In honor of Buffy's 20th anniversary, I'm posting the reviews I did of each season after the last time I binged the entire series, which was four years ago.
Do I need to give a spoiler warning for a show this old? I suppose this is it.
Anyway, I've started watching Buffy again from the beginning. I don't know why. It's the summertime and I'm feeling nostalgic, what do you want from me?
I've been randomly updating my Facebook page with comments about certain episodes because some of them just need public commenting. Fortunately for me, most of my friends are also big fans of the show, so my comments are not falling on deaf ears.
A little background: I didn't discover Buffy until half way through season 3. The first episode I ever watched "live" was "The Wish." I have some dim recollection of seeing a repeat of "The Pack," but Buffy wasn't required viewing for me until "The Wish."
After that, I went to the local video store and discovered the 3 tapes that had been released with earlier episodes. The tapes contained 2 episodes each, so half of season one. Thankfully, the WB was good about showing reruns during the summer, so I was able to fill in the blanks the summer after season three (at that point, I was taping every episode).
Looking back, it's kind of surprising that those 3 VHS tapes didn't kill any interest I had in the show. While they're made up of arguably the better half of the first season (although, being a big Xander fan, I would have preferred "The Pack" over "Angel," but it's easy to see why it was included), they're still of questionable quality. As I said upon re-watching them, there's a certain Sci-Fi original movie quality to them and the acting is just not particularly good.
There are, in fact, two actors who stand out from the rest of the cast from the very start. One is fairly obvious -- Anthony Stewart Head was always going to overshadow the teenagers, at least to begin with. He is Giles from the very first moment he comes on screen. While the rest of the actors are still struggling to get past that kind of high school drama club performance, Head does exactly what you'd expected a seasoned professional to do. The supernatural aspect of the show was always going to be harder to sell than the teen aspect and having ASH as the focal point was essential.
Surprisingly enough, the other actor who stands out is Charisma Carpenter. She is Cordelia. Everything she says sounds natural, as opposed to the other actors who sound like they're acting. Now, part of that is the fact that the rest of the characters have yet to be fleshed out at all, so the actors are clearly struggling to figure out who they are. That's just not a problem for Carpenter or Cordelia.
As much as I enjoyed the Xander-centric "The Pack," it's still not a great episode. In fact, the vast majority of season one can be considered average, if that. The Buffy/Angel pairing is as hamfisted as ever, the characters are more archetypes than characters, and the monsters aren't particularly scary.
The first glimpse of what the show can be comes with the 9th episode, "The Puppet Show." The addition of Principal Snyder to the show is welcome one, giving the core cast a day in and day out foil that has (we assume) nothing to do with the supernatural. Snyder grounds the show.
The characters have bonded by this point, too. There's a clear dynamic among Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles, and the scenes are becoming more and more natural.
The upside to "The Puppet Show" is that we get a nice plot twist on top of some of the best character work we've seen from the show. They fall into a wonderful dynamic in this episode where Willow does research on the computer, Giles hits the books, Buffy investigates the crime scene, and Xander interviews other students. It plays wonderfully to their strengths. This episode almost makes up for episodes like "I, Robot...You, Jane" and "Out of Mind, Sight." Almost.
The show is dragged down by the ongoing crush that Xander has on Buffy. It's always painful and they drag it on much, much longer than necessary (although one episode was probably too long). I appreciate that Buffy is the new girl and she's a Slayer and all that, but the events of "The Pack" would have been a perfect way for Xander to move on.
Honestly, I'm surprised that Buffy had the following it did after the first season. But I suppose teen shows were still a thing back then, and adding a supernatural element to it made it different. The fact that most of the cast were easy on the eyes probably helped, too.