AOQ Review 1-10: "Nightmares"

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Arbitrar Of Quality

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Jan 20, 2006, 9:26:39 AM1/20/06
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A reminder: Please avoid spoilers for later episodes in these review
threads.


BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Season One, Episode 10: "Nightmares"
(or "They shout about love but when push comes to shove/They search
for things they're afraid of")
Writer: David Greenwalt; story by Joss Whedon
Director: Bruce Seth Green

Like the name implies, this one's about nightmares. That makes most
of the episode pretty easy to summarize - various characters face
various nightmares come to life. How well something like this works
depends on three things: firstly how well it's presented, secondly
whether or not the viewer is a nightmare-oriented person, and thirdly
what else the show brings to the table beyond that central idea.

As far as presentation - okay, but not earth-shaking. The spiders
are an effective enough teaser, and Wendell, the first victim, is even
a little bit interesting given his menial role in the story; he gets a
line or two of BTVS-esque banter... then it turns out there's a
reason for the choice of spiders beyond ZOMG BUGS!!1EEEEW! It's his
personal nightmare. And the storyline is on. (Notice that the show is
restrained enough that it's able to introduce a background character
like this and leave him in the background without needing to kill him
off on the way out.)

That brings us to the problem, though; terror is specific to the
individual. The show tries its best to cover all bases by having a
whole bunch of different dreams, but unless one of them happens to
correspond to the viewer's particular fear, it's not all that
effective no matter how hard the actors try to convince us that
they're facing their deepest terror. Yet so much of the show just
consists of meandering from dream to dream in these little mini-scenes.
Some go on too long, some are too short, some are stronger, some are
weaker (Xander in his underwear, for instance, is quite the weak scene,
and I say this as someone who's had that dream... and why not nude?).
In the end it's just a collection of scenes, many of which won't
do much for any given viewer. The second factor in question, whether a
viewer is particularly nightmare-centered, also comes into play here
(which is why Mrs. Quality thought the episode was a lot more effective
there than I did).

I would like to give credit to the show, even though it compounds the
too-much-crap problem, for realizing that a given character can
actually have more than one nightmare; most "good/bad dreams come to
life" stories don't seem to realize this. [This is Stock Fantasy
Plot #184, for those keeping track.] Buffy's in particular have a
nice variety to them, from the universal (history test) to the deeply
personal (Hank's "revelation" is a more foreign fear to people
whose parents get along) to the Slayer-specific (The Master free).
Maybe since that last one is also basically a scary monster, they
should've incorporated more universal tropes (i.e. have Buffy try to
run but unable to get her legs to work properly) and then given more
time to her dreams and less to everyone else? I dunno.

This brings us to the third element I listed: what does the show _do_
with its premise? "Nightmares" comes off well in that regard.
Xander's early-show blasé-ness sets the stage nicely. Hey, so far,
most of BTVS has come down to the title character finding the problem
and killing something. Well, I guess this episode is ultimately like
that too, but it's not that easy. Along the way, we see Buffy
helpless in a way that she really hasn't been before. She also cries
for what I believe is the first time (naturally, it's because of
family rather than evil or teen love or standard teen angst). Maybe
the reason I'm drawn to the Buffy portions of the show is that seeing
Willow or whoever get scared isn't anything special, but watching the
usually unflappable Slayer so completely out of her element is
something new and interesting.

Another reason that part of the show catches my attention is the
presence of Jeremy Foley. Billy is a tough character to play. He's
got to seem creepy before his role becomes clear. Then he has to act
scared, but not in an immediate-danger way. The character should be
small and vulnerable, but with a little bit of dignity - he's a
twelve-year-old, not a little kid. And he has to show remorse about
the damage he's causing and look like he means it, while refusing to
do what needs to be done without the help of someone a little older and
braver. It' a tall order for a young actor, and Foley absolutely
shines with it. (Gellar is no slouch in the Buffy/Billy scenes
either.) However well you write the stuff, it doesn't work unless
the actors have the gravitas necessary to pull it off.

