Book Review

Review: Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale


Title: Joss Whedon: The Biography
Author: Amy Pascale
Publication Info: Chicago Review Press 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61374-104-7
Genre: Nonfiction

Book Joss Whedon: The Biography

Joss Whedon:  The Biography is written by someone who seems to adore Joss Whedon even more than I do.  Seriously, the amount of adoration in this biography is a little unsettling, and it means that the biography is interesting and enjoyable but without depth.

This biography opens with an introduction by Nathan Fillion.  Nathan Fillion has always sung the praises of Joss so it’s no surprise that the introduction is glowing – and Nathan Fillion is a smart guy, so it’s no surprise that the introduction is well written.  The author, Amy Pascale, interviewed Joss, Kai Whedon (Joss’ wife) and many actors and crew from Whedon shows and movies.  It covers Joss’s childhood through the release of The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, and Much Ado About Nothing.  It’s a full-length biography, but not a 500 word plus scholarly tome.

I enjoyed this biography, and I learned some things from it, but I wished it had been more in-depth.  There’s so much stuff about Joss online that honestly for once I would have loved a scholarly tome that would fill in the gaps.  I was left with a lot of unanswered questions.  For example, how did having children change his work (if at all)?  What’s it like for him to work so closely with his brother, especially since they spent most of their childhood apart?  This book careeens from project to project without getting into details of either the shows or their creator.

Joss is known as someone who is enjoyable to work with, but there were a lot of tensions on Buffy and I would have liked to have heard more about that.  It’s suggested that some of those tensions came from the fact that it was his first directing and producing job – so let’s hear some details!  It’s not that I want tons of scandal (I’m a Joss fan after all) but it seems like I would have a better understanding of how the show was put together and how Joss learned (if he learned) from his mistakes if the biographer had explored both conflicts and friendships.  The biography is a nice, manageable length but that means that the biographer has to cover tons and tons of stuff and can’t go deep anywhere.

I didn’t feel like this left me with a deeper understanding of how the TV or Film industries work.  It did leave me with a slightly more nuanced understanding of Joss as a person who has truly earned the adoration of many but who can also hurt people’s feelings by sticking to cliques and who is willing to play hardball.  But I felt like I had to read between the lines to figure this out.

What I think is most interesting about this book is that there’s a perception of Joss as someone everybody loves, and it seems more accurate to say that everybody has strong feelings about him – people aren’t saying, “Oh, yeah, Joss, he’s boring, I have no opinion”.  It also seems that even people who dislike him or who are in frequent conflict with him respect his work.  I would have liked to have learned more about the conflicts and more about how his family and his work intersect. 

This is a solid book with impeccable timing – who doesn’t want to rush home from Comic Con and read a book about Joss Whedon?   My only criticism is that I wanted more of it, and I wanted a biographer who was not afraid to be critical of Joss.  It’s my job to follow Joss Whedon around like a puppy.  It’s the biographer’s job to see the whole picture, and there are plenty of hints that the whole picture is complicated.  I adore Joss, but he is a person, or so I’ve heard, and any person has flaws.  A biographer should not be afraid to explore those flaws as well as the more exemplarily aspects of the subject’s personality.

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  1. 1
    Darlynne says:

    Ordinarily, I would read about Whedon without hesitation and yet … I’m most interested in what he says as opposed to what’s said about him. The omissions you raise are things I’ve wondered about, too.

    Was there any discussion about ANGEL and how Season Four—with Cordelia and Connor—seemed to go so spectacularly off the rails (imo). Pretty sure it’s four, the only season I haven’t re-watched. Maybe it’s time for me to get over it.

  2. 2
    CarrieS says:

    @Darlynne – to be honest, I can’t remember the details but there were less than I wanted there to be.  I wanted to here more about Joss and Charisma, who managed to work together for years and who are rumored to never have gotten along.  There was some discussion but not enough.

    One thing I did like was they talked to Charisma about when she came back as Cordy and then you know what happened.  She came back on the sole condition that that thing not happen – so betrayal, again.  But she also said that even though she was furious when she read the script she started crying and it was totally wonderful.  o she seems like an example of one of those people who has conflicts with Joss but totally respects him as an artist (as opposed to the Nathan Fillions of the world who adore him, period full stop).

    If there’s anyone who worked with Joss who thought he was a terrible writer/director/artist the biographer doesn’t mention it, and I found it interesting that even people who clash with him love him as a creator.

  3. 3
    jimthered says:

    I have plenty of questions that I suspect aren’t answered in the book.  For example:

    —He said after the BUFFY movie that he hated working in movies and would never do it again.  What changed his mind for THE AVENGERS, and what’s it like now being so in-demand in Hollywood (and have those earlier issues vanished with his new popularity)?

    —What’s the appeal/need to kill someone off in everything he does?  Seriously, DOCTOR HORRIBLE was three episodes—less than an hour—and someone died there.

    —What are the differences working on tv, on movies, and with online projects?

    —Are there any former colleagues he loves working with or would like to avoid?

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