Ndsu spectrum: tv review
‘Buffy’: The best show on television
By JOHN HANSEN
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is attracting fans faster than the Hellmouth attracts unspeakable demons.
The WB network’s two-year-old television series with the strange title is starting to rival juggernauts like “Star Trek” and “The X-Files” in popularity.
There are “Buffy” comics, “Buffy” novels and “Buffy” trading cards. Coming soon are action figures, a soundtrack and a spinoff series; there’s even talk of a new movie.
In terms of quality, “Buffy” has already driven a stake through the competition – Entertainment Weekly and USA Today both rated it the best series of 1998.
And it keeps getting better.
So, as a way of paying tribute to writer Joss Whedon’s incredible vision, I’d like to be the 8,753rd (but not the last) person to write about how darn cool this show is.
“Buffy” is a completely unique blend of drama, fantasy, horror, comedy and action that features likable characters, cool bad guys, powerful stories, catchy dialogue and good music.
It’s a show of paradoxes. It speaks to high school and college students, but appeals to everyone from kids to 50-year-old librarians.
“Buffy” is simple, yet complex. It’s about vampires, demons and monsters, but it’s also the most realistic show on TV, using its vampire mythology as a metaphor for the hell of high school and life in general.
“I had a harsh time in high school, and my experiences are a great deal of what I write about,” Whedon told “The Watcher’s Guide,” written by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder.
The scope of Whedon’s vision is comparable to George Lucas’ vision for “Star Wars.” In both cases, the dream became a reality with help from enthusiastic writers, producers, actors and special effects people.
The “Buffy” saga didn’t exactly jump to light speed with the 1992 film starring Kristy Swanson. While the film nicely portrays Buffy’s change from carefree teenager to world-weary vampire slayer, it falls short in other areas.
The addition of the “high school is a living hell” element, a darker tone and other upgrades gave the TV series a fresh look. Films like “Disturbing Behavior,” “The Faculty” and the upcoming “Killing Mrs. Tingle” have followed in its path.
The first “Buffy” episode, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” aired in March 1997 and quickly established an emphasis on character formation.
After being kicked out of her L.A. School, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) moves to Sunnydale, a suburb with a small-town feel that just happens to sit atop the mouth of hell.
Soon, Buffy meets her new Watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), an English librarian who considers cross-referencing a hobby.
And she makes some new friends. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) is the shy computer wiz, Xander (Nicholas Brendon) is the comic relief, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is the self-absorbed fashion addict and Oz (Seth Green) is the laid-back guitar player who, by the way, is also a werewolf.
Perhaps the most compelling character is Angel (David Boreanaz), a good vampire with a soul who reverts to his evil form whenever he experiences happiness, such as when he’s intimate with Buffy.
Many of the characters have a bit of their creator in them.
“This is the most personal work I’ll ever do,” Whedon told “The Watcher’s Guide.” “It’s pretty much me up there on the screen – that is, if I was cute.”
Even though they’re constantly battling the forces of darkness, the “Buffy” characters are people you’d want to be friends with. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to just fight real, tangible monsters rather than subtle ones?
The writing on “Buffy” is unparalleled. The stories never fall into cliches, always staying one step ahead of the audience – just when we think we’ve got it figured out, a new twist comes along.
Like the classic “Star Trek” series, each episode of “Buffy” has its own metaphorical message – for example, fish demons representing steroid abuse. Unlike “Star Trek,” the characters learn from their experiences and change over the course of the series.
They do clever things, they do stupid things, they have problems, they care about each other … in other words, they’re real people.
Continuity is a key to the realism. For example, in the second-season finale “Becoming,” Buffy is forced to kill Angel to prevent the Earth from being sucked into hell. It’s an event that has affected stories and characters well into the third season.
“Buffy” is the most depressing show on TV, but it’s depressing in an upbeat way – it’s nice to know that other people’s lives suck, too. The show suggests that, on the inside, everyone is the same.
Whedon – whose film credits include “Speed” and “Alien Resurrection” – is the best dialogue writer in the business, and “Buffy” is the most quotable show on TV.
The characters talk like people talk, with a lot of Buffyisms thrown in (“and yet,” “deal,” “sitch,” “wiggins,” “oogy” and “five by five,” to name a few). But I have to wonder how they put some of this stuff on paper. For example:
Giles: “Her heart was removed.”
Buffy: “Does that mean anything to you … besides (grossed-out, shivering sound)?”
On “Buffy,” everyone gets good lines, including the vampires, Principal Snyder, and even Buffy’s mom.
Buffy (to Snyder): “The school board overruled you. Wow. That’s like having your whole ability to do this job called into question when you think about it.”
Joyce Summers: “I think what my daughter is trying to say is, ‘Nyah-nayh nyah nyah-nyah.’ ”
Every episode is laced with light and dark humor, running jokes (Buffy mispronouncing names of demons) and pop-culture awareness (movie quotes and references).
The fight scenes are the best I’ve seen anywhere. And they avoid cliches: We know the good guys are going to win, but they never give us a long, drawn-out battle – they always end it in a clever way.
I’m constantly impressed by the music, which is mostly supplied by talented unknowns. But there is the occasional big name: Treble Charger’s “How She Died” is in the “Halloween” episode and Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace” provides a somber ending to the heart-wrenching “Becoming.”
When the third season ends in May, Buffy and friends will graduate from grade 12, a pretty big event for a show built around high school horrors.
But “Buffy” is predicated on change.
“The pain of life doesn’t end in high school,” Whedon told “The Watcher’s Guide.”
(This review goes through Season 3, episodes 1-10.)