Moving on... the whole climax of the show is exhilarating, isn't it?
Start with the moment when Xander suddenly develops a look on his face
that says "fuck this, I'm not letting fear write the script
anymore." Then from there: Xander punching out the clown. Giles
being the necessary emotional support to help Buffy keep things
together while vampirized. Facing down the enemy in the hospital, and
Billy delivering the killing blow. Buffy's line that "there are
scarier things than you... and I'm one of them" is really just
standard action-hero stuff, but given what a bad day it's been for
everyone, it seems appropriate just then. It's about time for the
good guys to start satisfyingly kicking ass.

"Nightmares" finishes off with the nice revelation about Billy's
softball coach. This is one of those things that we really should've
seen coming, given how extensively the script set it up, but it still
surprised me. And it's thematically fitting too. Dreams are, after
all, shaped by the brain trying to make sense of chaotic neural signals
based on what it's familiar with from the waking world. And in the
show, the (immediate) cause of all these fantastical nightmares is
something decidedly realistic and non-fantasy: a man who thinks that
the best outlet for his aggression is to pummel a twelve-year-old kid a
third his size. Jail's too good for the fucker.

Random short takes:

1) I'm tired of Joyce waking Buffy up. But the car scene with Joyce
works great as both an exposition-dump and a, you know, scene.

2) Xander brushing against Willow and teasing her about the creepy
crawly spiders is a nice little moment. Very natural-looking.

3) Charisma Carpenter's pathetic attempt to convey "terrified" is
scarier than half of the nightmares in the show.

4) Greenwalt earns a smack in the face for "I had a dream, and you
were there..."

5) What's with the Nazis? It seems like just an offhand comment from
Xander at first about what kind of things are really scary in real
life, but then one of his nightmare sequences has swastikas painted on
the wall... which he doesn't acknowledge or even seem to notice.
Weird.

6) It's kinda unclear what's "real" at the end. Hank's
appearance at the end and Buffy's restored hotness suggest that the
nightmares' effects were actually un-done. But how far does time
rewind? Do the people in the room with Billy now have to start the day
again, or is it still afternoon? Does everyone else remember a
different non-nightmare version of things?


So....

One-sentence summary: The nightmares themselves are pedestrian at
times, but the overall episode is both entertaining and intriguing.

AOQ rating: Good

[Season One ratings so far:
1) "Welcome To The Hellmouth" - Good
2) "The Harvest" - Decent
3) "Witch" - Excellent
4) "Teacher's Pet" - Decent
5) "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" - Decent
6) "The Pack" - Excellent
7) "Angel" - Good
8) "I Robot... You Jane" - Weak
9) "The Puppet Show" - Decent
10) "Nightmares" - Good]

Mike Zeares

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Jan 20, 2006, 12:01:18 PM1/20/06
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Arbitrar Of Quality wrote:
>
> One-sentence summary: The nightmares themselves are pedestrian at
> times, but the overall episode is both entertaining and intriguing.

"Nightmares" isn't really one of my favorite episodes. As you say,
it's a bit pedestrian. Except for Buffy's nightmare with her father.
I got through it on first airing, but I haven't been able to actually
listen to the dialogue in that scene ever since. It's just too painful
and real; I'm with Buffy in that scene, and I just can't take it.
Because of that, perhaps, it's also the scene that convinced me that
BtVS wasn't just a silly action/horror/comedy show (this was only the
second ep I watched from begining to end; I'd missed some of the
earlier highlights like "Angel" and "The Pack"). So I have some
affection for the episode for that reason. I never missed another
episode for the run of the series.

You didn't answer the most important question, though: when Buffy was
a vamp, did you still think she was hot?

-- Mike Zeares (still hot to me).

Don Sample

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Jan 20, 2006, 12:17:22 PM1/20/06
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In article <1137767199....@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,

"Arbitrar Of Quality" <tsm...@wildmail.com> wrote:

> (Xander in his underwear, for instance, is quite the weak scene,
> and I say this as someone who's had that dream... and why not nude?).

He wasn't nude because BtVS wasn't shown on HBO. And to a certain
degree they were still aiming at the "family" audience.

