Monday, June 4, 2012

Buffy: Storyteller (7.16)

There's always been a frustrating dichotomy when it comes to Andrew, since both of his stretches on Buffy featured wildly different character traits. Season six depicted him as this creepy sociopath, with the rape fantasies and outward resentment for anybody leading a successful life. He also had none of the development that Jonathan and Warren had, the former because of his longer tenure on the show, and the latter because of his importance to the stories that rounded off the year. In season seven, Andrew is comic relief -- a goofy, sorta-gay nerd given most of the funny lines. For whatever reason, probably time, there's been little attempt to mesh these two extremes together, creating a character who is obviously funny, but who can't be removed from the rapist loser of season six.

But, as Andrew relentlessly reminds us, aren't most of Buffy's circle of friends one-time murderers? The problem with that argument is that most of these murderous characters (Spike, Anya) only committed those acts as demons or vampires, while we knew Willow for six years before she flew off the deep end in extreme circumstances, giving her more of our collective sympathy despite her killing of a human. Tom Lenk is a wonderfully natural comedian, but it's unfortunate that throwing Andrew into an already crowded ensemble at the very end of the series has left him an eternally uncomfortable character -- someone you can never truly root for despite his cries for redemption.

However, if you do remove that cynicism and just run with Storyteller, the episode is naturally pretty great. It's the last 'against-type' Buffy hour, mostly shot to resemble a home movie as Andrew narrates the everyday lives of the Scooby Gang in an attempt to chronicle the final battle for the sake of future generations. In the process, Jane Espenson's script plays around with show conventions: there's a great undermining of Buffy's increasingly long-winded speeches, the fashion-shoot slo-mo fantasy sequence, the re-writing of show history, the sudden jump-cut to Andrew pointing at his big board of Hellmouth, the way he pronounces 'vum-pie-er'. It's all really entertaining, Lenk's performance a barrel of endearing mumbles and nerves.

Unfortunately, Storyteller begins to stumble when Andrew actually gets positioned at the center of the story he's documenting. It's a similar feeling to, ironically, Superstar; where the comedy premise gets stretched a little thin towards the back-end of the hour. The wackiness at Sunnydale High is breezily amusing, but Andrew's final breakdown feels unearned. Especially coming so soon after his repeated attempts to cover up what really happened to Jonathan. At the same time, the 'tears shut the seal' thing comes so far out of left-field that clearly Jane Espenson had given up on narrative logic by this point (see First Date for more on that).

Elsewhere, there's a nice Xander and Anya subplot, where even they begin to question why on earth they broke up a year ago -- considering they're right back in the exact same circumstances anyway. They're a strong couple, and I liked the awkward denial of their true feelings for one another right after their so-called 'last night together'.

Storyteller is one of those polarizing Buffy hours, with certain fans ranking it up there among the show's best, while others seem to despise the thing. I fit somewhere in the middle. I continue to have problems with Andrew as a character, but most of the humor here is admittedly cute, and Tom Lenk is such a charming protagonist that you can't help but appreciate some of the character's nicer qualities -- even if you can't at all rectify them with the misogynist horror he displayed last season. No classic, but mostly a fun diversion. B

Guest stars Danny Strong (Jonathan Levinson); Adam Busch (Warren Meers); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Iyari Limon (Kennedy); Sarah Hagan (Amanda); Indigo (Rona); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Jane Espenson Director Marita Grabiak

1 comment:

  1. Great review, I'm with you on falling mostly on middle-ground with this one. I really liked what you wrote about his revelation being slightly unearned, and the tears on the seal thing being totally random, but I think they're just small issues that don;t undermine the episode totally. I do think it's a hilarious episode, and agree with Tom Lenk's comedic performance.