Cultural Catchup Project: “Once More, With Feeling” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Once More, With Feeling”

August 5th, 2011

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

My memory is generally pretty good when it comes to small details about my life, but I truly have no idea what possessed me to watch “Once More, With Feeling” in my dorm room about four or five years ago.

I wasn’t watching it with someone else, and I hadn’t borrowed someone’s DVDs. As far as I can remember, no one suggested that I watch it, and this was well before Dr. Horrible was a thing (although I think my memory wants to tell me that there was some relationship between the two things, if only to make sense of the abstract nature of the experience). Looking back, timeline wise, it’s possible that the Scrubs musical was what pushed me in its direction, but that’s at best an educated guess.

As I’ve discussed throughout this project, there are moments from pivotal episodes that have been floating around in my head from occasional experiences with the series. One was Riley crawling through a tight space in the climax of “Hush,” gleamed from a Buffy marathon my brother was recording, and the other was this random late night viewing of an episode for which I had almost zero context. Given that I was watching the episode exclusively as a musical, my memory is hazy: when I started watching the show in earnest last summer, I remember being convinced that Xander and Cordelia were going to get together because I had seen them in “Once More, With Feeling,” at which point you were quick to point out that my memory was even hazier than I realized.

Watching it this week really did feel like watching it for the first time, even if there were those brief moments of déjà vu. I remembered more about the episode than I thought, but the nature of those memories varied, reflecting the multi-faceted nature of the episode’s success. You can’t remember what you’ve never known, and returning to the episode in the context of the sixth season gave me a much greater understanding for why “Once More, With Feeling” holds such an important place in the history of this show.

I have a habit of listening to the Cast Recordings of Broadway musicals and trying to figure out the plot. Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy: usually there’s a few key numbers that serve as important milestones within the musical, and the characters are generally pretty good about explaining their motivations. Part of the point of musicals, after all, is that people use songs in order to express emotions that might otherwise be left unsaid, so the songs are often the space where characters share their innermost thoughts and fill in the gaps for those of us who don’t have the benefit of actually seeing the musical in question.

However, in the past this had caused me some trouble. The first Broadway musical I saw, Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, was something I discovered on the Tony Awards, where one of the central numbers was provided with only a brief synopsis for context. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the way the number was staged, but it caught my attention, and I downloaded the cast recording soon after. I listened to it regularly that summer, enjoying following the journey of a family torn apart by a misunderstood disease, and then traveled to New York in October and got some tickets from TKTS. It was only once I was sitting in the Booth Theater, of course, that I realized that one of the characters I had heard singing was a figment of a character’s imagination.

Once I realized this, all sorts of details fell into place, as songs that previously seemed abstract suddenly made a lot more sense. Even though I understood the basic plot, and was technically “spoiled” for certain plot developments after hearing the cast recording, there was still something left to discover. The same thing happened to me with Spring Awakening, although in that case I read the Wikipedia plot summary before actually seeing the show in question. In both instances, there simply weren’t songs that coincided with certain plot developments, leaving key gaps in comprehension that were untold by the music in question.

I raise these experiences because watching “Once More, With Feeling” without having seen a complete episode of the show is sort of like listening to the cast recording before seeing the musical, although with one key difference. While the cast recordings tend to leave out certain elements of the plot, watching the episode made the plot entirely clear: although no songs completely lay out the plot, dialogue scenes flesh out Sweet’s effect on Sunnydale and the circumstances that led to his arrival. This is just a regular old monster-of-the-week storyline at its core, much as The Gentlemen in “Hush” fit comfortably into existing patterns even if their impact dramatically altered the series’ DNA, so on that level viewing the episode without additional context wasn’t much of an issue.

However, unlike Broadway musicals, the meaning of “Once More, With Feeling” depends almost exclusively on knowledge that I simply didn’t have. It was amazing watching it again after seeing the 106 episodes that preceded it, as I wondered what I must have thought when I watched it for the first time. How, for example, did I react to Anya’s Bunnies interlude within “I’ve Got a Theory” when I had no context for her vendetta against the animal? How did I interpret Giles’ concern in “Standing in the Way” when I had no idea that he had just returned from England a few episodes earlier? And, perhaps most importantly, how did I read the climactic moment in “Something to Sing About” when I had no idea what Buffy was talking about in regards to heaven and hell?