I think that part of your problem with this episode is that you expect
all the nightmares to be terrifying, but for the most part, most
nightmares are pretty banal. The unexpected test, getting lost in the
library, having a bad hair day. None of those are terror inducing
things, but they are the sort of nightmares that people have. (Okay,
not very many of us have the bad hair one (at least I've never had it.))

Many of the dreams were about humiliation, not terror. (The tough guy
whose mother shows up at the school, Xander in his underwear, Cordy and
her hair and clothes.)

We move into the terrifying toward the end, with the clown, and Buffy
being buried alive, but other than Wendell's dream at the beginning they
were building up toward those.

--
Quando omni flunkus moritati
Visit the Buffy Body Count at <http://homepage.mac.com/dsample/>

Daniel Damouth

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Jan 20, 2006, 12:22:50 PM1/20/06
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"Arbitrar Of Quality" <tsm...@wildmail.com> wrote in
news:1137767199....@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com:

> 4) Greenwalt earns a smack in the face for "I had a dream, and you
> were there..."

It's a joke. "I had the strangest dream. And you were in it... and
you... who are you people?"

-Dan Damouth

EGK

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Jan 20, 2006, 12:49:05 PM1/20/06
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On 20 Jan 2006 06:26:39 -0800, "Arbitrar Of Quality" <tsm...@wildmail.com>
wrote:


>[Season One ratings so far:
>1) "Welcome To The Hellmouth" - Good
>2) "The Harvest" - Decent
>3) "Witch" - Excellent
>4) "Teacher's Pet" - Decent
>5) "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" - Decent
>6) "The Pack" - Excellent
>7) "Angel" - Good
>8) "I Robot... You Jane" - Weak
>9) "The Puppet Show" - Decent
>10) "Nightmares" - Good]

Just curious about your rating system. If you've already described it in
more detail I missed it. What are you comparing episodes to? For instance
you could name some shows you've really liked a lot in the past.

The reason I ask is through the course of BTVS there were always a lot of
people who would excuse what they thought were weak episodes by saying the
worst Buffy was better than most everything else on TV. :) I've never
bought that kind of hyperbole and it might be interesting to have you
mention something else you think is better, worse or comparable to these
individual episodes.

So far I think your ratings have been pretty fair except for The Puppet show
which has always been a guilty pleasure. It's kind of corny but the dialog
always makes me laugh. The sharp and humorous dialog is probably what drew
a lot of people to the series.
--
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

"There would be a lot more civility in this world if people
didn't take that as an invitation to walk all over you"
(Calvin and Hobbes)

Don Sample

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Jan 20, 2006, 12:50:21 PM1/20/06
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In article <dsample-8239B7...@news.giganews.com>,
Don Sample <dsa...@synapse.net> wrote:

> We move into the terrifying toward the end, with the clown, and Buffy
> being buried alive, but other than Wendell's dream at the beginning they
> were building up toward those.

Oh yeah...Buffy's birth year has now been given as 1979, 1980, and 1981.

(Two different birthdays are shown for her in IR--YJ: October 24, 1980,
and May 6, 1979.)

The 1981 shown on her tombstone is correct.

John Briggs

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Jan 20, 2006, 4:54:52 PM1/20/06
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Don Sample wrote:
> In article <dsample-8239B7...@news.giganews.com>,
> Don Sample <dsa...@synapse.net> wrote:
>
>> We move into the terrifying toward the end, with the clown, and Buffy
>> being buried alive, but other than Wendell's dream at the beginning
>> they were building up toward those.
>
> Oh yeah...Buffy's birth year has now been given as 1979, 1980, and
> 1981.
>
> (Two different birthdays are shown for her in IR--YJ: October 24,
> 1980, and May 6, 1979.)

Those don't count. Her school year/grade changed as well.

> The 1981 shown on her tombstone is correct.

Correct.
--
John Briggs


KenM47

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Jan 20, 2006, 5:57:41 PM1/20/06
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Daniel Damouth <dam...@san.rr.com> wrote:


I also thought that was funny. A reference and a rejection.

