Since the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.
What is this composite, amalgamated entity? If you’re a fan of anything Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, or generally geek, you’ve seen movies and/or TV shows by at least one of these three gentlemen — if not all three — even if you don’t know their names. Of the many things they have in common, the most obvious (and least important) is that all of their names start with “J”. I frequently can’t think of one without thinking of the other two. Together they are like some triune entity, the three faces of a Geek (not “Greek”) god.
Let’s explore their credentials together.
While his name may be in front of the critically-acclaimed LOST, now in its final season on ABC, real credit for its continued success goes to show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Even so, from the very first episode, this series had the welcome fingerprints of Mr. Abrams all over it. Mysterious plane crash where most of the survivors inexplicably survive? Check. Inexplicable forest monster? Check. The lame walking and the sick healed? Check and check.
If you don’t believe me, let’s go back a little further to a show called Alias. This was in the days before Jennifer Garner was better half of Bennifer Part Deux, busting up the inside of your TV with sweet fighting moves and scintillating lingerie that would make your gay aunt blush. Ass-kicking-in-style aside, at the heart of the show’s mythology was a chase after the mantle and the very real remains of a fictional philosopher/inventor/prophet called Rambaldi. Unlike many of the doomsayers of our literal past, Rambaldi’s predictions were usually quite spot-on, including diagrams for what looked like the inner workings of a cell phone. Harkening back to “G is for Grails“, the ultimate prize was the mysterious Rambaldi Device, which promised unimaginable power. Like LOST, it had bad guys that were REALLY bad, but you loved to hate and hated yourself for loving. It had good guys that were of questionable goodness. And, like LOST, it was all about the people. (For good or for ill, this is also the show that introduced us to Bradley Cooper.)
Which is why it might be a shock that this is also the mind that launched Felicity. But if it’s all about the people, is it really that surprising? And lest you worry that this just another college soap/drama about how people screw up their relationships and sleep with everyone else on the main cast because there’s nothing else to do, you should cast your eyes to the final season. Felcity (played by Keri Russell — remember that!) finds herself back in her freshman year, yet still aware of everything that had occurred (but apparently had been undone) in the last four years. Then again, it could just be a plot contrivance to fill out six episodes the producers hadn’t planned on making, and this flight from reality is meaningless. Then again, Only Idiots Like Felicity.
Of course, JJ’s most recent (and most hailed) success was making Star Trek relevant again last year after five series and ten movies. Who else could have succeeded, where such poignant parodies as Galaxy Quest should have ensured that no one would take the franchise seriously again? Like Felicity and LOST (and, to some extent, Alias), the plot of Star Trek (2009) hinges upon a time travel event, which — more like Felicity than LOST — fails to explain all of the apparent differences. But it’s also a grand collision of geek titans: Zachary Quinto from “Heroes” as Spock, a screenplay penned by Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman of “Transformers” fame, and Damon Lindelof from “LOST” producing. Out of all these things, Star Trek is the only one that still has a future, even though it lost out on a Best Picture nod.
If JJ is a Star Wars fan who remade Star Trek, then Joss Whedon is a man cut from the same cloth, but who so far has sustained himself on original (and just as critically-acclaimed) geek properties. He also has a thing for strong women characters”. But one thing at a time…
Nearly every geek has heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, however before the TV show there was a movie. A very campy movie starring Pee Wee Herman, heartthrob Luke Perry from 90210, and some-chick-you’ll-never-hear-from-again. It was just as corny as the title suggests, but it was an excuse to… well… I don’t know what exactly. But finding out that the TV show had anything to do with that long-gone film of yesteryear, much less that the connective tissue was Whedon himself, was quite a revelation to someone who only knew of it peripherally because his sister loved to watch it. SO MUCH. Its spinoff — like JJ Abrams’ Felicity — was on the WB, which is where Buffy herself wound up. In that time, the show took a much more serious tone than the vapid, bubblegum romp that inspired it. It also showed Whedon’s penchant for interesting character development, and then pulling at viewers’ heart strings as quickly as he pulled out the rug (and sometimes the lives) from under fan favorites. Even the much-vaunted musical episode was a taste of things to come.
What made Joss Whedon a name in the the circles where I run was the launch of a little show called “Firefly”. If the original Star Trek was a “wagon train to the stars”, then Firefly was truly a western in space. Like real life, and less like other sci fi universes that swing the idealism pedulum to one side, Firefly gave us a future world that — much like the one we live in — is fantastic for some, but not so good for others. Our heroes were men and women living on the margins, but IN SPACE. Its subsequent premature cancellation (the first of many for Whedon) would be a clarion call to geeks everywhere. (Well, some geeks; I was too busy mourning the fate of Farscape.) It caused such an outcry that the series got a proper ending in the form of a feature film that was so praised, it was said to have rivaled impact of the original Star Wars. How could it not? It had all of the Joss Whedon hallmarks: rapid-fire, witty dialogue; an adorable penchant for mischief; and an untimely and surprising character death that left you in shock for the rest of the film. It might even be argued that this should-have-been-impossible-to-make film helped pave the way for the possibility of JJ’s successful Star Trek revamp.
Which is why it’s so sad and surprising that Dollhouse was such a critical and commercial failure. (But it still got TWO full seasons!) It lacked the heart of earlier Whedon offerings. It’s hard to have a strong female lead when that lead spends much of her time being a vegetable. The show later found its footing in questioning the nature of identity, questions of the soul, and the dangers of technology, but its management at the hands of the same network that canceled Firefly left the show’s creator wondering why he didn’t stick to internet video.
AND WHY NOT? Doctor Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog is a three-part masterpiece that epitomizes everything that fans love about Joss Whedon. It’s like Buffy: The Musical, except the cast members were actually selected for their singing ability first and foremost. Nathan Fillion (from Firefly) teams up with Felicia Day (later from Dollhouse) and Neil Patrick Harris (just AWESOME) to bring us the same quirky, skewed slant on usual geek and musical tropes with the same heartbreaking ending one comes to expect from a Whedon outing. Even the commentary was done as a musical. You don’t get much better than that.
Well, maybe a little better. Judd Apatow has directly (and, through his peers, indirectly) ruled the comedy film roost since “The 40 Year Old Virgin”. Each of his films is about a geeky social misfit who finally finds a way to to be a little more normal. Unlike other films about geek conformity, though, the characters in Apatow’s films tend to be fairly well-adjusted to their flagrant disregard for societal norms. These films are less about “how to be normal when you grow up”, but rather “how to grow up, but still be a geek.” And proud of it!
Out of all the films that could be credited to his troupe and sensibilities (Anchorman, Superbad, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Year One), only 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People sit upon his directing mantle. But we can credit this comedic renaissance, and its themes, with this one man — even if he is responsible for “The Cable Guy”…
But he was also the mastermind of television’s aptly-named (and very telling) Freaks and Geeks. As someone who never saw that show, but loves the movies, I can only imagine what it must be like for Judd Apatow fans who have been there since “the beginning”.
Judd Apatow may not run in quite the same circles as his other “J” counterparts, but he frequently employs or collaborates with geek favorites in his movie-making entourage: Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Will Farrel, Harold Ramis, Jack Black, and many others.
It’s not easy being geek
Be that as it may, is it long before more crossovers begin to happen? Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion already hooked up in “The Waitress”. Dollhouse captured a couple of Battlestar Galactica alumni. Allyson Hannigan (Willow from Buffy) and Neil Patrick Harris currently co-star together on How I Met Your Mother.
The geek event horizon is upon us! There is no escape. J is the alpha and the omega.
Enjoy the universe while it lasts, fellow geeks.