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November 18, 2004



Ummm....I like Buffy a lot, but not enough that I can tell you what induces people to join the cult. That said, I'd note that

(1)the show is flatter during the first season than during later seasons;
(2) the high school experience itself is pretty archtypie for most of us, so you have to correct for that when judging things like Buffy;
(3) a lot of the fun is just watching something clever on TV, since that seems relatively rare now; it's a bit like watching a really good screwball comedy - you know the paces, you know the end, but the journey is fun and its always nice to see someone do something well;
(4) Buffy isn't a great show, so much as a good show that has some really great episodes (e.g., some of the Halloween episodes, the musical);
(5) this is probably exactly the opposite of what the cultists feel, but the show sucks when it gets serious, in general;
(6) what's weird is that the Mary Sue (if I understand what that means) in Buffy is Willow, and for the first few seasons that means that the idealized girl's success is that she's friends with the popular blonde girl; that's a bit depressing, now that I think of it.

I am now off to pick a fight and re-affirm my manhood.

Aeon Skoble

Public service message:
Buffy and Philosophy

Kip Manley

The first season sets it up and lets you know: hey, there's a fun show here. Worth catching it on Tuesday nights. Why not.

The second season has more fun, a couple of ragged episodes, screwballs into greatness with a couple of one-two punches you don't see coming, and then scales a pop-operatic Everest for the finale; SomeCallMeTim is missing the point of some of the seriousness, I think, but that's okay.

Third season? Haven't watched it as a lump lately, so I'm not sure how well it's held up, and there's an egregious bit of business they have to clean up from second season to keep the suits happy, and they do it better than not, but still. —I'm a second-season partisan; third has its supporters. There are moments of greatness, but it just doesn't have the voodoo that second season did.

Fourth season has the best individual episodes—"Restless" is a frickin' tour-de-force—and bits of the overall arc work, but as a whole, not so much.

Fifth season is far and away the tightest, arc-wise—once you get past first, see, they really push the seasonal story arcs, and that's where you get a lot of the fan-juice; I don't know if it's an accident or not, but Whedon & co. manage to map Syd Field's three-act screenwriting structure onto the sweeps-week beats of American TV schedules, and when it worked, it worked very well indeed. —But for all its mojo, fifth season has the weakest opening episode and badly flubs the run-up to the ending, so overall ends up disappointing. Worth the ride, but still.

Sixth season opens dark and strong and has the musical and then promptly takes a nose-dive into hell. Gah!

Seventh season? There were moments.

So definitely move on to second season and see if that does it for you. The characters deepen and twist, the relationships build, and even David Boreanaz's acting improves. If not? Go grab Firefly. It's a superior show on pretty much every level.

Miguel Sánchez

Very few tv shows stand up to such sustained viewing. It's meant to be watched one episode a week, not all at once.

Buffy was way overhyped, though it had a number of good episodes. The characters, or some of them, did grow after the first season, but that's generally the case with any successful show.

It was never the same after they blew up the high school.

Matt McGrattan

I'm not a religious follower of the show but have watched it intermittently over the years and the later series are significantly better.

So much so that when the BBC repeated the 1st series a few years back it seemed pretty lame compared to the mid-to-later series.

I'd have watched it more if they'd just replaced Sarah Michelle Gellar with Eliza Dushku right from the start :-) ...

Doctor Memory

Kip pretty much said everything I'd have to say on the subject, but I'll amplify this bit: stop watching after Season 5. Just pretend the show ended there. You'll be much, much happier.

Okay, maybe an exception for "Once More With Feeling", but understand that for all the hype that particular episode got, it's basically a novelty gag, and it's probably not worth sitting through all of season 6 just to see Allyson Hannigan go mano-a-mano with a pitch-corrector.

bob mcmanus

"stop watching after Season 5."

Wrong. Season Six had the "Superhero demoted to McJob" theme and an unusual for network TV romance arc connecting sex with violence. Sado-mach stuff. Or something. That Geller hated it is a point in its favor.

Season 7 is a commentary on Bush foreign policy. :)

I have long believed that the 2nd and 3rd seasons of a long running series are the best.

bob mcmanus

"and for the first few seasons that means that the idealized girl's success is that she's friends with the popular blonde girl"

Nah. It is useful to compare Whedon's conception with the original Kirsty Swanson movie. The movie Buffy was Valley Girl/Cheerleader, and the mentor(Sutherland) was wise and uber-competent. As opposed to Giles the fumbler.

Whedon's original pilot had Geller as cheerleader, but before shooting began Geller became a nerd in a cheerleader's body. The divorced parents, the distant mother...Whedon from the beginning set up the ambiguity as to whether Buffy's inability to have a healthy relationship was a cost of being a superhero or a character flaw.

Swanson's reluctance was cute. Geller, having a needy mother, mentor, and friends, and community, in her profound dislike of her position of power and responsibility and in her inability to find escape valves or compensation, is tragic and fairly unattractive.


Since 'media criticism' is nominally my academic specialty, and Buffy is unquestionably my favourite pop-culture thingamajig - though The Sopranos, Firefly (by the same creative staff), and U2's Achtung Baby certainly surpass it in greatness on some more 'objective' level - I present the following with a mix of trepidation (because it's dear) and sheer unmitigated arrogance. The following is the correct opinion about BtVS, Belle. (I'm gonna get something out of graduate school, I swear to God!)