I knew enough about the show that I was able to piece together Spike and Buffy’s will they-won’t they sexual tension, which provides the episode with its coda, and there are other story elements (like Xander and Anya’s nervousness about getting married) that are pretty easy to follow without knowing the two characters. However, even in these instances, the weight of “I’ll Never Tell” or “Rest in Peace” is much greater when you have an understanding for Anya and Xander’s characters (like, for example, that Anya used to be a demon), or realize that Spike isn’t just a normal vampire (which I would have presumed at the time). I might have left with a basic understanding of the episode’s plot, and I might have been able to appreciate the musical craftsmanship on the songs, but I didn’t know the depth of what they were singing about (and, contrary to Buffy’s refrain, these characters – even Buffy – do indeed have things to sing about).

The fact that “Once More, With Feeling” has been elevated to a piece of television history, now inarguably the most famous “musical episode” of a non-musical series, is interesting in that it has taken place largely independent of the actual story being told. Its broad canonization has, on some level, split from its series canonization – while its place within the series has to do with the way Whedon merges the show’s characters and ongoing storylines with different musical styles and musical theater conventions, outside of the series it seems to be notable simply for committing so wholeheartedly to the musical conceit. This isn’t just a couple of original songs, and Whedon didn’t commission an existing composer/lyricist to write the songs: this is a musical in miniature, complete with an overture, and was composed by the show’s creator. Its musical numbers are ambitious, diverse in their sense of scale and their musical genres, and they’re also catchy in a way that stuck with me even out of context: “I think this line’s mostly filler” was perhaps the line that most resonated, but numerous melodies have lingered even if the details were lost.

In other words, simply existing in its basic form was enough to elevate “Once More, With Feeling” within television history, and it could easily be taught in light of its relationship with the traditional Broadway (or Hollywood) musical or with other television musicals (as a colleague in UW-Madison’s film department was investigating last fall). However, within the show’s fandom the episode takes on an additional layer of meaning: this is the episode where they find out that they dragged Buffy from heaven, and the episode where Buffy and Spike share that big climactic kiss, and the episode where Tara learns the depths of Willow’s betrayal. Even without having moved onto “Tabula Rasa,” it’s clear that this is an important pivot point in the same way that “Hush” brought together Buffy and Riley in order to bring The Initiative to the forefront.

As with “Hush,” though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Once More, With Feeling” discussed in this context. Obviously, I’ve been avoiding discussions within fan communities, but it definitely feels like its broader significance has become disconnected from the serialization evident within the episode. As a one-off experiment, not unlike “Hush,” its identity has become defined by it being “the musical episode” without any real mention of what ends that music was used towards.

If my memory (as spotty as it seems in light of other parts of this post) serves me well, there were some discussions on earlier posts – perhaps even my review of “Hush” – about what episode of the show would make a proper entry point. Given its notoriety, I imagine that there are many who first experience Buffy through “Once More, With Feeling,” much as I did inadvertently all those years ago. If I were teaching this in a class, forced to show it out of context due to the limitations of time, how would I feel about this being the first time some students were watching Buffy?

For me, it highlights what might be the episode’s greatest accomplishment. Whedon’s commitment to serialization within an episode that he had to have known would become isolated as a singular piece is what really struck me about the episode when watching it for the “first” time. As noted, it’s not dissimilar from “Hush,” but that conceit seems downright subtle in light of what we see here.

However, reading that back it sounds wrong given that “Once More, With Feeling” has a lot of subtlety in it: sure, there’s a few over-the-top innuendos and some moments of excess, but there’s something small about the way this story is told. Even within all the bombast, the scale of the piece is focused solely on these characters, showing only a few brief moments of large-scale song and dance (to establish a sense of scale that the episode then abandons). Whedon is dealing with something that could have felt silly, and that could have gone off the rails, but he’s made it seem simultaneously extravagant and grounded through the focus on the characters and their story arcs.

Some of my favorite moments in “Once More, With Feeling” are those extravagant moments. Emma Caulfield sells that Bunnies interlude so well that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and Anya’s continued interest in categorizing the various songs showed a self-aware side to Whedon’s writing that fit the occasion.

