Leave the + Alone Already

Discovery+ is delightful, by the way.

Discovery+ is delightful, by the way.
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Why has something that’s become synonymous with streaming seemingly so controversial?

I’m talking, of course, about the maligned “+” in service names, most recently the subject of discussion at the New York Times. Sure, we’ve reached an absurd number of services that have affixed “+” to the titles of their content streaming services. We now have AMC+, Apple TV+, BET+ Discovery+, Disney+, Documentary+, ESPN+, Hulu + Live TV (though this one’s debatable, since normal Hulu formally dropped “Plus” from its name back in 2015), Paramount+, and surely others that I’ve overlooked here. That doesn’t even account for other non-entertainment services that have adopted the “+”, particularly from Apple’s ecosystem of premium subscriptions.

But hear me out: I think the “+” is perfectly fine, and maybe even a little helpful for navigating the chaos of our streaming environment.

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This opinion, to be clear, is not shared by my colleagues. Consumer technology reporter Victoria Song absolutely eviscerated the “+” (and me) in a blog about the trend back in September. At the time, I had argued that “+” is an easy signifier to consumers about what a product is or does, though there are some applications of “+” that do not completely align with streaming.

Victoria cited Apple News+ as one such example, as it is not a streaming service. But it is an expanded experience that adds more value than users get with standard Apple News, and that’s easy to infer from the inclusion of “+” in the name of the more premium of the two options. In fact, I think that HBO Max losing the “Max” and adding the “+” would have saved the company a lot of headaches in communicating how the new service differed from HBO, HBO Go (RIP), and HBO Now—which AT&T botched spectacularly. Had AT&T executives opted instead to name the service HBO+, consumers might’ve more easily understood that it meant HBO in addition to more value.

The biggest reason I think that “+” is a useful tool for consumers really boils down to how many services currently exist—all of which are fighting for loyal subscribers. There’s too much choice, and “+” seems like a simple way to tip consumers off about what a product might do, particularly where it applies to streaming services. Someone can probably easily infer what BET+ or Paramount+ do without having to think too long about it in the same way that consumers intuitively understand the function of YouTube TV, Pluto TV, Sling TV, and FuboTV. The “+” eliminates most of the guesswork, particularly when it’s attached to a brand consumers already know.

I will say that there is one application of “+” that I find wild, but it’s less about the inclusion of “+” itself and more about the ecosystem of hardware and software that it’s attached to. Apple TV+ the streaming service lives on Apple TV the app, and both can be found on Apple TV the set-top box. This is extraordinarily bad branding—like, maddeningly so. Apple TV+ is fine and makes sense for what it is. But did we really have to call it the same exact thing as two existing products, one of which is an app and the other being hardware? Come on, Apple.

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Listen, is it annoying that so many services have adopted the same format for naming their services? Sure. Is it boring? Absolutely. But I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing—at least not while we have so many of them to choose from. Leave the “+” alone already.

Kathryn Hahn’s Amazing WandaVision Faces: A Celebration

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Screenshot: Disney+

There are a lot of things to love about Disney+ and Marvel’s WandaVision, but the top of the list has to be Kathryn Hahn as Agnes. The actor/national treasure has been stealing WandaVision’s shows-within-a-show long before last week’s not-so-secret reveal about who her character has been “all along.” Every time she’s on the screen, she’s a delight—so why not help yourself to a little more delight while we wait for tomorrow’s episode?

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it’s all he’s good at.

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2 / 14

Ep. 1, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”

Ep. 1, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Agnes, channeling boisterous sitcom neighbors of all time periods, barges into Wanda’s house to introduce herself.

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3 / 14

Ep. 1, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”

Ep. 1, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Agnes (barely) helps Wanda prepare dinner for Vision and his boss. Note the pendant she has at the top of her collar…

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4 / 14

Ep. 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”

Ep. 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”

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Screenshot: Disney+

…which becomes a brooch when the “show” moves to the ‘60s. Also, this lean.

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5 / 14

Ep. 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”

Ep. 2, “Don’t Touch That Dial”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Here’s a better look at it. If I’m not mistaken, someone on that thing appears to be holding a very large scythe which seems somewhat ominous, especially in retrospect.

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6 / 14

Ep. 3, “Now in Color”

Ep. 3, “Now in Color”

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Screenshot: Disney+

…and now it’s a necklace again. Unrelatedly, when I die, I would like this picture to be emblazoned on my tombstone.

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7 / 14

Ep. 5, “On a Very Special Episode…”

Ep. 5, “On a Very Special Episode…”

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Screenshot: Disney+

And we’re pendant-less from here. Since it’s been part of Agnes’ outfit in multiple episodes, there’s likely more going on with it than just the character’s personal affection for jewelry possibly depicting Death.

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8 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Kathryn Hahn was made for staring down the barrel of a camera, which makes her the absolute queen of The Office-esque “episode” set in the ‘00s. This is Exhibit A.

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9 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Exhibit B.

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10 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Oh no! It turns out Agnes was really Agatha Harkness and is also very evil (which Hahn also emotes extremely well, as you can see). It is mildly annoying to me the character wasn’t just named Agatha in the first place, since no character in the show would have recognized the name. I know it was done to throw Marvel fans off the scent of who she was, but fans figured it out almost instantly anyway. Why bother? Maybe we’ll find out!