Abstract: At its best, BtVS is probably the best drama of its time. For consistent line-to-line quality, there are better shows (no, West Wing is not one of them, but The Sopranos is), but BtVS is one of the most finely-wrought shows on TV - it's not just a soap opera, though it borrows generic elements; it's definitely not just a gender-inverted adventure show; it's not just a comedy. Its season-long arcs are generally beautifully paced, and about halfway through Season Two the writing staff nailed down a new emotional pitch (there's a particular scene at which you can literally feel a change taking place in the show's meaning and style - it chills the spine) that they carried forward throughout the show's run. There are certainly bad episodes, but generally they fail grandly rather than for lack of ability on anyone's part.

The first season is just enjoyable but shaky and kind of amateurish, Belle, so your dubiousness is totally understandable. But you should give Season Two a chance nonetheless, because the show keeps improving - episode to episode, even - for a period of a couple of years. And by the time you get to Season Five, everything about the series just works, and there are few such extended works on TV that compare.

OK, long semi-effusive carrying-on follows:

The show's this total outsiders-rule! freak-festival, and if you were the popular kid in high school (and why do I instinctively doubt this in the case of the best blogger/writers?!) then a lot of the show just ain't going to resonate. OK so that's the first thing. The second thing: I know this sounds totally lit-crit-wanktacular, but the point of every single episode up until pretty much the seventh season is allegorical. There are some deeply silly adventure plots in play here, but they're always just a pretense. Only the people on the show matter. And anyhow the plots do get better - by Season Three, the season-long plots are very very well-integrated with the one-offs, and that season has few duds as a result.

As for the characters themselves: all of them deepen and grow tremendously over the years, of course (even on American TV, they'd have to), but by the second season there's already a lot of growth and change in the show's population. Willow is probably the most changed, actually - at first she's just a very shy damsel-in-distress, but by late in the second season that's all gone. And Giles comes in for some good character stuff in Season Two as well. Cordelia? Up and down, yeah. They didn't need a full-time wisecracker/skeptic in the cast by Season Three, so she's totally superfluous at that point - though she and Xander get their best character stuff in that season.

Too long already! Damn.

If you get to the end of Season Two and you're as blown away by the final arc as fans were (and continue to be, as many still hold the season-ending episodes to be the show's most perfect-pitched), you're probably not going to be able to stop watching anyhow. But Kip is mostly right: Season Four is uneven but does have a couple of the best individual episodes: if you're interested in TV-as-moviemaking in the abstract, then it's worth seeing 'Hush' (a tribute to silent filmmaking, without dialogue for more than 20 minutes of screentime) and 'Restless' (a surreal dream narrative consisting entirely of poetic ruminations on the foregoing and not a little bit of foreshadowing, a really daring piece of television that's also a great behind-the-camera achievement). All the gimmicky 'save XYZ/find ABC/destroy QED' plots run together by then: it's a soap opera, except with actual humans instead of, um, soap opera characters. Something of an achievement.

Honestly, you might want to quickly gloss over the first half of Season Two, hitting only highlights until you get to the two-parter 'Suprise'/'Innocence', at which point the character of the show really changes (due at least in part to a changed writing staff). That's when the over-the-top gothic romance really kicks in, and Kip's 'pop-operatic Everest' just about covers it. Season Three sustains that intensity all the way through, even in the lighter moments; it's emotionally the most intricate early season.

Season Four you can skip through and watch highlights, probably; you'll miss character stuff but the season is an interregnum in any case. I tend to come back to Season Four most often, to sample individual bits, but its season-long plot is symbolically neato and narratively a ridiculous pastiche. So yeah.

5-7 are for grownups in a way that 1-4 are not. That much at least I can promise. :)

Seasons Five through Seven are of a piece; since it was originally a high school show, and that mandate had been left behind by Season Five, it became a Perils of Young Adulthood show. Five is the show's most finely-wrought, a success in every category. If you can watch it in a single day, do so. Six is darker, more emotionally intense, waaaay more self-reflexive and 'fannish'. And of course it contains the musical. Underrated by fans mainly because there's so much suffering and so little catharsis (until the last possible moment).

Seven is a capstone about which it's hard to say much, because production circumstances affected its progress so heavily. The progress to the end is shaky, but the final episode is a perfect conclusion and summation of the show. Since BtVS is a series with a Big Point, the finale gets to make that point in spades. Incredibly, the final image is earned, and beautiful - simultaneously kind of surprising and kind of not surprising in the least.

Oh man, I really go to pieces talking about this stuff!


By 'Belle' I of course mean 'John', because I am outstanding that way. :)


Whedon created the show specifically to suck in everyone in the U.S. who'd felt like an outcast in high school, that is, the entire population. He wanted a cult show, and he picked a big enough demographic that he got an enormous "cult following".

I'm a complete sucker for it. And Firefly, which hooked me even harder than Buffy did.

Buffy breaks down into three sections with their own arcs. It also makes watching the whole thing less intimidating, since you can work your way through one section at a time.

