Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Week 2

1.4 Teacher's Pet
1.5 Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
1.6 The Pack

Week 1 of the Buffy Rewatch was off to a great start; there were lots of comments, and I think we got the whole spoiler vs non-spoiler thing squared away for now (if you’re watching BtVS for the first time, stick with this post and put your comments under it; if you’re rewatching Buffy, you can read this post, then jump down to the next one below it where you’ll find the spoilery stuff, and you can post in that forum instead). I’m just so thrilled to be watching BtVS again!

This week we begin some character-building... mostly with Xander. Poor, poor Xander. (Don’t worry, first-time watchers... for anyone who’s thinking Xander’s having it a little hard, we’ll eventually get to see things from his perspective in one of the best episodes of the series.) Joss Whedon often said that Xander was the character he identified with the most, which is probably why he’s the most well-rounded character right from the beginning. And Nicholas Brendon puts in a brilliant performance week after week.

This week we watched “Teacher’s Pet” (Xander is about to be used to harvest eggs for a giant praying mantis), “Never Kill a Boy on a First Date” (Buffy and Owen sittin’ in a tree... er... S-L-A-Y-I-N-G), and “The Pack” (Xander is possessed by a hyena). “The Pack” is considered by many fans to be the first truly great episode of the series. I remember the first time I watched it I was immensely uncomfortable... the way Xander looks at Buffy, the way he humiliates Willow (if you listen closely, you can actually hear her heart break), the way he attempts to dominate Buffy to show his manhood. It’s frightening. And brilliant. “Teacher’s Pet” is a little monster-of-the-weeky and not a strong S1 episode. “Never Kill a Boy” has some of the sharpest dialogue in season 1, and features that excellent library scene, where Giles is suddenly reminded that other students are supposed to take out books, too. And now I’m about to ruin Dickinson for you (or, depending on your perspective, make it far more entertaining, which was my reaction when I heard this): When I was taking American Lit in university, my prof told us that you can sing almost any Emily Dickinson to the tune of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. Try it:

A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,
That sat it down to rest,
Nor noticed that the ebbing day
Flowed silver to the west,
Nor noticed night did soft descend
Nor constellation burn,
Intent upon the vision
Of latitudes unknown.

Heehee!!!!! And failing that, he said you should try setting them to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.”

This week's guest post is by David Lavery (my observations will follow after). I first met David when I was working on a chapter called “Buffy Goes to College” for my Angel companion guide, because David, along with Rhonda Wilcox, had put together one of the first great books of academic essays on BtVS, Fighting the Forces. He is the co-organizer of the biennial Slayage conference that I attended in 2008 and 2010, and he is also the co-organizer of the upcoming Lost conference I’ve yammered on about a lot on here (now scheduled for October 6-8, 2011, in New Orleans... more on that to come). I worked with him on his Heroes book, “Saving the World,” and he asked me to contribute a chapter on Heroes to his book, “The Essential Cult Television Reader” and then asked me to write the chapter on Lost in his upcoming book on TV Finales. Dr. Lavery has been a Professor of English at MTSU since 1993. The author of over 120 published essays, chapters, and reviews, he is author / co-author / editor / co-editor of 23 books on Lost, Buffy, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, Deadwood, and many more. He is the founding co-editor of the journals Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies and Critical Studies in Television, and has lectured around the world on the subject of television (Australia, Turkey, the UK, Portugal, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany). He blogs here.

Now that we have two forums in which to discuss Buffy in a spoilery way and a non-spoilery one, I’ll put David’s spoilery comments in white here if you’re a first-time watcher (there aren't very many here at all; simply highlight them to read them if you’d like... if you noticed a weird white space, that's probably where I've removed a phrase). If you’re a rewatcher, move to the next post and you can read it in its entirety. And now, take it away, David!

“Can I just say one thing? HEEEELLLLP! HEEEELLLLP!”
— Xander to Mrs. French (the she-mantis) in “Teacher’s Pet”

When the episodes I’ve just rewatched originally aired, I was paying no attention. (You can read a brief account of my “coming-to-Buffy” in Season 4 experience here.) Nor have I ever been a big fan of BtVS S1. I have even been known to discourage potential future adherents to skip the entire season and begin their Buffy immersion with S2 (in the hope such a navigation of the verse would more likely lead to love/addiction).

My critical opinion of two of my three rewatchables was, nevertheless, high: I’ve long considered “Never” and “Pack” among the strongest from Buffy’s rookie season. “Teacher’s Pet,” on the other hand, I had filed away in my memory as a BBF (Buffy Bottom Feeder), an episode every bit as lame as, say, “Inca Mummy Girl” or “Beer Bad.” (I know, I know: judging television episodes is an exercise in critical relativity, and the worst Buffy may still be pretty good television.) I am happy to report that while “Never” and “Pack” remain worthy, “Pet” has improved with age.