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11 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Agatha prepares for her big scene with the Vision, where she pretends to be merely another person trapped in Wanda’s show.

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12 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Agatha grabs a ‘00s episode mockumentary-style interview with Wanda, completely disturbing her by asking a question. It really was jarring to hear part of the “crew” speak up because it’s just never done in those sorts of shows.

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13 / 14

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

Ep. 7, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”

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Screenshot: Disney+

Yeah, I have her theme song stuck in my head now, too. Just go ahead and re-listen to it a few more times.


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Gonzo Puppeteer Dave Goelz on Why We Need the Muppets More Than Ever

Dave Goelz and the Great Gonzo

Dave Goelz and the Great Gonzo
Photo: Stephen Shugerman; Todd Warshaw (Getty Images)

Have you been binging the classic Muppet Show now that it’s available on Disney+? Instant mood boost! In celebration of the beloved series’ arrival on Disney’s streaming platform, io9 hopped on a video call to talk to the Great Gonzo himself—in the form of his veteran performer, Dave Goelz.

Goelz has been part of the Muppets crew since the early 1970s, with his first starring role coming with Gonzo when The Muppet Show debuted in 1976. He has also performed many other Muppet characters (including Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Waldorf) and worked on other Muppet-adjacent projects like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. In our interview below, we asked him about why the Muppets (and Gonzo in particular) are still so popular after all these years, with a detour into A Muppet Christmas Carol because we couldn’t resist.

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Cheryl Eddy, io9: The Muppets have never really been out of the public eye for over 40, almost 50 years at this point. But having all of The Muppet Show episodes available to stream feels like an especially significant milestone. How do you feel about the show now potentially reaching a whole new generation of fans?

Dave Goelz: I’m so thrilled. I gotta tell you, I am beyond thrilled for a least a couple of reasons. One is that it’s gonna be so easy to watch now that I’ll even watch it. When it was on DVD and VHS I never really bothered, so now I’ll be able to do it and I’m looking forward to reliving some of those moments. I’m sure that when I watch the shows I will remember all kinds of little things that happened when we were shooting them. So I’m excited about that.

The other reason that’s at the top of my mind is that it’s really about inclusion. It’s this group of sort of misfit characters who find that they can operate together and they can perform in this show, and it sort of creates a home for them. And then, of course, we find that we really enjoy all these aspects of these misfits. I think the world right now really needs more tolerance—we really need more celebration of the differences between us. And the diversity. That’s what enriches life…we just enrich each other in so many ways, and I’m excited about The Muppet Show being up there and showing this group doing that—and also showing human performers from all over the world, and [in some cases] human performers who have passed away that you can rediscover or that younger people can discover for the first time.

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io9: Looking back, did you have a favorite guest star?

Goelz: I get that question a lot, and I can’t exactly say that I do. Peter Sellers meant a lot to me because I idolized his work. I’d watched him since high school I guess, so I was looking forward to working with him. One of the most satisfying things in my whole life was that when our writers called him a few weeks ahead of time, he said, “I love your show, you know what you’re doing, just write it and I’ll perform it—I’m happy to do it. But if I could work with Gonzo that would be great, because he reminds me of Inspector Clouseau.” And so the writers immediately told me, and I went into like a frozen state—I said, “Peter Sellers wants to work with ME? I want to work with Peter Sellers!” So that was sort of an unusually exciting moment. But really all the guests were masters of whatever they did. And it was a thrill to see them come in every week and do it.

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io9: Gonzo has definitely evolved over the years as a character. You just mentioned the writers, but how much input do you have into that?

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Goelz: I had some input into Gonzo. The puppet was originally built by Jim [Henson] for another thing a few years before—The Great Santa Claus Switch starring Art Carney and the Muppets. Jim pulled him out of a box and said “Let’s make this guy be the Great Gonzo.” [The Muppet Show head writer] Jerry Juhl had thought of the character, and Jim said, “Dave, why don’t you try being him?” And that’s how I got put together with that puppet and that character.

But the process is always collaborative. People say, “Oh, you made such a great character.” And I’ll always say, “Well, I did part of it. But the [Muppet] Workshop created the puppet, and somebody there made a costume for it, and one of the writers wrote these lines.” And that’s how all of our work evolves and develops. They get better because we’re all contributing.

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io9: What’s your fondest memory of working with Jim Henson?

Goelz: Well, that would be impossible to answer. Probably every minute, you know? Every minute. There’s a picture over there on my wall that illustrates it [points to a photo of himself with Henson hanging behind him]. That was [taken] up in the Hollywood Hills in 1989, I think. We were shooting a Miss Piggy special in LA, and that was an example of what it felt like; we were just always goofing around, and playing, and having fun and grinning, and inventing silly things for the characters to do.

io9: The Muppets have also done tons of movies over the years. What’s your preference when performing, movies or TV?