1: High School: Seasons 1-3
2: College: Seasons 4-5
3: Young Adulthood: Seasons 6-7

Section 1 is still my fave, pushing every single stupid maudlin sentimental high-school button I have.

Kip Manley

To disagree briefly with Wax re: sixth season:

Underrated by fans mainly because there's so much suffering and so little catharsis (until the last possible moment).

This is the canonical reason for fannish discontent with sixth season, but it's wrong wrong wrong. I'm someone who slags on it; I know lots of people who slag on it; our main complaint is they didn't go far enough. The pacing of the Big Bad is botched at best, which takes what was truly an electrifying premise (heavily foreshadowed in the opening: they knew where they were going, but didn't have the balls to get there properly) and fucking it up, and leaving a gaping hole in, well, just about everything, that season seven can't quite manage to patch over.

Sure, there are fans who dislike six because it was too "dark." But they're silly, and that's not why it failed.

—Plus, it's got that atrociously bad Don't Do Drugs episode, that mangles the show's at best allegorical relationship with magic, making the world-builders in the audience groan and walk away.

bob mcmanus

"our main complaint is they didn't go far enough."

Agreed, if I know what you mean. Hard to avoid spoilers. I was expecting an ending to season six that I didn't get. Though I am not sure if the show or the characters could have survived the logical resolution.

Another Damned Medievalist

I'm still working my way through Buffy, but it has captured me long-term in a way that even STTNG didn't. ANd the final two episodes are pretty much perfect. As a father to two daughters, you will find yourself wiping away tears of "Damn, that's cool"-ness.

rob loftis

ok, I haven't read the dissertation Wax posted above yet, so my defense of Buffy may be redundant. I'll just try to hit a few major things that are right about Buffy.

1. Language: Buffy and her friends speak a kind of elevated youth dialect. Early on the writers hit the right mix of teen slang, supernatural jargon, and pop culture references. The lines themselves are more dense than regular speech, giving the whole thing a combined high art/low art feel that is a real turn on.

2. Moral complexity: The fiction universe Joss created began with a standard super hero manichiean worldview, but quickly grafted onto that a real concern for the difficulties of real world ethics, and tried to do so without lapsing into relativism. Sure, other super-hero and horror bits of pop culture have done this, but they weren't on TV.

3. Feminism: It is nice to see feminist TV.

4. Characters: Xander and willow may start out sub-breakfast club, but they hardly stay there. Be patient. This is the part of the show that really grows on you.

Ok, I should either read wax's disseration, or actually do some work.

C Mas

Sorry, I've watched close to a season and a half of Buffy, and I found no magic spark there. I get why it clicks with people, but then again, I get why megachurches click with people, too. It doesn't make piling into a small stadium to gawk at a mass baptism on a Jumbotron - or poorly-scripted high school wish fulfillment framed as a subpar action-dramedy - any more appealing to me.


I just finished Season six today. It isn't good. I'm also surprised about how much praise there is for five in this thread, I thought five was more of a mixed bag than some of you. I'm adding season seven to my netflix cue, but I have a lot of trepidation about how good it'll be. Oh, despite the tenor of this comment, I'm a very big fan of the show overall.


Wow. I really disagree with the hard core fans here. I'm with washerdreyer. The first 4 seasons were really good, but I hated the Glory arc of Five, Season Six blew, and Seven - well, at that point, I honestly wanted more dead slayers and Scoobies(inc. Buffy).

This is probably a just pure reflection of my relative (or even absolute) shallowness.

Jacob T. Levy

Not much to add, except that I'm shocked by this lapse in John's otherwise typically impeccably correct taste!

I disagree with wax in a few details but he (he?) summarizes the fundamentals very well. "one of the most finely-wrought shows on TV"-- that's just right. And, in even minor episodes or annoying arcs, there's always something special, some little character gem or wonderfully-written exchange, that means I'm very happy to have watched it again. Eventually there are plotlines that bug me-- but what eventually qualified as a decline in quality for BTVS still left it 'way above most stuff out there, to say nothing of most genre TV. When I think about how ripping-one's-eyes-out unwatchable X-Files or Lois & Clark or ST:TNG were at their worst, and compare that to season 7 episodes that I'll complain about while watching but still watch over and over again, I'm all the more impressed with Whedon.

(I'm surprised-- no discussion of, or comparison with, Angel yet...)


(I'm surprised-- no discussion of, or comparison with, Angel yet...)

I agree. In some ways I think Angel was by far the most satisfying mix of schlock and wit--free of the high school baggage, the romance angles, and the "breakfast club" archetypes that Buffy locked into right from the start, it got much weirder, much faster.
I mean, Karaoke fortune-telling? Puns-as-Big-Bads? Recurring poltergeists? Puppets??
Even the more formulaic pieces (the second season's McCarthy-ist allegory, for example) were just beautifully done.

Plus, we got more Faith.

Russell Arben Fox

"When I think about how ripping-one's-eyes-out unwatchable X-Files or Lois & Clark or ST:TNG were at their worst, and compare that to season 7 episodes that I'll complain about while watching but still watch over and over again, I'm all the more impressed with Whedon."

