-themed shows, just to tease you.

  15. His seasons are crafted. This is often clearest by comparing the first and last episodes of a season.

I’d love to see other things that describe Joss’s style.

I’d also be happy to supply examples from the TV shows, for anything that is unclear.

I hestitated to watch “Buffy”, thinking that it was only aimed at teenagers. Pleasantly surprised, and ended up watching that whole series, and then all of “Angel”, on DVD. Rewatching “Firefly”, and looking forward to the movie Serenity.

I can say honestly that I almost immediately noticed a lot of similarities in how we think as writers. (Biggest, most obvious difference is that Whedon brings his projects to fruition, and seems to be a workaholic, whereas I’m a lazy bastard who never finishes anything.)

Likes to give a familiar situation a 90 degree twist – then another, and possibly a third for 270 degrees. Not something you see a lot on tv.

I think he also is extraordinarily good at the Monty Python thing - building reasonable stories about totally absurd things.

He’s a great man. poke Well, a good man. poke Well, he’s okay.

He has little red riding hood beating the crap out of the wolf.

The most important aspect of the three tv shows I’ve followed, and what is rare in tv, is that he acknowledges that there’s a gray scale between good and evil that morality isn’t an absolute. Sometimes good people with the best intentions end up doing things that are teribly wrong. And sometimes the bad guy really says the truth about how things are. The most complex and wonderful character, and the best villain ever, is the mayor of season 3. His love for Faith is genuine, like a father, and not creepy at all, even though she assumes that from the start. His wistfulness over his dead wife is actually very touching.
When Spike was pure evil, he had those moments too.

In retrospect, Spike as a hero was a terrible idea.

Love it!

He’s a dedicated cliche-buster. He either avoids them entirely or subverts them.

He avoids the trap that a lot of science fiction and fantasy types fall into, which is investing characters with so much power that you wonder why the hell they don’t just solve all the world’s problems right then and there. Yes, Willow’s one of the most powerful witches in the world by the last season of BtVS … but she’s petrified of going back to the dark side, so there’s only so much she’s willing to do. He’s good at setting limits.

He weaves a rich net of minor characters. The world he creates is more vivid because it’s more than just a group of core individuals interacting with a seemingly random collection of one-shots.

He prefers to avoid season-ending cliffhangers. Hell, he had one season where he had an episode AFTER that season’s arc was complete.