Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shiny Blog welcomes Rachel Holkner!

Welcome aboard to Rachel Holkner who has joined me, Alisa, in the Buffy retrospective from Season 2 onwards. Rachel thought it best to give a brief introduction by way of a summary of her thoughts on Season 1, below.

Rachel and I are working on a new format for the episode by episode commentaries and are aiming to post the first episode for Season 2 later this week. In the meantime here's a quick "Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

BtVS Season One - Overview

I thought I'd start reviewing Buffy with an overview of Season One. Ben and Alisa have already done a great job hashing over each episode individually, but for completeness sake I wanted to start at the beginning.

I remember very distinctly watching the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had never heard of the movie, but had seen the show advertised and it looked like my cup of tea. There was nothing much on TV at that time that suited me, I was living in a lousy share house, fumbling through a mediocre university course and I needed a new escape. So, all excited I curled up on the floor on the night it premiered (the couch was fourth-hand and too lumpy to actually be used), scooting up close like I was a kid again watching Saturday morning cartoons.

It was unfortunate that I had built it up so much because no show could survive that kind of expectation*. Although BtVS would turn out to be exactly what I (and millions of others) needed to see, the first episode is not typical. In fact it has a distinctly different mood to even the second episode. Welcome to the Hellmouth does a fine job of introducing this new and complicated world, vampire lore, the destiny of the Slayer as well as introducing a dozen brand new characters. But it's distinctly Californian, something the writers quickly chose to move away from, thank goodness, and make the show more universal with it's own distinct voice.

We learn some important lessons in the first couple of episodes, not least of which is that anyone is fair game. Creator Whedon has been known to take this to extremes of late. Another important lesson being that high school is as ridiculous and amusing as it is terrifying.

The next few episodes begin to explore the world around Buffy and vary in tone and quality. Witch is a great early episode showing that it's not always demons behind the weeks' horror. Teacher's Pet I find fairly weak, Never Kill a Boy... also, but it shows how desperate Buffy is to be normal despite her impressive calling. I love The Pack, the gang of high school kids is believably nasty, the way they work as a team to magnify their cruelty is something I still cringe at. Angel I find largely forgettable, even though it contains the first kiss and the crucial revelation of Angel's vampire-ness and curse. The Three are a threat so briefly, but then there is Darla's ingenious attack on Joyce. Is it wrong that I find that so clever?

I Robot, You Jane works very well largely because we've already all fallen in love with Willow. She brings out the protective instincts in all of us in the early seasons. The introduction of Jenny Calendar is also timely, the lack of teachers at Sunnydale High was becoming noticeable.

The next three episodes, The Puppet Show, Nightmares and Out of Mind, Out of Sight are my picks for Season One. Although they are each standalone episodes they work well as a trilogy of sorts. Each takes a new fear and exploits it in a different way. Each has an unexpected and effective twist and each has an introduced character that we can sympathise with as well as be scared stupid by. These episodes are where BtVS really finds its feet and strides confidently.

The final episode, Prophecy Girl is a mixed bag. The Master has been a presence throughout the season, but I'm not convinced that he makes a truly convincing villain. The Anointed One is far more creepy in my book - at least he can directly confront our heroine! Yes, this episode is dramatic and scary, but it is hampered by clumsy dialogue. But it works in the end. We're rooting for Buffy the whole time as she tries to escape her destiny by quitting (although we knew she wouldn't really) and in the end she brings out the best in everyone around her.

Season One Verdict: "We saved the world. I say we party."

*Firefly excepted.

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