Never watched X-Files, nor Lois & Clark, nor Buffy. But did ST:TNG really ever dscend to "ripping-one's-eyes-out unwatchable" level? To rip one's eyes out in anger and pain assumes the loss of something; if something had been terrible from the beginning, or at least never really very good, one wouldn't feel that anguish when the tv show (or movie series, or comic book, or whatever) tanked. And ST:TNG never tanked. Just plain crummy for most of the first two seasons, major jump in quality in the third, fourth through sixth were consistently great, and the seventh was a nice even coast with only some minor bumps until the end. Yes, there were always occasional stinkers, but nothing that could make you lose faith.

ST:DS9, on the other hand, did tank, big time. Damn, how I hated what was happening to that show towards the end. Ripping one's eyes out, indeed.


What a delightful thread. Thanks, all, for contributing. Let me fan the flames by being a little more specific about my response to the show so far. Let me respond, specifically, to Jacob, who contrasts good Buffy with bad X-Files, of which there came to be more and more as the seasons dragged. (I was a complete fanatic about that show for about four seasons.) It's clear to me that Buffy has the potential for greatness, in part because it has the potential to revel in X-Filish preposterosity while avoiding certain X-Filish pitfalls. (I realize it is rather silly for me to use the future tense in discussing Buffy's potential, but for me most of the seasons are in the future. So there.) Let me explain where I see the potential.

Just for fun, let's do it this way. Here's a sketch for an X-Files episode worthy of inclusion in the select set of self-parodies the show offered us. (Those were great, weren't they?) Call this episode "The Icing On the Cake". The teaser opening treats us to a pair (or maybe trio) of apparently stock alien abductions. Car stalls on lonely highway. Fire in the sky. Cone of light. Spooky tall grey snatching its victim through the bedroom window while the victim lies frozen. Another snatched out of a commercial airplane in flight. An impossible door of white light opening, etc. Then the creepy steely gray montage; panic flash glimpses of the awful alien operating theater. The implants. All very cliched. Da-duh-dah-dum-de-dum-dum-dum. Plink, plink, plink. The X-Files. The truth is out there. [break for ad] Then. The alien craft has mysteriously crashed, having suffered some sort of massive accident/catastrophe. Mulder and Scully are on the case, of course being frustrated by the military who are keeping the thing under wraps. There should be some unusually, humoristically unbelievable cover-story. Concern from Mulder that this crash indicates that the aliens are stepping up their operations, trying something new and bold that isn't quite working yet. Anyway, it turns out that what happened was that one of the victims was a witch, who put a curse or hex on the craft, causing it to crash. Another victim was - oh, I don't know - el chupacabra, who bit the alien that was trying to implant something in him. Or a werewolf maybe. The third was a Russian immigrant; the product of some Soviet genetic experiment gone wrong years ago. He's like lamprey-guy from that early episode, the guy who could squeeze through tiny spaces. He squeezes his way out of the alien operating theater and makes trouble for the greys. Good scenes of the greys trying to handle all this on their craft all at once. Of course they can't talk and they don't have facial expressions but there would have to be the scene in which the alien commander glances blankly at some underlings who have clearly just brought him the bad news. His expressionless eyes convey an eloquently angry interrogatory: 'Why is there a Mexican vampire, a witch, and an anthropomorphic lamprey loose on my ship?' All this gets figured out by Mulder in stages. Through interviews with the victims, who can't remember what happened, he puts the pieces together. And Scully is all skeptical: 'but just because there was a witch, that doesn't explain the bite marks', etc. Finally it all fits together. So the joke is that it's a mash-up of things that are normally given their own episodes, nominally segregating the absurdity that SO MANY THINGS happen to Mulder and Scully.

Getting back to Buffy. One of the show's advantages is that it is part of its basic self-parodic conceit that there is a reason why so many things are happening at once. Overdone incongruity is stipulated to make sense when you are sitting on a Hellmouth. Way too much icing on the devil's and angel food cake is part of the recipe, and a good thing. (In the X-Files, this just got embarrassing after a while. Trying to keep track of the main conspiracy story-line while folding in all single episode elements? It's just silly.) But what is needed to make this work well in Buffy is a bigger cast than I am seeing so far. There needs to be a vast cast of recurring minor characters. Teachers. Other students. Buffy's mom. Relatives. The neighbors. It should be as big as the Simpsons' cast, and every one of them distinctive and charming. (Think Hogwarts, which is blessed with a cornucopia of personalities.) So far the new characters that get introduced tend to be dead, or else not important any more, by the end of the episode. So I'm curious whether the dramatic landscape of Sunnydale is going to spread out and the cast expanded. If it keeps being just the nuclear family of Buffy, Willow, Xander, Angel and Giles, then my prediction is that the potential is not going to be realized. I will report back with my findings as I continue to pursue my researches.

Maybe the school's blue-haired secretary could be a oujia-board-using psychic who always has good advice but is always offending Giles' delicate scholarly sensibilities with her menthol-smoking ways and pointy Far Side glasses. She should be played by the actress who played the secretary in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And could have parodies of lines from that film. "Oh, everyone is out to get Buffy. The vampires, the jocks, the valley girls, the witches, the dweebs, the mummies ..."

I realize it's a little bit late for me to be giving Joss Whedon free advice on how to make a successful TV series. I hope somehow he managed without me.