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Goelz: I’ve always felt that TV is like calisthenics: You get in shape [because] you shoot a lot per day. We used to shoot like 15 pages a day. A movie is like using those skills; you shoot maybe one to two pages a day, just because of the fact that a movie is single-camera and it’s one set-up at a time, and every set-up is re-lit. It all gives you much more time to perfect. So you develop skills with TV and you perfect them on film. That’s the way it was then; the two have converged a little bit since then, but it’s still kind of like that. If you have to do a lot of material you just develop a lot of skills that way because you have to—and then when you do a film you can really express those skills and perfect them.

io9: One specific movie that means a lot to people is The Muppet Christmas Carol, with Gonzo front and center as Charles Dickens. I think that’s my favorite Gonzo performance, but do you have a personal favorite performance?

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Goelz: I think of them as my favorite Muppet projects rather than Gonzo projects. But I love that film because it was this wonderful piece of literature, and in spite of the fact that our characters are composed of rats and pigs and chickens and dogs, somehow I think we really service the meaning of the story. I say this in interviews and I hope it’s true, but I’ve read that that the staff of the Charles Dickens Museum in London considers The Muppet Christmas Carol to be their favorite film version of that property. I know I can’t get through it dry-eyed. I always break up because I think it’s just so powerful, and probably the humor catches you off guard and releases a lot of emotion. It acts as a trigger for emotion.

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io9: A lot of that humor comes when Gonzo breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience.

Goelz: Again, I have to give credit to Jerry Juhl; he’s our head writer and he wrote that movie, and he was the one who thought of using Gonzo for this. That was based on our friendship. I was going through things and doing therapy and learning a lot during that period, and Jerry in his very active right brain thought, “Oh this would be a good fit. This would work. I bet Dave could do this.” So it worked out great, and of course adding Rizzo as a sidekick was brilliant because it’s funny and profound all at the same time, and that’s kind of how life is.

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io9: What do you think it is about Gonzo that makes him such a fan favorite?

Goelz: I can only go from what fans have told me. I have had so many people say that he gives you permission to be different, which is a serious answer, but that’s what I hear from people—they are people who felt like outsiders, they didn’t feel like they fit in, and I think that’s fairly common. We all have some degree of that probably, but somehow he gave them license to accept themselves. And boy, that always feels good to hear.

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Bunsen and Beaker on recent Disney+ series Muppets Now.

Bunsen and Beaker on recent Disney+ series Muppets Now.
Image: Disney+

io9: Who’s your favorite non-Gonzo character to perform?

Goelz: I don’t know what my total number of characters is—it’s over 20 characters amongst the different [Muppets] properties. They’re all sort of a specific part of our personality that we isolate and amplify and try to make lovable. And it has a therapeutic purpose in that regard because you can sort of laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously. But to answer your question which other ones, I mean love doing [Dr.] Bunsen [Honeydew] because he’s so specific and he completely misses the big picture. I’ve done that a few times in my life! I love Zoot because he’s just out there in space, he’s in some other world, just he loves his sax. And of course, I love all the other characters that I don’t perform. I love Johnny Fiama, I love Pepe the King Prawn because he’s just so selfish. I don’t even know how to stop answering the question.

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io9: I was always a big Miss Piggy fan.

Goelz: Yeah! And so many people are. But you know…if you’re around her a lot? You just can’t stand her. [Laughs]

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io9: OK, one more question specific to Disney+, since everyone’s going to be going there to watch Muppet Show episodes. If Gonzo had to pick, would he prefer Marvel or Star Wars?

Goelz: It’s probably Star Wars. I think that’s because he played Darth Vader in one of the Muppet Show episodes, so it’d probably be Star Wars. Go with the classic.

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The Muppet Show is now streaming on Disney+.

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Now You Can Filter Your Liked Spotify Jams by Mood

Illustration for article titled Now You Can Filter Your Liked Spotify Jams by Mood

Photo: Spotify

Finally, you can sort the music in your Liked Songs playlist on Spotify.

Hitting play on the Liked Songs playlist in Spotify has always been a bit of a crapshoot for me—I never know whether I’ll get Steely Dan or Phoebe Bridgers or Ginuwine’s “Pony.” If this sounds like you (maybe sans “Pony” but that’s your business), Spotify mercifully began rolling out mood and genre filters today for both free and premium accounts.

Spotify says that for anyone with at least 30 songs in their Liked Songs playlist, they’ll be able to filter their music with up to 15 personalized genre and mood categories. However, these mood and genre filters are populated based on the music in your playlist. That means if you change the playlist by adding or removing titles, so too can your mood and genre filters change.

To enable the feature, head to Your Library and select Liked Songs. Below the “add songs” button but above the actual playlist, you should see additional bubbles that display your mood and genre filters. To filter by a specific category, select the bubble. To disable it, just click the “X” that’ll appear next to it. In Spotify’s demo of the feature, some of the filters included things like chill, indie, electronic, rap, and folk.

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Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see the feature immediately. Spotify said that it’s coming to iOS and Android in the U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, South African, New Zealand, and Australia “over the coming weeks,” so keep an eye out.

Stopping Carbon Pollution by 2050 Would Add $1 Trillion to the Economy

Workers install solar panels on the roof of a home on May 9, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Workers install solar panels on the roof of a home on May 9, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

According to the best available climate science, the U.S. needs to completely zero out its carbon pollution by 2050 to secure a livable future. A new analysis from the nonprofit Energy Innovation lays out a plan to get there, which also would just happen to add a cool $1 trillion dollars to the national economy.

