Sunday, July 10, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Season 1

One of my favorite memories of summer camp didn't take place at camp, but on a night off when I was a CIT and a few of us saw the original Buffy movie at the Berkshire Mall. I don't know why we picked it, but we were basically alone in the theater and we MST3Ked our way through the whole thing. It was delightfully awful. (I've since seen it again and kind of love it, and also learned about Joss Whedon's unhappiness with the film.)

A few years later, I fell asleep after dinner in front of the TV (I majored in napping my senior year) and woke up just as the pilot of the Buffy TV show was starting. This being the early days of the internet, and me being in the bubble of college, I had no idea the show existed, but I was immediately intrigued. Both because I couldn't believe they had based a TV show on that movie, but also because it was, you know, good. I was hooked.

I've been a fan of many things, before and after Buffy, but Buffy has really stayed with me. I taped the whole series (partly out of necessity because I often worked at night in those days, but I kept and carefully labelled them out of love), and it's one of the few things I will watch a rerun of pretty much whenever it's on. I sort of feel like my knowledge of the show is encyclopedic, but the truth is, I've only watched it from start to finish, in order, the one time (you know, over seven years) and my memory is shit.

So watching all of Season 1 again was interesting, because while the two-part pilot remains pretty amazing, the rest of it is wildly uneven. A lot of it is just budget. The effects are terrible, and the video quality hasn't fared well over 14 years and a digital transfer. (I should check and see if my tapes look better or worse; plus I bet the commercials are hilarious.) But a lot of it is a show finding its legs. It's funny, looking at the episode list now, some time after I rewatched these episodes, there's only one giant clunker ("I, Robot…You Jane"), but knowing what the show would become - particularly how sharp the writing and (most of) the acting would get, it really feels like a show finding its voice.

I think Michaela is absolutely right about the awkward pacing in the pilot, which pretty much goes for the whole season. And also about how good Sarah Michelle Gellar was, which is weird in hindsight. After seven seasons of Buffy and her strange film career, I wouldn't think to call SMG a great actor. But she's really perfect here, and also playing the only character who's pretty much fully formed from the beginning. The supporting cast is hampered by their writing, again, especially in hindsight of knowing what the characters would become. That 20/20 hindsight makes Season 1 a little hard to rewatch, actually, because it means that some of my favorite episodes - particularly "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" - turn out to be pretty hokey and poorly paced.

Actually, Buffy's not the only fully-formed character: The Master is pretty great. He's kind of a cliché, but a delightful one, and Mark Metcalf plays him so perfectly. The season finale, with its running gag of "Nice dress," and "I may be dead, but I'm still pretty," is pretty great, and sets up what's to come so nicely, it almost feels like an extension of the pilot.


mcm said...

I must admit, I am already prepared to mostly tune out I, Robot... You Jane.

And having seen Animal House at a very young age, I remember being delighted when Niedermeyer turned up in Buffy. Glad to hear you felt he stood the test of time.

Adam807 said...

The Master was in Animal House?? Awesome.

Anonymous said...

gotta love Buffy, eh?