Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alyson Hannigan, Amber Benson, Anthony Stewart Head, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Kristine Sutherland, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seth Green
It starts with a weird look! Sometimes a smirk! To even a comment that usually comes with “But you’re a man? Are you serious?”. To which I reply “Yes I am”. You see when I am asked what are my favourite TV Shows of all time? I always get the odd look when I mention Buffy/Angel are in my Top 10. It seems a 42 year old man can not have any love for all things Sunnydale, a show of a teenage School girl who just happens to fight Vampires.
I admit its not quite Game Of Thrones and on paper surely sounds stupid and downright silly for any newcomer, but while the likes of ARROW and The Flash share this DC Universe to critical acclaim, I often think that Buffy and her Scoobies done this first. Clever cross-overs, in jokes, even a musical episode, but while many think Barry and Oliver are the blueprint for this kind of TV, Buffy Summers and Angel were doing this trend way back in the 90’s and guess what? They done it better, scarier and funnier.
Even now 19 years since the last episode of Angel was aired, I still watch both series from beginning to end and while I’ll will do a look back on Angel’s adventures soon, this feature is all about the show that started it all, a TV series all about a young girl trying to get through high school while fighting the next big bad.
Grabbing my Buffy Box-set, I sat down over the last two months and re-watched from the very beginning and I was quite shocked at the order I have finally put each season in. You see, re-watching with adult eyes, you get the jokes that went over your head at the time, the Easter Egg film gags that as a teenager you never understood. Joss Wheldon may have moved on the likes of The Avengers, but his writing for Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a man on the peak of his creative juices. If you’ve never seen an episode then you have missed out on a few that are quite rightly considered some of the greatest ever seen on TV.
Hopefully this rundown will get you in the mood for either a re-watch or even a first time peek into the delights of Buffy Summers.
Hope you enjoy:
From The Bad To The Good!
BUFFY: Season 1
Oh yes! The entire season that started the adventure and introduced to the world Sarah Michelle Geller as Buffy Summers, is ranked as the worst season of the entire show. How can it be? Well for the newcomer coming into the this world, they may actually struggle to get past a few episodes, as to be honest its a hard slog.
While the pilot “Welcome To The Harvest” is fantastic and immediately showed the chemistry between all the cast, introducing the likes of Xander, Willow, Giles and Angel who would become so important and loved by fans everywhere, the entire season is very hit and miss and comes across quite rough in places as it can be clearly seen that Joss is still trying to find his feet with his ideas.
There are some good episodes that show the potential that is to come. Angel gives us the shocking twist that showed the love between Buffy and Angel was not going to be a normal one and it really put David Boreanaz into the hearts of young girls everywhere and also showed that there was another good story to be told even though it needed a separate show. The Puppet Show demonstrated just how funny the show could become (Red Rum….Red Rum….Red Rum) while Nightmares demonstrated just how scary it could be. But while these were great, we also had to deal with such bad episodes like “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” and “I Robot, You Jane” which could instantly make anyone watching this for the first time, wonder what all the fuss is about.
The big downside for me and the reason why this is placed at the bottom is because of the big bad who despite many fans believe its Adam (more on him later), I have always felt that The Master is the weakest of all who Buffy had to face. He is never scary or a threat and while he actually does some serious damage to Buffy, he stays too long in the shadows to really feel a huge threat.
I know many Buffy fans will disagree, but knowing what was to come and with certain characters still to arrive in Sunnydale, Season 1 unlike the other seasons is the only one that feels dated. Thankfully its only 12 episodes and what it does perfectly, is set the groundwork for what was to follow.
BUFFY: Season 7
And just as the first season hits rock bottom, the last season follows it, just underneath. Oh Season Seven, why have you got to be so poor? This came close as the worst of the entire Buffy run and even as I type, I am still changing my mind and thinking that it should. The only reason that is stopping me is that The First is an awesome Big Bad creation that at times strikes fear but then comes across wasted, even more so when Nathan Fillion joins the party and you can only wish he was introduced a lot sooner as it gave Buffy an actual thing to fight!
James Masters is simply fantastic here. While Spike along with Willow are the two characters who have the most character development in the entire run, you could argue that Spike is the actual hero of Season 7. His tortured soul and willing sacrifice is quite something from when we were first introduced to him way back in Season 2, even through the heartfelt final scene of his character is totally undone in the next season of Angel.