Using the U.S. Energy Policy Simulator, an open-source computer model developed by Energy Innovation, the authors determined exactly what policies the government would have to put in place to achieve zeroing out U.S. carbon pollution by 2050.

They determined that the federal government will need to ban coal power by 2030, reach an 80% renewably-powered grid by 2030 and a 100% clean grid by 2035. It will also have to impose 100% zero-emission vehicle standards by 2045 at the latest, requiring all new cars, trucks and buses to run on electricity. Policies will also have to be put in place to retrofit and weatherize buildings and factories so they conserve energy and don’t run on oil or gas. And in the authors’ model, officials will also have to pour resources into developing carbon capture technologies.

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This will cost money, of course, but the report shows that the economy versus climate dichotomy is a false one. We already knew from previous work that waiting to decarbonize would end up costing trillions in stranded assets and the shock a more rapid transition to clean energy would be to the economy.

But the new report shows that decarbonizing sooner than later comes with a huge host of co-benefits. The policies necessary to achieve emissions cuts would also result in lowered emissions of other toxic pollution as fossil fuel power plants shutter. If the U.S. follows the course outlined in the report, the U.S. would avoid more than 65,000 premature deaths, nearly 2 million asthma attacks, nearly 38,000 hospital admissions, and more than 6.5 million lost workdays by 2050.

The transition would also create massive employment opportunities to install new technology and create new ones. The authors say it would create 3.1 million job-years (or full-time jobs for a full year) by 2030, and 5.5 million by 2050. This would all increase the nation’s gross domestic product by $500 million by 2030, and by $1 trillion by 2050.

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The economy is already tilting in favor of the clean energy transition. Fossil fuels are proving to not be good investments, and sustainable technology is becoming more affordable. Since 2009, the cost of solar panels has fallen by 90%, wind turbines’ cost has dropped 71%, and LED lightbulbs have become 80% cheaper, the authors write. But the transition isn’t happening fast enough, which is why policy measures like the ones outlined in the report make sense from both an economic perspective and a human one.

“Only well-designed policies can drive this technological transformation at the required pace,” the report says. And with co-benefits like this, we have no excuse not to act right now.

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The Rise and Fall of Joss Whedon, and the Myth of the Hollywood Feminist Hero

“I hate ‘feminist.’ Is this a good time to bring that up?” Joss Whedon asked. He paused knowingly, waiting for the laughs he knew would come at the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer making such a statement. It was 2013, and Whedon was onstage at a fundraiser for Equality Now, an organization dedicated to parity in the entertainment business. Though Buffy had been off the air for more than a decade, its legacy still loomed large; Whedon was widely respected as a man with a predilection for making science fiction with strong women for protagonists. Whedon went on to outline why, precisely, he hated the term: “You can’t be born an ‘ist,’” he argued, therefore, “‘feminist’ includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state, that we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that’s imposed on us.”

The speech was widely praised and helped cement his pop-cultural reputation as a feminist, in an era that was very keen on celebrity feminists. But it was also, in retrospect, perhaps the high water mark for Whedon’s ability to claim the title, and now, almost a decade later, that reputation is finally in tatters, prompting a reevaluation of not just Whedon’s work, but the narrative he sold about himself. 

In July 2020, actor Ray Fisher accused Whedon of being “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” on the Justice League set when Whedon took over for Zach Synder as director to finish the project. Earlier this month, Charisma Carpenter described her own experiences with Whedon in a long post to Twitter, hashtagged #IStandWithRayFisher. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Carpenter played Cordelia, a popular character who morphed from snob to hero—one of those strong female characters that made Whedon’s feminist reputation—before being unceremoniously written off the show in a plot that saw her thrust into a coma after getting pregnant with a demon. For years, fans have suspected that her disappearance was related to her real-life pregnancy. In her statement, Carpenter appeared to confirm the rumors. “Joss Whedon abused his power on numerous occasions while working on the sets of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel,’” she wrote, describing Fisher’s firing as the last straw that inspired her to go public.

Buffy was a landmark of late 1990s popular culture, beloved by many a burgeoning feminist, grad student, gender studies professor, and television critic for the heroine at the heart of the show, the beautiful blonde girl who balanced monster-killing with high school homework alongside ancillary characters like the shy, geeky Willow. Buffy was very nearly one of a kind, an icon of her era who spawned a generation of leather-pants-wearing urban fantasy badasses and women action heroes.

