All entries for Thursday 21 July 2005

July 21, 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2 (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

To put a sexual analogy on it, the first series was just foreplay – this is the real deal. Longer, far more intense, sharper and generally more witty all around, season 2 is often considered the best season of Buffy. It is not hard to see why. Since I have explained the core characters already, there's no real need to do a character overview unless I'm mentioning incidental characters and those who 'come into their own' (such as Cordelia and Jenny Calendar).

Buffy returns to Sunnydale after spending the summer in LA with her dad. She is still somewhat traumatised after he final encounter with The Master, and her initially bitchy behaviour threatens to distance her from her friends ('When She Was Bad'). As it moves on, we meet the new bad guys; Spike and Drusilla. Spike and Drusilla are just stunning. Spike, the British vampire who acts like Sid Vicious (and was based on him, no less) and has a wicked sense of humour, meaning you just can't dislike him regardless of how evil he gets. Drusilla is his fruitloop girlfriend who is, in the words of my brother, 'f**king mad'. The Sid and Nancy of vampiredom dominate the first half of the season, making every clash with Buffy they have as memorable as the second half. Standouts of episodes 1–11 include 'Inca Mummy Girl', a variation on the theme of 'Teacher's Pet' except with a beautiful, uh, mummy. Xander falls in love with her, naturally. You'd have thought he would have learned by now. Others include 'School Hard', where Buffy has to deal with both PTA night and a vampire raid led by Spike on the school campus, 'Ted' where Buffy's mother's boyfriend really does turn out to be too good to be true (Ted himself played by the wonderful, but now sadly deceased, John Ritter). Oh yes, and 'Halloween' and 'The Dark Ages' which feature Robin Sachs as the acidic but devilish Ethan Rayne, also gives us more insight into Giles' character and his less than savoury past. It also gives us Xander with a machine gun and Buffy thinking she's from the 18th century. How much more fun than THAT can you get? There is also 'Lie To Me', where for the first time the line is blurred between good and evil when Buffy meets an old flame from LA.

The first of the true two-parters, 'What's My Line? Part 1 & 2' serves to deepen the relationship between Buffy and Angel and also gives us the surprise new romance of the season – Xander and Cordelia, whose loathing for each other breeds….um…love. Ass kicking action all present and correct of course. When 'Bad Eggs' plays, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Season 2 was simply a far cooler and more exciting Season 1 (although I'd dispute that), but when the next two parter 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' comes along, we enter far darker territory. Buffy and the Scooby Gang (they are thus called) fight to enter the plans of Spike and Dru to bring forth a legendary demon called 'The Judge'. The Judge becomes the least of their worries when Buffy and Angel have sex for the first time, and Angel loses his soul. He then reverts to being Angelus, a truly despicable and evil foe. The Joss Whedon scripted and directed 'Innocence', beautifully captures Buffy's heartbreak at the loss of her love to evil and Angelus' obsession with tormenting Buffy and her friends.

It is worth mentioning at this point about Jenny Calendar, the beautiful Computer Science teacher played by Robia LaMorte. The perfect counter (and of course, love interest) to Giles has a few rocky episodes with Giles, but is a loveably feisty presence who cannot help but poke fun at the man she falls in love with. Giles is deeply betrayed to learn in 'Innocence' that Jenny is in fact completely aware that Angel had been cursed with a soul. Not to mention Buffy of course. The other romance appearing at this point is the romance of Oz and Willow. Tired of waking for Xander to wake up and smell the roses, Willow finally becomes the other half of sweet and sensitive Oz, played by the very familiar sight of Seth Green (Scott Evil? You know?). The slight drawback is that Oz happens to be a werewolf ("You're nice and you're funny. And you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either")

Things take a turn for the shocking in 'Passion' where we see Angelus' true colours in all their viciously violent glory ("It speaks to us… guides us… Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?"). It is always nice to see episodes that are dark and full of drama, but Buffy never overdoes the darkness. 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' is a perfect counterweight to this, and one of the finest episodes written by Marti Noxon. A love spell goes wrong, and every woman in Sunnydale suddenly becomes rather obsessed with Xander. You have to see it to realise just how funny this episode is. 'I only have eyes for you' is a surprisingly touching episode, involving the restless spirit of a boy who killed the teacher he was in love with in 1955. It is also very sad.

Season finales don't come much better than 'Becoming, Part 1 & 2', where we explore some of Angel's past and where it all spirals towards the inevitable face off between Buffy and Angel – where Buffy must choose to make the ultimate sacrifice. The world is going to be sucked into hell thanks to Angelus' machinations, of course. The emotion is intense, the stakes high and the sheer raw brilliance of it as written by Mr. Whedon never serves other than to give this a truly epic and apocalyptic feel. I dare you not to feel a tear in your eye in the final moments of the last episode of the season. Its truly heartbreaking. Who said Buffy can't do drama?

