HBO Greenlights a New Joss Whedon Show, Critics Immediately Groan

joss whedon

While talented marginalized filmmakers and writers struggle to get their pilots and scripts read, HBO has decided to give a straight-to-series order on a show by the controversial and abusive Joss Whedon. Whedon’s new series, The Nevers, will be centered on a group of women in the Victorian era who discover strange abilities and various conspiracies. Think Penny Dreadful meets, well, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series apparently was highly sought after, with Netflix also attempting to score it for their streaming service.

It’s hard to describe the emotions Whedon evokes in geek culture. On the one hand, he created Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and directed The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the other … Well, the less said about him the better. There’s an argument to be made about how terrible, allegedly abusive men continuously get second chances, and Whedon is the perfect example of that. But also, he’s not even that good of a writer any longer. He relies on the same storytelling devices over and over and his concept of “feminism” is incredibly dated compared to how far we’ve come in terms of representation.

Buffy was groundbreaking for the quick wit, the female and LGBT representation, and how shocking it could be with characters getting killed off left and right. But the problem is that these are the only tropes Whedon knows how to use. This is most evident in Avengers: Age of Ultron, when he wipes out Quicksilver, who can outrun bullets, with a bullet because apparently, we needed something to cry over. (Hawkeye in his Renner-esque glory was right there, but I digress.) Some of his big deaths are powerful in their impact. Others, like Tara on Buffy, are just for shock value and are a slap in the face to viewers.

Tara’s death also stands out because it shows how badly Whedon understands representation. To take out one half of television’s most well known lesbian couple at a time when there was barely any LGBT representation onscreen, simply for shock value? That’s not female-forward or socially conscious storytelling. It’s just cruelty, a straight man deciding that his lesbian characters are disposable. To rub salt in the wound, that was the first episode in which actress Amber Benson is credited as a series regular. Again, that’s not clever. It’s cruel.

That leads into a very controversial take: Whedon has a very poor handle on what accounts for feminist representation. Buffy makes the decision to sleep with her boyfriend and is subsequently punished for that by seeing him turning evil. She is consistently verbally abused by her allies, tortured by her enemies, and nearly raped by one of her lovers. And that’s just what I can recall off the top of my head. Both female leads in Angel are killed off, even if Fred’s body is taken over by a demon so her physical form is still there. On Firefly, Inara is shamed by Mal for her job as a sex worker and Whedon dreamed of doing an episode in which she’s gang-raped.

The Avengers and Age of Ultron avoided sexualized violence for the most part. Sure, Loki’s threats to Natasha, coupled with his use of the phrase “mewling quim,” have the undercurrent of sexism and sexual violence, and Tony Stark—the protagonist—makes a joke about re-instituting prima nocta, but the violence aimed at women tends to be quieter. Consider how Natasha calls herself a monster because she can’t have children. She compares herself to the Hulk because she was sterilized against her will, which is just insulting. There is no way to defend that writing choice because no one in the film steps up and says that she’s wrong for thinking that, that she is more than her ability to have kids.

Of course, that would require Whedon to care about Natasha. He loves sexualizing her, like in her introduction in The Avengers, or making her fall for his self-insert Bruce Banner. Despite having a strong relationship with Hawkeye, Whedon decided that Natasha’s heart belongs with Bruce, which is not a bad pairing ostensibly but in execution is terrible, as she spends most of the film flinging herself at him or needing to be rescued from either a whitewashed Wanda Maximoff (oh yes, let’s not forget he turned a Jewish Romani woman into a white girl who signs up for Nazi experiments) or from Ultron himself.

To discuss all the tropes he relies on—the nerdy self-insert man who always gets the girl, the fact women must always break to be strong, the fact he’s really bad at handling race in his projects—would take all day. The problem is that he’s lost his creative touch. His last creative project was Cabin in the Woods and that was drenched in problematic elements. Now he’s mostly famous for allegedly cheating on his wife and gaslighting her because feminism and for writing the world’s most offensive Wonder Woman script.

The problem is is that there are countless marginalized writers who deserve the chance to have their scripts picked up by HBO or Netflix, but instead, a man who hasn’t had a truly creative project in years and who is an accused abuser gets a straight-to-series pickup. This is ridiculous. Audiences deserve better, and so do the writers who could change the game with their unique perspective. But sure, HBO, let’s just go with the same tired point of view. Because that always draws monster ratings.

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter; Image: Shutterstock)

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