Nathan Fillion, Vampires, and Coming Around on Pop Culture

It took me a really long time (apparently over two months, whoops!) to think of something I wanted to write about. A number of ideas floated through my head—current podcast power rankings, my growing obsession with Thrilling Adventure Hour, that time Scott and I watched Twister because he jokingly suggested it and I jumped at the chance—but none of them stuck till this morning, and that’s all Nathan Fillion’s fault.
Up until recently, I never fully understood Nathan Fillion’s appeal. Fully embraced by geek culture for his Whedon pedigree and a bit of a heartthrob even outside those circles due to his charming “Aw, shucks, I guess I am awesome” act on Castle, he’s an undeniably likable guy. But his personality has always struck me as outsized, and that has a tendency to leak into his onscreen personae; I have an especially hard time with this on Firefly, and I realize that’s blasphemy, but it’s not my favorite Whedon property and it never has been. Malcolm Reynolds is a decent character, a big damn hero, even, but he’s no Buffy. So, before I became an avid Thrilling Adventure Hour listener, my view of Fillion was charitable at best. I liked him in Buffy, I liked him in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and I could take him or leave him in any other case.
But then, I heard him play Cactoid Jim.
Thrilling Adventure Hour—a new-time podcast told in the style of old-time radio, as the introduction informs us—features regular segments ranging from staples “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars,” a space western, and “Beyond Belief,” an ongoing tale of an alcohol-loving married couple who happens to see ghosts, to “The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock” and “Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flyer,” time-traveling yarns with plenty of puns and humor picking apart the very concept of shifting through time. A few months’ worth of episodes into the podcast, a new character is added to the “Sparks Nevada” cast: Cactoid Jim, an almost absurdly Good Guy played by Fillion. And no one could do it better than he does. He’s an ideal counterpoint to Marc Evan Jackson’s Sparks and a surprisingly dynamic love interest for Busy Phillips’ Red Plains Rider, with a knack for oratory greatness and helping his fellow man. Or robot. Or alien.
Once I got into this role of his, I remembered how much Fillion added to Buffy when he was added to the cast in season seven. As Caleb, an inarguably insane preacher working with the Big Bad First Evil, Fillion was one of the show’s most memorable villains by far—compelling from the start, and deeper as the season progressed. And I’ve always loved Fillion in Dr. Horrible, if only because he seems like he’s playing a parody of himself, a self-important but entirely harmless hunk. So I’ve come around completely on Nathan Fillion, and that got me wondering if there are any other circumstances in which I’ve done the same.
The most obvious is my recent turnaround on Joshua Malina, who I’d previously only seen in The West Wing. I don’t care for Malina’s West Wing character at all; the less said about that, the better, because I may start weeping over the loss of Sam Seaborn again. But once I heard an episode or two of Thrilling Adventure Hour featuring Malina as the barkeep at Sparks Nevada’s favorite saloon, I grew to really like the guy. It reminded me of the time he was on Jordan Jesse Go!, an occasionally terrific podcast, and how endearing he’d been there. And then he started singing, and I needed no more convincing that Joshua Malina was A-OK.
Of course, these things can go the opposite way. The first time I ever remember this happening was nearly ten years ago now. I was a fairly insufferable teenager, a fan of pseudo-intellectual literature and the films of Wes Anderson (which I probably called “films,” ew). One of my favorite authors was (ugh, this hurts) Chuck Palahniuk, the man behind the debatably well-done Fight Club and the kind of awful Lullaby, Invisible Monsters, and, now, many other pulpy novels chockfull of the kind of hedonism that is not in any way appealing. Nymphomania! Rampant drug abuse! Esoteric references to Radiohead! At some point, this got to be too much for even 17-year-old Christy, so I gave up on the guy and haven’t touched a Palahniuk book since. (Also, I wrote an editorial for my school newspaper lambasting his body of work. Please do me a favor and never, ever find this.)
TV is a harder medium to pin down in terms of varying tastes from season to season. That’s because the nature of a show is to evolve, and sometimes, if you’re particularly attached to the way a show was going, that can feel more like devolution. I’m not sure if that’s what happened with The Vampire Diaries, but I know I haven’t seen 75% of last season, and before that, I was a staunch defender of the show. Sure, it went down the love triangle road too often, a character dying meant essentially nothing, and the montages set to weepy postmodern love songs were cringe-inducing, but it also had a lot of heart, a great cast of characters, and, on occasion, surprisingly strong writing. That might all still be true, but I wouldn’t know, because I just got over it. Let me know if I should return to the show, because at one point, I really did love it.
Can this situation of love-to-ambivalence or vice versa happen to the same thing twice? This year, I found out that yes, it certainly can. I so disliked the How I Met Your Mother finale that I literally couldn’t watch it in syndication for months on end. But I just picked back up with it, and guess what? The episodes that were endlessly charming and sharply written and, often, truly resonant still are! I don’t find myself picking apart interactions between Ted and Robin, looking for hints at what was to come. Instead, I’m just laughing and saying out loud to Scott, “This is a really great episode.”
So maybe I’ll come back to <i>The Vampire Diaries</i>, and maybe I’ll decide to dislike Joshua Malina again. (Just kidding about the latter. Probably. Probably kidding about that.) In the meantime, I will marvel at my own shifting opinions, and I will write that marveling down, just like all good blahggers should.