BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Buffy Summers -
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Rupert Giles -
Anthony Stewart Head
Willow Rosenberg -
Xander Harris -
Joyce Summers -
Cordelia Chase -
OTHER BUFFY SEASONS
OTHER VAMPIRE SHOWS
Few sci-fi or fantasy series come to the small screen as fully-formed and successfully as this first season of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. This is partly due to the fact that the project started off as a disastrous film that gives a perfect template of exactly how the show shouldn't be done (and hopefully this overview will be the last time that we mention the film).
Buffy is hip, funny never once resorts to spoofing itself. Its main strength is that it's really about growing up in the US and in the high school system there - with added vampires. The real life stuff that the characters are going through here is familiar and universal. Anyone who has been through school has been through this stuff. This grounding in recognisable reality allows the series to soar and the supernatural stuff to be accepted.
The cast is central to this and all of the main ones are immediately at ease with the characters. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a fine comic actress and shows some real acting chops in the series finale Prophecy Girl. She is the one who has to carry the success or failure of the show on her shoulders and she is equal to the task, making Buffy and real and vulnerable 16 year old as well as the nearly invincible slayer of demons.
Alyson Hannigan is not far behind in the acting stakes, although her role as Willow is less showy, but proves to be very effective and Charisma Carpenter is really funny as the bitchy Cordelia. A part like that is hard to pull of without making the girl hateful. Anthony Stewart Head is excellent as the British librarian Giles (although the character is a bit too cliched for our tastes here) and Nicholas Brendon makes Xander about as cool as he can be considering he's a geeky failure. Only David Boreanaz seems uncertain as the centuries old vampire with soul, but then his is the least likely of all the characters.
All in all, the first season of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is a resounding success.Top
Welcome to the Hellmouth
Buffy starts in a new school having burned down the gym in the last one. She immediately meets the very popular, but very bitchy Cordelia, motor-mouthed geek Xander and shy, put upon study girl Willow. She also meets the new librarian Mr Giles who not only knows that Buffy is the Slayer of vampires, but claims to be her new Watcher. Sunnydale, he tells her, is placed on a Hellmouth, a magical convergence which draws evil to it. The current evil centres around a group of vampires looking to free their master from his underground prison.
It's remarkable how well this first episode sets up so much information within its running time whilst still being brilliantly entertaining. The keys are wonderfully drawn characters who are instantly recognisable and therefore need little introduction and equally wonderful dialogue that carries so much information in the undertone. When Buffy greets Willow, her response is 'Why? Do you need me to move?" That about tells you all you need to know about Willow in one line. All of the actors seem completely at home with their roles right from the start and are well cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar takes the lead role on her shoulders with ease and makes for an engaging heroine. Admittedly, the British librarian Mr Giles is a walking cliché, but he also gets some fun lines. The enigmatic Angel, however, manages to do nothing but look pretty.
As for the stuff about the vampires, Buffy spends most of this first episode trying not to get involved with them, so that pretty much comes at the end. The makeup is variable, but pretty much impressive and the Master makes for a suitably sinister nemesis.
All in all, Welcome to the Hellmouth makes for an impressive opening show and ends on a cliffhanger to bring us back again.Top
Picking up where the opening episode left off, Buffy saves Xander and Willow, but can't save Jesse. She and Xander venture into the sewers to get him back, but fail. The harvesting of souls begins at the Bronze, but this time the Slayer has accepted her task and sets about kicking vampire butt.
The introductions are all over, so we can get straight down to the task of telling the story and this second episode is as much fun as the first, mixing up the fantasy world of vampire killing with the more mundane world of not being allowed off the school grounds and getting grounded. Again there is some lovely dialogue and the cast are up to the job of making the most of it. The manner in which Buffy triumphs also shows a measure of originality as well as sheer muscle, something that can be said of the show to date.Top
It's cheerleading tryouts and the competition is fierce. All the girls want in the team, including Buffy, Cordelia and Amy, whose mother was a champion. When one girl bursts into flame, Cordelia goes blind and another's mouth seals up, it becomes clear that a powerful witch is at work, one with a real interest in the cheerleading squad.
Parental and peer pressure is something that we're all familiar with and that's what informs this episode, but does so in a manner that doesn't interfere with the entertainment value. The plotting is neat and, once again, the dialogue is excellent. It's clear that the emphasis here is going to be as much on the character interplay as the supernatural stuff.Top
There's a new biology teacher in the school and all the boys fancy the pants off her. Xander is astonished, and delighted, to learn that he might get the pants off her. He is less pleased to find that the teacher is really a she-mantis, a human-sized insect that plans to eat him after the mating.
Not many of us manage to get through school without getting a crush on one of the teachers. This is pure wish-fulfilment turned to nightmare. Unfortunately, the mantis is a far from convincing monster, which mars an otherwise fun tale. The revelation that the mantis only preys on virgins causes much consternation and amusement amongst the team. The final shot is also too much of a cliché to add anything to the proceedings.Top
Never Kill a Boy on a First Date
An old prophecy states that a powerful warrior called The Anointed One will rise from the ashes of 5 dead people to lead the slayer into Hell. Buffy feels like she's already there after moody, silent type Owen asks her out and they end up spending their date rescuing Giles from the Sunnydale Funeral Home.
