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Let’s be Less Rotten: Thoughts on Spoilers

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Author’s Note: In order to write this post I had to include spoilers, which is silly but true (and kind of why I wrote it). I redacted all spoilers. I’ve linked each redaction to something that tells you what plot point I’m referring to. Click at your own risk. The links are, by definition, SPOILERS

I’ve been thinking about spoilers a lot, recently.They’re everywhere. For people writing about entertainment (especially TV these days) it’s rough.Writers try to avoid spoiling people, but sometimes they fail. They add capitalized and bolded SPOILER ALERTS to articles and posts. They try to keep them out of the comments. I’ve seen recaps use a blackout system. I myself have recently discovered the art of [REDACTION].

But sometimes, I think, our collective fear of spoilers can be as harmful as the spoilers themselves. I think we could, perhaps, relax a little. If we change the way we approach spoilers, I think we all might feel a little better.

Spoilers suck and they are everywhere

Okay let’s start by agreeing that spoilers are the worst. They genuinely can take the fun out of entertainment. It might seem trivial, but for certain, some things should stay hidden. There is a certain joy (sometimes followed by unendurable sadness and/or anger) in being surprised by something. Weren’t you genuinely bowled over when (REDACTED) happened in Game of Thrones? Wasn’t it so perfect when they revealed [REDACTED] on Battlestar Galactica? Even for a sitcom like How I Met Your Mother, wasn’t [REDACTED] just crazy? Wouldn’t the experience of watching these shows be cheapened by knowing THE-BIG-THING-THAT-HAPPENED? Yeah it would.

But spoilers are just literally all over the place. I have a friend who, in one night, spoiled [REDACTED] from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and [REDACTED] from  A Song of Ice and Fire  (and consequently, Game of Thrones) for a group. It was an accident. But people still got spoiled. I’m guilty of this too. I tend to just irrationally believe that everyone has watched and read everything I have and only that. What was worse than [REDACTED] in Game of Thrones? [REDACTED] in Angel, or [REDACTED] in The Sopranos or worse still [REDACTED] in Buffy! I tend to accidentally lay land mines in conversations for my friends who don’t watch quite as much TV as I do (read: all my friends).

The internet is way, way worse. Unless you’re planning on avoiding social media and news outlets all together, you best watch your shows live. I mean, the reaction to episode 9 of this season’s Game of Thrones was so prevalent that before we were done reacting to the episode we started reacting to each other’s spoilers. And it’s not just social media. Don’t forget how an actor spoiled the world for Downton Abbey by [REDACTED].

So yeah, spoilers are awful and can be hard to avoid. I’m totally with you on that. But there are ways to make them suck less.

Rosebud is a sled, not a spoiler

I was spoiled for [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED] in Lost by virtue of having been alive while it was on the air, but not watching it until about a year ago. It sucked but it was unavoidable.

A problem I find in spoiler culture is that some moments from TV and film and books have become part of our larger culture, but they’re still taboo to talk about. I want to list things Harry PotterThe Sixth Sense, Twin Peaks and more right now, but I don’t want to spoil any of you. But at the same time, it’s been years.

So there’s got to be a statute of limitations on spoilers.

It can’t just be a number, because the significance of these plot points isn’t just a product of the date they became public. It’s cultural, like I said. Some shows’ plots are more well-known than others. And it’s different for tv than for say, movies or books, because TV by nature tends to have more spoiler opportunities. I feel like, at this point The Sixth Sense should be fair game. It premiered in 1999. But that same year had bits of the third and fourth seasons of Buffy, which are definitely not fair game.

So maybe we can’t make a hard and fast rule, but we can be more understanding. It’ll have to be based on a “feeling” but that’s all we’ve got. Examples: I won’t spoil the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movies, but The Wrath of Khan is on the table. I’ll stay away from 24 but not Friends. Psycho can be discussed but Bates Motel cannot. Are you with me? I hope so.

Regardless, I think we can all agree that Shakespeare’s statute has expired.