Buffy was so beloved, in fact, that she earned Whedon a similarly privileged place in fans’ hearts and a broader reputation as a man who championed empowered women characters. In the desert of late ’90s and early 2000s popular culture, Whedon was heralded as that rarest of birds—the feminist Hollywood man. For many, he was an example of what more equitable storytelling might look like, a model for how to create compelling women protagonists who were also very, very fun to watch. But Carpenter’s accusations appear to have finally imploded that particular bit of branding, revealing a different reality behind the scenes and prompting a reevaluation of the entire arc of Whedon’s career: who he was and what he was selling all along.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered March 1997, midseason, on The WB, a two-year-old network targeting teens with shows like 7th Heaven. Its beginnings were not necessarily auspicious; it was a reboot of a not-particularly-blockbuster 1992 movie written by third-generation screenwriter Joss Whedon. (His grandfather wrote for The Donna Reed Show; his father wrote for Golden Girls.) The show followed the trials of a stereotypical teenage California girl who moved to a new town and a new school after her parents’ divorce—only, in a deliberate inversion of horror tropes, the entire town sat on top of the entrance to Hell and hence was overrun with demons. Buffy was a slayer, a young woman with the power and immense responsibility to fight them. After the movie turned out very differently than Whedon had originally envisioned, the show was a chance for a do-over, more of a Valley girl comedy than serious horror.

It was layered, it was campy, it was ironic and self-aware. It looked like it belonged on the WB rather than one of the bigger broadcast networks, unlike the slickly produced prestige TV that would follow a few years later. Buffy didn’t fixate on the gory glory of killing vampires—really, the monsters were metaphors for the entire experience of adolescence, in all its complicated misery. Almost immediately, a broad cross-section of viewers responded enthusiastically. Critics loved it, and it would be hugely influential on Whedon’s colleagues in television; many argue that it broke ground in terms of what you could do with a television show in terms of serialized storytelling, setting the stage for the modern TV era. Academics took it up, with the show attracting a tremendous amount of attention and discussion. In 2002, the New York Times covered the first academic conference dedicated to the show. The organizer called Buffy “a tremendously rich text,” hence the flood of papers with titles like “Pain as Bright as Steel: The Monomyth and Light in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’” which only gathered speed as the years passed. And while it was never the highest-rated show on television, it attracted an ardent core of fans.

But what stood out the most was the show’s protagonist: a young woman who stereotypically would have been a monster movie victim, with the script flipped: instead of screaming and swooning, she staked the vampires. This was deliberate, the core conceit of the concept, as Whedon said in many, many interviews. The helpless horror movie girl killed in the dark alley instead walks out victorious. He told Time in 1997 that the concept was born from the thought, “I would love to see a movie in which a blond wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself and deploys her powers.” In Whedon’s framing, it was particularly important that it was a woman who walked out of that alley. He told another publication in 2002 that “the very first mission statement of the show” was “the joy of female power: having it, using it, sharing it.”

In 2021, when seemingly every new streaming property with a woman as its central character makes some half-baked claim to feminism, it’s easy to forget just how much Buffy stood out among its against its contemporaries. Action movies—with exceptions like Alien’s Ripley and Terminator 2‘s Sarah Conner—were ruled by hulking tough guys with macho swagger. When women appeared on screen opposite vampires, their primary job was to expose long, lovely, vulnerable necks. Stories and characters that bucked these larger currents inspired intense devotion, from Angela Chase of My So-Called Life to Dana Scully of The X-Files.

The broader landscape, too, was dismal. It was the conflicted era of girl power, a concept that sprang up in the wake of the successes of the second-wave feminist movement and the backlash that followed. Young women were constantly exposed to you-can-do-it messaging that juxtaposed uneasily with the reality of the world around them. This was the era of shitty, sexist jokes about every woman who came into Bill Clinton’s orbit and the leering response to the arrival of Britney Spears; Rush Limbaugh was a fairly mainstream figure. At one point, Buffy competed against Ally McBeal, a show that dedicated an entire episode to a dancing computer-generated baby following around its lawyer main character, her biological clock made zanily literal. Consider this line from a New York Times review of the Buffy’s 1997 premiere: “Given to hot pants and boots that should guarantee the close attention of Humbert Humberts all over America, Buffy is just your average teen-ager, poutily obsessed with clothes and boys.”

Against that background, Buffy was a landmark. Besides the simple fact of its woman protagonist, there were unique plots, like the coming-out story for her friend Willow. An ambivalent 1999 piece in Bitch magazine, even as it explored the show’s tank-top heavy marketing, ultimately concluded, “In the end, it’s precisely this contextual conflict that sets Buffy apart from the rest and makes her an appealing icon. Frustrating as her contradictions may be, annoying as her babe quotient may be, Buffy still offers up a prime-time heroine like no other.” A 2016 Atlantic piece, adapted from a book excerpt, makes the case that Buffy is perhaps best understood as an icon of third-wave feminism: “In its examination of individual and collective empowerment, its ambiguous politics of racial representation and its willing embrace of contradiction, Buffy is a quintessentially third-wave cultural production.” The show was vested with all the era’s longing for something better than what was available, something different, a champion for a conflicted “post-feminist” era—even if she was an imperfect or somewhat incongruous vessel. It wasn’t just Sunnyvale that needed a chosen Slayer, it was an entire generation of women.

That fact became intricately intertwined with Whedon himself. Seemingly every interview involved a discussion of his fondness for stories about strong women. “I’ve always found strong women interesting, because they are not overly represented in the cinema,” he told New York for a 1997 piece that notes he studied both film and “gender and feminist issues” at Wesleyan; “I seem to be the guy for strong action women,’’ he told the New York Times in 1997 with an aw-shucks sort of shrug. ‘’A lot of writers are just terrible when it comes to writing female characters. They forget that they are people.’’ He often cited the influence of his strong, “hardcore feminist” mother, and even suggested that his protagonists served feminist ends in and of themselves: “If I can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation without their knowing that’s what’s happening, it’s better than sitting down and selling them on feminism,” he told Time in 1997.