Dating, hard enough at any time, especially difficult at the beginning when you don't even know what the rules are let alone how they work. What's impossible to believe is that Sarah Michelle Gellar ever found it difficult to get a date. It's much easier to believe that Buffy Summers hasn't had a date considering the way that she acts around Owen here. The fun is in watching the first steps of of young people finding out about each other and Xander's impotent jealousy at work. We've all been there, suffered that, and nostalgia for the older folk is matched with sympathy from her peers.
On a school trip to the zoo, Xander and a group of bullies get possessed by the spirits of evil hyenas and start to terrorise the school. Can Buffy find out the truth and reverse the spell before Xander does something he'll really regret.
Bullies and school gangs are the subject of this week's meander through adolescence with added spooky stuff. Nicholas Brendon is the focus of this episode and gets to play both cool and rough and manages it all with aplomb. The story is pure codswallop, of course, but the depiction of youths oppressing their peers and hurting those closest to them in the name of status and that thing called cool is so accurate that it hurts. Anyone who ever witnessed bullying at school will recognise this immediately. That gives this episode a particular edge.Top
An attack by three super-hard vampires leaves Buffy in Angel's debt. They grow ever closer, much to the concern of both Xander and Buffy's mother, but then Angel reveals his true self as a vampire. And not just any vampire, mind you, but one of the most evil, vicious and feared vampires of the last two hundred years. Darla and the Master see an opportunity to rid themselves of the slayer and bring back one of their own into the fold.
The pain and elation of first love are all laid out in this week's BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but it's the supernatural stuff that actually proves more interesting this time around. Angel's relationship to both the Master and Darla is intriguing and his fight against his own base nature is fascinating. The fact that Angel's 200 years old and has seen so much makes it less than credible that he's going to fall for a vapid schoolgirl just because she's the slayer, but the show's been so good that you're willing to go with it. It's pretty sure that this is not going to be an easy relationship.Top
I Robot, You Jane
In the 17th century, evil demon Moloch gets bound up inside an ancient book. In the 20th century, the book is scanned into the school library computer and Moloch is released onto the internet. Whilst Giles and interesting new computer studies teacher Miss Callendar try to find a way to get him back out again, Buffy and Xander go in search of Willow who has been kidnapped by his minions.
This is a delightfully silly episode that does away with most of the angst of being a teenager and gets on with the business of putting evil demons in big robot suits. All good stuff. True, the dangers of getting obssessed with the internet and allure of chat rooms are all touched upon, but let's face it, this is about a big robot with a demon inside it. Great fun.
The Puppet Show
Giles gets put in charge of the school talent show. Buffy, Xander and Willow get co-opted into the show by the new and nasty Principal Snyder. Other acts in the show start suffering accidents. Can it all be the fault of the ventriloquist's dummy Sid?
The least original and effective of the episodes to date, mainly due to the presence of the dummy. The idea of the possessed ventriloquist's dummy has been around far too long and even though the episode manages to make a wooden dummy heroic, it really doesn't make it believable. On the plus side, there is enough smart dialogue and funny moments to get by.Top
Spiders appear in the classroom and so does Xander in his underwear. Buffy's dad tells her that he doesn't love her and never did, Giles has forgotten how to read and everyone's worst nightmares are coming true. The only common denominator is a young boy who is appearing all over the place even though he is in a coma. Buffy has to find a solution since her worst nightmare involves the the Master escaping and killing her.
The spectre of child mistreatment rears its ugly head at the end of this episode, but it is mainly just a fun trawl through the twisted psyches of our favourite vampire killers. Xander hates clowns, Willow can't abide being the centre of attention and Giles has only his books and the slayer in his life. Of course, this being BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER these insights come with added giant wasps. Entertaining and forgettable.Top
Out of Mind, Out of Sight
Cordelia has been voted May Queen and now something is after her, something that it is invisible. It turns out to be Marci, a girl who was so ignored by her peers that she literally turned invisible. Now she intends to take revenge on the school's most popular girl.
Popularity, and the lack of it, is something that matters to all teenage kids. The idea is taken to its extreme here, but that makes it memorable. Cordelia's self-obsession reaches a new pinnacle here, but she reveals a moment's vulnerability that adds depth to her previously cartoonish nature. The rest is the usual mix of great lines and good comedy.
Brilliantly inventive and it might just make kids think about how they treat each other in school.Top
It's prom night and Xander's asked Buffy to the dance. She's said no because she wants to be with Angel and Willow's upset that Xander wants to be with Buffy. Oh, and the Master is about to rise and the prophecy that Giles has just discovered states that he's going to kill the slayer.
The climactic episode and it lives up to its billing and the rest of the series. Not only is the Master's story brought to a satisfactory conclusion, but there is much mayhem, destruction and library bashing. The monster that rises out of the hellmouth is really awful, right up there with the she-mantis from Teacher's Pet, but it's too late now for anything to dampen this season's finale.
Even here, where the supernatural strands all have to be tied up, there is time for character work to be done. The story centres around her finding out that she is going to die and her reactions to that are believable and compelling. There is some fabulous work from Sarah Michelle Gellar who shows that her talents as a light comedienne are matched by her real acting skills. Alyson Hannigan and Anthony Stewart Head also get their moments to shine.
School might be out for summer, but we'll all be back for the next semester.Top
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