Buffy vs Felicity

I watch Felicity for the same reason I watch a train wreck. I know I shouldn't, I know I'm displaying bad taste, I know it's vulgar, but I just can't turn away. I know that something horrible is about to happen and even though I don't want to see it, I have to. I guess it's the same thing that impelled so many of us to watch that low speed car chase. Every week Felicity takes a moderately interesting idea and some actually intriguing characters and manages just that perfect combination of mundane writing and mediocre acting to turn it into a disaster. There are bodies all over the place.

I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the same reason I reread Lord of the Rings every year or so. It's an old story and it can only have one ending, but it is so good. Every week Buffy takes a hackneyed storyline and shopworn ideas and manages just that perfect combination of brilliant writing and intriguing characterization to turn it into an hour of excellent television.

Now both these shows are about teenagers, Buffy is set in a high school and Felicity in a university. Both focus on the problems that teenagers normally face: getting along with parents, dealing with friends, dealing with romantic/sexual relationships. Buffy adds a layer of fantasy to this while Felicity strives for realism.

I'm old enough not to want to associate with teenagers and young enough to remember what it was like to be one. When I watch these shows I ask myself whether my school days were like that. When I look at Felicity I see young people who are obsessed with themselves, perceive their romantic relationships as the most important thing in the world, and are inarticulate whenever it comes time to say something important. When I look at Buffy, I see young people who are remarkably articulate and witty and concern themselves with the problems of the world often putting aside their own romantic concerns in order to deal with them.

There's no question that my life was much closer to that depicted in Felicity than Buffy. And, unless you led a very strange childhood, so was yours. But thinking back to those years, one question comes to mind. Who would want to relive them? Not me.

And that's the reason Felicity is a disaster (although it might appeal to those who are too young to have lived through the tragedy of the post puberty years) and Buffy is a success. Felicity accurately portrays young adults. And no one in his right mind wants to be around those people. They are boring. They don't know what they want and they spend endless hours anguishing over it. The most insignificant things are important to them. Whether it's writing an essay or having sex, who cares?

Buffy, on the other hand, gives me the kind of teen years I wish I'd had. Yes, they have some angst. But it's a lot better than what I remember. Xander claims to be a geek, but he's a geek who made the swim team. He's a geek who dated the campus queen. And computer geek Willow dates Oz (also a geek but in a band so he's definitely cool). The campus queen is probably the least happy person in this ensemble. And these teens are so witty, so articulate. They constantly make puns and references to great books. At least three of them aced their SATs. And they never seem to go to class. Xander's parents are always absent. Willow's don't notice anything she does. Oz's seem equally uninterested. And Joyce has now accepted her daughter being a slayer.

Buffy and her friends lead the perfect teen life. Their parents don't bug them, they can skip class at will, and they have exciting secret lives. Felicity and her friends lead the real life of school. They cram for exams, their parents keep causing them problems, and the most exciting thing in their lives is going for a latte. Now, there's a lot to be said for verisimilitude; but if I'm going to invest an hour a week in watching something, it ought to be something I haven't already lived through. Something I might like to live through. Buffy gives me that, Felicity doesn't.

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