Classic TV Review: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 1 (1997)

Posted: July 24, 2016 in Action, Comedy, horror, TV

Buffy season 1

Episode 1:  Welcome to the Hellmouth

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) moves to a new school in Sunnydale, California.  Buffy does not know that the town sits on the Hellmouth, a demonic convergence of evil.

Vampire subjects doing the bidding of the Master (Mark Metcalf), an ancient vampire besiege Sunnydale until Buffy enters the picture, and tries to end the mayhem. The appearance of The Master is the dominant storyline in season one and this is a fitting introduction.  Excellent writing, acting and direction leave the viewer compelled from beginning to end.

Episode 2: The Harvest

Buffy and her newest pals Xander (Nicholas Brenden) and Willow (Allyson Hannigan) try to save Xander’s pal Jesse (Eric Balfour) from the Master’s minions, Luke (Brian Thompson) and Darla (Julie Benz) who are trying to bring about The Master’s ascension from his lair underneath Sunnydale.

This episode is a continuation of the Master’s storyline and is very interesting in the way that Whedon flips the religious symbolism, there is definitely a hierarchy involved. Except serving this master involves killing people. I enjoyed Mark Metcalf as the Master, he really seems to be enjoying himself under all that rubber makeup.  He reminds me of Robert Englund, who played Freddy Kruger.

Episode 3:  Witch

Buffy ties out for the cheerleading squad and meets Amy (Elizabeth Anne Allen) who wants to be a cheerleader in the worst way.

This is a non-Master episode, and a really good one, it combines the angst of high school with the occult in a great way.  There’s a twist, that turns this episode on its head, and makes it really fun to watch. A great performance by Robin Riker, as Amy’s mom.

Episode 4:   Teacher’s Pet

Xander falls for an attractive substitute teacher named Miss French.  (Musetta Vander) She is interested in him, but why?

Another non-Master episode that I really like, it concentrates on Xander and his search for love.  It also had a teacher that actually showed an interest in Buffy, and Buffy actually studying.  Low budget special effects, still managed to be creepy at times. Musetta Vander is attractive and has an interesting South African accent, but doesn’t really add much else to the role.

Episode 5: Never Kill A Boy on The First Date

Buffy dates a boy for the first time since moving to Sunnydale.

This wasn’t one of my favorite episodes, even though it included the Master.  It had an interesting concept of a guy fascinated by death becoming almost a Buffy groupie, I think that storyline could have been explored more.  The Master storyline wasn’t all that compelling in this episode. The guy who played Owen, Christopher Wiehl, was ok, just ok.

Episode 6:  The Pack

Xander and some other members of the school are possessed by demonic hyenas.

This is an excellent episode, because it uses the pack mentality of the hyenas as a metaphor for peer pressure, bullying and other negative teenage behavior.  Nicholas Brenden shows his dark side, and is very creepy as a guy who tells Buffy some uncomfortable truths about herself.

Episode 7:  Angel

Buffy learns Angel’s secret.

I didn’t like this episode, because when Angel comes on the scene, Buffy turns into Conventional Girl, a regular old damsel in distress, all that Girrrl Power stuff goes out the window. The chemistry between Sarah Michelle Geller and David Boreanz is unmistakable, and s the pairing was very popular, at the time.

Episode 8:  I Robot, You Jane

Willow has a secret online admirer, named Malcolm.  But who is Malcolm, really?

Not a great episode.  Early internet paranoia and poor Alyson Hannigan is stuck with a script where she is a defenseless victim.  Willow is smart, she should have been in on the solution.  Robia La Morte does a nice turn as Jenny Calendar the technopagan, who introduces Giles to the interweb.  She almost saves this predictable episode from doom.

Episode 9:  The Puppet Show

Sunnydale’s talent show features a demonic ventriloquist’s dummy.

This reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode, about a talking dummy that is a lot scarier than this episode.  There is a thin backstory, and a twist ending, but this was one of the filler episodes.

Episode10:  Nightmares

Everyone in Sunnydale sees their worst nightmares come true, and it all seems to be triggered by a little boy named Billy Palmer (Jeremy Foley)

This is one of the more interesting episodes, because Buffy’s dreams and Billy’s dreams are similar, both having to do with an authority figure or father figure.  Xander and Willow’s dreams are silly, but Giles’ dream has to do with psychological trauma as well.

Episode 11:

Out of Mind Out of Sight

An invisible girl torments students before the May Queen dance.

An invisible girl is not that exciting an idea, but how she got invisible is interesting and again the reason intersects with high school, and how certain people are treated.  There was a Vishnu reference which I had to look up, but it made sense, and preparation for the big finale.  The climactic scene is a bit too much like Carrie, but that’s ok. Good episode.

Episode 12: Prophecy Girl

The Master rises during the Spring Fling, but can Buffy stop him?  What does the prophecy say?

This is a fitting end to my favorite season of Buffy.  This was a really outstanding performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, and a fitting climax, she played the scenes with great comedic timing and also played the dramatic scenes extremely well. The one downside was that Miss Calendar, Willow, Cordelia spent most of the episode screaming like ninnies for help. Mark Metcalf is outstandingly creepy as the Master.   I still love this episode, even all these years later.

Buffy works as a show because it explores two genres at the same time, high school life, and the occult.  It is a tribute to the writing that the episodes blend both genres so well.  There’s the fact that Buffy is a Chosen One, so that adds an element of Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker to the story.  Buffy is also a girl, and that’s important, she’s strong physically, and emotionally, and that’s an important message to send to girls and women.  She also chose to be with the outcasts, she could have been with the popular crowd, but she identified with the bullied, and not the bullies. Season 1 is the best of the bunch, it hits the ground running and never stops.

The acting is superb.  Geller doesn’t play Buffy as an airheaded Valley Girl, she is very sophisticated, juggling the Slayer and personal lives, and Geller brings that sophistication to that role.  She made a couple of bad Scooby Doo movies and bye bye career, but she was at peak level here.  Allyson Hannigan is wonderful as the demure, bookish Willow, her character evolves in later seasons.   Nicholas Brenden is also great as the dorky Xander, too bad about his recent troubles.  Anthony Stewart Head is also superb as stuffy British librarian and Watcher Rupert Giles.  He’s the adult in the room, not only doesn’t he scoff at the otherworldly events, he has moldy books to prove the prophecies. Charisma Carpenter is fabulous as Mean Girl Cordelia.  The only fly in the ointment is David Boreanz as Angel, his acting is as wooden as a lumberyard, and he’s had the most success of any of the cast, with Angel and Bones.  I don’t get it. An added treat was Mark Metcalf as The Master. He played Doug Niedermeyer in Animal House, and plays this role with depth and gusto.

If you want to know why Joss Whedon  is such a big deal in Hollywood these days it started with this show.  He wrote several episodes and directed a few I’m sure, although he is uncredited.  He writes high school as if he just graduated, and he writes interesting horror, not just scary horror.  He took a movie that nobody liked and turned it into a tv show that became appointment watching in the late 90’s. And he did it with a tv budget on a network nobody watched.  Amazing.


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