"It’s not ideal…But it allows us to get by."

20Mar09

Since being rudely killed off Buffy, Amber Benson hasn’t had much of a presence on television. She only has a handful of guest appearances to her name in the past, gulp, seven years, but she has done some interesting stuff that has been worth seeking out.

Cold Case: “Volunteers”

Amber Benson & Katee Sackhoff on 'Cold Case'

Her first TV appearance post-Buffy was in an episode of Cold Case playing a radical who helped women obtain illegal abortions in the 1960s. I haven’t seen the episode, and I’m not sure I ever will because the show has yet to be released on DVD. I’ve never been able to make it through an episode of Cold Case because I find it overly sentimental, so it’s doubtful that I would watch “Volunteers” even if there were DVD box sets. Oh, but Katee Sackhoff is in that episode too… OK, I definitely would watch it now having seen that picture of Amber and Katee. That’s the stuff slash is made of right there.

The Inside: “The Perfect Couple”

Amber Benson in 'The Inside'

On Angel writer/producer Tim Minear’s short-lived series The Inside, Amber plays the psychopathic girlfriend of an equally psychopathic serial rapist. Not only does Amber sexy-dance with pretty women, but she gets to torment a shirtless guy strapped to a chair. There’s also a lot of gross tongue-kissing between Amber and Matt Keeslar, who plays her boyfriend. You know people are really evil if they tongue-kiss.

Now Tara will always have a special place in my heart, but for me it doesn’t get much better than watching Amber terrorize Steve Sandvoss with a belt. Vamp Willow would meet her soulmate in Allison Davis, I think. Amber really freaks me out in this role. Allison has a vulnerability reminiscent of Tara, but Amber switches it off in an instant and brings twelve kinds of creepy to the table. The episode as a whole doesn’t entirely work for me though, because Keeslar’s character doesn’t disturb me half as much as Amber’s. Roddy is unimaginatively written to begin with, but I also find Keeslar’s performance underwhelming. And there’s an awkwardly written scene in which Roddy oinks (???) at Allison that doesn’t work very well.

Supernatural: “Bloodlust”

Amber Benson in 'Supernatural'

In “Bloodlust” Amber plays a vampire…with a soul! No, not really. She’s a vampire…with a chip in her head! OK, so maybe she’s more like a vampire with a will to survive who has chosen to stop feeding on humans so that vampire hunters will stop trying to kill her. The episode is all about the gray area between good and evil with Lenore’s non-human-eating posse o’ vamps obviously challenging the main characters’ ideas of what makes someone evil. In this context, I think Amber was really a very smart casting move. While she certainly brings her acting talents to this role, she also brings her association with Tara that many sci-fi fans recognize. Because people connect her with sweet, good-natured Tara, they are likely to sympathize more readily with her character, even though she’s a vampire, rather than the single-minded demon hunter who’s her foil in this episode, which only further emphasizes its theme.

This performance is my favorite of Amber’s guest spots so far. Even though she doesn’t have that much screen time, I think she creates Lenore as a multi-faceted character, managing to be both menacing and maternal, which she does through some very effective leaning and touching. I’ve always thought that Amber was really good at touching people. Not in a naughty way, but in a way that creates a familiarity between her character and others and fleshes out their relationship beyond what the dialogue may convey. It’s probably a good part of why I bought Willow and Tara’s relationship even though they couldn’t show much physical affection. Amber also gives a very good menacing lean.

I was surprised how much I liked Supernatural. It’s no Buffy but it’s not bad. This episode also represents my “Six (Thousand) Degrees of Amber Benson” because I went to the same high school as Jensen Ackles, one of the stars of the series.

Private Practice: “Finishing”

Amber Benson in 'Private Practice'

I’m happy to see Amber on a TV show that gets decent ratings numbers, but I really don’t like Private Practice. I find the characters annoying and the writing not very good, opinions that this episode only reaffirmed. “Finishing” needlessly spans three or four months and gives short shrift to the myriad subplots it attempts to include. Besides the incestuous little goings-on of the main cast, this episode features three client-driven stories, one about a young girl with a heart condition who wishes to end her treatment, one about a woman worried about a miscarriage, and another about a woman (Amber) who was brutally attacked and wants to regain her memory so that she can prosecute the man who beat her. I guess the writers decided that Amber’s storyline wasn’t as salacious or manipulative as their usual fare because they included only the bare bones of a victim’s reclamation of power plot, resulting in pretty generic storytelling. While Amber is fine in her role, it’s difficult for her to make much of an impression with such little screen time contained in such short scenes. She looks really horrible (and I mean that as a compliment) in her first scenes though. Nice job, make-up department, but curses on you, wardrobe. Why is she dressed like she’s 45?

Amber has hardly been slacking off since leaving Buffy, directing and writing films, writing novels and comics, and appearing in several independent and TV movies. I’m glad that she has been keeping busy and that she seems to be happy with her most recent writing gig. But I miss having her on my TV every week.

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