When he was honored by the organization Equality Now in 2006 for his “outstanding contribution to equality in film and television,” Whedon made his speech an extended riff on the fact that people just kept asking him about it, concluding with the ultimate answer: “Because you’re still asking me that question.” He presented strong women as a simple no-brainer, and he was seemingly always happy to say so, at a time when the entertainment business still seemed ruled by unapologetic misogynists.

The internet of the mid-2010s only intensified Whedon’s anointment as a prototypical Hollywood ally, with reporters asking him things like how men could best support the feminist movement. Whedon’s response: “A guy who goes around saying ‘I’m a feminist’ usually has an agenda that is not feminist. A guy who behaves like one, who actually becomes involved in the movement, generally speaking, you can trust that. And it doesn’t just apply to the action that is activist. It applies to the way they treat the women they work with and they live with and they see on the street.” This remark takes on a great deal of irony in light of Carpenter’s statement.


In recent years, Whedon’s reputation as an ally began to wane. Partly, it was because of the work itself, which revealed more and more cracks as Buffy receded in the rearview mirror. Maybe it all started to sour with Dollhouse, a TV show that imagined Eliza Dushku as a young woman rented out to the rich and powerful, her mind wiped after every assignment, a concept that sat poorly with fans. (Though Whedon, while he was publicly unhappy with how the show had turned out after much push-and-pull with the corporate bosses at Fox, still argued the conceit was “the most pure feminist and empowering statement I’d ever made—somebody building themselves from nothing,” in a 2012 interview with Wired.)

After years of loud disappointment with the TV bosses at Fox on Firefly and Dollhouse, Whedon moved into big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. He helped birth the Marvel-dominated era of movies with his work as director of The Avengers. But his second Avengers movie, Age of Ultron, was heavily criticized for a moment in which Black Widow laid out her personal reproductive history for the Hulk, suggesting her sterilization somehow made her a “monster.” In June 2017, his un-filmed script for a Wonder Woman adaptation leaked, to widespread mockery. The script’s introduction of Diana was almost leering: “To say she is beautiful is almost to miss the point. She is elemental, as natural and wild as the luminous flora surrounding. Her dark hair waterfalls to her shoulders in soft arcs and curls. Her body is curvaceous, but taut as a drawn bow.”

But Whedon’s real fall from grace began in 2017, right before MeToo spurred a cultural reckoning. His ex-wife, Kai Cole, published a piece in The Wrap accusing him of cheating off and on throughout their relationship and calling him a hypocrite:

Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.

But his reputation was just too strong; the accusation that he didn’t practice what he preached didn’t quite stick. (A spokesperson for Whedon told the Wrap: “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”) Many minimized the essay on the basis that adultery doesn’t necessarily make you a bad feminist or erase a legacy. Whedon similarly seemed to shrug off Ray Fisher’s accusations of creating a toxic workplace; instead, Warner Media fired Fisher.

But Carpenter’s statement—which struck right at the heart of his Buffy-based legacy for progressivism—may finally change things. Even at the time, the plotline in which Charisma Carpenter was written off Angel—carrying a demon child that turned her into “Evil Cordelia,” ending the season in a coma, and quite simply never reappearing—was unpopular. Asked about what had happened in a 2009 panel at DragonCon, she said that “my relationship with Joss became strained,” continuing: “We all go through our stuff in general [behind the scenes], and I was going through my stuff, and then I became pregnant. And I guess in his mind, he had a different way of seeing the season go… in the fourth season.”

“I think Joss was, honestly, mad. I think he was mad at me and I say that in a loving way, which is—it’s a very complicated dynamic working for somebody for so many years, and expectations, and also being on a show for eight years, you gotta live your life. And sometimes living your life gets in the way of maybe the creator’s vision for the future. And that becomes conflict, and that was my experience.”

In her statement on Twitter, Carpenter alleged that after Whedon was informed of her pregnancy, he called her into a closed-door meeting and “asked me if I was ‘going to keep it,’ and manipulatively weaponized my womanhood and faith against me.” She added that “he proceeded to attack my character, mock my religious beliefs, accuse me of sabotaging the show, and then unceremoniously fired me following the season once I gave birth.” Carpenter said that he called her fat while she was four months pregnant and scheduled her to work at 1 a.m. while six months pregnant after her doctor had recommended shortening her hours, a move she describes as retaliatory. What Carpenter describes, in other words, is an absolutely textbook case of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, the type of bullshit the feminist movement exists to fight—at the hands of the man who was for years lauded as a Hollywood feminist for his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Many of Carpenter’s colleagues from Buffy and Angel spoke out in support, including Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon,” she said in a statement. Just shy of a decade after that 2013 speech, many of the cast members on the show that put him on that stage are cutting ties.

