Joss Whedon

ENGL 4860: Special Topics in Film Studies

Fall 2014

ENGL 4860-02

Dr. David Lavery

Place: PH 308 | Time: M 600-900 pm | Office: PH 316AOffice Hours: M 1-4; TuWTh 900-1200, 100-200 | Phone/Voice-Mail: 898-5648 | Text Messages: 615 962-1161 | Home Page:

About the Course

A comprehensive examination of the life and work of television writer / director / showrunner / script doctor / screenwriter / librettist / comic book author / filmmaker Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and director of Marvel's The Avengers, the third highest-grossing film (highest-grossing non-James-Cameron film) of all time.


Basics: Agenda | Class Members | Course Policies and Procedures | Course Requirements | Dr. David Lavery | Power Points | Text_Books | Whedon Signatures | Whedonverses Topics | Take-Home Final

Extras: Course Blog | School of Whedon | Websites and Links | Whedon Glossary | Whedon Interviews | Whedon Timeline | Whedon Photo Gallery | Whedon's Occasional Writings | Whedon's Series and Movies | Whedonverse Characters


Dr. David Lavery is Professor and director of Graduate Studies in English at MTSU (1993- ), where he won the University's 2006 Distinguished Research Award. The author of over one hundred and fifty published essays, chapters, and reviews, he is author / co-author / editor / co-editor of twenty two books, including Joss Whedon, A Creative Portrait: From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Avengers, TV Goes to Hell: An Unofficial Road Map of Supernatural, The Essential Cult Television Reader, and The Essential Sopranos Reader. The co-convener of international conferences on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the work of Joss Whedon and on The Sopranos, co-founder of the Whedon Studies Association, and founding co-editor of the journals Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, Critical Studies in Television, and Series/Season/Show, he has lectured around the world on the subject of television (Australia, Turkey, the UK, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany) and has been a guest/source for the BBC, NPR, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The New York Times, A Folha de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Publica (Portugal), Information (Netherlands), AP, The Toronto Star, USA Today. From 2006-2008, he taught at Brunel University in London.


All class members will also receive a Whedon Resource DVD [JWRDVD]. Go here for a guide to the JWRDVD.


Whedonverses Bookstore


Course Requirements

Viewing/Reading Journal: Students will read/watch at least a dozen episodes of Whedon-written/directed episodes/films/comics (see his filmmography here) during the semester and in a journal will record their responses (a review, a critical analysis of some aspect), a rant, a comparison and contrast to another episode) in entries of not less than 500 words each. Due by no later than Finals Week of Spring semester (submitted in a single file via the appropriate D2L drop box). Do not procrastinate with this assignment; do one a week and you will complete it easily without the need for an end-of-the-semester rush. Course Weight: 20%

Project 1: Either (A) A critical essay: a 1200 word reading/analysis/interpretation of a Whedon written/directed episode(s), movie, comic; (B) a 1200 word book review of any the books catalogued here; or (C) a Whedon project approved by me (for example: a website, power point/prezi presentation, fanfic, fanvid)—30% of course grade. [See Agenda for due dates.]

Project 2: A source paper of not less than 1500 words on some aspect of the Whedonverses approved by me (go here to find a massive suggestive list of possible topics).—50% of course grade. [See Agenda for due dates.]

Final Exam: An in-class, comprehensive cognitive memory test, mostly matching, on characters, titles, authors, terms.



Course Policies and Procedures

Class format: We will follow a lecture / discussion format during most class meetings.

Viewing Films: Screening films and television episode will be an integral part of most class meetings. 

Manuscript form: All written assignments are to be submitted via the relevant D2L drop boxes. Please name the file with your own last name (for example: lavery.doc). Please be sure to carefully edit and proofread your own work.

Essay Evaluation: I will evaluate your essays using a grading scale which can be found here.

Reading Assignments: You are responsible for having read the entirety of each assignment, including the editor's introduction to each work we are studying.

Participation & Involvement: Please come prepared for each day’s class. I encourage you to become an active participant in class discussion and to ask constructive and meaningful questions at all times--even when I appear to be "lecturing." Please do not save your best questions / comments for after class, as students so often do. 

Attendance: Regular attendance is essential to the ongoing progress of the course. One absence will be permitted. A second absence may result in the loss of a letter grade. A third absence may result in failure of the course.

Inclement Weather Policy:  The University’s snow policy include these two statements: “1. Except in those instances when the University is closed, faculty will be expected to meet their classes. 2. Faculty should plan to cope with inclement weather conditions in such a fashion as to be able to hold scheduled classes when the University is open.” I will follow this policy to the letter and do my very best to be here for class whenever the University is open.

Plagiarism / Cheating: The unacknowledged use of the words/ideas/ insights/ original research of another is, of course, prohibited. Should I catch you plagiarizing, or cheating in any way, you will receive a grade of "0" on the assignment in question, the violation may be reported to University authorities, and you may fail the course.

Students with Disabilities: Any student with a disability will be given all the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act if he/she is registered with Disabled Student Services (KUC 120/2783/

University Writing Center: The University Writing Center, sponsored by the English Department and staffed by full-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants, is located in the Walker Library. At the UWC you can get constructive help with a variety of writing problems, from pre-writing to organization to grammatical errors. (Please be aware, however, that the UWC does not do proofreading.)