Jacob T. Levy

I think you're going to be pleased. I won't spoil things for you by naming the future expansions of the cast, and won't pretend that it's going to reach Simpsons-size, but it decidedly does not keep "being just the nuclear family of Buffy, Willow, Xander, Angel and Giles."

Oh, and-- heh. for the X-Files episode, and for the evluation of the Hellmouth vs. crazy-coinkydink-X-Files.

And ST:TNG never tanked. Just plain crummy for most of the first two seasons, major jump in quality in the third, fourth through sixth were consistently great, and the seventh was a nice even coast with only some minor bumps until the end.
On a season-by-season basis you're right. But after things got great with Klingon and Borg episodes, we'd get treated to another damn Data episode, or another damn holodeck episode, or another damn [shudder] Troi episode. Hopes raised and then dashed. A lot of the episodes from even season 4 and later I find utterly un-rewatchable. (And, of course, even the better episodes come to suffer by comparison with DS9 at its best.)


Russell Arben Fox

"we'd get treated to another damn Data episode, or another damn holodeck episode, or another damn [shudder] Troi episode"

True. Or one about her mom.

Ray Davis

I thought the first season was unwatchably bad (if mercifully truncated). Second season very interesting. Third season my favorite. Fourth and fifth seasons intermittant, with high highlights. Sixth season schizo, betraying some of the most intelligently harrowing TV I've ever seen with a truly stupid and internally contradictory Just Say No plotline. Seventh season a dull fiasco, a dutiful trod towards a conceptually enticing but unearned ending.

I'm very glad to have seen seasons 2-6.

Does anyone here have screen captures of the motivational posters at the Double Meat Palace?

Ray Davis

By the way, you'll find a conscious tribute to Mary Sue in Buffy's very special "Jonathan" episode.

Wai Liong

"So the joke is that it's a mash-up of things that are normally given their own episodes, nominally segregating the absurdity that SO MANY THINGS happen to Mulder and Scully."

Isn't that the problem of any serial work? I've talked about how 24 gets progressively more inconceivable, and everyone knows that long standing comic series eventually get mired in continuity. I think it's sometimes a question of knowing when to call it quits. (Random name, but I don't think Watchmen could have been very good if Alan Moore did it for a decade and then handed it off to some other writer)

I'm an intermittent fan myself, so can't really say much about the series (ST:TNG, DS9, Buffy, Angel, Firefly), or be sure if what I say is accurate. Having said that, I think Joss Whedon's strength lies less on plot than on characterization and the little moments that take place in an episode. The jargon, as Rob says, is alsso pretty much spot on.

Once More With Feeling was pretty good, but I think I'm still a bigger fan of the Tabula Rasa episode.

Ray Davis

"Trod"? Presumably our hapless pre-coffee commenter meant to write either "plod" or "trudge".

While I'm back, and lest my earlier praise seem too begrudging, let me provide a little context: I loathe "X-Files", "Star Trek" and all its little Treklets, and (what the hell, let's throw it in) "The Matrix" and every "Superman"/"Batman" movie, too. BtVS seasons 2-6 rank far above any of those.

"Red Dwarf" had moments, and the end of "Blakes 7" is indelible, but in its sustained ambition, sharpness, and verve, "Buffy" is anglophone television's greatest achievement in the fantastic. Its nearest competiton would be "The Prisoner", which was limited to one season and one protagonist, and Buffy's single madhouse episode managed to cover a lot of the same emotional/intellectual ground.

Hey, in your New Orleans photo, you look a little like writer-singer David Fury.

I am done now.

Dan Layman-Kennedy

Hmm. I may be alone in not interpreting the middle parts of Season 6 as a "don't-do-drugs" message. The junkie imagery seemed to me a surface dressing on the themes of the uses and misuses of power; it wasn't that suddenly magic was bad, just that, as Tara says, "[That's] not what magic's for."

Season 6, for its flaws, has its supporters, and does a number of things very well: it turns up the volume on the series' ideas of fluid identity, it makes almost all the characters confront the things they're capable of, and its relentless movement towards tragedy highlights one of the central Buffy themes ("There's always a price") in a way none of the previous arcs had. But I've said too much already.

Haven't seen 7 yet. I'm a late convert, and it was just released on DVD in the US this week.

(Apologies if I'm presuming by inviting myself to this conversation. Nothing delurks the lurkers like a Buffy thread.)

Kip Manley

For whatever reason I'm compelled to note that, while the X-Files is, indeed, loatheworthy (I'm reminded of the rpg Nephilim which, and let's not even tackle its merit as a game, let's just note that the creators said the whole mishmash of occult conspiracy and secretive, reincarnated immortals was inspired by Foucault's Pendulum: way to miss the point)—nonetheless, I've got to give it up for "Jose Chung's From Outer Space."


Some interesting comments here re: implausibility. JHolbo, you're right that a major problem with The X-Files is its descent from skepticism and near-plausibility into sheer batfuck ridiculousness (at least from what I've seen). Buffy starts out so high-pitched that it has nowhere to go but toward heightened emotional 'realism' (i.e. unflinching, unsparing treatment of consequences rather than mere representation of moments of high drama and choice, which I take to be a good operating description of most American TV). Angel, the post-Season-Three spinoff, is indeed more consistent, though less lovable, mainly because the characters themselves are much less lovable, and no nostalgia gland is activated by watching.