Season 2 is bigger and badder than Season 1, and also puts in true drama. The theme of tragic love is all pervading, never more so than in every confrontation between Buffy and Angelus after that. Cordelia becomes a more integral part of the group, as does Oz, who both end up putting their lives on the line for Buffy's sake, but the expanded group never loses dynamism.

Its a great season, and prepares us inexorably for the third season. After this season, Buffy finally proved itself as being more than just another teen drama – it was in a cult of its own.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1 (15)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

It seems to have become derigeur to bash Buffy lately. Its not high art, its not akin to great literature, and it lacks dramatic clout. Well, that's what they tell ME anyway. It is also apparently typical American TV. Except that the thing Buffy has that most American TV doesn't, is mythos. There are few worlds as compellingly watchable as that which Buffy inhabits – its sunny california, yes. Except they're on the mouth of hell. Its probably the only time watching American TV you're not jealous of the inhabitants of the town in question, which is Sunnydale.

For those who don't know, the series takes up where the entertaining, if lacking, film finished. Buffy Summers has been kicked out of her LA High School for burning down the school gym, and takes this unfortunate stigma with her to Sunnydale, where the only ones who befriend her are the sweet but nerdy Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and the well-meaning Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon), who also has a king-size crush on Buffy. The actors could NOT have been better chosen. The group dynamic is so effortless and full of chemistry that you couldn't envision any other TV actor playing the roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar is just great; yes, she's attractive, but just putting a blond bimbo in the role of Buffy wouldn't work. Gellar invests Buffy with both sparky teenage verve and also a world weary knowledge of her responsibilities as a vampire slayer, which makes her both an effective and effortlessly watchable lead with her quirky and very funny counterparts.

Other support comes in the form of the effortlessly dry librarian/Watcher of Buffy, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and also Angel, the dark and smouldering vampire-with-a-soul that Buffy inevitably falls for. It is the best kind of support.

No series like this is complete without a decent bad guy, and Buffy delivers on every level. The Master, a very old vampire whose season-spread intention is to open the Hellmouth and thus end the world as we know it, is the wonderful nemesis. He is self effacing and extremely witty, as well as being funny. Yet despite his humorous side, he is also extremely cruel and highly vicious – good combined characteristics that pretty much make him brilliant.

Its difficult to cover an entire series, but I've picked out my favourite episodes. The compulsory viewing of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest' exposes us for the first time to Joss Whedon's simply delicious writing ("There's no cause for alarm…well, actually there is cause for alarm. It just won't do you any good"). 'Teacher's Pet' is a true delight (not that 'Witch' isn't, but that isn't the point) in which young Xander Harris falls in love with the new teacher who happens to be a preying mantis in disguise. 'The Pack' is another beauty, again Xander oriented, except this time he and a few others have been possessed by the spirits of primal hyenas ("It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course, you'll have to kill him"). The episodes hereonin are just great, but the episode 'Nightmares' in which everyone's nightmares come true veers successfully from the hilarious to the downright horrifying, and constitutes one of the best Buffy episodes ever. We also see some impressive work in 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight' where a girl becomes so used to being ignored, she becomes invisible. And quite mad. The bitchy popular girl, Cordelia Chase, becomes the target of her vindication – and the fact we start caring about the target despite what she's done again shows how good Buffy's writing can be.

It all explodes out in the open with 'Prophecy Girl', where Buffy learns a rather disturbing prophecy about her fate and runs from her responsibility. Since there is more than one season of Buffy, I don't think I'm giving much away by saying all ends well.

What a series. The fact it only got better says one hell of a lot about this stunning cult series.


Summertime (and everybody's havin' fun)

Wow, how much rage lay in me that 7 weeks or so ago.

Well, it's mid summer. I'm relaxing. There is much to do. Well, actually, there isn't, but that's not the point. I'm going to be busy next term, so I'm relishing my general freedom and lack of any need to…well, do anything really. My life is comparatively quiet at the moment. I have graduated, I enjoyed my moment of glory. Just for a while, its nice to not be needed. When you can just kick back and not have to worry about doing anything.

So, what HAVE I been doing lately? Playing Splinter Cell 3, for a start. And watching the constant Airwaves slogans being fired my way by it. Honestly, why is advertising creeping into games? I don't feel any need for gum because of the game, I feel insulted. Yes, the game is great – but you know, it gets a bit weird.

I'm looking forward to my masters degree year. I'm living with a good friend of mine and some very sweet girls. Okay, so I have been warned what might happen when the air is rife with oestroegen (I think that's how its spelled) but maybe I'll need them to kick my arse when I'm being a lazy tosspot. Nevertheless, it will be fun. And I'll only have one exam next year (can ya FEEEL it?).

Well, I'm going to do some DVD reviews now as I have not done them in a long time.


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