Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

 

I don’t know what Joss Whedon had in mind when he wrote the screenplay for a film called Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992). Targeted for teens, it was obviously meant to be a comedy with a horror twist, about a blonde high school girl who lived for fashion and dating but discovered that she was predestined to become the Vampire Slayer. The movie starred Kristy Swanson as Buffy and Donald Sutherland as her mentor. Nobody paid much attention to Whedon’s lame movie, but did he put it behind him? No way. Five years later, the TV series materialized – and it was a great success.

Perhaps the reason for this was that now Whedon had greater creative control. Another reason could be that Sarah Michelle Gellar was much better as Buffy than Swanson. The set-up for the TV series was pretty much the same. Buffy lived in Sunnydale, a small town in California, which happened to be the place where the Hellmouth was located. Out of this Hellmouth came not only vampires but also many different kinds of demons and it was Buffy’s mission to kill as many of these evil creatures as possible. She had great help from Giles, the earnest, British school librarian who functioned as her “Watcher”; his books provided all the information he and his young protégé needed about the demons in order to fight them. Buffy’s best friends, Xander and Willow, provided some comic relief. The show quickly drew attention because of its violence (there were times when the special effects became pretty gruesome) and parents were somewhat uncomfortable with having their kids watch the mayhem. But it was also a show that portrayed teenage problems in a creative and humorous way, and it was certainly by no means mean-spirited.

Getting wacky, and very amusing
The first three seasons were pretty good but the fourth and fifth were outstanding. It was as if allowing the teens to graduate from high school meant breaking totally free – this was when Buffy suddenly got a kid sister out of the blue, Willow became a lesbian and Giles opened a magic shop. This was when Buffy’s gang first had to fight a Frankenstein’s monster and then a sexy god. And this was also when Spike, an evil vampire from the first season, suddenly appeared again and got an implant which rendered him incapable of hurting humans, kind of turning him into a resentful pet that had nothing else to do with his time but occasionally help the gang fight Evil. The show, which always benefited from its feminist touch, got a little wacky, but very amusing. The following seasons were not as interesting, although an episode titled “Once More With Feeling” was memorable for its musical performances (!).

Gellar did a good job portraying a girl who constantly had to carry the world on her shoulders. She went through disastrous relationships (including with two vampires), the death of her mother and even her own death (and subsequent resurrection). But the outstanding performance on the show was delivered by James Marsters as Spike, a thoroughly complex child of the night; a great part for an actor and Marsters never held back.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997-2003:U.S. Made for TV. 144 episodes. Color. Created by Joss Whedon. Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy Summers), Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris), Alyson Hannigan (Willow Rosenberg), Anthony Stewart Head (97-01, 02-03), James Marsters (97-98, 99-03), Emma Caulfield (99-03), Michelle Trachtenberg (00-03), David Boreanaz (97-99), Charisma Carpenter (97-99), Seth Green (97-99).

Trivia: Followed by a spin-off series, Angel (1999-2004).

Last word: “My cast always came to play, always came knowing their stuff, doing the work, doing the best. Whatever bad energy they had before the cameras rolled, they didn’t put it on the screen. But at the same time, there was a lot of tension. Who that bleeds into are the crew, people who come in before – I was the only person coming in before the crew, and staying after the crew, and I get paid better. So I can’t complain. They were the people there first and there last, and energy like that flows down a chute, it makes it not as much fun a place. Still, this stuff kind of calmed down, we went seven years, we all kind of grew up. By the end, more professional.” (Whedon, IGN)

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One thought on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling”