If spoilers are bad, surprises have to be good

We all spend a lot of time trying to avoid spoilers and/or griping about how we’ve been spoiled. But then as soon as we see great plots, we start immediately noting how “we knew it all along.”

The best example of this that I can think of occurred during season six of the new Doctor Who. At the midseason finale, we finally discovered [REDACTED]. I personally thought it was a big deal. A pretty huge deal. If I recall correctly I had to get up off my bed where I was watching it and run around just to get my adrenaline out. 

But some decided to rain on my parade. “It was so obvious,” they’d say, or “I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming,” as if I am quite the idiot for being shocked by something that was designed to shock me. For the record this twist isn’t foreshadowed very much in the show. There are subtle hints. When you rewatch you’ll think to yourself, “oh, that’s what that was about.” But I really doubt very many people “totally knew that was going to happen.”

People talk about a twist or surprise or reveal afterwards with such negativity. And yeah, sometimes they are super disappointing, like [REDACTED], another instance from Doctor Who. But sometimes moments are so good and so genuinely surprising, they remind us why we hate spoilers in the first place. Trying to make yourself seem clever afterwards by claiming to have “called it” cheapens the surprise.

Follow the signs

I’m behind on Mad Men right now. And as a result, I’ve been steering clear of twitter Sundays at 9pm. I’ve been careful when looking on entertainment news sites. I scroll past anything I see with “Mad Men” or “Draper” in the headline. I’m keeping myself spoiler-free.

You can too! Yeah I get it, sometimes you just want to go on facebook without being accidentally spoiled. But be smart. If you’re a fan who’s missing an episode for some reason or who regularly watches the next day, stay off  dangerous sites until you’ve seen the episode. If you live on the West Coast wait to go on twitter until the episode airs for you. Talk about it with people who live there too. Don’t yell at the East coasters who tweeted to each other three hours ago. Be smart about it, and you won’t need to rage-tweet until you actually watch the episode and find out who died. Then you rage tweet at the show-runner.

It’s all about the journey

Above all we need to remember that spoilers are a fact of life in the internet age, and they’re not going away anytime soon. I’ve been spoiled for lots of shows. Lost, like I mentioned before but also, BuffyAngelMad MenThe SopranosPsychThe West Wing, How I Met Your Mother and probably a bunch more I can’t remember specifically. But I still love all of those shows. Yeah I knew that someone was going to die or a couple was going to get together or an identity was going to be revealed or any number of other plot points, but I still was enthralled watching all these things happen. I still got emotional and involved.

Having read A Song of Ice and Fire is arguably one giant Game of Thrones spoiler. But I still watch the show. Because knowing how it ends doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the ride on the way there.

So let’s be smart about spoilers. And then we can get back to what’s really important: watching way too much TV.

The Best 24 Hours of TV (Part 2)

Today I continue the list I started of the best hours of TV. Like 24-13, this list only includes hour-long series from the last twenty years or so, and only shows I’ve watched (again, sorry about the lack of The Wire). Again, spoilers for all these shows up the the episode listed. So if you’re not caught up skip down.

12. “Blink” Doctor Who, Series 3 Episode 11

It’s a bit of a shame that the only episode of Doctor Who to make my list doesn’t really feature much of the Doctor, but that’s part of the reason this episode is so compelling. Following Sally Sparrow (an early-career Carey Mulligan!) as she interacts with vestiges the Doctor has left behind after being trapped in 1969, the episode uses time travel in a truly unique way. It’s an episode longtime fans and neophytes can enjoy equally, as the audience is reintroduced to the Doctor along with Sally. Steven Moffat is at his best here, before he became showrunner, telling a story about some truly terrifying monsters who can only move when they aren’t seen. He taps into one of our fundamental fears: you must look at the thing that wants to kill you, stare at it unblinkingly, or it will get you. I’d recommend not watching this episode too close to bedtime.