Ken (Brooklyn)

kenm47

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Jan 20, 2006, 6:21:57 PM1/20/06
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This episode, as best I can recall, I've always liked better in the
rewatching than when first aired. I never disliked it, just like it
more on the rewatching.

I always felt it was a compromise with the network, that it was
censored, that Billy was supposed to be a victim of sexual abuse as
well as physical, that it's that kind of childhood terror accepted in
the general view as more traumatic, as the kind of event that could
trigger the Nightmares world.

Other than that, I see this as another homage, this time to Freddy
Kruger, and as such a decent enough episode. Things I liked: the
acting. As I watch it now I realize this may have been the point when I
just accepted that these actors/actresses more often than not inhabited
their characters. SMG is wonderfully believeable, particularly in the
scene with Hank. Her broken heart becomes the viewers' broken heart.

Giles moment in the graveyard before we went all Carrie was also a nice
scene. Seeing vamp-Buffy was a guilty thrill as well.

AH did not look good in the kimono, which she waore for too long. I
always felt that dragged the episode down. I never got the Xander scene
when he faces his fear; a little foreshadowing of Billy unmasking the
ogre? That's all that makes any sense to me.

I loved the jokes of Cordy's nightmares, both the hair and the Chess
Club.

The reset button, agreed, makes little sense. That may be why I find
the episode off. As AOQ points out, where does this leave all the other
victims of the nightmares? Just gets brushed under the rug.

I also liked the Master's scenes, with Buffy in the first nightmare
through to the graveyard. His chatter with The Anointed One about fear
was also interesting, and resonates today still: "Fear is a wonderful
thing. It is *the* most powerful force in
the human world."

I think I like it now mainly for providing the additional background
and fears of the main characters, and any foreshadowing of future
events.

Ken (Brooklyn)

William George Ferguson

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Jan 20, 2006, 7:22:28 PM1/20/06
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On 20 Jan 2006 06:26:39 -0800, "Arbitrar Of Quality"
<tsm...@wildmail.com> wrote:

Nightmare-Hank's revelation was one of the nastiest pieces of work on
series that kinda specialized in nasty stuff.

It's tricky at the later point in the episode to keep track of who's
nightmare is whose. Specifically, meeting the Master is Buffy's
nightmare, Buffy being killed is Giles' nightmare, and Buffy being vamped
is Buffy's nightmare.


>Moving on... the whole climax of the show is exhilarating, isn't it?
>Start with the moment when Xander suddenly develops a look on his face
>that says "fuck this, I'm not letting fear write the script
>anymore." Then from there: Xander punching out the clown. Giles
>being the necessary emotional support to help Buffy keep things
>together while vampirized. Facing down the enemy in the hospital, and
>Billy delivering the killing blow. Buffy's line that "there are
>scarier things than you... and I'm one of them" is really just
>standard action-hero stuff, but given what a bad day it's been for
>everyone, it seems appropriate just then. It's about time for the
>good guys to start satisfyingly kicking ass.

They do this sort of scene with Buffy in other episodes (I tend to refer
to them collectively as 'Buffy in The Voice'). Fortunately, they don't
overwork it. There is a very fine line beteen effective and lame.

>"Nightmares" finishes off with the nice revelation about Billy's
>softball coach. This is one of those things that we really should've
>seen coming, given how extensively the script set it up, but it still
>surprised me. And it's thematically fitting too. Dreams are, after
>all, shaped by the brain trying to make sense of chaotic neural signals
>based on what it's familiar with from the waking world. And in the
>show, the (immediate) cause of all these fantastical nightmares is
>something decidedly realistic and non-fantasy: a man who thinks that
>the best outlet for his aggression is to pummel a twelve-year-old kid a
>third his size. Jail's too good for the fucker.

The reason that works so well is that it's set up completely, but in the
background, while they wave lots of stuff in the foreground for you to
focus on.