However, the best moments are those that carry the weight of the season. Say what one will about the way the season has developed to this point, or how the season develops after this, but “Once More, With Feeling” lands and lands hard. “Under Your Spell” is an enchanting little number when it first appears, but when Tara (logically) co-opts it to explain Willow’s deception it becomes this tragic refrain. “Something to Sing About” is not my favorite song musically, as those weird rhythm changes bug me, but the more I listened to it the more you can see it building to her reveal. Similarly, many of the most powerful moments are those that wouldn’t appear on a cast recording: Willow, after all, doesn’t sing her pain after learning about Buffy being in heaven.

There will be a number of bullet points that follow this article, some of them complaints and some of them little moments that charmed me. However, on the whole, my take away from the episode is that there is more here than I could have ever realized sitting in my dorm room streaming it off of (I believe) DailyMotion. It’s not just that there are references I wouldn’t have understood, or character details that I didn’t have access to: simply put, “Once More, With Feeling” is an episode that cannot be removed from the narrative context in which it is located without damaging its sense of purpose and meaning.

And I’m glad that my memory was hazy enough that my definitive “Once More, With Feeling” experience came in this context.

Cultural Observations

  • Since it’ll probably come up, “Walk Through the Fire” is my “favorite” (ugh, I hate that word) song. I’m a sucker for converging narrative songs, what can I say?
  • My one quibble – I don’t buy that it was Xander who set off the talisman. In fact, I don’t buy a lot of things about the conclusion, as Sweet just kind of fades off into the night without any real climax. I get that his threat is more what he causes others to do to themselves, captured most directly with the tap dancer setting himself on fire, but the Xander reveal just kind of takes the steam out of things. It makes sense to get him out of the way and let it be about the characters, but Sweet ends up being pretty unmemorable for me. The episode doesn’t hinge on that, of course, but that would be my one broader issue with the episode.
  • I was aware that Noxon and Fury made cameos (mostly because of their similar cameos in Dr. Horrible), but I wasn’t aware that Adam Shankman (who I’ve come to know through So You Think You Can Dance) served as the choreographer. Meanwhile, I certainly didn’t know that Glee choreographer Zach Woodlee was one of the dancers (in both “Going through the Motions” and the Henchmen scenes at the Bronze).
  • I think Emma Caulfield won the episode with me just by being so darn charming in every single scene she was in, but it’s clear that Whedon leaned heavily on Amber Benson musically speaking – props to the rest of the cast for pulling it off (with Sarah Michelle Gellar handling some complex material quite admirably), but Benson was definitely a step above (with Anthony Stewart Head right there with her, albeit in a different range).
  • Poor Alyson Hannigan – no, she can’t really sing, but the episode doesn’t even really let her dance. At least Trachtenberg gets an extended dance number to show off some sort of musical-related talent – Hannigan got squat. However, while it may have been a convenient excuse for not overtaxing her limited range, I do think there’s a value in having Willow disconnected from the more emotional musical elements, given that the storyline seems to be suggesting a disconnect between her emotions and her use of magic.
  • I mentioned the innuendo above – do we think that this is another example of pushing the boundaries given the move to UPN, or would Whedon have been as likely to include those moments (Anya’s “tight…embrace,” the final chorus of “Under My Spell”) if they were still on The WB?
  • There’s some really fantastic technical work in the episode: the songs are obviously the focus, but Whedon directed the hell out of this. Not only are there some impressive technical shots, like Buffy’s big note exploding out from behind the dusted vampire or Tara and Willow spinning from the park to their bedroom, but there’s also a real sense of a visual signature on each piece. The episode uses the show’s standing sets incredibly well, using each space (the practice room, the Bronze, the graveyard, Anya and Xander’s apartment, etc.) in ways that added greater emphasis to the numbers in question. The scale (in terms of the amount of people involved) might have mostly remained small, but the spaces in which the numbers were performed seemed larger than usual – this is perhaps why they didn’t, outside of a single line from Dawn that’s interrupted by the henchmen, use the cramped quarters of the house at all?
  • There are a lot of fun and memorable lines in here, but I think the one that struck me most was “Isn’t that what you sang?” I like the way “Isn’t that what you said” gets turned around, and it encapsulates the truth-telling that Sweet discusses quite nicely. It’s a bit on-the-nose, but it’s on-the-nose in a way that pulls some threads together, and calls attention to the right parts of the episode’s premise.
  • A bit of a historical question: when the episode was coming up in the sixth season, how much did you know about it as regular viewers? Was it heavily promoted by UPN? Or online? At this point, I find it hard to believe anyone could be so in the dark that they don’t know the musical episode exists, but was there a point in time where it was possible to be surprised by the fact that Buffy suddenly starts singing at the start of the episode?
About these ads