But I have to say: 24 doesn't simply suffer because of continuity problems and the nature of serial work - it suffers because it consists entirely of the insultingly implausible, covered with a thin patina of realistic crime-fighting texture, with dialogue ripped straight from the posters for action movies. Maybe I need to see the later stuff, but Season One (my most misguided DVD purchase) is wholly without aesthetic merit, which is too bad - it's more technically accomplished and viscerally gripping than almost any dozen randomly-assorted TV melodramas.

I suppose you could make an argument that that's not a bad measure of 'aesthetic merit' itself; I'm trying to be a soft-shelled faux-classicist here.

24 is a show without a great deal of characterological integrity. Buffy is, in that regard, its opposite :it's all character most of the time; no plot exists for plot's sake, except perhaps the Drugs Are Bad arc, which Dan L-K sees more or less the same way I do. No season of a Whedon show is really about its villain; they're all about the effects of the action on the lives of a surrogate family.

(There's a paper waiting to be written about these alternative families in prime-time drama - Lost, Sopranos, BtVS, &c. - and the ways they can liberate people from the worst parts of the 'blood is thicker than water' family model. Tony Soprano is the most complicated part of that, really, since for him blood really is thicker than water, in theory, yet he's always fucking that up with his inept shrewdness.)

Stephen Frug

Not an enormous amount to add, but I thought I'd add a few pieces of personal experience.

A lot of people whose tastes I respected enormously said the show was terrific. I watched the first half of season one and, frankly wasn't impressed: like Our Noble Host, I thought that it was fun but not terrific. But I kept going, and it grew on me; by late Season Two I was absolutely hooked. I thought it was Superb at the levels which Wax/Jacob Levy did until Season Seven (where, with significant exceptions such as the final episode, I thought it declined seriously). Similarly my wife wasn't much impressed at all until "Surprise/Innocence", when she took was absolutely hooked.

But the point I haven't seen above is this: after you fall for the show, and go back, Season One seems much better than it did at first: still short of Seasons 2 - 6, but not nearly as far short (and the final episode not short at all, I think). So anyone who has fallen for it but not gone back and rewatched the first season: give it a second try. It might be better than you thought at first.



"I have long believed that the 2nd and 3rd seasons of a long running series are the best"

I second this. At least as far as dramas go; it's usually 2nd season, 3rd season, 1st season, the rest; or 2d season, 1st season, 3rd season, the rest. Comedies tend to hit their stride later and have somewhat longer peaks.


Another lurker here who, like Dan, has been drawn out of her cave by a Buffy thread. In general, I agree with Wax's analysis of the show, although I think Dan hits the nail on the head when he points out that the season 6 Drugs Are Bad episode has a lot more to do with abuse of power.

So, just a few words about season 7. First of all, the season starts out like a killer - the first seven episodes are pitch-perfect, a fantastic blend of humor, drama and character development. Secondly, the season's direction is both realistic and a necessary growth for Buffy's character - after confronting the challenges of adulthood, she faces the challenges of leadership. Thirdly, yes, it doesn't really work. There's not enough emphasis on the Scoobies (with the exception of Buffy and a secondary character who gets way too much screen time), and the story drags. But the final episode rocks and the series ends on a definite high note. There are signs of stress and indications that the show has run its course, but I'm still glad the season happened.

Now onto Angel. The first season of Angel sucked. It sucked in every conceivable way. The writing sucked, the acting sucked, the special effects sucked in a special 'are we really supposed to believe that thing is alive?' sort of way. Unlike Buffy, Angel was never particularly strong with standalone episodes, possibly because the writers had no idea how to avoid the 'handsome man saves damsel in distress' (and they were always damsels) ploy that Buffy, by its very nature, had to deal with only rarely. The first season was made up entirely of standalones, and suckiness ensued.

The show started getting its feet under it during the second season, although the first arc of that season was unnecessarily dramatic, to the point of being hysterical. I didn't really start loving Angel, however, until the humorous arc at the end of the season. This was going on at the same time as the end of Buffy's fifth season, which despite being fantastic was emotionally grueling. Angel was a welcome, and hilarious, respite.

The third season was very strong, and fourth season was a marvel - one continuous story carried on for 22 episodes with very little slackening of tension or drama. The entire show is worth watching for season 4.

Season 5? What season 5? As far as I'm concerned, it would be best to ignore season 5's existence. There was a major twist about 5 episodes from the end that looked, for a while, like a final gasp of life from a once-fantastic show, but it came to naught. All told, Angel was about 50% gold, 50% crap. Not as good as Buffy, but very very good when it was at the top of its game.

Firefly, on the other hand, grabs you from the first episode and never lets go.

Kip Manley

I realize no one's actually defending the Worst Episode of Buffy Ever, but stop with the whole "it wasn't really about drugs" bit. Of course it wasn't really about drugs. —But the whole frickin' point of season six is Power, the Abuse Thereof; it's the sinking of the potentially roof-ripping plot they were going to use to make that point with an episode that maps beat for beat on every lousy Just Say No afterschool special ever made that is the crime.