11. “Q&A” Homeland, Season 2 Episode 5

It’s hard not to watch this episode from Homeland’s second season and say to yourself, “damn, this is good television.” That’s certainly what I said to myself as I watched Carrie systematically break Brody down in the interrogation room, all pretentions, secrets, and distractions gone. The sometimes absurd nature of the show is gone. The extraneous teenagers are gone. The exotic settings and characters are gone. It’s just the two of them there, in that room. Claire Danes and Damien Lewis are those characters. They own this episode. And they will take your breath away.

10. “The Wheel” Mad Men, Season 1 Episode 13

“Good luck at your other meetings,” Duck Phillips says to Kodak after Don’s intense presentation of his campaign for their new slide projector. Really, Matthew Weiner is saying to the audience, “good luck watching any other TV show after seeing this.” Mad Men started off its first season a little shaky, with a great concept but so-so execution. Quickly it morphed into the best show on television (at that moment) and culminated in this astounding season 1 finale. A lot happens and a lot is wrapped up, but the episode is really about those minutes with Kodak and Don. Don’s pitch with photos from his own Potemkin life with Betty was so convincing he even sold himself on this life a little bit. And so he rushes home to what he imagines will be a glorious welcome, but in reality, is the emptiness he has enshrouded himself in.

9. “Two Cathedrals” The West Wing, Season 2 Episode 22

After Aaron Sorkin ripped out our souls by killing Mrs. Landingham (the late-great Kathryn Joosten) in the penultimate episode of season 2, he delivered this force-of-nature episode to close out the year. If The West Wing was about bringing a microscope to the often faceless government and humanizing a figure as distant as the president, it never does it better than in this episode. It’s actually perfect, from the flashbacks to President Bartlett’s youth with his father to the scene in the National Cathedral with the cigarette to the moment a rain-soaked Bartlett decides to run for a second term by putting his hands in his pockets and smiling. Yeah he has Multiple Sclerosis and yeah, he lied about it and yeah, it’s going to be hard but he’s going to run again. And we’re going to run to season three with him.

8. “33” Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Episode 1

Not exactly a series premiere, in that it is preceded by a miniseries that introduced the setting and characters, but “33” does start the show by establishing the tone and pace of the Battlestar Galactica to come. That tone is dark and that pace is very, very fast. In the episode the remains of humanity in the Colonial fleet must jump through space every 33 minutes lest the Cylons find them.  When they realize the Cylons are tracking one particular ship, Adama and Roslin order it destroyed, even though it may be carrying humans. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. But the world is basically over and you know what they say about desperate times. The always amazing Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are particularly brilliant in this exceedingly well-written episode, which tells us the one thing Battlestar Galactica is about more than anything else: survival.

7. “College” The Sopranos Season 1 Episode 5

Tony Soprano has been described as TV’s first great anti-hero, and it’s this episode where that status is cemented. While taking Meadow on a college tour Tony spots an old wiseguy in witness protection. In a very literal show of his personality, he spends half his time tracking down and killing the snitch and half the time being a father who encourages Meadow’s denial of his real profession. This is where you learn to love and hate Tony with some consistency. He’s never going to be just a good or just a bad guy. Yeah he killed a federally-protected man with his bare hands, but he also really loves his daughter. It’s this cognitive dissonance that keeps you coming back to The Sopranos.

6. “Blackwater” Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 9

Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire are gifted with one episode per season written by the big man himself, George RR Martin. In season 2 he took on an episode which I consider to be the most ambitious hour of television ever. Take a battle the scale of any one battle from The Lord of the Rings or Braveheart or any other cinematic epic, add a big old green explosion, lots of exposition, and no real hero or villain, and do it all in one hour on a television budget. The result was the best any fan of the show or the book series could have hoped for, something epic and intimate all at once. The stakes were high, the writing was tight and urgent, and the usual disparate locations and characters were abandoned for an hour focused just on King’s Landing. When people talk about TV being the “new cinema,” they’re talking about episodes like this.