30 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

30 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Once More, With Feeling” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. Jefferson

    If memory serves, everyone knew the musical episode was coming up and it was airing on a certain date. I think UPN specifically pointed that out in ads and tv spots. Additionally, I even think that the ratings were slightly higher than average / norm because it was the musical episode.

  2. Dan

    Myles, great piece (especially loved it as a fellow Broadway soundtrack junkie). Whlie my memory is somewhat equally fuzzy, I remember it being quite heavily promoted by UPN at the time as an “event” type programming. I remember a lot of commercials featuring behind the scenes clips of the cast members recording the songs, as well as several articles in various magazines (TV Guide, etc.). I think they also had an encore airing of the episode on Saturday night, accompagnied by a behind-the-scenes featurette that helped them pad out their schedule due to longer length of the episode.

    Long story short, if you were watching BTVS back in the day, you had known this was coming for quite a while and weren’t surprised when they broke out into song. However, I was a bit (pleasantly) surprised at the full committment to the idea.

  3. I’m so glad you finally got to see OMWF, Myles!

    Like many others, I was first introduced to Buffy with this episode. However, unlike you, I had a very good memory and therefore had many things kind of ruined for me. Not completely, though, for example I was sure because of this episode that Spike would have to get a soul somehow. Didn’t see the chip coming.

    I agree that the reveal that Xander summoned Sweets does’t make any sense at all. It’s very out of character. Almost always Whedon chooses to emphasize consequences. Yet here Xander causes the deaths of how many innocent townspeople and it’s treated as a joke? That to me speaks volumes as to how it was more a plot contrivance than anything. That really is my only complaint about the episode though.

    I think OMWF is probably so serialized BECAUSE it’s a “special” episode. I think I once heard Joss say that he wanted it to not be a gimmick. By rooting it deeply in the character’s arcs and the story of the season, it doesn’t become a gimmicky variety show episode that has nothing to do with anything. In my opinion, that’s what makes it one of the single best episodes of the entire series.

  4. Myles, I have to say that every discussion I’ve ever had about this episode has been about how good it is BECAUSE it isn’t just a gimmick episode, at least from fans. My first musical episode was the Scrubs one, and I unabashedly loved it (my college roommate and I were both musical nerds at the time), but my girlfriend then, a huge Buffy fan, insisted the importance of Once More With Feeling made it the better musical episode. Now that I’ve seen at least six seasons of the show, I’d have to say I certainly agree, even though I still adore “Guy Love.”

  5. Very similar thoughts about context to what I’ve long thought on OMWF. As I say on my blog in my season 6 review:

    “Once More, With Feeling” is just mind bogglingly brilliant. Not only is it a musical, sung entirely by the cast and written and scored by Joss Whedon, but it’s a darn good musical. If you are new to Buffy, don’t watch this episode and expect to be wowed — I mean if you like musicals you might like it — but you have to see it in context of the series to really appreciate it. I’ve watched it no less than eight times, and I’ve been spell bound ever time. Plus I hate musicals. First there is the sheer audacity of it: to just up and write a musical episode, complete with MGM musical style titles in the middle of a long running dramatic series. I even own the soundtrack. But then, much more importantly, is how this episode is actually the most central to the season, the one in which everything comes to a head. It has the most plot, the most arc shifting, of any Buffy episode. Nearly every character is pivoting here — and the music makes it happen. Sheer unadulterated genius.

  6. I agreed about the rhythm changes in “Something to Sing About” (which is what I believe you were referring to with “Life’s a Song”) when I first heard it, but after a while they don’t seem out of the ordinary at all and are my favorite portions of that song actually! Thanks for the review!

  7. Myles, I think you must have done a good job in avoiding spoilers. And I’m pretty sure all the commenters here have been very diligent in not spoiling the narrative importance of OMWF. The cultural significance is out there in the wild, so it’s hard to avoid. I know after your post earlier this week, I had to hold my tongue. When you raised some issues about the season so far and the direction it was headed (or not headed) I wanted to tell you “reserve judgment until you’ve seen OMWF!” But of course I didn’t even want to spoil you for how pivotal the episode is.

    When I watched it the first time back in the day, UPN had been pimping it pretty hardcore, and I was HUGELY skeptical. I thought it would just be a gimmicky interruption during a season I was already frustrated with. But it won me over with legitimate substance and character development.

    I never use OMWF to introduce people to BTVS. I feel like the whole idea of a musical episode will seem cheesy and gimmicky to people (probably because of my own initial prejudices). So I get nervous when my friends get to the episode. What will they think? Will they get past the conceit and get the HUGE amount of storytelling happening? I’m so glad you did :-)

  8. Gill

    Since I watched Buffy in Britain on the BBC, thus a year after first broadcast, I was well aware it was coming, but I’d managed to remain unspoiled enough that I didn’t expect it to be as wonderful as it was. The fact that it is crucial in the development of the story arc also took me by surprise, and, like most others, I’ve been carefully not telling you that for a long time. (It’s why I didn’t comment last week.)

    There are so many subtle details here which you will remember as the story develops, and it ties in wholly to the complex mythology of the show, yet it is also a tour de force in its own right and a constant pleasure to rewatch. It’s impossible for me to listen to the sound-track without vivid images from the show: Spike popping his head up from the grave with “So, you’re not staying, then?”; the fire engine at the end of “Walk Through the Fire”; Buffy’s hand in front of the brazier. There are other tiny details about the conduct of characters which are strong pointers to where their story arcs will go. But you will probably want to rewatch this episode after the end of the season to see how much that is true.

    I’m so glad you loved this episode as it deserved, Myles – and wrote beautifully about it as ever. You may not have spotted the dancing street cleaners – same trio of dancers as the monsters at the start and the henchmen. And Marti Noxon’s song about the parking ticket is worth very careful listening, especially the last, barely-audible line.
    The next few episodes are where fandom started to become very split; I am looking forward to seeing your assessment of these.

    • diane

      In reference to the way that OMWF ties in with so many character arcs, this is probably a good time to mention “Restless,” since so many (not all) of the events foreshadowed in Restless have come to pass by now. Both of these episodes hold a high stature both for achievement in their own right, as well as for narrative linkages to the entire series.

      As do a couple of others, but that discussion can wait.

  9. Rachael

    I agree with the comments above that amongst the Buffy fandom, the genius of this episode is because of how it is the lynchpin episode of Season Six, the turning point. We’ve been floating around for the first few episodes, establishing that Buffy is back, and that the Scoobies are kind of disjointed with their own little issues, but this episode takes everything that’s been hinted at, and explodes it leaving long story arcs that we know know will need to be addressed.

    This is a true landmark episode of tv, Like you pointed out Myles, as a musical episode of tv, it is certainly debated as being the most successful, but in the context of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is truly an excellent piece of work.

    By the way, I think that most critics share your problem with the Xander reveal at the end. I think though, that it doesn’t matter. The episode was slightly more than a monster of the week episode in that the ‘monster’ didn’t really matter. For once, the deaths caused were mostly irrelevant, as the damage that was caused to the Scoobies was the focus.

  10. Mel

    I was dealing with roommate issues during season 6 and missed most of it when it originally aired, including the musical episode, but even I knew it was coming (when it hadn’t yet aired.) Knowing Joss’ penchant for introducing the episode’s phlebotnom early, I was not in the least surprised when Buffy started singing, and as a theater geek, I was thrilled with the concept and the execution.

  11. Christopher

    Myles, I love your review and analysis, as always.

    This episode feels to me like a very accessible one as an introduction to the show (and a demonstration to skeptics of how good the show can be), but I wouldn’t recommend it as such because it is so much better in character and story context. I’m glad you didn’t recall the details of this episode as you’ve approached it.