There are also some pretty good episodes. “Conversations with Dead People“, “Selfless” and “Storyteller” don’t quite hit the peaks of Buffy classics, but are still good in their own right. The trouble with the entire season 7 that underneath it all, there is a good story waiting to develop. With half the cast looking as if they rather be somewhere else, the entire run feels like its just going through the motions and at times can come across quite boring. The “Potential Slayer” arc proves it as on paper it seems a cracking idea, but for the majority of the running time we just see the Slayerettes hanging around the house, talking and the plot not really moving forward. The lack of humor is a startling low and it feels like a tiresome slog, even more so when you add the character of Kennedy who to this day is hated by fans. I still can’t believe Willow moves on from Tara with a total different annoying character, even though thanks to them both, their sex scene was the first lesbian act to be shown on Prime time TV.
But….the last stretch of episodes at least end in a fantastic run. A surprise cameo from Angel, a vicious fight between Buffy and Caleb, to the final battle and a brilliant final shot in which Buffy never says a word, but we all know what she is thinking, Its a great ending that finally gives Buffy some comfort. Extra kudos for the fan service that Joss provides for the fans but a very bad point for the treatment of Anya….I still can’t forgive you Mr Wheldon……
BUFFY: Season 4.
How can a season that gave the world not just the greatest Buffy episode of all time, but one of TV’s, rank at a poorly number 5? Perhaps it just goes to show how good Buffy is, that an episode like “HUSH” can be classified as one of the greatest TV as ever seen and yet the rest of the season can rank so low.
Its also because Season 4 may be considered one of the weakest of the season’s, but its only because the ones that follow, have such a fantastic high quality about them.
Buffy Season 4 suffers from a weird transitional stage in which high school as finished, the loyal characters of Angel and Cordella have moved to LA and there is a sense of a re-boot in the air. Gone is Sunnydale high school and Buffy is now a young adult, trying to find her way in the world.
There is a strange vibe in the air! Everything we familiar with has gone. I use the school library setting that was so popular with fans as example, which after being destroyed in season 3, is no longer a focal point for a meeting with the Scoobies. Its the same with Giles, who is so badly underused in this season, that you can see why the character eventually became just an extended cameo later in the run.
Much like Spike who not only returns here full time, but also with a huge character change, when Season 4 is good, its really good, but when its bad…..oohh my! While HUSH is simply fantastic and an episode that needs to be watched even if you a fan or not, we also have to suffer the awful Bad Beer episode which is the worst episode of all, yes, it is so bad, you can need to forget about it and move on.
On a re-watch, the much criticised character of Riley was a bit unfair. Replacing Angel as the love interest was always a tough sell, but at least he offered something different and with adult eyes, its not his fault that as a fan we all know that Buffy is just going through the motions with him and that her heart is set on someone else.
The story arc of the Initiative is quite an interesting one as well. A hidden facility that the army use to experiment on monsters is something that could have gone bigger and played out a lot more, but you get the sense the writers didn’t quite know what to do with it at the end and the resulting Big Bad in the shape of Adam, a Frankenstein created Monster, lacks the guile to be really threatening. I look back on this season and still wish that Professor Walsh was just the mainstay Bad Guy, giving Buffy something different to worry about, but I guess in that age of TV, we needed our heroine to fight someone more equal to her power.
Also the awful treatment of Oz to Willow still feels terrible all these years on. I understand Seth Green wanted out, but the Oz we knew and was introduced to way back in season 2, would never have cheated on Willow, even though the result ended up leading the path to Tara and one of the most important lesbian relationships ever seen on TV was born.
Moving away from the negatives and Season 4 also sparkles with such delights. Angel despite his departure, pops up now and again, leading to the quite brilliant cross-over episodes. Faith returns in a superb two part episode, which was a crazy Freaky Friday battle duo that contains superb performance by both Gellar and Dushku.
The “Something Blue” episode which sees Buffy and Spike get engaged is hilarious and such a riot, while the creative juices were really flowing when they came up with the “Superstar” episode that saw the bit part character Jonathan. become the shows main star, for a fantastic 45 minutes.
Oddly the final battle between Slayer and Adam is finished on the last but one episode, resulting in the “Restless” finale that is quite something. A dream like episode that hints at what was to come and its simply brilliant.
So as you can see, Season 4 was not the disaster its reputation suggests it is and it also gave the world the episode “HUSH“, did I mention that? The Gentlemen……an episode of virtually no dialogue…….. Its a masterpiece!
BUFFY: Season 6
There is so much hate for this season that many fans will wonder and question the high rating, but there is a growing belief among the fan-base that its only now Season 6 is starting to get the appreciation it fully deserves.
Its the one where it all goes dark, that the show moves away from the vibe of children/Teen TV and goes full Adult mode on us. But what do you expect after such a stunning end to Season 5?