5 & 4. “Pilot Parts 1 and 2” Lost, Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2

Lots of fans will point to season 4’s The Constant as the best episode of Lost and one of the best episodes of all time, but although the hour devoted to Desmond and Penny is beautiful and sad, it does not compare to the brilliance of the pilot. The two-hour pilot is so well-written and executed, establishing the rules of the show without relying too much on exposition or becoming too complicated for a viewer. They’ve crashed, and there’s something weird about this island, and not in a predictable way at all (how many of you were able to guess that there would be a polar bear in the South Pacific?). The flashbacks in the entire series may have been slightly uneven, but in the pilot they are pitch-perfect, leading up to the reveal at the end of the episode that the seemingly-innocent Kate (Evangeline Lilly) was the one wearing the handcuffs all along. Whatever your feelings about the series as a whole, its hard to deny these episodes place as one of the best episodes of all time, and perhaps the greatest pilot ever.

3. “Objects in Space” Firefly, Season 1 Episode 14

This episode is one of the most poetic and philosophical things you’ll ever see on a TV series. The last episode produced before Firefly was cancelled, “Objects in Space” is wonderfully weird and trippy but also dark and pondering. Whedon really gets down to the very soul of his characters in the context of action. Using a bounty hunter named Jubal Early searching the ship for fugitive River, Whedon exposes each character’s greatest weakness, fear and insecurity by having Early systematically take each of them down. While some confrontations are physical, his interaction with Kaylee is brutally psychological. River is only able to defeat Early by mounting a similar psychological attack, momentarily convincing him that she has spiritually joined with Serenity and eventually tricking him into being pushed into space by Mal. The final words of the episode, as Early floats through space into oblivion, are especially haunting: “Well…here I am.”

2. “The Suitcase” Mad Men Season 4 Episode 7

Mad Men is great because it combines a shared history (the 60s) with a workplace that tends to reveal things about its broken characters, and a particularly compelling anti-hero. This episode is the pinnacle of all of those things. The history is the Ali vs. Liston fight, the Samsonite campaign reveals a lot about Peggy, and Don is at his most “hero” (as in, not the terrible person he normally is) when dealing with the death of Anna Draper, the only person who ever knew him. The relationship of these two characters is what Mad Men is all about in the end, and this episode highlights their lives in a profound way. It’s not just that Peggy doesn’t think Don appreciates her. It’s not just that Don doesn’t think Peggy is good enough. It’s so, so much more. Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss are undeniably fantastic in the episode, the best of the series by far. When it focuses on these two essential characters, the show is creating something incredibly captivating. Basically, anytime Don and Peggy are in a room together talking, Mad Men shines.

1. “The Body” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 episode 16

Here it is, in my opinion, the best episode of television ever. I wish it wasn’t so far in Buffy’s run so that people who have never seen the show could just watch it right now. It’s the saddest, most gut-wrenching hour you’ll spend watching TV, and the realest, even though it takes place in a supernatural world. Buffy’s mom, the immeasurable Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), an incredible mother to Buffy and surrogate to her friends, has died of a brain aneurism. Separate from the world of vampires and demons she is used to, Buffy must deal with this real and horrible loss, and so must her sister and her friends. The show, normally bouncing to the tune of an action score, lacks music for the entire hour, pounding the sound of every sob and angry word into the ears of the viewer. This episode is Joss Whedon’s true masterpiece. It’s impeccable in every way. Seven people must deal with loss, and so must everyone who watches.

So there it is, the best day of television you could watch. Let me know if you think I’m right or out of my mind.

The Best 24 Hours of TV (Part 1)

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While re-watching of Doctor Who recently (inspired by my own post about Matt Smith’s 11 best eps) I started thinking about my favorite hours of television, period. What would I watch if I spent one day just binging on the best possible TV I could find? That’s the beauty of having untold hours of TV at your disposal: you make it what you want it to be.

It’s really hard to pick. I can tell you. Ask me what the best episode of any particular show is, and I’d have two or three I could tell you right away. For some there’s a single clear winner. But pitting episodes of different series against each other is hard. So much relies on context and tone. A lot of your feelings toward any particular episode are colored by your feelings towards the show or season as a whole. Plus your favorites aren’t always the best. Really, really good episodes of television can be hard to watch (lets all think about last week’s Game of Thrones now. Crying? Good).