    The lyric “Hey I’ve died twice,” which I love, is a big spoiler for those that haven’t seen the whole series. And, of course, the big reveal to the audience of where Buffy spent her summer (Heaven, not Hell) happened in “After Life,” but this has the payoff of that being revealed to the rest of the gang.

    As to your curiosity about the promos, others have answered that, but I wanted to offer links to videos of three contemporary promos for this episode. These are on the BuffyWorld.com site; a spoilery site, so those who haven’t seen the whole show should avoid poking around.

    30 second spot: http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/videos/buffy107-30.mpg
    1 minute spot: http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/videos/buffy107-60.mpg (watch for the line you highlighted)
    2 minute spot: http://www.buffyworld.com/buffy/videos/buffy107-120.mpg

    The 2 minute one doesn’t seem like a TV spot. You probably have a better guess than I as to how that might have been used. As a teaser for critics, perhaps?

    • Christopher

      Just to clarify: The links I’ve supplied are directly to the video files and are NOT spoilery. They are just the .mpg files of the 3 contemporary promos.

      I just wanted new viewers to beware of looking elsewhere on that website as there’s plenty of spoilers for future episodes/seasons.

  12. morda898

    I don’t know how interested you are in creator commentaries Myles, but once you’re done with the series (or even the season) I would recommend watching Joss’ commentary to this episode. To tell you the truth, I would recommend listening to all of Joss’ solo commentaries but this one truly stands out. He mentions much of what you yourself brought up, admittedly in a more Whedon-y way.

    You’re comment about Xander being the summoner, as it were, is spot on. I actually forgot that Xander was the cause when I rewatched this episode for the first time, that’s how much resonance that had for me. And Sweet is entertaining but…I don’t know, there just isn’t much there I suppose. Appart from that however, I think OMWF represents one of the most entertaining episodes of TV. An overstatement? Perhaps. But what else has combined geunine, character driven drama-comedy with brilliantly crafted and choreographed musical numbers the like that TV has never really seen. I ask you.

    Your analysis didn’t really make clear, but what do you think of this episode personally? As a fan? (I’m assuming you’re a fan).

    One tiny thing. “Life’s a Show” is actually called “Something to Sing About”. It’s not important, just thought you should know.

  13. Aeryl

    I remembering watching it on UPN at the time of airing, and it was heavily promoted.

    I was also highly skeptical, but ate my words after watching, it was so incredible.

    I’ve seen it many times now, and there are just little things that jump out everytime, that I’ve missed previously.

    And, yes, while you’re right, that Buffy has stuff to sing about, she doesn’t feel like she does, which is why she almost dances herself into flames, as that’s what happened to the other guy, he had nothing to sing about.

    So I think the discordant rhythm changes in “Something To Sing About” are intentional, to signify that Buffy is running out of stuff to sing about, and is in danger.

    And “Under Your Spell”, oh that song, while beautiful(“Spread beneath my Willow tree” makes me smile everytime), knowing what Tara doesn’t, that she truly is under Willow’s spell at this time, is so heartrending.

    And if I had to pick a fave song, it would be “Walk Through The Fire” though “Going Through The Motions” is a close second. I love how it’s a riff on the typical opening song you would see in a Disney Musical, the only thing missing is animated woodland life.

    Also, if you want to see more of Anthony Stewart Head singing, he played Dr. Frankenfurter in several old British versions of Rocky Horror Picture Show, so you can find that, and I can’t recommend Repo! The Genetic Opera enough.

  14. One of my favorite lines is Willow’s “I’ve got a theory, some kid is dreamin,’ and we’re all stuck inside his wacky Broadway nightmare.” I love that it’s referencing Season 1 episode “Nightmares.” It’s the corollary to Giles line in that episode “Dreams? That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares. Our nightmares are coming true.” Interesting to note that in Nightmares, Willow’s fear was singing in front of an audience.

    P.S. Adam Shankman actually has a tiny cameo as a dancing jogger on the street. I’ve seen some of the behind the scenes for this, and watching Adam coaching the actors on the dancing is pretty fun.

  15. Bruce from Missouri

    ****Poor Alyson Hannigan – no, she can’t really sing, but the episode doesn’t even really let her dance.*****

    If you listen to the commentary, Hannigan actually begged off of that stuff because of her lack of confidence in her abilities in that area. He would have written it for her if she was willing to do it.

