I have a friend. Let's call him, because it isn't his name, Chris. Chris is a nice guy. It would be hard to find a nicer one, and he scares me. He scares me because he is the me from an alternate universe where my life went horribly wrong. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that Chris's life is horribly wrong, just that it would be if it were mine.
Though it pains me to admit it, we have much in common, Chris and I. We share, for example, an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of geeky TV programmes. I could go head to head with him in a quiz about Doctor Who or Star Trek and while I'd lose I wouldn't be disgraced.
I mention all of this by way of a preface to explaining why Joss Whedon has a true genius for dialogue. Yesterday I was watching an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer which had an exchange between Andrew and Xander. For those few of you who have never seen it the essential information is this. Andrew, who was evil but is now reformed, is a socially inept geek. Xander, by contrast has, by this point in the series, spent six and a half seasons battling evil at Buffy's side but is, nevertheless also a geek - though not quite such a socially inept one.
The scene plays out like this.
All the potential future vampire slayers are gathered together and Andrew and Xander are trying to give them a rallying pep talk. Buffy isn't present. One of these potential slayers remarks that she is fed up of training and doesn't care if they have to fight Godzilla as long as they get to fight something.
Andrew: Godzilla? Mostly Tokyo based so he's probably a no-show.
Potential #2: Besides, Matthew Broderick can kill Godzilla. How tough is he?
Andrew looks despairingly at Xander who looks at his shoes in embarrassment.
Xander looks up, apparently reluctant to be identified with Andrew but unable to contain his own inner geek.
Xander: Matthew Broderick did not kill Godzilla. He killed a big dumb lizard. That was not the real Godzilla.
The potential slayers all look at them both as if they have gone mad. Xander looks embarrassed again but Andrew looks satisfied. Xander realises that he's showing himself up, Andrew doesn't even register the reaction they have caused.
And that's how it is when I'm in the same room as Chris. My own inner geek can't resist joining in with his conversations. It's exactly the same as the Andrew and Xander dialogue. I understand these people completely. And that's why Joss Whedon is the best writer of fantasy TV today. He also understands these characters so well that we can see ourselves reflected in them.
(And my own inner geek feels compelled to tell you that the episode in question, Dirty Girls, was actually written by Drew Goddard but it doesn't matter. Joss was in charge and he created the characters and had the ultimate say on what did or didn't get into the scripts.)