I have very fond memories associated with watching the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Since its Spring 1997 debut, “Buffy” has been good to me. I remember watching an episode of the show the night before my Calculus Advanced Placement exam rather than studying (I was a senior in high school after all–what was I going to do, be a good student???). I ended up doing well on the exam, and I also ended up meeting new friends (and a girlfriend or two) while watching “Buffy” in the TV rooms in Cornell’s dormitories.
What’s so special about a show that chronicles the exploits of a young girl who goes around killing monsters? Like anything else, “Buffy” would be boring if it adhered closely to a one-line marketing pitch. The genius of the show lies in series creator/executive producer Joss Whedon’s wonderful imagination. Whedon parallels Buffy’s travails with those of an adolescent’s reactions to growing up in a harsh world. In a sense, Buffy’s problems are young people’s problems writ large, the vampires and other demons physical manifestations of youths’ fears about life.
Some of you may recall that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was once a theatrical release. Back in 1992, Kristy Swanson starred in Mr. Whedon’s first try at the material. The film failed to find much critical or commercial success, probably due in part to its awkward attempts at mixing horror and humor.
“Buffy” the TV show picks up the story where the film left off. At the end of the movie, Buffy Summers burns down her high school’s gymnasium. Subsequently, the TV show finds Buffy (now played by the amazing Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her mom moving to Sunnydale, California in order to start a new life. Buffy hopes that her sophomore year will give her less headaches than her freshman year. She wants to get away from her past, but her past refuses to let her go.
You see, Buffy is the Chosen One. In every generation, there is a Slayer, one girl with the strength to fight the forces of darkness. The Watchers Council supervises the Slayer, and each Slayer/prospective-Slayer has her own Watcher. Given how dangerous her task is, the Slayer often faces her enemies alone. When one Slayer dies, a new one is “activated.”
“Buffy” the TV show operates with a couple of guidelines. Each episode is self-contained, telling its own story and ending with Buffy slaying one monster or another. However, each episode also contributes to a season-long story arc that results in a massive season finale. Along the way, we get to see Buffy and her companions grow older, wiser. In short, we get to see them become adults.
Season One lays the groundwork for the show. We meet her Watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Steward Head). Then there are Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan), the original “Slayerettes.” One Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) shows up as the school bitch queen, and a mysterious guy by the name of Angel (David Boreanaz) appears once in a while to warn Buffy about any dangers that might be brewing in the neighborhood.
The main focus of Season One revolves around Buffy and Co.’s fight against The Master, a vampire king. Sunnydale sits on the Hellmouth, and The Master is trapped in the Hellmouth. He seeks to escape to the surface of the Earth in order to take over the world. I’m not giving away much of the story by writing that Buffy wins–after all, the show is currently (2001) enjoying its sixth season on the air. Yet, despite knowing that Buffy emerges victorious, you’ll still be surprised by what the season finale offers.
Often named as one of the Top Ten Shows on TV, “Buffy” has become famous for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s costumes (once comprised of way-short mini-skirts but now mostly fetching turtlenecks), sly pop-culture references, and “Buffyisms,” words and expressions coined expressly for the show. While “Buffy” appeared on the WB and now on UPN, its limited viewing ratings do not reflect its actual cultural penetration. Every social group is aware of “Buffy’s” existence.
After a long wait (due to rights and syndication issues), Twentieth Century Fox brings “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the TV series to DVD. Season One arrives as a three-disc set in an attractive, blue, gatefold packaging.
Disc One: “Welcome to the Hell Mouth”/”The Harvest”–These two episodes were first broadcast together as the Series Premiere of the show. Buffy arrives in Sunnydale and meets Giles, her new Watcher.
“Witch”–During cheerleader tryouts, a girl bursts into flames while another goes blind. Apparently, there’s a witch who wants to be on the squad really badly…
“Teacher’s Pet”–Xander has no luck with women…until an attractive substitute teacher picks him to help her with a science project.
Disc Two: “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”–Buffy finally goes out on a date, but things take a turn for the worse when she and her date have to fight off the usual nocturnal suspects.
“The Pack”–For some reason, some high school kids begin to exhibit hyena-like behavior.
“Angel”–Buffy finds out that Angel is actually a vampire with a soul. This is where the two true loves share their first kiss.
“I, Robot…You, Jane”–Willow begins receiving romantic overtures from someone she met on the Internet. Who is this online Don Juan? We also meet Giles’s first love interest, the fascinating Jenny Calendar.
Disc Three: “The Puppet Show”–Something has been killing high school students for their organs. That creepy ventriloquist’s dummy sure looks suspicious!
“Nightmares”–For some reason, everyone’s nightmares are becoming real…
“Out of Mind, Out of Sight”–A girl who was totally ignored has become invisible…and she’s out to get the girl who no one ignores–Cordelia!
“Prophecy Girl”–Buffy must fight The Master. Her friends rally to her side, but how exactly will they save Sunnydale from The Apocalypse?
“Buffy” arrives on DVD with a 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) video transfer. The show was originally shot on inexpensive 16mm film before the show’s makers convinced Fox to pony up the cash for 35mm film. The video quality on these DVDs varies wildly. Though many scenes often seem excessively grainy and unnaturally dark, there are also moments when the onscreen action looks clear and clean enough to be happening right in front of your eyes in real life. The prints themselves do not exhibit any physical damage or compression problems, so the grain and lighting problems were all created during the initial filming of the series.
“Buffy” arrives on DVD with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround English and DD 2.0 surround French audio tracks. The DVDs’ audio quality, as with the video quality, also varies wildly. Most of the time, dialogue is loud and clear, and music and sound effects are well-integrated into the sound field. However, for some reason, the music during the opening credits seems unbalanced–lots of bass response, but the music itself, while clear-sounding, comes across a bit thin and weak. Also, some of the surround sound effects end up as just general blobs of noise emanating from the rear speakers.
English and Spanish subtitles as well as English closed captions support the audio.
Fox spread a couple of extras across the three discs in the collection.
On Disc One, Joss Whedon provides audio commentaries for “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest.” Mr. Whedon mostly talks about the surface details of the production rather than the actual mythology behind the “Buffy” universe. There’s an interview clip featuring Joss Whedon and David Boreanaz (who plays Angel), separately, talking to the camera. Mr. Whedon’s footage has been culled from video material available elsewhere in this DVD set, but Mr. Boreanaz finally gets to have his say about the show before he is permanently sent to his own spin-off show. Joss Whedon also talks briefly about “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” (these brief intros were originally filmed for a VHS release).
Other extras on Disc One include the Original Pilot Script (text pages), a “Buffy” trailer, and two minor DVD-ROM features–a screensaver and a link to the “Buffy” website.
On Disc Two, Joss Whedon talks about “The Witch” and “Never Kill a Boy on the first Date” (once again, these brief intros were originally filmed for a VHS release), and there is a Photo Gallery.
On Disc Three, Joss Whedon discusses “Angel” and “Puppet Show” (yet again, these brief intros were originally filmed for a VHS release), and there are a couple of Biographies (text pages) of the characters and the actors who play them.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is my favorite television show of all time. That being said, I have to admit that the show, rather than gripping you right from the start, grows on you because of the emotionally honest way that series creator Joss Whedon develops the characters. To say that “Buffy’s” first season is not as good as its subsequent seasons is no gripe on my part. In fact, I’m glad that the show becomes better and better each year. My first impression of Buffy was, “Oh, a pretty blonde who can fight.” Now, Buffy almost seems like a real-life friend–the writing for the show, being of such high-caliber, makes Buffy the most three-dimensional fictional creation on television during the late-1990s/early-2000s.
Series-star Sarah Michelle Gellar won an Emmy for her work on the daytime soap opera “All My Children.” As the finest dramatic actress on TV of her time, she has earned the Emmy for each season of “Buffy.” Yet, her peers have never even nominated her for the award, much less given her one. Miss Gellar brings a fierce emotionalism to the role, and her work on “Buffy” is really a performance for the ages.
As for Fox’s box set itself, I have to say that I’m slightly disappointed. The extras aren’t very substantial, and the lack of series-star Sarah Michelle Gellar’s participation on the DVDs seems a bit odd. The video and audio presentations seem a bit sub-par considering the quality of Fox’s recent efforts. But, for a show that began as a mid-season replacement with an uncertain future, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has done well for itself on DVD. I eagerly anticipate more “Buffy” and “Angel” box sets!