I Saw the TV Glow Movie Review

I Saw the TV Glow : Movie Review


I was ecstatic to see that the highly regarded independent horror movie I Saw the TV Glow paid tribute to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in part.

I Saw the TV Glow Movie Review

My favorite show of all time is Buffy. I’ve never found a better combination of humor, horror, teen (and eventually young adult) turmoil, and romance. I saw it the same way I watched Owen (a tragic Justice Smith) in I Saw the TV Glow. I borrowed DVDs from my friend Geoff to catch up on the first three seasons, which I had missed. (In the film, Owen views through video cassettes.)

Here’s the problem, though. When I started Buffy, I was in my twenties, not a teenager. If I had been a child or in any other situation when I was trying to figure out who I was, I don’t know how I would have responded to the content. It might have grafted on me in a different way and been more transformative.
I mention this because I found it difficult to get used to I Saw the TV Glow’s dark, arty, lo-fi vibe at first. The thing that strikes me as most remarkable about Buffy is how smart, funny, and ironic she is. (Also, Spike’s vampire hotness in a leather coat, but I’m getting off topic.)

However, I can see how the show’s portrayal of outsiders having a divine mission, their ability to fight literal demons, and their membership in a unique secret sisterhood would be quite confusing to a young queer person. (Later, the program made cutesy nerd-turned-hot-witch Willow LGBT in an explicit effort to recognize its queer following.) That’s the aspect of Buffy that transfeminine writer/director Jane Schoenbrun, of I Saw the TV Glow, leans toward.

Our action takes place in what appears to be a quiet, unremarkable suburban town called Void (the kids attend Void High). When young Owen (originally portrayed by Ian Foreman as a seventh-grader) meets fellow outsider Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), she introduces him to The Pink Opaque, a television series about two girls who are psychically linked and set out to defeat Mr. Melancholy, a moon-shaped “Big Bad.” The tone, title font, indie rock soundtrack, and other aspects of the program are clearly modeled after Buffy, which similarly dubbed its enemies for the entire season Big Bads.

Little snippets of the show are seen, with Lindsey Jordan (Baltimore’s very own Snail Mail!) playing the harsher, more mature Tara and Helena Howard as Isabel. Interestingly enough, Amber Benson, who portrayed Tara in the first Buffy movie, makes a very endearing guest appearance here. However, Tara from The Pink Opaque is more akin to Buffy’s faith that defies authority, whereas Isabel is more of a proxy for Buffy. Furthermore, the characters are supposed to reflect Maddy and Owen. (Isabel is the more circumspect of the two; Owen is also half-Black.)

In her wood-paneled basement, Maddy and Owen watch The Pink Opaque while a massive aquarium bubbles next to them. Her parents quarrel upstairs. The father of Maddy is violent. After his mother passes away from cancer, Owen is left in the care of his distant father, who spends the entire day in front of the television. Owen’s mother was very affectionate and somewhat overbearing. (We see him on the coach, his immobile face lit by flickering television lights.)
Maddy is the one who want to move out. Owen fears too much. Then, without warning, she disappears, leaving behind nothing but a smoldering TV.

Is their small town seeing a demonic event, as Maddy suggests? Or is it, as Owen somberly replies, “just the suburbs”?
The Pink Opaque gave Maddy the confidence to embark on her own heroic quest. Owen ages away since he is confined to his hometown forever.
I Saw the TV Glow is replete with stunning, moving imagery, including the ever-present glow of television sets, a soaring, tented planetarium constructed by students in the school, an overwhelming amusement park filled with more of those constantly flickering lights, and the neon pink birthmark, akin to a tattoo, that the Pink Opaque duo has inscribed on their necks. In one of the most touching and private sequences in the movie, Maddy meticulously sketches Owen’s pink birthmark on his neck.

The movie is also really scary, in the best possible way for Buffy—not through elaborate special effects, but by drawing on a truly ominous and terrifying quality. (An further Baltimore connection: the monsters were constructed with assistance from local filmmaker Albert Birney.) Though I do wish it were funnier, Buffy—not Schoenbrun—is what really drew me in.
I Saw the TV Glow is primarily set in the late 1990s, so it’s telling how much of a period piece it feels. Television had a vital role in uniting people at one point in time. Schoenbrun is not here to criticize television; she is aware that these dazzling sights have the power to fascinate and even turn us into zombies. She is present to honor.

1 thought on “I Saw the TV Glow : Movie Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *