The Cultural Catchup Project: An Expectational Course Correction (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

An Expectational Course Correction

April 11th, 2010

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.

First off, I to thank everyone for the great comments and responses over the past few days – this is an exciting project, and I’m glad that so many seem to be along for the ride. It’s unfortunate, then, that my immediate progress is more or less on hold as a result of some other life commitments, along with a pileup of new television (the Glee premiere, new Lost, the Treme premiere, the Life Unexpected finale, etc.); as a result, those anxious for me to get beyond the first season and into the second will have to wait a while longer (although I intend on trying to get through S1 by next weekend).

However, in an effort to keep up some momentum, I did watch the remainder of the first disc of Season One, and I started to better understand some of the responses to yesterday’s piece. It’s not that I was surprised to see people point out that I was fairly ignorant of certain parts of the series’ future, but rather that it seemed the premiere was saying one thing when many comments insisted that it was saying quite another.

And after watching “Witch” and “Teacher’s Pet,” I think I’m going to go with the commenters on this one, as the episodes have definitely inspired an expectational course correction (but not necessarily a bad one).

This is going to be fairly brief, as the real life commitments are going to take over in a few hours, but there was definitely no illusions in these episodes on the “High School is Hell” front. Both episodes are the kind of stories which offer supernatural explanations for human behaviour, whether it’s the overbearing mother as witch or the seductive substitute teacher as praying mantis. Combine with the focus on high school cheerleading and Buffy’s troubles in Biology class, and you’ve got some episodes that play off of the “Sunnydale is sitting on a Hellmouth, so anything is possible” idea as opposed to any of the larger supernatural plans and plots which the premiere seemed to lean towards.

While I read the pilot the opposite way, seeing what I was pretty sure Whedon does eventually as opposed to what he necessarily does in the short term, I want to be clear that this isn’t some sort of problem. Sure, the stories are pretty procedural, but the show is working its way through Xander’s sexual attraction to Buffy and Willow’s crush on Xander in the process, and so long as those developments continue to tell us more about there’s characters there’s nothing wrong with this strategy. While Buffy only slays a single vampire in the two episodes, it tells us a lot more about her character, and both “Witch” and “Teacher’s Pet” take some run twists and turns along the way, and the slightly campy nature of both stories feels like a better fit for the show’s production style (which I realize is fine for 97) than did the sort of epic scale Vampire invasion featured in the premiere.

It’s not really a big deal, for me at least: I like a good procedural story, and this set of characters seems like a fun group to get involved with. While I might prefer serialized drama, and I’ll probably (as many have noted) enjoy the show even more when it gets closer to that stage in its development, the procedural stories had some fun stuff around the edges (the varsity jock turning out to be a virgin, Giles calling his crazy former colleague, etc.) which helps to keep me engaged. And the story does well to bring back Angel in “Teacher’s Pet” to remind us that the world of the Vampires still threatens Sunnydale, and having Buffy use the Vampire’s fear in order to “solve” the case was actually some really effective plot development on a procedural level. Throw in a leather jacket and some serious smoldering stares from Boreanaz, and you’ve got the sort of material that starts to build a fanbase, even with the show’s serialization still pretty buried.

I realize after writing that paragraph that it’s more or less all about “Teacher’s Pet,” which indicates I preferred it to “Witch.” I think my reasoning is that the show used “Buffy is sick and dying” as a plot point, which is both lazy and a little bit silly. It’s one thing to test Buffy or put her in dangerous situations that she can’t easily get out of, but to have her just lying there helpless waiting for Giles to save her was a false sense of tension, and it seemed unnecessary when the threat of what Amy’s mother could do next seems like it would inspire a similar urgency and result in a nearly identical conclusion. I liked the body-switching twist, as it kept the episode from being a straight demonification of jealousy and competition gone too far, but I think there’s a difference between placing Xander in danger (which still shouldn’t be overdone) and pretending that Buffy is actually going to die. It’s easier than building new characters for us to relate to, and it’s convenient at this early stage, but it isn’t something the show can do too often without ruining whatever tension it offers.

Ultimately, the episodes sort of shift my expectations: they do not make them lower overall, perhaps, but they confirm that it’s going to be a while before those expectations will really kick in. I’ve seen too much hype about the show not to jump to the conclusions I did during the pilot, but I’ve now seen enough from these early episodes to indicate that there’s some groundwork to be done. I was just writing the other day about the value of gradual serialization in FX’s Justified, which is starting out with some procedural cases, so I’m completely understanding and patient regarding where Whedon is choosing to take the show at this early stage in its development, and I look forward to continuing the season on Thursday.

Cultural Observations

  • I am going to presume that one of the reasons Whedon later shoehorns a previously unmentioned sister (yes, I know enough about the show to know about Dawn) into the show is because he’s run placing the other characters in peril into the ground and needs a fresh face to fill the role?
  • There was no reason for it to be Cordelia who stumbled onto Dr. Gregory’s body, but Charisma Carpenter has a mighty fine scream of terror, so I can’t blame them for getting her in there.
  • While these pieces may not read “fan” quite yet, I’m really enjoying the show – I might not be ready to write a treatise on the genius of Xander, but scenes like his colour commentary on Angel’s mysterious arrival are certainly sending me in that direction.
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58 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

58 responses to “The Cultural Catchup Project: An Expectational Course Correction (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. jules

    Re: Dawn–though one of the more self-aware quotes from the show is Buffy saying “Dawn’s in trouble. Must be Tuesday,” there is a much bigger reason for bringing her into the show than to constantly put her in harm’s way. Joss had planned it for quite some time, and there are foreshadow-y bits you’ll come across in later seasons that hint to her arrival.

    In the meantime, happy watching–love reading your thoughts so far!

    • Mel

      this. although honestly, those foreshadowy things are almost entirely only clear in hindsight– a lot of them come during dream sequences, so they seem like some dream nonsense if you don’t know specifically what they refer to (and which dream nonsense is foreshadowing and which is dream nonsense)

      • jules

        For sure. And I missed them the first time around. Actually, Dawn’s appearance is one of my favorite WHAT? moments in BtVS.

        • Mel

          I’m one of the few fans I know who doesn’t hate Dawn, but I have to say that watching when it first aired I was full of OMG WHEDON JUMPED THE SHARK ARGH, I only grew to appreciate Dawnie in reruns and dvd viewings

  2. Mel

    is it possible you could post what you already know (ie Dawn magically appears for some reason) because I am bursting to say something but I’m afraid I’ll spoil it for you!

  3. Tausif Khan

    If you know about Dawn you should know that the first season is rocky.

    Whedon never intended to completely step out of stand-alone land with the show. He always wanted each episode to have a resolution but push the major arc along.

  4. Bouncy X

    I’ve noticed you seem to wish the show was more arc-heavy and less “procedural” as you put it. This is a show that’s done something i dont think any other has before or since. Well okay Angel did the same but being a spinoff thats expected.

    But while shows tend to just be stand-alone stories or a mix of stand-alone with an ongoing arc through the entire series, this universe did it differently. While you will see that events and stories do spill over into further seasons with characters making mention of something or someone returning. This show doesn’t have that typical series long arc. Each season has its own arc, with a beginning, middle and end.

    So unlike say Lost, there isnt one big storyline going through all 7 seasons (or all 5 of Angel). There are ideas and themes that go through but each season is almost its own show in a sense. Sure you gain a lot by watching it all but i’d argue someone could watch one particular season without necessarily needing the one before or after. (with the rare examples of cliffhangers of course)

    So i thought maybe that might be useful knowledge to have. This way you dont have expectations that are never fullfilled and might affect your opinion you know?

    Anyway as everyone else has said, its pretty cool seeing someone watch this universe for the first time. I look forward to the future articles.

    • Tom

      Doctor Who does this as well, Russell T Davies has said that he’s used Buffy and Angel as templates for Doctor Who and Torchwood. It’s a shame he’s not as good a writer as Whedon.

      • I think he’s a damn fine writer, maybe as good as Whedon (see: Casanova, The Second Coming, the better parts of Queer as Folk).

        RTD is a middling producer, though. I will give you that. Whereas Joss is actually quite a canny producer, for the most part.

        [/derail]

        • Tom

          Honestly, I’ve only seen his work on Who and Torchwood although I have heard very good things about Queer as Folk though especially. I guess what I mean to say is that RTD can’t match Whedon when it comes to Sci Fi/fantasy. He simply doesn’t take the same dramatic risks, and he makes promises without committing to them.

          He has written some brilliant episodes for Who, but they are usually the smaller ones such as Midnight and Waters of Mars (Mars had big budget yes, but he didn’t try to make the story too complex). He tends to take advantage of the genre’s potential for setting up a great, epic story, but hasn’t got the balls or know-how to follow through with a decent middle and end.

          Children of Earth is the exception of course, because that story really felt like it had stakes. Main characters were vulnerable for example, something Whedon does very well. With Who though, RTD tends to take great advantage of the sci fi genre’s easy deployment of deus ex machina, which results in a lack of tension. When you know the Doctor can just twist a few knobs and press a few buttons to save the world in any situation it tends to suck any drama from the show.

          • I hear you. I think what it comes down to is the Sprint versus the Marathon. American writer-producers are trained to last for years — seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and getting three out of Firefly + Dollhouse. Whereas British writers are best with the six-and-done format, and end up stretching ideas for anything beyond that.

            I see your point on Whedon’s skill with follow-through for the stakes (excuse the pun), but it becomes a weakness too: The absurdly tragic/random deaths in the Whedon canon become kind of funny when you look at their repetitive nature.

        • Tom

          Sorry Jeremy, for some reason I can’t reply to your last post.

          Doctor Who Spoilers for seasons 2 and 4 below.

          Maybe Whedon does too many random deaths, but at least he does deaths. RTD told the viewer on two occasions with Rose and Donna that they would die. For Donna it was foreshadowed throughout the whole season. But he didn’t have the balls to kill off either character, which makes me feel cheated. Not that I have a blood lust or anything, but it’s all about the tension again. Under RTD I wasn’t at all concerned when a main character was put in danger. Sure, some companions kicked the bucket, but they were all ones that no one cared about like Kylie Minogue. God forbid anything happens to Rose. Even when she’s put in another dimension where she can’t ever *ever* come back, she finds a way. RTD seemed to constantly undermine himself.

          I have a lot of respect for RTD, especially after Children of Earth, but compared to Whedon he’s downright lazy. Moffat is a breath of fresh air.

          • I think Davies is immensely interested in saying things about character, not so much in dealing with the ins and outs of plot. Which can obviously be a problem in sci-fi, where plot is often paramount. Even more of a problem when he ran out of things to say about the Doctor, and began repeating himself for a season and a half.

            Whedon’s a character-oriented writer too, but by and large he’s (usually) able to execute over-arching plots in a more satisfying way than Davies can manage. So I’ll agree with you there.

  5. Dude, you’ve been “Whedonesqued.” Prepare for an influx.

  6. Eldritch

    “While I might prefer serialized drama, and I’ll probably (as many have noted) enjoy the show even more when it gets closer to that stage in its development…”

    I recall watching the first couple seasons, and enjoying them, then not coming back to the show until years later when I found a set of season 4 DVD’s at my local library. It enjoyed them so much that I got back into the show.

    I Netflixed season 1 and was surprised at how slow moving and kinda boring those episodes seemed. As we move into the second and third seasons, characters are more developed and perhaps the writers are more confident. The episodes seem more tension filled and intense. . . . which makes sense, I suppose, as a series develops the writers find their voice.

  7. Eldritch

    “I am going to presume that one of the reasons Whedon later shoehorns a previously unmentioned sister … into the show is because he’s run placing the other characters in peril into the ground and needs a fresh face to fill the role?”

    Perhaps that’s an element. He adds other characters as the series progresses, Spike, Drusilla, Anya, Faith and others without the shock and awe that accompanied her first appearance.

    It’s the way he added her that was so remarkable. He loves to break tropes and shake up the audience. With Dawn’s introduction (and another character in a single episode) he played the “WTF” card. It had the audience playing catchup and wondering what the heck just happened.

    And then, of course, Dawn went on to be a likable character, so it was all good.

    • Likeable is such a strong word.

      • I liked Dawn. I mean, she’s annoying, but in that very special teenage girl way that is only annoying because it’s true. If you are annoyed by Dawn, then chances are you either used to be just like her, or you know someone who is/was.

        • Bouncy X

          i liked her too but its no secret there was a big portion of the fanbase who hated her and still do. i think part of the reason i enjoyed her was because i always wanted a little sister and never got one. also, more eyecandy never hurt the show. πŸ˜›

          i know some people will now think i’m a perv for saying that but its ok, no one here knows me so i’m safe. lol

          • likeable?! only in that she created new interactions for the group! I didn’t hate her, she just annoyed me and distracted me from the other characters I preferred spending time with. I always thought her whinier than my younger sisters and I’ve had trouble dealing with Michelle Trachtenberg in other roles since then because Dawn really got on my nerves most of the time! 😦

        • Eldritch

          “but in that very special teenage girl way that is only annoying because it’s true.”

          Okay, Dawn was annoying. When I said “likable,” I meant that often a character you hate or aren’t fond of adds an important dynamic to a show. Subtract the hated character and dramatic tension drains away and you have a dull show. Like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing, the whole is incomplete and doesn’t work.

          As much as Dr. Smith makes my skin crawl, what would “Lost in Space” be without him.

          I’ll grant that Whedon didn’t have to add a little sister. There seemed to be plenty else going on. Characters and events. But once he did add her, she brought a lot to the show. She complicated Buffy’s life in ways that were interesting and felt real to a large extent.

          If you look up “likable” in the dictionary, what I wrote above is the definition you’ll find. πŸ˜‰

  8. Yeah, Teacher’s Pet is definitely more enjoyable than Witch, but keep Witch in mind because it will have consequences further down the road (as in little bits and pieces that influence the series, and a couple of episodes that really link back to it), whereas Teacher’s Pet just ends up being just another one of Xander’s gags.

    And yeah, Cordelia gets plenty of occasions to show off her screaming abilities throughout the series! πŸ˜‰

  9. For my money, one of the most relevant things about Buffy and Angel in this day and age is how they navigate the “problem” of serialization.

    Both start off with a hearty episodic frame. Both commit to heavier arcs later in their run. Their final seasons are kind of a strange mirror of each other. But you’ll see very clearly which show is built for it and which show isn’t.

    • Eldritch

      I think what you’re saying here is that Angel’s final season was episodic and good while Buffy’s final season was serialized and bad.

      I dunno. A lot of people complain about Buffy’s last season. It was certainly darker. Less humor. But, frankly, I missed the serialization of Angel’s earlier seasons. My first viewing of that concluding season’s episodes found them less deep, complex and interesting. I missed the large arcs of the earlier seasons.

      • You’ll find no stauncher a defender of Angel’s serialized years than me. But at the same time, I think they took that mode of storytelling to it’s logical end in Season 4. They couldn’t push it any further. There was no elevation left in it.

        So I won’t call Season 5 a rejuvenation or anything of the like, but it was a reinvention. It was trying to find parity between background arc business, and funny standalones. It didn’t always work, but there was such a live-wire energy to the whole year. I think that’s what most people find appealing — the bright, aggressive attitude behind it.

        Whereas you look at Buffy S7 which went pot committed with long form arcs — when the show was NOT built for it — and it’s as dour, funereal a season of television as there is.

        • I disagree about S7. For me, that season (even if it was dark) had a purpose and unity to it that was extremely engaging. And setting aside the S8 comics, Buffy’s happy ending wouldn’t have been possible or been so emotionally resonant without those last two “funereal” seasons.

          • It had unity (it was nothing if not committed to the path it got on just after ‘Conversations’), sure, but I’m not so certain on the purpose. It was so philosophically muddled with the messages by the end, I’m still not sure what Joss was trying to say with it.

            S6, whatever its faults may or may not be, knew its message and knew its themes. And most of those made the darkness of S7 sort of redundant. The last two seasons end up canceling each other out.

          • Bouncy X

            well the reason season 5 of Angel was so stand-alone was the network’s demands. the deal Whedon made was that in order to get a 5th season he’d have to accept a budget cut and make the show less arc-heavy.

        • Lydia

          Hmm. I guess the 7th Season felt sort of like an epilogue, but with a few very important revelations about the true purpose of characters. It seemed to me that this is where the characters assumed a more divine role than they had before. Where we no longer see them growing and changing and struggling and learning, but rather we see what their most enlightened selves become. Of course this means that they might lose a little depth as they become symbolic versions of themselves, but it did make the show feel very allegorical and very philosophical (in a good way for me). Emotionally, it left me proud and overwhelmed at the love I had developed for these people and incredibly moved by world I was engrossed in. I do agree that with the exception of a few incredible stand-alones (Spike’s insane ramblings in the first few eps are actually brilliant monologues), the episodes themselves were a little less dimensional than other seasons, but this is why I say it feels like an epilogue. Not so much funereal as memorial I guess. Anyone ever read the epilogue to Watership Down and the later book “Tales from Watership Down”? That felt the same for me as Buffy’s conclusion. A lovely tribute where the stories important themes are condensed and portrayed in almost dreamlike symbolism.

  10. Eldritch

    One of the things I liked about “Buffy” was that the cast was virtually an ensemble. Of course, Gellar was the star and Buffy’s problems were the focus of the show, but each of the other characters were given a goodly share of screen time. Their characters were well developed. It gave the show a great sense of depth.

    Whether Dawn was likable or annoying, her motivations and needs were explored. She wasn’t just a two-dimensional supporting character. Anya wasn’t just the ‘girlfriend.’ Spike wasn’t just the villain. We knew who these people were and their histories. They struggled with their own problems. The things they did, even when reprehensible, were understandable because those things came out of who these characters were.

    The whole cast of characters felt three dimensional. With exceptions, even the weekly villains had dimension. We may not have agreed with their motivations and considered them monsters who needed killing, but we understood why they committed their horrible deeds.

    It’s been kind of eye opening to see these same actors guest appear on other shows, because their characters never seem as three dimensional. They appear, quickly recite their lines, and disappear.

    As example, actors like Emma Caulfield or Julie Benz, seem vibrant on “Buffy/Angel” and like bland drones on other shows. I credit that to the writing and direction. On most shows, guest stars and supporting actors are there solely to intensify the glory of the stars. In contrast, Whedon’s shows let these same actors/characters shine by their own light.

    The difference amazes me. And Whedon does this in the same 42 minute format of other shows.

    • You’re dead on.

      I still think the most impressive thing about Buffy is how they utilized the characters. Started off with the Core Four and some side characters, and built such a fulfilling ensemble by the 3rd year.

      It wasn’t just that they all had such clear personalities, it’s that they had clear purposes. They all expanded the universe, effected the other characters, and added to the narrative. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

  11. shuggie

    You’re pretty much correct about Dawn. The show does sort of eat up damsels. Not literally. Well not literally in all cases… (kidding)

    This looks like a cool project. I started a “Buffy Rewatch Project” on my blog but only managed season 1 (so far). Maybe I’ll revive that and watch along with you.

    I’ll be interested to see how you get on w.r.t. comments and commenters. A while back I followed a guy on usenet watching and reviewing Buffy for the first time. The regulars were mostly respectful about spoilers but there was a strong sense of “oh you think that now, wait until you’ve seen such-and-such an ep.” I myself found that my views had been pretty much set and often my contributions were block quotes from stuff I’d posted years before.

    I wonder whether it might almost be better to not read the comments. It’s one thing to be seeing the shows themselves with fresh eyes, it’s another to be aware of the pressure of others’ expectations.

    Still you have some treats ahead – enjoy.

  12. Windsor Block

    When I first saw Witch the ‘monster of the week’ feel made me think, “this show isn’t going to last long.” But I kept watching and somewhere in season one I became hooked.

    • Eldritch

      Yeah, working their way through usual movie monsters didn’t do much for me either. 😦

      As someone above said, the show got good somewhere in the second season.

      • John

        Season one finale is when I really sat up and took notice. And Season two just paved the rest of the road for me.

        It’s funny, going back to season one after all these years I can really enjoy it for what it was and for what it tried to do, but at the time I did not like it.

        • Windsor Block

          Perhaps not all the humour clicks with initiates as they’re not yet in the Buffy vibe.

          I think there are some awesome episodes in season one, such as “The Puppet Show,” and despite the ending, “I, Robot… You, Jane.”

          I re-watched the series last year, for the first time since the series finale on free-to-air television, and free of my original post season three expectations, enjoyed seasons four to seven much more than I did the first time around.

          • Eldritch

            The tone of the series changed as it went on. Ofter fans share their complaints about that in forums like this. It’s not uncommon to see comments that only the first three seasons were good and later seasons went down hill. I don’t quite see it that way.

            The show grew up as Buffy and the Scoobies aged and became adult. Many fans seem to like the first three seasons, I believe, because they’re the funny ones.

            When Buffy et al. went to college they began dealing with more adult problems. In season 5, she begins dealing with much more adult problems. The hazards of life itself became the big bad, rather than some monster. Without getting spoilery, she begans to deal with the costs of being a Slayer. Season 6 forced her to deal with even more unpleasant problems.

            As she became adult, her problems became more serious, less funny. It’s easy to laugh at high school problems because they’re behind most of us. They’re no longer threats to us and nostalgia kicks in. But adult level problems, such as the death of a loved one, stay with us. They never get funny.

            So with those changes, the series became more serious. Yet it was still smart. I loved the funny episodes, but I appreciated the series growing with the characters as they aged. In most shows, the characters never really change no matter how long they’re on the air. That’s another reason to appreciate Whedon, he never used the reset button.

  13. Lydia

    I could certainly write books on why the character of Xander is brilliant. Aside from Buffy herself, if I had to pick one character the show is all about, it would be Xander. He embodies all of the messages that a show like Buffy tries to put into the world. He one of the strongest feminist icons ever written… he the only Scooby with no supernatural powers or role and he is the boy. Not only is he not “emasculated” by this, but he is actually proud and important in his role and has the strongest moral compass of anyone. Xander holds the gang together, providing the glue, the support and the heart (sometimes literally) that is so desperately needed. On top of that, he is very proud to be surrounded by strong, important, powerful people (women). He also makes me wonder if what Buffy is really about is the “non hero” (is there a better term for that?) – the person who sees the most and cares the most, even if he doesn’t have a measurable, physical contribution.

    Gosh darn I love that boy.

    • Eldritch

      You must love the speech Xander gives to Dawn in season 7 about not being the hero.

      • John

        I was thinking the exact same thing reading through Lydia’s post. And completely agree with everything about Xander and his role.

        That speech, for me, just really landed Xander’s character full circle. It made sense. A big highlight for season 7 for me.

    • I love Xander too but I just got done rewatching Season 6 and ugh Xander needed to get hit by somebody.

  14. GillO

    Interesting responses. One thing to look out for is the recurring minor characters – several of the apparent “extras” amongst the highschoolers will recur, some of them in remarkably important roles, one or two quite astonishingly.

    You say: “I liked the body-switching twist, as it kept the episode from being a straight demonification of jealousy and competition gone too far” – but it’s also a literal reworking of the idea that parents see their children as a surrogate way of repeating their own successes or achieving what they themselves failed to do. We see other examples of this theme. And while the earliest episodes do seem to be stand-alone, monster of the week shows, you’ll find that they are referred to and minor themes in individual episodes echo each other to build towards a season arc. Even in S1, which is the least sophisticated and lowest-budget; you have some interesting switches to expect before too long.

  15. Susan

    I haven’t read the other comments (no time this morning), so I might be repeating advice you’ve already gotten. Sorry in advance for that. But I am a rabid fan of the Buffyverse, and I want to share the advice I give friends and family who embark on this journey of discovery. The first season is important because it establishes the relationships. And there are several very good episodes. There are several pretty weak/fluffy eps, too. Don’t judge the ‘verse by these 12 eps. Season 2 is where it really gets rolling.

  16. I got lucky with my Buffy fandom… at first I ignored the show because I didn’t much like the movie. Then, I ignored it because it was being so hyped as brilliant, but it was called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I was not going to be suckered into watching such a show because I was too cool for a ‘chick-show’.

