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A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Joss Whedon

Writer, producer, and director Joss Whedon has long had a cult following, but with last year's The Avengers and the premiere of ABC's new show, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Joss Whedon has begun to come into mainstream popularity. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Whedon's work, or just learning about him now, here’s a helpful guide to his best-known films and television shows.

1. 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel'

The hit 90s television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer gained an unexpectedly large following, and marked Joss Whedon's first major success. As the title implies, the show's main character, a teenaged girl named Buffy, has been designated the Slayer, making her responsible for keeping the vampire population in check. Buffy’s seven seasons gave rise to the spinoff show Angel, which followed its eponymous character through storylines that didn’t appear in Buffy’s show.

Both shows have a great blend of drama, action, romance, and comedy, and feature a wide variety of characters, from the school librarian Giles, to Buffy’s friends Willow and Xander, to the Edward Cullen-prototype Angel. Importantly, the ladies do a fair amount of the butt kicking on these shows.

2. 'Firefly' and 'Serenity'

Many Whedon fans consider Firefly to be the crown jewel of his creative works. Though the show only got half a season before it was shafted by Fox, it rose to fame among nerds everywhere, and gained an almost absurdly enthusiastic cult following. Firefly is set far in the future. It follows the ship Serenity and its nine-person crew, many of whom previously fought on the losing side of a civil war. Now they earn their keep in some less-than-legal ways on the outer edge of their society, live on the ship with their pseudo-family, and get into plenty of misadventures along the way.

The show is a dramatic space Western, an odd combination that Whedon absolutely pulls off. Three years after the fans’ strong and vocal disappointment with the show's cancellation, the cast and crew got together to make the movie Serenity, which ties off some of the loose ends that Firefly left hanging — and creates new loose ends of its own.

3. 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog'

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was released in 2008, which makes it one of the more recent works on Whedon’s resume. It follows the story of likable villain Dr. Horrible, his archenemy Captain Hammer, and their shared love interest, Penny. The miniseries maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, with amusing songs, charming characters, and a fun vlog-like format. Whedon fans adored it immediately.

It’s pretty short, running at just around 45 minutes, but it doesn’t fail to deliver the trademark combination of comedy and tragedy for which Whedon has become known.

4. 'Dollhouse'

A great sci-fi show that explores human morality and ethics, Dollhouse aired on Fox in 2009 and 2010. Its plot revolves around a secretive corporation that sells people with temporary memories and personalities: their entire personas are created on a computer, and programmed at the wish of a buyer. An FBI agent tries to discover whether the Dollhouses, as they are called, are real, because they are more or less a myth to everyone but the incredibly wealthy.

Dollhouse was, unfortunately, handed the same fate as Firefly: it was canceled very early on, in the middle of its second season, even though it had gained a large following.

5. 'Avengers' and 'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'

When Whedon signed on to be part of the creative team for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was big news for Whedon, his fans, and Marvel's following. Last year's The Avengers was a worldwide hit, teaching casual moviegoers Whedon’s name. The movie features an all-star team of superheroes who overcome their differences to take down an otherworldly evil force. While that sounds clichéd, Marvel and Whedon added enough nuance to the film to made it a truly extraordinary movie. (Plus, the all-star cast and crew didn't hurt.)

Now, Whedon is back in prime time with the ABC show Marvel's The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which focuses on a government agency that manages superheroes in the Marvel universe. Tuesday's premiere represented a promising start. I’m looking forward to a great season, and hopefully more to come, both from the ABC show, and all of Whedon’s future projects.

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