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 The Vampire Diaries, 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.

Springtime in the City

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A well-read cat, an elevated ankle, and a dinosaur sock.

A very summery springtime kicked off last weekend. It’s been remarkably beautiful outside, aside from some dreary weather in the middle of the week. Don’t get me wrong. I love rain. I just love it less when I’m walking in it.

Last Monday, I started a new job proofreading, copywriting, and editing for a marketing agency called Medallion Retail. In the span of five work days it’s been quite rewarding, what with the feelings of satisfaction when I find a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it typo or get to try my hand at writing an event advertisement for an author’s book tour.

Working in the city (Chelsea specifically) means I get to explore a neighborhood that’s relatively new to me five days a week, and the exploration won’t get old in the foreseeable future. There are a myriad of shops and restaurants and men and women with contented dogs on leashes. Strangers (as is the case in my own neighborhood) say hello on rare occasion, and it’s just a really good place to be.

I’ve been reading almost excessively lately, if such a thing is possible. I just started Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, a much buzzed about novel involving something like reincarnation, but more like infinite chances to start over with the same existence. It’s hard to describe and I’m not sure I get it 67 pages in. But I’m having a fun time figuring it out. Aside from Ms. Atkinson, my affection for John Green and David Levithan is ever-growing, I’m currently waiting on six holds from the library (first up: the John Green-recommended The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon), and I’m rereading A Storm of Swords. You may or may not recall that this is my favorite book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and you almost certainly know that the current season of Game of Thrones covers the first half of this book. I’m reading it as a kind of refresher course, and also because it’s awesome.

As per usual, I’m keeping up on my stories, which is a goofy way to describe NBC Thursday night comedies and maybe an apt way to identify The Vampire Diaries. I’m looking at the archives here and realizing I’ve never really gotten into my affection for this show, and that seems like a story for another time. In short: this is a soapy show, but it’s also genuinely well written, well acted, and a lot of fun to watch. Also, Scott and I watched a few hours of Avatar: The Last Airbender over the weekend with some newcomers and fellow A:TLA fans, and I was reminded that I will never stop loving that show. (Oh, can’t forget this: played Dominion for the first time in ages with friends, and boy, did I miss board game nights.)

And that’s about the gist of it for now. My parents are visiting at the end of the month, and a full report will follow. Stay tuned, or something like that.

Female Friendships That Work

Warning: this post contains mild spoilers for each series mentioned, however oblique. Apologies for not catching that sooner.

A while back, I wrote a post documenting my favorite fictional bromances. Then last night, I started thinking about female friendships on TV and how hard it was to find examples of really great ones. But I was able to make a list anyway, and aren’t you glad of that? (Note: the alternative would be me posting pictures of my cat’s surgery scar, and I really don’t think you want that.)

Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There’s a moment in the second season of Buffy that occurs shortly after vampire slayer Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) loses her virginity to Angel (David Boreanaz), the brooding vampire with a soul. Buffy’s not quite ready to tell anyone what happened, even her closest friends. But all it takes is a single meaningful glance for Willow (Alyson Hannigan) to know what occurred and know Buffy needs, more than anything else, a friend who understands why she did what she did and what the consequences might be. (As it turns out, they’re pretty dire, but that’s a story for another time.) That exchange of glances is emblematic of Buffy and Willow’s still young friendship. It establishes how well connected they are and how much they need each other’s companionship–and there’s no definition of friendship that’s purer than that. By the time season seven rolls around, Buffy and Willow have been through all kinds of hell together and they’re closer than ever, just as the best of friends should be.

Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins, Parks & Recreation

Though Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ann’s (Rashida Jones) relationship isn’t the most interesting or entertaining on Parks & Recreation, it feels the realest. They’re two relatively normal people living and thriving in Pawnee, Indiana, brought together more by circumstance than shared interests or common bonds. And yet, they end up having the most organic-feeling friendship, partnering over projects, supporting each other in the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships, and accepting each other’s occasional quirks and shortcomings.

Caroline Forbes and Elena Gilbert, The Vampire Diaries

Though Elena (Nina Dobrev) doesn’t often describe Caroline (Candice Accola) as her best friend, Caroline is unquestionably the most reliable person in her life. No matter how terrible circumstances get for Caroline–and sometimes, they’re terrible by any measure–she’s still up for doing whatever it takes to protect, comfort, and support Elena. This is a tall order, one Elena’s best friend Bonnie (Kat Graham) and vampire loves Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) can’t consistently live up to. But Caroline can, making her scenes, with Elena and otherwise, some of the most emotionally resonant and convincing the show produces.

Annie Edison, Britta Perry, and Shirley Bennett, Community

Annie (Alison Brie), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) have next to nothing in common. Annie’s a young, overachieving eternal optimist, Britta’s a hardened 20-something causehead, and Shirley’s a mother of three with a strong moral compass and a tendency to nurture everyone in sight. Somehow, though, their differing viewpoints make their friendships work wonderfully as they help each other to understand the struggles presented by enrolling in community college when there’s so much more for them beyond the Greendale campus. Plus, few things are funnier than seeing Shirley help Annie back to the on-campus med center in only her flimsy hospital gown or Annie handing Britta a banana reading “You are a lying junkie.”

Lily Aldrin and Robin Scherbatsky, How I Met Your Mother

No matter how unsatisfying it can sometimes be, I’ll always love one thing about How I Met Your Mother: the friendships feel real. When the gang meets Robin (Cobie Smulders) in the series premiere, it shifts their group dynamic in such a way that Lily (Alyson Hannigan–hi again!) finally has a female friend, one with whom she can chat about the things she’d never tell hopeless romantic Ted (Josh Radnor), philandering suit-wearer Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), or even her husband Marshall (Jason Segel). Sure, they argue about things both trivial and serious, but what real life friends don’t? No matter how tough or personal their conflicts become, they always end up finding ways to resolve them and get back together at McLaren’s Pub for the umpteenth time.