  16. Jason

    Actually the numbers were down for the musical episode. The 6th season premiere had 4.5 millions and OMWF clocked in with the lowest rated episode so far that season with 3.6 million. The encore showing two weeks later had about a million viewers, though I’m sure many of these people we hardcore fans itching to see it again since Hulu wasn’t around. I read somewhere and I’m pretty sure, but this was a long time ago, that the highest rated episode of Buffy was Innocence with somewhere around 8 million households! I think Chosen (the finale) had about 4.1-4.3. Yes, and while hardcore fan were quite aware, I’m sure there were many people who watched Buffy regularly and missed the tv spots hyping the episode. Somewhere out there, there was a Buffy fan was like, WTF? Why is Buffy singing?

    • morda898

      I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers from, but Bargaining had 7.7 million viewers (it was the 2nd highest rated episode of the show) http://www.mania.com/top-ten-genre-broadcast-tv-ratings-oct-17_article_30089.html

      As for OMWF, I remember reading something about it having at least 6 million viewers or something. That one I’m less sure about.

      But yes, you’re right about Innocence and Chosen.

      • Jason

        i believe you are reading that wrong… it says the premiere had roughly 4.3 million viewers which is right around what I stated in my post. Look how those episodes are ranked and look at what number corresponds with that ranking.

  17. tjbw

    So great, and yet, still not my favorite episode.

    Thanks for posting, Myles!

  18. greg

    It’s impressive how the songs drive the narrative forward, instead of just being interludes. It’s pretty much impossible not to sing the songs in your head during later moments of the series. And the songs only become more significant as time passes.

    Yeah, Xander being the culprit is just about the only thing in this episode I didn’t like. When it first aired, I was pretty hopeful that they;d reveal later that, in fact, Dawn DID do it after all, and he was just lying to get her off the hook. But; no.

    Kinda strange that no one held him accountable for the guy who got burned alive, though. (and surely there were more than just one?)

    I was also looking forward to a big number from Jonathan, Warren & Andrew but it was not to be. Considering how tightly-packed the episode was, I guess it’s for the best.

    Oh, and my favorite song was, is, and likely forever shall be Tara’s.

    And Alyson Hannigan did get to sing and dance a bit more later on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (on the ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ karaoke duet and the ‘Suit’ big number).

  19. As others have mentioned, UPN heavily promoted OMWF. So I knew there was a musical episode coming up.

    I was very skeptical about it, mostly because Xena: Warrior Princess had done a musical episode in its third season, with original songs written for the episode. And while I thought Lucy Lawless could sing well and enoyed some of the music, I also thought the musical itself failed as an episode, simply because its ending felt like a cheat to me.

    So I was happily surprised that OMWF worked on every level.

  20. Karen

    I agree with you Myles (and everyone else) that the power of the episode is that it isn’t a gimmick, that it is actually driving plot and extremely character driven. Its story is part of a clear path on the serial arc, and cannot imagine suggesting it as an intro to new viewers. Its greatness beyond the awesomeness of “hey, great musical” is the way it pays off the “prologue” to Buffy’s return, and the way it establishes the momentum for the season’s future events. So I count it a good thing, Myles, that you had so little context and thus so little memory of the episode.

    I like how you allude to bits that are happening during the songs (Willow’s especially) because I think the the setting for the songs are another factor that raise the episode far above gimmick or good fun. It’s one of the reasons my favorite song is “Standing in Your Way/Under Your Spell/Don’t wanna Go” reprise with Giles.

    I also am more forgiving of the role Xander plays in raising Sweets. I don’t think it’s out of character, and I do think it fits with certain themes of nihilism and banality for the season. But I’ll wait until further episodes to tie that idea into my argument. I’m not entirely sure what I think about the idea of Xander escaping consequences for this episode’s activity.

  21. Deeply engaging piece, Myles.

    It should be pointed out that a lot of the musical elements of this episode were based on the characters. For instance, Whedon knew that James was a hard-rock type of guy, so he wrote Spike’s piece specifically to fit James’s style of music. Same for Amber and Tony Head, who are phenomenal singers all by themselves. As you said, SMG handled some complex material very well, considering she is not a naturally talented singer like some of her cast mates, and Nick and Emma handle themselves nicely.