Well, that, and what they did to Amy. Gah.


Yes, the betrayal of the corruption of power thing in season six is by far the show's most serious and miserable failure. Going into the season, I thought Willow trending toward corruption and the dark side was going to be great, and the Buffy/Spike thing was going to be awful. Of course I had it completely backward.

Ray Davis

Exactly, Kip. Being an aesthete rather than an academic, I'm not inclined to give artworks credit for an easily summarized Theme, especially IF THEY FUCK IT UP. Willow's confrontation with Giles and manipulation of Tara were chillingly and manifoldingly to the point of the Theme, plus reg'lar American myth (geeky boy made tycoon, fat girl made star), mythic American myth (the superhero's sidekick spun off), uncomfortable pop feminist conflicts (witchcraft as power fantasy vs. Wicca as granola spirituality) and post-Christian ethics (ressentiment made good).

But Marti Noxon's imagination gave out (understandably, if disappointingly) and lost all. Not only did the details of the narrative (this is narrative art, not an abstract of a junior high composition assignment, remember? presentation is all there is, no extra credit for intent) betray everything the narrative had previously established as the way magic worked, it even betrayed its own drug metaphor: "Abuse of power" suggests the speeding med student or the steroided athelete, but then to confuse the sin of action with the sin of inanition and drag us to a "Dragnet"-level opium den? That's Just Say Noville, man: all drugs, being bad, must be exactly the same.

Nevertheless, the sixth season comes close to being my favorite: pre-Nancy-Reagan Willow, musical, what's a resurrected messiah to do but hang with Satan?; Revenge of the Nerds done honest....

Dan Layman-Kennedy

I don't agree with all his conclusions, but Will Shetterly touches on several places where the later seasons trip up in the Buffy lessons, including why the Naked Lunch imagery doesn't work in the Just Say No episodes ("If you want to write a story about magic and addiction, don't think about crack dens. Think about Hollywood and Wall Street, where temptation comes in a beautiful shell"), and there he's pretty spot-on.

I sorta-kinda second the rec for BtVS and Philosophy, with the caveat that it's got a couple of really good essays (the exploration of Willow's arc) and several memorably bad ones ("Brownskirts" comes immediately to mind, worriedly violating Godwin while missing both the metaphor and The Point). Much better are Fighting the Forces and Reading the Vampire Slayer - the second probably has the higher matter-to-nonsense ratio, but they're both full of gems.


There have been some good points made so far in defense of Buffy. Let me give my take on why I think it's a great show rather than a pretty good show with a few great episodes.

First, a disclaimer: I didn't get it at first. Or the second or third time. I also made the mistake of seeing the movie first, which the studio had butchered from Whedon's script. It took me a little while to realize that this dumb name was the setup for the show's premise: Undermining traditional TV/film tropes of the small blonde girl who is always the first victim in a dark alley when the baddie is on the loose. This time that girl kicks ass.

What I like is that the show succeeds on a number of levels, permitting viewers to take it as seriously or as lightly as they choose. On the surface, there's eye candy and silly jokes and goofy monsters and a few genuine frights. On the deepest level, it's a dissertation on moral philosophy. (Here's a hint: By the time you get to Season Six, consider Angel as a teleological basis for ethics and Spike as a deontological basis for ethics. Their places in Buffy's moral universe make complete sense, as is the continual rivalry between Angel and Spike.) I say this as someone who has never read any of the academic treatments of the show, but who tends to think along those lines anyway.

And for the levels in between, think of the Monster of the Week as a series of anxieties, sometimes personal and sometimes social, which the characters have to confront as they grow up: The ex-boyfriend who won't leave you along, the win-at-any-cost sports coach, drugs, sex, social ostracism. If you don't like to think about symbolism, then just think of it as a monster parody with witty dialog.

It is also a show in complete command of the creative language of television. Take, for example, the annoying tendency of shows to introduce a character, often a small child, with no logical explanation whatsoever in order to shore up flagging ratings (e.g., cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch), treating the character as if he/she were always in the show's universe when everyone knows full well it was some half-baked idea imposed by the network. Well, Buffy used that idea to motivate Season Five (a subtle parody of TV tropes) and subverted it in a way only a fantasy-based show could. Brilliant. The show just below the surface rewards obsessive knowledge of pop culture.

The use of language has been mentioned, and this is one reason I can watch episodes more than once. It is a combination of an original and evocative slang together with literary references dropped in without fanfare or flourish (such as an oblique reference or two to the St. Crispin's Day Speech from Henry V); if you get it, cool, but they won't beat you over the head with it if you don't.

Finally, there is real growth in the characters, and these broad character arcs (not the season-specific story arcs) are planned well in advance. It feels very real, though is often unexpected. I also will cut some slack for the ugly stuff in Season Six for that reason.

I, too, found the first season flat and the characters very cookie-cutterish. Seinfeld didn't really hit its stride until Season Three. Buffy gets there before the end of Season Two.


I too was introduced to Buffy long after it had started, by a friend whose opinion I respected. Others have written about the show's many good points. For me, the growth of the characters is the show's best feature.

