As much as we all fervently and loyally love Joss Whedon, it's time to face facts: His mojo is off. It's not gone -- I'd never suggest such a thing. One look at Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the better episodes of Dollhouse prove that the magic is still there. However, it has lost its focus, writhing in the ether, struggling to gain the fame of his earlier television work -- fame that while never massive, was solid, loyal, and passionate.
With Dollhouse canceled, the question on everyone's mind is how can he get back to the success of Buffy? How can he shrug off the pain of two battles for ratings and second seasons, and present a show that ushers in a fandom rivaling what came before with Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander?
1. Start with a Simple, Well-Thought-Out Concept
Dollhouse is confusing. It's not easy to relay to outsiders, and even as a fan, I would have a hard time truly boiling it down to its essence. But even more troubling -- it seems to constantly change as if the PTB aren't truly sure what the series should be, what path it should take. That is something that's clearly not Whedonesque. We're talking about the guy who slid references to Dawn and Buffy's death two years before they were slated to happen with the line "Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0."
The thing that made Buffy different than the shows that came after: Joss had time to mull it over and come up with a concrete plan. There were 5 years between the massacred film and Whedon's show. Five years to solidify his own ideas for the premise after it got turned into a fluff flick; five years to decide exactly what he wanted to say, and how.
Furthermore, while supernatural, the concept was simple: Discuss the growing pains of high school and other social issues with the help of demons. Real life in a surreal world. There wasn't a big cast and a convoluted plot to keep straight. We had Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander (and, increasingly and briefly, Cordelia), and as supporting cast members made their mark on the show and fan base, their contributions increased. That way, extra players were never confusing and never detracted from the plot because they'd already claimed their stake, and the audience wanted more.
While the show did, indeed, grow, Buffy never needed time to get good. Episodes like "Angel" and "Prophecy Girl" hinted at the greatness to come, and the second season was an all-out powerhouse.
Very few people want to wait around while a show finds out what works.
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