Whedon garnered a reputation as pop culture’s ultimate feminist man because Buffy did stand out so much, an oasis in a wasteland. But in 2021, the idea of a lone man being responsible for creating women’s stories—one who told the New York Times, “I seem to be the guy for strong action women”—seems like a relic. It’s depressing to consider how many years Hollywood’s first instinct for “strong action women” wasn’t a woman, and to think about what other people could have done with those resources. When Wonder Woman finally reached the screen, to great acclaim, it was with a woman as director.

Besides, Whedon didn’t make Buffy all by himself—many, many women contributed, from the actresses to the writers to the stunt workers, and his reputation grew so large it eclipsed their part in the show’s creation. Even as he preached feminism, Whedon benefitted from one of the oldest, most sexist stereotypes: the man who’s a benevolent, creative genius. And Buffy, too, overshadowed all the other contributors who redefined who could be a hero on television and in speculative fiction, from individual actors like Gillian Anderson to the determined, creative women who wrote science fiction and fantasy over the last several decades to—perhaps most of all—the fans who craved different, better stories. Buffy helped change what you could put on TV, but it didn’t create the desire to see a character like her. It was that desire, as much as Whedon himself, that gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer her power.

We Finally Know How Much Paramount+ Is Gonna Cost

Illustration for article titled We Finally Know How Much Paramount+ Is Gonna Cost

Image: ViacomCBS

Paramount+, the new streaming service replacing CBS All Access, will launch as both an ad-supported and ad-free product.

The service’s premium tier is set to launch March 4 and will cost $10 per month. It will offer some key features that will not be included with its ad-supported tier, ViacomCBS said during an investors presentation Wednesday. Those features will include more sports and local CBS broadcast news coverage, as well as CBS Live TV.

The Paramount+ ad-supported tier, which will launch in June, will cost $5 per month and will have limited premium features but will still include news on demand and sports, as well as tens of thousands of episodes from the ViacomCBS content vault.

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Eventually, it sounds like Paramount+ will also offer bundling options for sister services like BET+ and Showtime, which will give consumers the ability to pick and choose which services they’re interested in paying for. The company will use its free ad-supported service, Pluto TV, to tease content that can be found on its paid services.

The service will launch with 30,000 episodes and dozens of new original series and movies, and new reality content will be added every month. It will also feature exclusive sporting events, dozens of original documentaries, and more than 7,000 episodes of kids content.

Paramount movies, meanwhile, are expected in most cases to head to the service up to 45 days after they debut in theaters. That includes films releasing this year like A Quiet Place Part II and Mission: Impossible 7.

Facebook Told Us to Suck It, for a Change

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Photo: Michael Reynolds (Getty Images)

Attention, haters: you have officially been put on notice by Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg.

This morning, Clegg unleashed a very salty, very strongly-worded rebuke to sordid charges propagated by publishers supposedly looking for a cash grab. It’s titled “The Real Story of What Happened With News on Facebook in Australia,” and reads like a closing argument in a courtroom drama—in this case, essentially accusing Australian lawmakers of allowing the media industry to pick Facebook’s pocket through a proposed law which would compel the company to pay for journalism. While I reject every assertion in this blog post, it’s nice to finally get a human on the line—rather that the unbroken chain of prerecorded denialism and we’ll-get-back-to-yous from Facebook which rarely relate in any way to criticisms at hand.

Here’s the reported version of the Story of What Happened With News on Facebook in Australia: Australian lawmakers have been wrapping up some new legislation (the News Media Bargaining Code). Specifically, it gives Australian news businesses the power to bargain over a rate which Facebook and Google would have to pay in exchange for hosting news articles in full, as excerpts, or in link form. Facebook did not care for this plan and retaliated by pulling all news links shared by publishers and users from its site in Australia. (Clegg said that Facebook had to do so to protect itself from liability.)

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But many also noted that this kind of proved the point that Facebook wields way too much power over news access online. Yesterday, the company flipped the news switch back on after lawmakers agreed to a handful of amendments. They would give Facebook and Google a month’s notice before enforcement and potentially exempt Facebook entirely if it proves that it already pays Australian media companies through alternative deals. (Google, on the other hand, struck a deal with NewsCorp to share some ad revenue and create a subscription service. Google already pays some participating publishers to give readers free access to paywalled articles in its News Showcase product. Facebook reportedly pays a select number of outlets to present their full stories in its News Tab.)

In a blog post yesterday, Facebook said it was “pleased” with the agreement, but Clegg saved a few choice words for (presumably) legislators and journalists. Claiming that the Australian lawmakers were deluded by “a fundamental misunderstanding” of how news on Facebook works, Clegg argued that Facebook actually provides news outlets a free marketing service. More to the point, what you’ve heard are lies [emphasis theirs]:

The assertions — repeated widely in recent days — that Facebook steals or takes original journalism for its own benefit always were and remain false.

Okay, depends on your vantage point. Moreover, that wasn’t really the lesson from the past week. We just learned that Australians like getting their news from Facebook.

Clegg could have left it there, but he decided to let it rip:

Of course, the internet has been disruptive for the news industry. Anyone with a connection can start a website or write a blog post; not everyone can start a newspaper. When ads started moving from print to digital, the economics of news changed, and the industry was forced to adapt. Some have made this transition to the online world successfully, while others have struggled to adapt. It is understandable that some media conglomerates see Facebook as a potential source of money to make up for their losses, but does that mean they should be able to demand a blank check?