>Random short takes:
>
>1) I'm tired of Joyce waking Buffy up. But the car scene with Joyce
>works great as both an exposition-dump and a, you know, scene.
>
>2) Xander brushing against Willow and teasing her about the creepy
>crawly spiders is a nice little moment. Very natural-looking.
>
>3) Charisma Carpenter's pathetic attempt to convey "terrified" is
>scarier than half of the nightmares in the show.
>
>4) Greenwalt earns a smack in the face for "I had a dream, and you
>were there..."
>
>5) What's with the Nazis? It seems like just an offhand comment from
>Xander at first about what kind of things are really scary in real
>life, but then one of his nightmare sequences has swastikas painted on
>the wall... which he doesn't acknowledge or even seem to notice.
>Weird.

He read about Nazis, he got the wig, there really isn't a story here,
Will.

(at last I can start responding in quotes, just need to be careful)

>6) It's kinda unclear what's "real" at the end. Hank's
>appearance at the end and Buffy's restored hotness suggest that the
>nightmares' effects were actually un-done. But how far does time
>rewind? Do the people in the room with Billy now have to start the day
>again, or is it still afternoon? Does everyone else remember a
>different non-nightmare version of things?

There was no time rewind. You remember when nightmare Hank first showed
up, Buffy was surprised he was there so early? At the end, real Hank was
just arriving on time. Everybody remembered, although the Sunnydale
Forgetty Field, being in effect the run of the mill people probably
chalked up to nightmares caused by some atmospheric condition or chemical
spill leading to a case of mass hysteria ('nothing to see here, move
along').


--
HERBERT
1996 - 1997
Beloved Mascot
Delightful Meal
He fed the Pack
A little

Don Sample

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Jan 20, 2006, 8:05:00 PM1/20/06
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In article <mhu2t1dremuqoem22...@4ax.com>,

William George Ferguson <wmgf...@newsguy.com> wrote:

> There was no time rewind. You remember when nightmare Hank first showed
> up, Buffy was surprised he was there so early? At the end, real Hank was
> just arriving on time. Everybody remembered, although the Sunnydale
> Forgetty Field, being in effect the run of the mill people probably
> chalked up to nightmares caused by some atmospheric condition or chemical
> spill leading to a case of mass hysteria ('nothing to see here, move
> along').
>

Since all the physical stuff went back to normal, I think a lot of
people explained it away with things like "Oh that was a boring history
class. I dozed off and had a nightmare!"

Mike Zeares

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Jan 20, 2006, 9:47:39 PM1/20/06
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William George Ferguson wrote:
>
> Nightmare-Hank's revelation was one of the nastiest pieces of work on
> series that kinda specialized in nasty stuff.

I just watched it earlier today, and still could not listen to the
dialogue. I ff'ed through the scene. It's one of two scenes in the
series that I find impossible to listen to. The other one is (*gagged
by members of the Narn Spoiler Patrol*)....

Everybody remembered, although the Sunnydale
> Forgetty Field, being in effect the run of the mill people probably
> chalked up to nightmares caused by some atmospheric condition or chemical
> spill leading to a case of mass hysteria ('nothing to see here, move
> along').

Or gangs on PCP. ;-)

-- Mike Zeares

kenm47

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Jan 20, 2006, 11:55:36 PM1/20/06
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Yes, certainly up to now, the nightmare Hank scene inflicts more damage
on The Slayer than all the bads she's faced since coming to Sunnydale.
It's a brutal scene to watch, and the Buffy tears flow very naturally.
She never seemed more vulnerable.

Ken (Brooklyn)

drifter

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Jan 21, 2006, 12:22:27 AM1/21/06
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kenm47 wrote:

/some snippage occurs/

> AH did not look good in the kimono

> Ken (Brooklyn)

Blasphemer!

--

Kel
"I reject your reality, and substitute my own."


Daniel Damouth

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Jan 21, 2006, 2:19:39 AM1/21/06
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"Mike Zeares" <mze...@yahoo.com> wrote in
news:1137811659.7...@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com:

> It's one of two scenes in the
> series that I find impossible to listen to. The other one is
> (*gagged by members of the Narn Spoiler Patrol*)....

Oh, man, I hate that one too.