Buffy’s death was supposed to be the end of the show, but being so popular and in high demand, it was of course brought back, on a different TV station as well and with Joss also not heavily involved like he once was, this was an attempt to turn the show into something that the now older fans can relate to.
Every character in Season six is struggling. Buffy is struggling to adapt to life after being brought back and needing to dig herself out of her own coffin. Giles wants to return home and leaves for good. Xander realises he is not ready for marriage to Anya. Dawn is stealing to make herself feel good, while Willow is getting seriously addicted to magic which results in her break up from Tara.
The big bad are supposed to be The Trio, young men (two that have been minor characters in the past) who have read too many comic books and decide to go all Lex Luthor on us. Its crazy that while many fans don’t think of them as a huge threat throughout, its their actions that result in the most harm that all the bad guys that have walked through Sunnydale have managed.
Warren killing Tara is still a shocking moment, even if you have seen it so many times and it still hurts after all these years. I don’t think fans will ever forgive the writers for it and leaves a bitter aftertaste, even though it ends up pushing the show into a fantastic last few episodes that are simply glorious.
The reveal of Willow being the big bad of this season is brilliant, with Hannigan relishing her new found role and I totally love the moment her and Buffy square off, leading to the line “and no one can stop me!”, which leads to the unexpected return of Giles who utters the reply “I would like to test that theory” and the final battle goes into such an unexpected path, leading to a different hero to come in and save the day.
Along with Tara’s death, there are some really bad moments that we can not ignore. Spike is horrendous in this. His relationship with Buffy moves to a different level and I can understand why Buffy does sleeps with him, but he is just so damn horrible to her. Its mental abuse and he seems to thrive on it, until of course it leads to the awful attempted rape scene, that damaged his character even after he moved on to Angel.
Also Xander!!! I mean why? The show needed something the fan can relate to and with every relationship breaking up, we needed him and Anya to be the rock that carried us through. Dumping her at the altar for no reason was the moment I realised that he is a douche and I sort of wished he died in the season 7 finale, because I never really liked the character from that moment.
But there are some great episodes which need to be mentioned. The often forgotten ‘Tabula Rasa‘ mind wipe episode is up there with the best Buffy has ever done, especially with the Michelle Branch tune bellowing at the sad finale. Which brings me to the other masterpiece that Buffy created. The “Once More With Feeling:” musical episode that I have watched more times than I have should. Most shows have tried to copy it, all of them have failed, (looking at you FLASH), it really is a stunning achievement, with songs that rock and also some how carry the plot forward. It will never be bettered and is probably the main reason why Season 6 is high on this list!
BUFFY: Season 5
Its the season in which Buffy gained a sister, a move that showed Joss had balls of steel to change the dynamic of the show, but while it could have made us think that a “Jump The Shark” is in order, it resulted in the strongest story arc that Buffy had ever done.
I actually adore this season. There is an air of confidence flowing from not just the writers but also the cast who seem to thrive on what is happening in this run.
The once single child now as Dawn in her life who unexpectedly just turns up in the first episode and we are made to believe that she has been there from Season One. She hasn’t, we know that, so why?
Dawn is unfairly targeted by the fan base and yes she is annoying, a brat on occasions, but isn’t that what teenage sisters are supposed to be?
The Story involving The Key and the brilliant big bad Glory , an evil bitch who also loves to shop (Clare Kramer is excellent) is such a delight that this is one season I could come back to over and over. It actually feels like Buffy is fighting a lost cause here, that the odds are totally against her and when you have knights turning up on horses to thwart her as well, you can see why she needs all the help from those around here. We also have an unexpected twist as well which may take you by surprise.
Spike is fantastic in this run, which makes his actions in Season Six more hard to digest. He actually cares for those around him and takes to Dawn quite well, while at the same time falling in love, which is hard for a Vamp without a soul. Buffy says goodbye to Riley who realises in a heartbreaking way that she will never love him like he does her. There are some great episodes as Dracula turns up in which is more of a tongue in cheek romp and quite hilarious in places. Spike himself gets a flashback episode which works brilliantly if you watch the Angel show as well. We also have the double Xander episode which I totally love and the final run of episodes are so good and the final scene of Buffy making her choice, only makes you wish that this was actually the ending of Season 7, because its that good and deserves a final season offering!
But before I need to move on, I can’t mention Season 5 without talking about “The Body”. I have mentioned “HUSH” and “ONCE MORE WITH FEELING” as masterpieces, but “THE BODY” is simply breathtaking and its pure work of art not only from Joss but also from Gellar who is simply breathtaking.