Cell Phones/Computers: Use of cell phones during class is strictly forbidden. Use of lap tops/netbooks/tablets (for note-taking purposes exclusively) is allowed only if prior permission is secured from me.

Lottery Scholarships: Do you have a lottery scholarship?  To retain Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship eligibility, you must earn a cumulative TELS GPA of 2.75 after 24 and 48 attempted hours and a cumulative TELS GPA of 3.0 thereafter.  You may qualify with a 2.75 cumulative GPA after 72 attempted hours (and subsequent semesters), if you are enrolled full-time and maintain a semester GPA of at least 3.0.  A grade of C, D, F, FA, or I in this class may negatively impact TELS eligibility.  Dropping or stopping attendance in a class may also impact eligibility; if you withdraw from or stop attending this class and it results in an enrollment status of less than full time, you may lose eligibility for your lottery scholarship. Lottery recipients are eligible to receive the scholarship for a maximum of five years from the date of initial enrollment, or until reaching 120 TELS attempted hours or earning a bachelor degree.  For additional Lottery rules, please refer to your Lottery Statement of Understanding form ( or contact your MT One Stop Enrollment Counselor (

Grading Scale: 90-99%=A | 80-89%=B | 70-79%=C | 60-69%=D | 0-59%=F


Class Members

Thomas Bates | Michelle Benson |  Brittainy Blair |  Garrison Breckenridge | Hannah Childers | Jamie Chumbley | John Connor Coulston | Melody Cook | John Duke | Kelby Fischer | Victoria Fritz | Robert Gann |  Blake Gowler | Mark Griffin | Joshua Jennings | Charlie McClung | Maxwell McCullah |  Patrick Murphy | Tiffany Murray | Charles Parsons | Kenneth Rehberger | Samuel Reilly | Shawn Scharbach | Erica Springer | Timothy Wheetley


Available Power Points

Angel | Buffy Goes to the Movies | The Cabin in the Woods | Collaborating | Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog | Dollhouse | Firefly/Serenity | From the Mind of Joss Whedon | "I think I was in heaven": Joss Whedon's Atheist Faith | "'I Wrote My Thesis on You': Buffy Studies as an Academic Cult" | Joss Kills People | Joss Whedon: Script Doctoring/Screen Writing | Joss Whedon and Comic Books | Marvel's The Avengers | Michael Bay vs. Joss Whedon | Not Making Wonder Woman | Syllabus | Television Son | Fan Boy | Film Studies Major |Television Writer | "We'd do the weird stuff": Joss Whedon's Naughty Side | What Whedon Learned at Wesleyan | Whedon Studies | Working Outside the System




Week 1 | 8/25/14 | Introduction to the Course | Reading: JWCP—Prologue, Introduction; RJW—Introduction | Power Points: Course Syllabus; Michael Bay vs. Joss Whedon | Screening: TBA

Week 2 | 9/8/14 | Television/Screen Writer | Reading: JWCP—Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 | Power Point: TV Son/Fan Boy/Film Studies Major/Television Writer; Script Doctoring/Screen Writing | Screening: an episode of Roseanne; clips from Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Movie, Alien Resurrection

Week 3 | 9/15/14 | Script Doctoring | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 6 | Power Point: Script Doctoring/Screen Writing | Screening: Clips from Toy Story and Speed

Week 4 | 9/22/14 | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 8; RJW—Part One | Power Point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Screening: "Innocence," "Hush"

Week 5 | 9/29/14 | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reading: RJW—Part One (continued) | Power Point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Screening: "Restless," "Once More with Feeling"

Week 6 | 10/6/14 | Angel | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 8; RJW—Part Two | Power Point: Angel | Screening: "Waiting in the Wings," "Spin the Bottle"

Fall Break: No Class

Week 7 | 10/20/14 | Firefly | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 8; RJW—Part Three | Power Point: Firefly/Serenity | Screening: "Out of Gas," "Objects in Space"

Week 8 | 10/27/14 | Serenity | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 9; RJW—Part Three (continued) | Power Point: Firefly/Serenity | Screening: Firefly/Serenity | Assignment Due: Either Project 1 or 2 Due by This Date

Week 9 | 11/3/14 | Dollhouse | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 10; RJW—Part Four | Power Point: Dollhouse | Screening: "Man in the Street" | "Epitaph 1"

Week 10 | 11/10/14 | Collaborating / Working Outside the System | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 11, 12; RJW—Part Five: Willis | Power Points: Collaborating | Working Outside the System | Whedon and Comic Books | Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog | Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. | Screening: "Business School" [The Office]; Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog

Week 11 | 11/17/14 | The Cabin in the Woods | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 12; RJW—Part Five: Woofter | Power Point: The Cabin in the Woods | Screening: The Cabin in the Woods

Week 12 | 11/24/14 | The Avengers | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 13; RJW—Part Five: Guffey | Power Point: The Avengers | Screening: The Avengers

Week 13 | 12/1/14 | Much Ado About Nothing | Reading: JWCP—Chapter 14, Epilogue | Power Point: Much Ado About Nothing | Screening: Much Ado About Nothing | Assignment Due: Either Project 1 or 2 Due by This Date

Week 14 | 12/8/14 | In Class Final | Assignment Due: Viewing Journal