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I’m guessing the money-grubbing failures to which Clegg refers include the dying local papers that have struggled to adapt in part specifically because they’re losing out on locally-targeted advertising revenue which is now almost entirely pocketed by Google and Facebook. Anyway, okay, we get it! Not done yet [emphasis, again, Clegg’s]:

It’s like forcing car makers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price. It is ironic that some of the biggest publishers that have long advocated for free markets and voluntary commercial undertakings now appear to be in favor of state sponsored price setting. The events in Australia show the danger of camouflaging a bid for cash subsidies behind distortions about how the internet works.

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This is a wildly skewed metaphor; Facebook is less like the car and more like one of two radio stations that get to decide which record labels to promote. That kind of broadcast dominance has directly led to newroom layoffs through (allegedly knowingly misleading) emphasis on video. It’s also algorithmically suppressed outlets now competing for attention with fake and inflammatory sources. For a sense of how much an even playing field matters, the Pew Research Center recently found that 36% of Americans regularly get their news from Facebook. Its influence over the flow of information is so patently obvious that every few years we circle back to insisting that Zuckerberg just admit that he’s running a media organization.

Maybe Australian politicians, in needling Facebook to pay its fair share, finally struck a nerve. Or maybe the thrill of winning a pissing match against a sovereign nation has the company’s executives willing to gloat. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope that Facebook keeps the line of honest dialogue open.

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Cinefex Closes Down Thanks to the Goddamn Pandemic

Illustration for article titled Cinefex Closes Down Thanks to the Goddamn Pandemic

Screenshot: Gizmodo/Cinefex

It’s a tough time to run a print magazine. It’s an even tougher time to run a print magazine about the film industry. And after more than 40 years of definitive coverage of the special effects industry, Cinefex has shut down.

The news came in a blog post from Cinefex’s publisher, Gregg Shay, on Tuesday. The note explains that the coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible to continue producing the magazine for a number of reasons. “The pandemic deprived us of subject matter, retail outlets, and, most critically, advertisers, many of whom, like us, struggled to remain afloat in a climate of intense turmoil and uncertainty,” Shay wrote. “We did our best to weather the storm, but ultimately the storm prevailed.”

The February issue of Cinefex featuring articles on The Mandalorian, Star Trek: Discovery, and Raised by Wolves will be its 172nd and final edition.

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I recently visited two bookstores feeling in the mood to read a magazine about the movies. That’s a fairly unusual urge for me to have, but I guess the lack of theatre experiences and the monocultural grind of new streaming offerings ignited a craving. It was sad to find the only offerings on the magazine racks were old issues from last spring. Other stalwart film publications like Film Comment have been forced to pause production as new film titles have dwindled, festivals have gone virtual, and set visits are out of the question.

But Cinefex was different than the criticism- and entertainment-focused approach of most publications. It was a gee-whiz nerd magazine that chronicled the evolution of the effects industry and its related technology from the practical-puppetry of Ridley Scott’s Alien to the birth of CGI dinos in Jurassic Park to the bizarre de-aging deep-fakery in Gemini Man. For kids of a certain generation, it was a gateway drug into understanding that movie magic is actually more interesting when you know how it’s done.

“For 40 years Cinefex served as an incredible inspiration and resource to so many in the industry,” the team at Industrial Light and Magic tweeted. “We are heartbroken.”

YouTube Thinks It’s Cracked the Code on Appropriate Content for 9-Year-Olds

Illustration for article titled YouTube Thinks It’s Cracked the Code on Appropriate Content for 9-Year-Olds

Photo: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP (Getty Images)

YouTube is attempting to bridge the gap between its dedicated Kids app and regular YouTube for parents with tweens and teens.

YouTube announced Wednesday that it will launch a new “supervised” experience in beta that will introduce additional features and settings for regulating the types of content that older children can access on the platform. Content will be restricted based on the selection of one of three categories. “Explore” will introduce videos suitable for kids 9 and older, “Explore More” will bump them into a category with videos for kids 13 and older, and “Most of YouTube” will show them nearly everything except age-restricted and topics that might be sensitive to non-adults.

YouTube says it will use a blend of machine learning, human review, and user input to vet content—a system that has worked spectacularly for YouTube in the past. Seemingly trying to get out ahead of whatever issues will arise from its busted moderation system, the announcement blog stated that YouTube knows “that our systems will make mistakes and will continue to evolve over time.”

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Clearly, any tool that attempts to filter inappropriate content on YouTube is welcome and necessary. But guardians cannot rely on YouTube alone to take the wheel and guide the experience of their kids. We’ve seen how well that’s worked in the past over on YouTube’s dedicated Kids app—which is to say, not great.

Part of the problem is that YouTube’s platform, like those of other social media giants, is just too big to adequately moderate. One wrong turn can send your kid down a rabbit hole of conspiracies whether they were looking for them or not. Plus, if we’re being honest, teens and tweens are probably going to find a way to watch whatever content they want to watch regardless of how kid-proofed the home computer is anyway.

All that said, creating a middle ground between YouTube Kids and the chaos of normal YouTube is something. Just don’t bank on a perfect moderation system. Even YouTube says so.