Its such a realistic and stunning portrayal of what it feels like to lose somebody that it deserves all the acclaim that it still gets and its a shame that those who have never seen Buffy are missing out on such an episode that shows the true horror of grief that no other show ever has. Its simply an astonishing piece of work!
BUFFY: Season 3
Its an argument that will go on forever. Which is the best season of Buffy Number 2 or 3? When I re-watch in a few years time, my opinion my change again as it did many times when I was writing this feature, but for the year 2019, Season 3 finishes in second place and I’ll give my reasons why in the final entry right underneath.
I will just comment here on why Buffy’s third year is so great! By now there is a wave of confidence between all those involved. The characters are fully developed and there is an air of “We can do anything” within the premise.
Starting off with the brilliant “Anne“, the show grasps you and never lets go and looking back, its a sad season in which we have to say farewell to all the original cast because its the last time that they all are on screen together.
What we have is a season that fizzles with energy. A new slayer is introduced in the shape of Faith (Eliza Dusku should have done that spin off) who we all know is all set to turn bad. Some brilliant episodes like The Wish (What if Buffy never arrived in Sunnydale) which also introduced us to Anya (Emma Caulfield). Xander saving the day in The Zeppo. The amazing The Prom, which gave Buffy a much needed Thank you, to the brilliant “Doppelgangland” which sort of served as a sequel to The Wish and had Willow back as a Vampire.
Its not all perfect. There are some minor episodes you can classify as duds, I am looking at you “Dead Man’s Party“and while Angel does return after the events of the previous season, he does spend too much time moping around and there is a huge sense of relief when he finally says goodbye at the end and moves to LA.
But what makes this run of episodes work so perfectly is the main Big Bad, and hats off to the quite fantastic Harry Groener who is never bettered as the evil that Buffy has to defeat. Mentioned towards the end of Season two, The Mayor is an horrific creation. The best bad guys are those you can’t take your eyes off and this guy is everything you need and more. He can be scary, funny, caring (he actually really does have a father’s love for our Faith) and he is more human than we actually remember.
The climax may have some dodgy effects now and the big snake fight is somewhat laughable, but the journey we need to get there is just a sheer joy and extra kudos for the brief appearance of Spike and also The First who would eventually turn up again in the last season.
This third trip into Buffy’s world is full of witty dialogue and is one heck of a fun ride, only bettered by this below….
BUFFY: Season 2
This season more or less nails everything you need in a TV Show.
Having laid the groundwork in the 12 episode original run, Buffy returns more confident and with a clear idea of what Joss Wheldon wants this show to be, full of fun and sadness in one rollicking ride.
The level of coolness is summed up in one perfect scene in which many fans have forgotten. When Oz thinks he may be werewolf, his only research is picking up the phone to ask his Aunt if his cousin is a Werewolf and like that he accepts his fate. No plot filler, no needless back story, its a simple moment that just oozes the high quality on offer and this season as a lot more.
To be fair, it doesn’t start quite like this. The after effects from The Master are still on show in the first two episodes, but when Spike and Drusilla arrive for a bit of fun, the show switches its tone immediately and from that moment on, you can sense the true BUFFY show we all become to love is born.
“School Hard” is an episode that typifies the new found change. Buffy is finally introduced to the new Vampire duo and their link with Angel and its an episode that is so pleasing on the eye that I totally love as it also hints at a greater plot out there. Of course we then have the infamous two part episode, “Surprise” and “Innocence” which virtually made those then watching, realise that they were witnessing something truly special. We all know the obvious Metaphor , but Buffy losing her virginity to the boy she loves, only for him to then reject her, is what many can relate to.
The transformation from Angel to Angelus, is one of the main reasons why I love Season Two so much. Spike seems like a naughty little boy compared to the actions of Angelus who is such an evil character that you can tell David Boreanaz just loves playing him. His first onscreen murder followed by a smoke from a cigarette is my favourite scene from the entire franchise and his chase and eventual kill of Jenny Calendar in “Passion” is as brutal as his treatment of Giles soon after.
It all leads of course to the two part finale and a huge battle between the two former lovers and a tear-jerker of a last few moments that match that of Season 5.
With the often forgotten Principal Snyder on full form here and with Joyce discovering what her daughter’s destiny really is, this is a season that lands its punches fantastically, even though we have to put up with the awful accent of Kendra and Xander’s terrible behaviour at the finale in which he blatantly lies to Buffy. Hey, Anya……..you had a lucky escape
Now lets see what Angel was up to in LA…..