July 21, 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1 (15)

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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.


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