  1. I do not consider it hylepbore to talk about the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as scaling operatic heights, culminating with the glorious aria of Becoming, Part 2, which I still relentlesly tout as one of the ten best dramatic hours on television I have ever seen in my life. I have watched a lot of television and have been teaching classes about this topic for over half my life, so I believe I can make a pretty convincing case. We witnesses the potential of this series in Season 1, when creator Joss Whedon held off on the revelation that the mysterious Angel was really a vampire, who just happened to have a soul and loved the Slayer, until half way through the abbreviated first season. In Season 2, we find out just how far true love can go wrong.Love continues to be a very painful thing for the Scooby Gang, as Cordelia ( Some Assembly Required ), Xander ( Inca Mummy Girl ) and Joyce ( Ted ), find out. Then again, prospects look much better for Willow ( Phases ), although we never really do take the Cordelia-Xander romance ( Go Fish ) to be anything more than a cosmic joke, which does offer up the delightfully twisted Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered as the exception that proves the rule (footnote: Buffy spends most of the episode as the Buffy rat because Sarah Michelle Gellar was hosting SNL that week). Of the off-arc stories, Halloween and Ted are clearly the best of the bunch. But when it comes to romance, Buffy and Angel are truly on the road to hell paved with the best of intentions.It is clear in the season premier episode, When She Was Bad, that things are different. When Buffy dances seductively with Xander, taunting him with her sexuality, the ante has been upped considerably. The pivotal point in the season comes with episode 13 (of 22), Surprise, when Buffy unknowingly undoes Angel’s curse on the night of her 17th birthday by making love to him. Why the gypsies put in the Faustian (in the Goethe sense) escape clause via the moment of true happiness and contentment is debatable, but the galvanizing effect on the show is truly impressive. When Angelus brutally slays Jenny Calendar in Passion, leaving her body in a grotesque display for Giles to discover in his bed (while opera music soars in the background), it is the symbolic Hellmouth of the show opening up. The audience is shocked into realizing how bad things can get, only the worst is yet to come. Giles’s anger buys him one shot at Angelus, but Buffy has to rescue him. They turn on each other in anger, and Buffy actually slugs him to the ground before they collapse weeping in each other’s arms. Buffy tells him, I can’t do this alone, but this proves to be most ironically incorrect.Clearly Whedon constructs each season around two half-season story arcs. The first half of Season 2 heralds the arrival of Spike and Dru, and the quick departure of The Annoying One. Of course now we look back and are amazed at what James Marsters has done with the role of Spike, but at this point it is Juliet Landau’s ditzy psychotic vampire who provides the flair of the dark side. Whedon brings the first half to a climax in What’s My Line?, the show’s first two-parter, where we are introduced to Kendra the Vampire Slayer. It seems Buffy’s brief moment of death at the hands of the Master in Prophecy Girl has some long reaching implications we only begin to appreciate at this point. But with the return of Angelus everything changes. Spike and Drusilla are trying to reassemble the Judge, a grotesque who cannot be killed by any weapon forged. Then everybody learns the truth about not only Angel’s transformation but also Jenny’s betrayal. Thus begins the deadly game of cat and mouse between Angel and his former allies, which culminates in the two parts of Becoming. Both parts of Becoming are written and directed by Whedon, and represent the apex of his work on the series. When Angeleus opens the portal to Hell, only his blood can close it, but things are not going to be that easy for Buffy. The dramatic culmination contains the best fight sequence (with swords) in a show that prides itself on innovative staging of its fights, and is an ultimately emotionally shattering experience captured beautifully by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s slow dissolve into tears while the haunting Sarah McLachlan song Full of Grace is played. Joss Whedon had set this moment up from the first episode of the series. It is a payoff usually reserved for the final episode of a series and not simply the end of the second season. Becoming is truly an astounding accomplishment in the history of dramatic television and when you watch the entire second season again you can appreciate how brilliantly this shattering conclusion is set up. The original theatrical film was a teaser, the first season on television was an appetizer, but the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was epic and once you see this, whether again or for the first time, you are not going to want to stop here. It is especially nice to see that the extras have gone up a couple of notches for the Season 2 DVD collection which is clearly priced to be accessible to BtVS’s loyal fans. Yes, we all appreciated having the entire first season, just like our Buffy brethren across the sea, but certainly we expected more goodies from Whedon and crew, especially given the high quality of The Watchers Guide, the show’s official companion volumes. Clearly there is a lot of thought put into this show, which means any and all insights and looks behind the curtain are greatly appreciated.

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