So taking that all into account, I’ve compiled a list of the best twenty-four episodes (read: one whole day or the sunlight parts of one whole weekend) of television that I have come across. Here are the first twelve, ranked because, why not. It does include multiple episodes of some shows, because this isn’t about episodes representative of the series, but rather stand alone hours. This excludes half-hour shows, for complexity’s sake. And though I love classic TV and there are some great episodes from way back (see Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” or The Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last”), I’m sticking to the past twenty years or so.

This also, pretty obviously, only includes shows I’ve watched, and I haven’t watched everything. For example, The Wire is conspicuously absent. (I’m going to watch it soon I promise!) I do, occasionally, have to do something else besides watch TV.

Some things I noticed when compiling this list are that series tend to show greatness when they move away from their formula, say, benching the main character or flashing forward or back. Series/season finales and premiers also tend to shine, but there are the occasional diamonds in the rough of a regular season.

Spoilers for the shows listed, so if you haven’t seen that show up to that season, skip down.

24. “Epitaph 1” Dollhouse Season 1 Episode 13

Fair warning, there’s going to be a lot of Joss Whedon on this list, but there’s a damn good reason: he makes really great TV. Although Dollhouse wasn’t always the most loved of his shows (or really, the most understood) it definitely had some standout episodes, most notably the season 1 ender that Fox didn’t air. It is an incredibly compelling hour that taps into our collective fear of dystopia and of fast-advancing technology. The complex and confusing concept of the entire show is seen as going somewhere beyond the scenario-of-the-week. Not a very good somewhere, but still. And suddenly we all have to ask ourselves what makes identity, what makes life? Consciousness? Body? In the future, none of that may matter.

23. “Into You Like a Train” Grey’s Anatomy, Season 2 Episode 6

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve watched ABC’s soapy doctor drama, mostly when the odd medical situations and irrational character decisions became a weekly occurrence  the show became too much to believe. But I was really captivated by the series at the beginning; especially by this season 2 episode where a train collision becomes a metaphor for the way the characters’ lives are spinning out of control. And because the show was able to make me care so much about these guest stars tangential to the real action, it brought tears. It was a hard-hitting emotional moment, and it was genuine. The series went downhill when these started being fake.

22. “Pilot” Glee, Season 1 Episode 1

Like Grey’s, I haven’t watched Glee in awhile (I gave up midway through season 2). It was one of the sadder times I ever gave up on a series, mostly because Glee had so much potential. The first few episodes, and namely, the pilot, were something new and different, a nuanced look at high school, marriage, and social norms. Back when “Don’t Stop Believing” wasn’t a cliché the kids of McKinley High rocked it to great dramatic effect. I didn’t want to stop believing in the show. But unfortunately, after they came back from that season 1 hiatus, I did.

21. “Company Man” Heroes, Season 1 Episode 17

Heroes may have started its slow decline in season 2 but midway through season 1 the show was at its peak, especially with this extremely personal episode. Moving away from the location hopping it was prone to, the episode focused on Claire, her father, and how they got where they are. Why do we do the things we do? Because of our pasts. Questions are answered, new ones are raised, and fans were left wanting more. Unfortunately, they never got another episode like this.

20. “Hush” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4 Episode 10

Joss Whedon likes to circumvent expectations. When most of the praise Buffy the Vampire Slayer was getting revolved around his fast-paced and witty dialogue, he turned the tables by writing an episode that was three-quarters a silent film. Only on Buffy can you do a special episode like this, where it’s already supernatural so anything goes. Here the terrifying Gentlemen (easily Buffy’s scariest monsters) come to Sunnydale and steal all the voices so no one can scream. But the episode is really about communication, be it Xander’s inability to tell to Anya how much he cares about her, Buffy and Riley’s inability to tell each other how they feel, or newcomer Tara’s inability to speak in front of people at all. Of course, when the characters stop speaking they start communicating. And also do some very funny hand gestures.

