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  • Created By: Joss Whedon
  • Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar

The Buffy Files: Chapter 1

By Stephen Lackey     October 13, 2006


BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Even the most dedicated fan boy can never catch every genre series when it airs on TV. You'd think it wouldn't be difficult because until recently there weren't that many sc-fi/fantasy/horror TV series out there. Somehow though back in the old days I missed the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series during its original run. I was hooked on FIREFLY when it aired, I love the original BUFFY and hell I even like ALIEN RESURRECTION so I'm an unabashed Joss Whedon fan. I think I never made an attempt to see the series when it originally aired because I felt like it was something for young people. All of my friends were, and still are, into it though. Finally I decided that I'd check it out. Not being someone who just dips his toe in, I belly flopped into the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER COLLECTOR'S SET. So I went from never seeing the series before to owning a 40 disc set of every episode of all seven seasons. I decided to do a series of articles here as I experience each season for the first time.

All of my friends told me that I'd just have to drudge through the first season; that it isn't as good as future releases. So, I sat down in front of season one episode one with some trepidation. Right away as the series started I was irritated with how everyone, especially Xander (Nicolas Brendon) looked, and are in real life, older than the characters they played. Brendon was 26 when he was trying to play a sophomore in high school! This is a common problem with my favorite example being Tom Welling in SMALLVILLE. He turns 30 this year and he looks it, but he's playing a 19 year old. Beyond that season one of Buffy, I'm happy to report, isn't as bad as I had been led to believe it would be.

The series seems to pick up after the end of the original movie with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) moving to a new town and a new high school. After meeting her new Watcher/Trainer (Anthony Stewart Head) she makes friends with the school's outcasts Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and the previously mentioned Xander. The set up is quickly and cleverly delivered; this town is the gateway to Hell, called "The Hellmouth" and because of that this town is the center of paranormal activity that can include vampires, demons, werewolves, and virtually anything else you could conceive of. Xander and Willow quickly discover Buffy's secret, that she's the chosen one and has to fight the constant onslaught of evil and they volunteer to become a part of the team. They do battle with vampires, reptile monsters, demons, and other types of nasty evil thingies. The formula is pretty well set, a new monster each week, some research, some fights, and a resolution.

Now, I can't discuss this season without mentioning the worst episode of the season. This episode is embarrassingly bad and really stands out among all of the other solid episodes of the season. The episode of which I speak is I Robot You Jane. In that episode an ancient demon is captured in a book. In modern day Sunnydale High school many of Giles' books are being scanned into a computer database. Of course, the scan transfers the demon into the computer. Once inside the computer the demon begins chatting it up with students and using his abilities to cause them to fall in love with him. At the same time he's having a robot built at a factory to transfer his essence into. Everything is just plain bad about this episode from the dialogue to the special effects, to the pacing and assembly. I have to ask what the hell happened here? I'm hoping for some clarification on this episode when I go back and check out the bonus features.

This season features a serialized story of the Master vampire trying to escape his dungeon cage into the real world. Each seemingly "one off" episode nearly always finds a way to tie into the greater story arc, sometimes in pretty minor ways but it almost always works. Along with The Master and all the vampire killing there are the high school romance plots and typical losers versus the cool kids stories but they aren't so CAWSON'S CREEK that I'm turned off to the series. I think these high school stories work for me because they all have a twinge of darkness to them. Buffy's stories are obviously dark as she can't maintain a real relationship because of being a Slayer. There seems to be potential for a relationship between her and the mysterious Angel and that's even darker because he's a vampire. Even Willow and Xander's love lives are a bit on the dark side as Willow wishes for a relationship with Xander who looks past her for the unattainable Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). The season culminates in a battle with The Master and a cliffhanger ending. Even though it's not as strong as other Whedon series and films it's still stronger than most other series that aired on television at the time and I do see potential for the series to grow and just get better.