I want to explore Willow's (and the show's) relationship with magic, and to disagree with the "Just Say No" analysis. I'm trying to write this without giving too much away, so please excuse me if I sometimes leave out details.

The characters live in a universe where daemons are real, powerful, evil and threatening. In the first two seasons only Buffy has any powers that even come close to matching those of the monsters.

Whenever someone is happy on the show, the formula is to stomp on it. This insertion of tragedy is a recurring theme. The way the characters grow is partly by responding to that tragedy. Of course, it's just a sci-fi show, so the tragedy (and the whole premise of the universe, really) can be a bit cartoonish, but the feelings of suffering and loss are real.

Willow starts off as the nerds' nerd, smart and brave but extremely vulnerable. Willow discovers that she has power at the end of season 2. Her first use of that power is unselfish, but comes moments too late to save the situation. Buffy bears the brunt of that one.

Willow herself, though, gets hit with a big loss later (in season 4) and responds selfishly by trying to make her pain "go poof" with a spell. Of course, it back-fires. Willow didn't intend to wreak havoc, but that's the result. She's then offered far greater power, but recoils from the consequences once she understands them and pulls back from the brink.

When Willow finally succumbs to the temptation of magic it does superficially look like a "don't do drugs" message. But for her, the attraction of magic is not just pursuit of pleasure, or to escape pain. She and her friends are fighting a life-or-death struggle. They need all the power they can lay their hands on.

Pain finally does drive Willow over the edge in season 6. She is saved by the one character who is a 100% normal human, with no special powers whatever -- Xander.

Dan Layman-Kennedy, above, associates magic and addiction with "Hollywood and Wall Street, where temptation comes in a beautiful shell." That is not the Buffy universe, though. The show is more about the inner lives of the characters. Season 6 makes this particularly clear. Willow's temptation isn't money or fame. Rather it is finding her own place as a force in a world where she isn't the "chosen one." She herself is ambivalent about accepting this power and fears that it will overwhelm her (as it nearly does in season 6).

In the end, it turns out that Willow's power is vitally important after all.

John, stick with it -- it's a great show.


Umm, in regards to the "Magic as Drugs" concept, I'm surprised nobody has brought up the subsequent events in Season 7 that, to me, definitely define it as a metaphor for addiction. However, again a reprimand for Season 7, they seemed to change all that about halfway through, and tried to go in a different direction with Willow, as she slowly eases her way back into magic use. What the heck? Oh, and all of the wise and knowledgeable good guys are pushing her with all their might, despite the fact that she proves them dangerously wrong early on. Go figure. Anyway, I have watched all the Buffy there is to watch now. I'm going to bed.

NJG from NYC

Seasons 5 and 6 were by far my favorites.

David Salmanson

I want to add my voice to those who disagree with the "just say no" concept. Rather, I think Willow's journey is about a)not becoming what one despises and b)recognizing that technologies are morally neutral. Compare it to Lord of the Rings where the Ring has to be destroyed because it is bad and anyone who uses it to try to defeat evil succumbs to its powers. On the ohter hand, Willow's magic is absolutely necessary in the fight.

Further, around the time Oz is introduced as a full character, I finally understood that the whole show is about life as a coming out metaphor. Every season a different character comes out as something and that coming out is an ongoing process we all go through regardless of sexual orientation.

Okay, last thought. Anya's speech on why death is stupid is one of the best things I ever heard period. Granted, I saw the episode maybe a year after I lost a relative but still.


Ok. I haven't caught up on the whole blog. No time, so here goes.

This is a great show. Because:
Great writing. Layered storytelling. Over arching season plots woven into interpersonal relationships while facing real critical life drama against a background of the absurd.
Broad metaphysical themes not the least are Christlike archtypes struggling against a world they both don't understand and must defend. Buffy litterally dies and comes back to save the world! That's no accident. Actually goes some daring places.
And Willow is so damn cute!
Its a comic book.
Its Kirk and Spock and McCoy. Characters we know SO well. And yet the characters change. And not just their sexuality or their jobs. They grow up. We know them like our best friends. We know them. That's why its funny when they crack wise about themselves.
Death. Dramatic tension. Characters die in this show. It juxtaposes the mundane world of HS and college kids in 'Sunnydale' against the fantasic world of an immediate demonic threat while all the time upping the ante of massive omnipresent growing evil.
Cracking dialogue. Warm laughs to groans to parody. Not so much the belly laughs, it tries to avoid the obvious. This show is filled with cultural and internal mockeries done in modest self effacing dry dusty droll and sometimes just silly humor. Its just so damn funny! Especially as it finds its rhythm in the middle seasons.
Detail. c.f. The geeks in season six arguing about the Star Wars death star.
Singing! Well, some of it was singing.
Dramatic tension as Joss and his merry band dance characters back and forth across the line of evil. The exploring of large issues such as ... well, good and evil, and loyalty, duty to self vs obligation, self vs selflessness, oh yeah I said that. Love, loss and loneliness. The value of friendship vs the fact that we are all alone. There is a LOT in here about loneliness and love and the cost of both. Great large themes, large plots, great danger, great relationships, really just wonderful dialogue ... and ...
besides, Willow is just so damn cute!

There's more but I'm tired.

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