    The two who were outwardly reluctant to sing at all were Aly and Michelle. Michelle, fortunately, was a dancer, so Joss gave her a ballet number to segue into Sweets’s introduction. But Aly did not want to sing or dance, so her part was left mostly to dialogue. The one line she DOES sing — “I think this line’s mostly filler” — is a kind of meta-reference for Aly (and it’s also a kind of cheeky line anyways). All of this is in a discussion panel on one of the Buffy DVDs, though I advise against watching the panel until after you’ve completed the season.

    Pretty much every corner of the fandom will agree that OMWF is the number one episode of the series. I prefer to make my best-of lists in at least 5s, but OMWF would definitely be in my top 5 as well. It’s one of those episodes that inspires people (alongside “Hush” and “The Body”, two other very influential episodes of the series). Speaking of “Hush”: I may be misremembering, but I do recall once reading an interview in which Joss said that he had been planning to do a musical episode in season four, but deferred and did “Hush” instead when he found out Xena: Warrior Princess was airing a musical episode the same week. I’ll have to poke around and see if I can find that interview.

    OMWF and the upcoming Tabula Rasa form a nice pair of episodes that launch us directly into the major conflicts for the majority of the season. I’ll refrain from that vaguely spoilery discussion until you’ve seen TR, of course. I have a feeling I know how you’ll react to the season as a whole (spoiler: similarly to Noel Murray over at The AV Club) but I just bought Beyond Good & Evil and was pleasantly surprised — mayhaps you will surprise me too!

  22. Eric

    The OMWF Soundtrack is available on Amazon,

    and I’d strongly suggest that you pick it up, Myles. It has Joss playing piano, and his wife Kai singing “Something to Sing About”, and while I love Sarah’s performance, Kai has some real pipes.

  23. DaddyCatALSO

    Musical episodes, gimmicky or not, have their good and bad examples. This is a good one.

    There’s little new I can say about the evaluation of this, so I’ll go more for anecdotes, and see if any insights accompany them.

    Joss had soem idea of who could sing formt eh get-togtehers at his house. He admitted beign surprised about how good Emma was, since she didn’t come out to the house (which is itself a datum.)

    Besides, no time for it, the Trio wasn’t in the epsidoe because Joss had laid it out in a firm otuline beofre the idea for the Trio was fully developed. (I always think the “We Are As Gods” scene in “StioryltelleR” was Andrew’s re-editted self-agrandizing version of their actual number.)
    I can’t quite figure out what Sweet’s henchguys are supposed to look like.

    Seriously, if we still had performers who covered show tunes, like Nat or Frnak or Sammy, both “Rest In Peace” and “Under Your Spell” could have made solid breakout songs, and they wouldn’t’ve had to be changed either; the innuendoes would . (If I’d been a real singer and had a cotnract then, my producer would’ve gotten sick of my bugging him to let me do country versions of them.)

    I Like musicals (well, mostly Rodgers and Hammerstein and the post-war MGM movies) and also classic horror so this was a treat in itself. There are plenty of other exceptions but this violated what is a standard conceit in musicals, which usually goes “The songs are their for the audience’s benefit; they *represent* something the characters are doing or experiencing. In the other dimension where this was a real story, they weeren’t *actaully* singing.” These songs not represneted but were serious workthroughs of their mental states, and revelaed many truths. The only Sunnydalers not affected were those with no secrets to hide, which leaves out our Scoobs.

    SMG originally wanted to get a voice double until she realized just how much of Buffy’s characterization, both in the episode and after, was being laid out here. Then she got a voice coach; brava for attitude at least, Smidge! And she actually did them quite well; I could see her doign a musical again, although *she* can’t :-). Of course (like me) she still did wanton butchery of innocent high notes, but at least one other fan told me once that that actually enhanced the characterization of Buffy under stress.

    • DaddyCatALSO

      Umm, I meant “the innuendoes wouldn’t mean anthing to general audiences, the lyrics flow well enough they woudln’t call attnetion to themselves.”

  24. Pingback: New to ‘Buffy?’ Don’t Start With the Musical!

  25. Pingback: The Hardest Thing In This World Is To Live In It « NAKED PICTURES OF YOUR DAD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s