Except most of them seem to involve apocalypses of some kind. Dr. Horrible is too short to go there, but all the others do in some way.....although in Firefly's case it's in the distant past.
Which is hardly unique these days -- apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is all over the place, and has been popular on and off since, well, Biblical times, but especially since the dawn of the nuclear age.
And I think it's a reach to call Firefly
's abandonment of Earth-That-Was and the migration of humanity to the stars an "apocalypse." Sure, life on Earth ended, but only because it spread and flourished elsewhere.
And the other Whedon shows have all handled the idea of "apocalypse" differently. Buffy
was about preventing the end of the world on an ongoing basis; it was basically a superhero show, and saving the world from destruction is what superheroes do. Angel
took the more existential notion that the apocalypse isn't a single event but an ongoing process, the continual progression of entropy and decay, the apathy and cruelty and greed that we have to fight every day in order to make life worthwhile. Dollhouse
-- which is the most mature and well-thought-out work of science fiction in Whedon's ouevre -- started out with a technological premise that had the potential to change the world and, unlike most SFTV shows that are dedicated to preserving the status quo, had the boldness to take that premise to its logical conclusion.
So while they're not simplistically identical, I'll grant that there is a progression, a growing cynicism or nihilism. Buffy prevented apocalypses and kept the status quo intact, like most TV heroes; Angel realized that the status quo was already pretty apocalyptic and there was no final victory; Mal Reynolds fought against the status quo and lost, and now resists it in small ways; and Echo and the Dollhouse staff were actively victimized by the status quo and unable to prevent it from spiraling into chaos. Each show has gotten more and more subversive and philosophically daring. Whedon started out with a conventional good-vs.-evil narrative in BTVS, then blurred the lines between good and evil in Angel
, then explored how the greater good came into conflict with the good of the individual in Firefly/Serenity
, then inverted the roles of villain and hero in Dr. Horrible
, and in Dollhouse
pretty much threw out the concept of good and evil altogether and just told stories about screwed-up people trying to make good choices that usually ended up doing terrible harm -- although I'd say there was a final triumph for good at the end, but at a terrible cost. Most of his protagonists in his past few shows have been criminals or villains. Many of his Buffyverse protagonists were reformed monsters, or good people who then became monsters.
Which makes it interesting that Whedon is now responsible for overseeing the more conventional heroic narrative of the Marvel Universe onscreen. Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
revert to the more conventional good-vs.-evil dynamic we expect from a superhero universe? Will Whedon (and the other Whedon and Tancharoen) revert to the simpler, more black-and-white morality that he's spent most of his producing career drifting away from and deconstructing? Or will they find a way to bring that same moral ambiguity/inversion to the Marvel Universe? Come to think of it, this could be more of the same, in a way. SHIELD is basically the sinister government conspiracy. We've seen in the clips that, from Skye's initial point of view, they are the bad guys who need to be stopped. And we saw in The Avengers
that they play fast and loose with personal privacy and answer to a shadowy World Council that can't be trusted. So there arguably is room for a lot of Whedon's beloved gray areas in this show. And yet it's overtly a show about heroes in a way that most of his work hasn't been; at least, it's set in a world where heroes exist and inspire the characters, even if the lead characters themselves are in a grayer area. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.