19. “What Kind of Day has it Been?” The West Wing, Season 1 Episode 22

Aaron Sorkin really likes to structure his episodes back-to-front, showing a series of scenes we don’t understand at the beginning and then filling in the blanks with the rest of the hour. This is perhaps best executed in the season 1 finale, which seems like an ordinary day at the office, and escalates to one heck of a cliffhanger (gunshots, sirens, a call over the radio: “who’s been hit?”). Who said there can’t be action in a workplace drama? Certainly not Sorkin, who saw the success of the assassination storyline and structured the three other seasons he stayed on the show with cliffhanger endings.

18. “Pilot” Twin Peaks, Season 1 Episode 1

David Lynch’s crime thriller ventured from the melodramatic to the downright absurd, chronicling an eccentric FBI agent in his investigation into the murder of a popular high school girl. TV owes a lot to the drama, the anti-procedural that drew out a single mystery over a season and a half. There was a creative decline in season 2, but when it premiered, the pilot of Twin Peaks was unlike anything else. Nothing in this small Pacific Northwest town was what it seemed, and nothing about the show was what it seemed either.

17. “Baelor” Game of Thrones, Season 1 Episode 9

This was the moment that Game of Thrones changed something about TV. Granted, George RR Martin killed Ned Stark off back in the 90s in the first installment of his A Song of Ice and Fire book series. But even though fans can go check Wikipedia summaries of the books, they were still shocked beyond belief that a show would kill off its main character, and supposed hero, during its first season. The episode is impeccably shot, most notably the way we see Ned’s death through his daughter Arya’s eyes. It was shocking, it was sad, and mostly, it changed the rules of the game. Of course that was nothing compared to this year’s Red Wedding, but you could not have one without the other.

16. “Out of Gas” Firefly, Season 1 Episode 8

This flashback-heavy episode is made all the more important by the fact that Fox never aired the original pilot for the series, which did a much better job establishing life on Serenity than “The Train Job” did. Here, while the life support on the trusty ship is failing, we get moments from each character, an introduction we’ve never seen before, doorway into this unlikely family. This episode is everything that made Firefly great, the characters and Serenity. It was never about outer space, just the people flying through it together.

15. “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” Mad Men, Season 3 Episode 13

The season 3 finale of Mad Men has the rare quality of being an undeniable bit of fan-service (SCDP is born! Joan comes back! Don respects Peggy for a hot second!) but also a damn good hour of television. Everything changes for Don at once here, as he divorces both his wife and the old company. It also serves to showcase what really matters to this man, namely, his own notoriety and power. He refuses to be swallowed up by the McCann and Erickson machine and so he starts a new company where he gets to be in control. And without that pesky suburban life of his, he has more time to focus on maintaining his power at the new firm.

14. “Once More With Feeling” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6 Episode 7

TV musicals are hard. There have been some really great one-off musical episodes over the years, but none of them can compare to “Once More With Feeling.” Joss Whedon took time off from running the show to write and compose all of the songs, with great results. It’s another instance show’s supernatural setting allows for a “special” episode (read: a demon comes to town who uses magic to turn life into a musical). But it’s not a fluffy episode, there’s a lot going on. Tara discovers Willow has been playing with her mind, Giles decides to go back to the UK, Anya and Xander realize how they might not really want to get married, and Buffy reveals that the gang didn’t bring her back from some hell dimension, but rather violently pulled her out of heaven. Oh and Buffy and Spike kiss for the first time. All while singing and dancing.

13. “Cat’s in the Bag” Breaking Bad, Season 1 Episode 2

Only in its second episode, Breaking Bad lays all its cards on the tables, and the audience realizes what it’s getting into. On Walter White’s journey there is very little time to think about morality and to decide what side you’re on. He kills someone right away. It’s pretty clear where he’s going. There’s a lot of gruesomeness to the episode, whether in the images of dissolving flesh or in the way Walter and Krazy 8 try to manipulate each other. It’s just a shade of things to come.

So what do you think? Am I horribly wrong? Am I awesomely right? What do you think are the best hours of TV? Let me know! And look out for the top 12, coming soon.

