Being a freelance journalist can have equal amounts of ups and downs. On the down side, it's a profession that tends to keep you awake at night, especially when the bank balance hovers near the danger zone. No pension. The annual chore of filling out the tax form. The life of a freelancer can be a Greek Tragedy all of its own.
But on the glass half full side, at least freelancers like me don't need to endure the tedium of the dreaded meeting any more. Well, I could if I wanted to, by discussing my plans with my reflection in the mirror – except that that would be a bit weird, and also the mirror glass would shatter into small pieces after being unable to cope with my leering gargoyle visage.
Otherwise, there's no need for meetings, since the week or month ahead is road-mapped in the freelancer's mind palace. Which means no talking at you from the powers that be, no aimless cartoon doodling on the pad and no worrying about tactlessly nodding off to sleep.
The danger with the boardroom meeting is that the end results don't always gel. Especially in the world of entertainment. I've seen many a comedy episode feel like the product of a carefully planned boardroom meeting with jokes that have been endlessly planned and processed to leave them withered husks on the studio floor.
It's not just over-thought comedy though – even sci-fi and fantasy shows can suffer from this curse. Yes, that includes Buffy The Vampire Slayer – specifically, a tale which goes by the appropriate name of Doomed. Three writers have been credited for this episode, namely Marti Noxon, David Fury and Jane Espenson. The whole thing smacks of the trio sitting down over tea and dunkies to work out how to top the magnificence of previous episode Hush. Let's bring back lots of elements from the past, including a previously seen character. Ooh, Sunnydale High School again! The Hellmouth – can't go wrong with that! Mix it all together though and you get what's possibly the most boring apocalypse ever witnessed on TV.
Following the eerie brilliance of Hush was always going to be a tall order. Doomed isn't so much a case of one step forward, two steps back – more a case of one step forward, 10 miles limping backwards. Everything in Doomed feels old hat and tired. An apocalypse may sound like a great hook to catch the viewers in theory, but in practice, it's a big off-putter. Two reasons – one is that we've already seen enough apocalypses to make one wonder how Sunnydale is still standing. The other is that this particular apocalypse feels like it was assembled on a budget of about $6. Appropriately, Doomed went out in early January, a time of year that's notorious for frugality. The credit card bills and tax deadlines loom ominously like fanged lackeys of The Master, so Doomed is at least in keeping with this four and a bit week period of austerity.
It doesn't help that yet another Hellmouth opening is largely put to one side in favour of yet more relationship tedium. Having moped over Parker Abrams and his eyebrows for what seemed longer than your average Lord Of The Rings movie, Buffy is now questioning her fledgling relationship with Sunnydale University's very own Mr Boring, Riley. Having found out that Riley's part of The Initiative (and with Riley finding out that Buffy's The Slayer), Doomed seems to be mercilessly padded out with endless angsty scenes in which Buffy frowns, pouts and scowls over the simple possibility of Riley taking her out to a fancy restaurant. Because Marc Blucas has only just been added to the opening titles, it's a fair bet that in the end Buffy and Riley will kiss and make up. Which is of course what happens. The relentless domestics between Buffy and Riley feel like a desperate attempt to pad out what's already a flimsy storyline.
It doesn't help that the dialogue on this occasion feels artificial and forced. Every bourgeois relationship cliché is dragged out, including trust issues, readiness problems and a rocky, uncertain future. It's the sort of thing you'd find on the average Agony Aunt phone-in portion of This Morning. The nadir of this probably comes when Buffy and Riley decide to exchange further verbal blows in the middle of the street – a great place to have a barney. During this ages-long argument, Buffy and Riley end up comparing each other as “fry cooks”, the most random metaphor you could ever imagine. Nothing about this over-wrought bickering feels real or believable. The strained lines on the faces of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Marc Blucas are all too obvious as they do their level best to make this tosh sound half-convincing. It's to their credit that they actually cope well with the dialogue – in the hands of lesser actors, we probably would have been looking at the equivalent of an average episode of TOWIE.
To distract the Buffy fans from Biley's (or Ruffy's) relationship issues, the writers have included some blasts from the past. One of these is... da da da daaaahhh!
Who's that again? Ah yes, the tedious jock no-mark from the latter part of Season 3. It's like getting excited at the return of the third extra on the right in the battle scene of Graduation Day. Percy was a one-note character in the first place, another dreary meathead whose only notable characteristic was to always call Willow by her surname. Presumably this is to prove that Percy is actually capable of saying words that have more than two syllables.
As a side note, Percy doesn't seem like the right name for this bullying gonk. It's the sort of name usually saved for spluttering Brits abroad in American romcoms, the type of character called Lord Percy of Percivaldonia who owns at least three spacious castles in his native Surrey.
As luck would have it, Willow runs into Percy The Prat at another campus party. None of these parties tend to go well, and this latest snoreapalooza is no exception. For Willow, it's made worse after she overhears Percy calling her a nerd when discussing her with his date, a miserable looking, charisma-free zone called Lori. Again, it's a massive step backwards for the character progression of Willow who had started to emerge from her Oz-adieu funk. While in keeping with the old school feel of the episode, Willow's sub-plot does her no favours whatsoever.
Doomed is interesting in that none of the regulars emerge from the episode well. Giles again fails to use his loaf at a crucial moment after he's overpowered by the monster of the week who's after a talisman in his possession (and why is voice very obviously dubbed in his first scene with Buffy?). Xander is left with a damp basement and is reduced to selling what Spike calls melted cheese on toasted bread. Spike himself has hit rock bottom, and at this point in the show's timeline, seems to be surplus to requirements. He's forced to wear one of Xander's shirt monstrosities and even contemplates staking himself. Even his new-found revelation that he can beat demons to a pulp makes little sense and feels like a crowbarred in chance to actually give him something vaguely substantial to do.
The plot of the week involves a demon performing something called the Sacrifice of Three. This involves collecting the blood of a man, the bones of a kid and a talisman called the Word of Valios (although it sounds more like a nightclub owned by a shady Greek gangster in a made for TV movie). Giles claims that it signifies the end of the world, and the Scoobies' reaction of “Not again” says it all.
Never has an imminent apocalypse been as tedious as cutting a lawn with a pair of scissors. Heading back to school, it's weird to see the charred shell of Sunnydale High again. What's even weirder is how small it looks – especially compared to the large scale Initiative set. In keeping with this cheap as chips approach, the big climatic showdown essentially involves a medium sized hole and some rope. It's over in the wink of an eye and is completely and utterly forgettable. The direction's unusually flat here, as if James A Contner had run out of ideas to make such a lame climax actually work on the small screen.
There's very little to recommend in Doomed. The odd funny line (presumably Espenson's contribution) floats around, most notably Forrest's musings on the thrash metal band also called Slayer. The regular cast give it their best shot even with the unusually weak characterisation. But overall, Doomed's boardroom meeting feel damages the end result badly. It's uninspired and unimaginative. It takes several steps backwards when at the crucial mid-point of the season, it should be pushing forward. The characterisation is poor all round. And of course, the repetitive soapy relationship argument between Buffy and Riley marks time in clunky, tedious fashion.
Doomed is a somewhat apposite title for an episode that's quite possibly one of the most boring Buffy stories committed to film.