    Then, I saw ‘Prophecy Girl’ before knowing exactly what I was watching. SMG blew my socks off in the library scene with Giles – I’ll say no more. That is when I knew I HAD to get to know this show and darn it, I wasn’t too cool for a ‘chick-show’… and in fact, Buffy was so much more than I could have guessed. I feel sorry for anyone who refused and refuses to give the show a chance because they think its about a girl who kills vampires and talks about her feelings. It isn’t. Those are just window dressing to tell much more complex stories. I’m so grateful that Prophecy Girl was my first full episode to introduce me to the Buffyverse.

  17. David S

    Myles, LOVING your journey through a series I care deeply for.

    Please be mindful about spoilers that you may know about (Dawn) that others who are watching the show for the first time with you, may not know about. I know I’ve sent several friends to your blog that just started the show on DVD.

    • I think that “characters exist” spoilers are different from “characters die/live/turn into vampires/etc.” A peripheral glance at the DVD box or an IMDB page will tell you that Michelle Trachtenberg was on the show, so I don’t think that’s a real “spoiler.” By comparison, if I knew what HAPPENED with Dawn, or other sorts of developments, I think you’re quite right.

      Will do my best to find a middle ground, thanks for sending people this way!

  18. I think Joss is a perennially slow starter (which is unfortunate, since he hasn’t gotten enough time to warm up with any of his shows since Buffy) and that’s obvious in Season 1 of Buffy. It can be fairly “Freak of the Week” (what I like to call the “Smallville Effect”). But I love the show, and am excited to relive it vicariously through you.

  19. Tyler

    I find the idea of the “procedural” versus serial drama interesting when talking about Buffy. Especially Season 1.

    I dunno how many people remember back to when Buffy first aired, but to be honest with you, outside of soaps (day & night) it was expected that shows would function more-or-less episodically. Reset buttons were very much the norm, outside of cast changes or a “special two-parter.”

    Sure, you had shows before BtVS with ongoing storylines (then-recent genre-specific examples like Twin Peaks, X-Files and Babylon 5), but Buffy’s specific format–the self-contained episodes resolving while larger season-long stories resolve, too, and all within a larger and always-changing universe–was still pretty atypical. Buffy could’ve ended after almost every season and felt complete; it had told its story till then. I don’t know how many other shows I could say that about, pre-Buffy.

    Now it’s not so rare. But I attribute a lot of that to BtVS itself, and the format it evolved into, which is still my favorite way of organizing a series.

    • I definitely agree.

      I have described this as the tension between “meta-narrative” (the show as a whole, in this case, 7 seasons) “macro-narrative” (the season as a unit) and “micro-narrative” (individual episodes).

      BtVS “worked” for me because it hit all three of those levels: Each episode worked because they were reasonably self-contained (enough that you could watch one and feel some resolution) but the seasons worked because it mattered if you missed an episode – there was no “reset” button.

      On the other hand, take (for instance) Lost, which I watch and enjoy, but not as much as Buffy. For me, Lost never had macro-narrative (season long arcs, maybe with the exception of the hatch, and it “lost” (pun fully intended) sight of micro-narrative. Each individual episode in no way stands alone – sometimes, the only thing that pulls me back is the mystery of the meta-narrative, and that is frustrating to me.

      But I digress…this post is about BtVS…

  20. JJ

    Sorry, Myles, I just saw this on Whedonesque and now I’ll probably have to comment on every post, even though you were doing this ten days ago…

    You’re right about Dawn — I believe that Joss said something along the lines of “I thought it was the coolest idea to rejuvenate a show with a fresh, younger face, and then I found out it was a cliche.”

    You’re right about the overall-arc-ness of the pilot AND the monster-of-the-week-ness of the next two eps. The show gets better at integrating them. But when you’re watching for the first time, there are very few truly bad episodes. (I had a similar experience watching Angel for the first time, with a friend who was already a big fan. For the entire first season he’d say “Ugh, not this again” about every single episode, and then I’d thoroughly enjoy it.)

    To echo what others have said, you will be AMAZED at how many people/ideas/arcs that turn out to be critical to the series go back to these first few eps.

  21. Jaina

    I am eager to read your treatise on the genius of Xander. I’m sure you’ll continue in that direction as you progress through the series. If your current writings are any indication, it will be thought provoking and enjoyable.

    You are inspiring me to go back and re-watch the seasons. Of course that would require that I complete my Buffy collection. But, I’m okay with that. πŸ™‚

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