The Merry Actors of the Whedonverse

Today is the opening of Joss Whedon’s new film (alas, only in limited release, wide release June 21st): a black and white, low-budget version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (and it’s getting some great reviews).

The movie was shot during a break in his busy Avengers schedule in 2011, in just 12 days at Whedon’s own home in Santa Monica, CA. It has been described by the director as a palate cleanser, helping him relax after the insane Avengers shoot before the insane post-production began.

To do the micro-budgeted and top-secret project, Joss called on his retinue of loyal actors, many of whom have appeared in multiple shows or movies he’s done in the past. They may not be household names, but to Whedon’s devoted fans (known as Whedonites) Much Ado is populated with the stars of the Whedonverse, the vast and sometimes interconnected world of Joss Whedon on film and television. For the Whedon neophyte, perhaps only ever exposed to The Avengers or Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, here’s a comprehensive guide to some of the verse’s most prolific actors who will be tackling the Bard this weekend in theaters.

Amy Acker

In Much Ado…she plays the quick-witted Beatrice, one of Shakespeare’s more celebrated heroines.

Most famous in the Whedonverse for…playing the adorable, nerdy, and doomed Fred Burkle on Angel. Acker came into the Buffy spin-off at the end of its second season, as a physicist trapped in an alternate dimension where humans are called “cows” and kept as slaves. After Angel rescues her, Fred becomes a devoted member of the Angel Investigations crew. The love triangle between Wesley (Alexis Denisof, see below), Gunn (J. August Richards), and Fred is integral to the rest of the run of the show. The character starts out almost too sweet, too naive for someone who lived for years in basically Hell, but soon her own special darkness emerges. But mostly she’s adorable (see clip below).

Also appeared in…Dollhouse (Dr. Saunders/Whiskey) and The Cabin in the Woods (Lin). Whedon seems to really like to cast Fred as a Doctor, be it MD, PhD, or Scarologist (that’s a real word). Not that he’s typecasting, or anything.

Fun fact… Acker has appeared in Once Upon a Time and Alias, shows that feature Buffy and Angel writing alums Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard, respectively.

Alexis Denisof

In Much Ado…Denisof plays Benedick, the sworn bachelor who falls for Acker’s Beatrice.

Most famous in the Whedonverse for…his role as Wesley Wyndam-Price first on Buffy and later on Angel. Wesley started out as a foppish and foolish replacement watcher in Buffy‘s third season, and reportedly was only supposed to last an episode or two. But the character worked and so did Densiof. Halfway through Angel‘s first season he was back, and slowly developed into one of television’s most complex and tragic characters. Especially when it came to his relationship with Fred. Whedonites get a special treat in Denisof and Acker’s casting as Shakespeare’s famous lovers, and maybe some vindication for all the years they watched the couple’s troubles on Angel.

Also appeared in…Dollhouse (Senator Daniel Perrin), The Avengers (The Other). If the Other shows up in The Avengers 2 Denisof will far and away be Whedon’s most-used actor (that’s him in the picture on the right, just in a tiny bit of makeup).

Fun fact…Denisof met his wife Alyson Hannigan while working on Buffy, where she played Buffy’s BFF Willow. For the past eight years she’s been Lily on How I Met Your Mother, where Denisof has guest starred several times as the sleazy news anchor, Sandy Rivers. The show has cast numerous Whedonverse actors including Amy Acker, Tom Lenk and Morena Baccarin. Whedon later cast HIMYM actors Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders in Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and The Avengers, respectively.

Nathan Fillion

In Much Ado… Fillion will be providing some comic relief as the delightfully bumbling Constable Dogberry. Whedon says the portrayal was inspired by Law and Order: SVU type detectives.

Most famous in the Whedonverse for…captaining the spaceship Serenity as Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly and its followup film, Serenity. Mal was an anti-hero you could really root for in Whedon’s sci-fi western that was criminally cancelled after just 11 episodes on the air (14 were produced). The show’s incredible DVD sales and the fans’ (Browncoats, a subsection of Whedonites) fervor helped to greenlight a film version that reunited the entire original cast. Unfortunately, its box office returns were disappointing. A big part of the show’s draw was Fillion’s undeniable charisma and presence. He may be more famous for his role in Castle, but to some, he’ll always be Captain Mal.