-Dan Damouth

--
Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all
other countries because you were born in it. -- George Bernard Shaw

Daniel Damouth

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Jan 21, 2006, 2:22:07 AM1/21/06
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"kenm47" <ken...@ix.netcom.com> wrote in
news:1137819336.7...@g43g2000cwa.googlegroups.com:

I suppose we could speculate that SMG's personal life contributed to
her performance in this scene. But then again, it's great writing and
she's always great at the tearful stuff.

-Dan Damouth

Arbitrar Of Quality

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Jan 21, 2006, 8:15:06 AM1/21/06
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Daniel Damouth wrote:

> It's a joke. "I had the strangest dream. And you were in it... and
> you... who are you people?"

Yes, I'm aware. Pop-culture ference and then put a twist on it, the
show does that a lot. I just feel that when Greenwalt is judged and
credited for all the good things he did to make the show what it is,
he'll also spend half an hour in Hell for that particlar line.

-AOQ

Arbitrar Of Quality

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Jan 21, 2006, 8:36:32 AM1/21/06
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EGK wrote:

> Just curious about your rating system. If you've already described it in
> more detail I missed it. What are you comparing episodes to? For instance
> you could name some shows you've really liked a lot in the past.

I explained it a little in my first review. It's a five-point scale
[Excellent/Good/Decent/Weak/Bad; I may ocassionally bust out
"SUPERLATIVE" or "ABOMINATION," but don't expect to see those much, if
at all]. Think of 'Decent" (3/5 if you're numbers-oriented) as the
standard for fairly-entertaining-but-disposable TV. Higher than
"Decent" is something noteworthy, lower is active dislike.

As for tastes... I don't watch a huge amount of TV. I tend to pick a
few shows and stick with them; I don't have time for "acceptable"
television, only stuff that grabs me. So although I don't "rate" shows
I'm not reviewing, I generally wouldn't watch something that wasn't
averaging at least "Good." My favorite series of all time is _Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine_. Of the weekly shows that are still running
(I'm not counting Comedy Central's daily fake news shows, or Iron
Chef), the ones I watch regularly are _House, M.D._, _Battlestar
Galactica_, and _Curb Your Enthusiasm_. Although _Firefly_ didn't last
long enough to be a major favorite, it probably had the highest
quality-per-episode ratio I've ever seen.

-AOQ

kenm47

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Jan 21, 2006, 1:02:29 PM1/21/06
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Hey! If she was perfect, she wouldn't be Willow. :-)

Ken (Brooklyn)

JJ Karhu

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Jan 21, 2006, 6:53:02 PM1/21/06
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On 21 Jan 2006 05:36:32 -0800, "Arbitrar Of Quality"

<tsm...@wildmail.com> wrote:
>averaging at least "Good." My favorite series of all time is _Star
>Trek: Deep Space Nine_. Of the weekly shows that are still running
>(I'm not counting Comedy Central's daily fake news shows, or Iron
>Chef), the ones I watch regularly are _House, M.D._, _Battlestar
>Galactica_, and _Curb Your Enthusiasm_. Although _Firefly_ didn't last
>long enough to be a major favorite, it probably had the highest
>quality-per-episode ratio I've ever seen.

Oh my. You, sir, have a good taste!

// JJ

drifter

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Jan 23, 2006, 6:02:29 AM1/23/06
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As Harry from 3rd Rock From The Sun once said (approximately);
"It's all my foibles and quirks that make me so delightfully
Harry!"

Eric Hunter

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Jan 23, 2006, 10:11:33 AM1/23/06
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Don Sample wrote:
> In article <1137767199....@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
> "Arbitrar Of Quality" <tsm...@wildmail.com> wrote:
>
>> (Xander in his underwear, for instance, is quite the weak scene,
>> and I say this as someone who's had that dream... and why not nude?).
>
> He wasn't nude because BtVS wasn't shown on HBO. And to a certain
> degree they were still aiming at the "family" audience.

This always bothered me, too. Obviously they couldn't do
full-frontal nudity, but a profile-shot showing exposed hip,
but nothing else, and a strategically placed desk as he stood
in front of the class could have suggested he was naked
without showing any "naughty bits". It would have been a
much more effective nightmare that way. Standing in front
of the class in a pair of loose boxer shorts just doesn't work.

Eric.
--

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