BUFFY is well written for a low budget high concept genre series but the best of this season doesn't compare to the worst episode of FIREFLY. The same friends who warned me that season one wasn't great also tell me that the series really gets interesting midway of season two. So, Buffy fans, what are your thoughts from way back to season one? Watch for future installments as I dig through seasons 2 through 7.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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karas1 10/13/2006 6:45:24 AM
I don't understand why your friends told you that season 1 was weak. I found that it had many good episodes (my favorites being the one where Xander was posessed by a hyena spirit and the one where everybody's worst fears come to life). Of course, every series is entitled to one or two sub par episodes a season and if you didn't like I Robot, You Jane, well, it wasn't my favorite either. But it did introduce the Jenny Calendar character and she will be important. Count on it. All in all, I liked season 1 much better than season 7 which was dark and kind of unpleasant and perhaps too serialized. But if you're a Firefly fan, you will see some familliar faces in the last seasons of both Buffy and Angel.
spiderkeg 10/13/2006 9:18:33 AM
Personally, Season 3 is really the best of the Buffy series. I also personally enjoyed every season of Angel. Very well written, and the plots were gripping.
lister 10/13/2006 10:26:09 AM
Look, the show was different in Season 1. There was no guarantee that it would be an ongoing series and was a big gamble. The stories are more self-contained and there is less of a sense of a season-long arc (the Master just sort of shows up from time to time rather than being integral to the plot most weeks like Glory). But it was still head and shoulders above most other shows at the time. And whoever doubled for SMG did a better job during the fight scenes. Yeah, I Robot You Jane wasn't the best episode but I still liked it. AND we are still a long ways away from Dawn-y showing up and ruining the show.
wessmith1966 10/13/2006 10:57:24 AM
Season one set a great foundation for the show's future and was just plain fun to watch. Season 2 through 4 were brilliant, but I felt it fell off a lot after that.
lister 10/13/2006 11:21:33 AM
wessmith1966, you mean after Dawn-y showed up. Or as I like to call her: "the biggest mistake Whedon ever made..."
rockapellaman 10/13/2006 4:52:16 PM
I think Seasons 2,3 and 6 were the three strongest seasons, with 5 coming in a close fourth. Obviously, there are episodes spattered throughout each season that are very strong, so each is worth watching for their own reasons. I'm also a HUGE fan of Angel and Firefly. It's a shame what happened to Firefly, though. That had so much potential.
stormseye 10/13/2006 5:33:23 PM
Wow, it has been a while since someone discussed this wonderful series. I am a bit surprised that Steve was able to "love the original Buffy"; I have not read Whedon's original script, but the movie seemed so watered-down and silly that I did not want to give the TV series much of a try originally. It has been a while since I've seen the episodes and, though I agree that season 1 was not the best of the series, I think as a whole it was better than "B-". I thought the witty dialogue, the personality of the characters, and the charisma of the cast (no pun intended, ok a little bit) more than made up for the low-budget feel of the series. I think you will enjoy seeing the characters grow in the succeeding seasons; in fact, the actors do get better at their craft and bringing their characters to life as the series progresses. Also, lister is right the later seasons are more cohesive and have less of that "monster of the week" feel.
lister 10/13/2006 6:18:48 PM
I liked the original movie a lot. I am surprised that so many people did not (Whedon included).
snallygaster 10/13/2006 7:41:28 PM
I never understood the hate towards Dawn, or how her appearance marked the decline of Buffy. I found Buffy to be fairly consistant from episode to episode and season to season - there were ups and downs, but I thought overall it was one of the best series in recent years. It was one of the few series that I always looked forward to watching each week. One of Stephen's statements that I very much disagree with is this: "...there weren’t that many sc-fi/fantasy/horror TV series out there." Really? In 1997 there were two flavors of Star Trek on the air (DS9 and Voyager). Babylon 5 was hitting its peak. First-run syndication was overrun with fantasy series (Hercules, Xena, Highlander, and more). Chris Carter was producing both The X-Files and Millennium. Lois and Clark was winding down. For those willing to shell out the bucks for pay cable, they could tune into the sophomore season of Stargate SG1. And those are just some of the more memorable, longer-running sci-fi and fantasy shows on the air in 1997. I'd say that there were about as many new SF/Fantasy/Horror shows on TV in '97 as there are today. If you really want to go back to the days with a few choices in genre TV, go back to the pre-Next Gen days when genre series were truly rare, usually short lived, and (more often than not) complete crap.
karas1 10/14/2006 10:20:07 AM
I kind of liked Dawn, and I liked the idea of retroactively adding a character like that. But I didn't care for Glory or the whole key storyline.
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