Also appeared in…Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Caleb) and Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Captain Hammer). Evil priests and idiotic superheros were never so charming.

Fun fact…Fillion actually auditioned for the role of Angel on Buffy way back when, but the role, of course, went to David Boreanaz.

Fran Kranz

In Much Ado…he plays the lover Claudio, who falls for Hero. He also schemes to get Benedick and Beatrice together.

Most famous in the Whedonverse for…playing Topher Brink in Whedon’s trippy sci fi drama, DollhouseDollhouse already had a couple of Whedon alums (Eliza Dushku, Amy Acker, and in Season 2 Alexis Denisof and Summer Glau) but Kranz was a welcome addition to the verse. Topher offered some much needed down-to-earth-ness and comic relief in the series that was sometimes hard to comprehend (there exist, all over the world, brothel-like houses full of programmable people that can have personalities uploaded and erased from their brains). Topher was a scientific genius, but he also had toys in his office. As the series turned darker in season 2 Topher had to grow up, but even that was endearing.

Also appeared in…The Cabin in the Woods (Marty). Otherwise known as the inventor of the travel-mug-bong.

Fun fact…Kranz will be seen in the upcoming film, Lust for Love, which is currently in post-production. The movie also stars Felicia Day, who has a host of Whedon credits under her belt, including a two-episode stint on Dollhouse. 

Tom Lenk

In Much Ado…Lenk plays Verges, a member of the city Watch, but not so bumbling as his partner Dogberry.

Most famous in the Whedonverse for…playing Andrew Wells, aka “Tucker’s Brother,” in Buffy and for 2 episodes of Angel. Andrew started out as a part of the Trio, the triad of nerds who declared themselves Buffy’s nemeses in season 6. Everything is fun and games until one of the Trio, Warren (Adam Busch) takes things to far and suddenly they’re not playing at being evil anymore. Alternating between absurd, endearing, and pitiful, Andrew becomes a pseudo-member of the good guys in season 7, and much needed comic relief in that uneven season. His need to tell stories and make up fantasies only highlights how affected he was by the bad things he did while under the influence of the First Evil.

Also appeared in…The Cabin in the Woods (Ronald the Intern).

Fun fact…Lenk appeared in the 2011 episode of Psych, “This Episode Sucks,” that parodied vampire movies and series like Buffy. It also featured the original Buffy (from the 1992 movie), Kristy Swanson.

Sean Maher will be playing the evil Don Jon in Much Ado, but is most loved to Whedonites for his role as Simon Tam in Firefly and Serenity. He appeared with Jewel Staite (Kaylee in Firefly/Serenity) in an episode of Warehouse 13. 

Reed Diamond, Don Pedro, started in the Whedonverse as the testy Laurence Dominic in Dollhouse. He has guest-starred on Castle with Nathan Fillion and Bones with David Boreanaz.

Clark Gregg, Leonato, is most famous in general for playing Agent Phil Coulson in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and the Whedon-helmed The Avengers. He joins the Whedon television verse this fall in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Angel alum J. August Richards will appear in the pilot.

Ashley Johnson, Margaret, appeared in two episodes of Dollhouse and as an unnamed waitress in The Avengers. She would have had a bigger part in the superhero movie, including an early scene with Captain America, if not for the woes of editing.

Jillian Morgese, Hero, was an extra in The Avengers who bonded with Whedon between takes. He asked her to audition for Much Ado, which is her first major screen role.

Riki Lindhome, Conrade, guest-starred on a season 7 episode of Buffy. She appeared in The Last House on the Left with Much Ado costar Spencer Treat Clark.

Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney, aka BriTANick, First and Second Watchmen, have never appeared in a previous Whedon project, but Whedon himself has appeared in one of the duo’s sketch comedy videos.

This is only the Shakespearean snapshot of the Whedonverse. It’s getting crazy big these days. Isn’t that wonderful.