That Joss Whedon half-expected Buffy to be canceled after only one season is well known. The series’ signature “flexi-narrative” formula (the term is Robin Nelson’s) — one season = the struggle with and defeat of a singular Big Bad, punctuated with “Monster of the Week” episodes — was a fortunate side-effect. Like most initial seasons of long-running series, Season 1 BtVS shows Whedon and company uncertain about a number of other matters as well, still calibrating, if you will, its most basic assumptions. In my three episodes the calibration is almost audible.

For example, Buffy’s Summers’ IQ is still in doubt. Though her verbal kicks are as quick and accurate as her physical ones, the young woman who will later earn an SAT score good enough to gain admission to Northwestern does not always seem the sharpest tool in the shed. Consider the entrance of Owen Thurman into the library in “Never”:

Owen: I lost my Emily. Dickinson. It's dumb, but I like her around. Kind of a security blanket.
Buffy: (awkwardly) I have something like that. Well, it's an actual blanket. Uh, and I don't really carry it around anymore . . . So! Emily Dickens, huh? She's great!
Owen: Dickinson.
Buffy: She's good also.

Even allowing for her smittenness with Owen’s Owenocity in this scene, this level of dumb seems incompatible with the intelligence Buffy exhibits in her smack down of a vamp in the episode’s teaser:

We haven't been properly introduced. (pulls out a stake) I'm Buffy, and you're history!

or later in the same episode in the following exchange with her Watcher:

Giles: If your identity as the Slayer is revealed it could put you and all those around you in grave danger.
Buffy: Well, in that case I won't wear my button that says, “I'm a Slayer. Ask me how!”

Nor have Whedon and Company, or David Boreanaz for that matter (who shows little evidence of acting ability until Season 2), yet figured out Angel. Though it is abundantly clear (as Xander notes in “Pet”) that he is “a very attractive man,” radiating “salty goodness” (Cordelia in “Never”), it is by no means certain yet that he is a hero. Angel in my rewatchables reminded me — nota bene: odd comparison ahead — of Kramer in the first two partial seasons of Seinfeld — before Seinfeld, David, and Richards realized the character’s potential as a “hipster doofus.”

Nor is the continuity precisely calibrated yet. When Giles tells his charge (in “Never”) that he always wanted to be a fighter pilot, the confession seems a bit odd coming from the Ripper of “The Dark Age,” and his insistence that he has no instruction manual is of course contradicted by Kendra’s knowledge of one (“What’s My Line,” Parts I and II). And what’s with the vampire look? All vampires at this point seem to be Master lookalikes. Later, John Vulich and company will go lighter on the latex.

On the other hand, Xander and Cordelia are already fully and completely themselves. It is revealing, is it not, that two of my three rewatchables (“Pet,” “Pack”) — from the middle of Season 1 — are Xandercentric. I suspect so much Xander so early in BtVS reflects a great deal of comfort in the writers room with both Mr. Harris and Nicholas Brendon’s portrayal of him.

I had entirely forgotten till this rewatch that “Pet” begins with a “Superstary” dream sequence in which, like Jonathan Levinson in Season 4, our beloved Zeppo takes over the narrative and becomes the Slayer’s savior, kicking a vampire’s butt, and then, in a “Restlessy” moment mounting the stage in the Bronze to perform. (When Buffy awakes him from his biology class nap with the words “You're drooling,” the omniscient among us can’t help but flash forward to Buffy’s own “minimal drool” in “Hush.”)

If Brendon excels as dream-Xander, he shines as well as the virgin about to be the recipient of Mrs. French’s eggs in the final scene of “Pet” and, even more significantly, as the Hyena-possessed bad boy of “The Pack.” (Like Boreanaz, the dark side serves for Brendon as a performance enhancer.) I find “The Pack” difficult to watch, genuinely scary.

And what are we to say about Charisma Carpenter’s role as the poster child for meanness? Consider her Principal Flutie ordered (“Heal!” “Heel!”) meeting with a grief counselor (after finding Dr. Gregory’s corpse):

I don't know what to say, it was really, I mean, one minute you're in your normal life, and then who's in the fridge? It really gets to you, a thing like that. It was . . . let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday. I think I lost, like, seven and a half ounces? Way swifter than that so-called diet that quack put me on. Oh, I'm not saying that we should kill a teacher every day just so I can lose weight, I'm just saying bright side. You know?

I am sure I am not alone in identifying this kind of black humor one of the things I love most about Buffy and no one brings it better than Queen C.

Giles, too, with the exception of his possibly inconsistent backstory, is recognizably Giles. Consider, for example, this wonderful exchange with Buffy in “Never”:

Giles: Alright, I-I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show.
Buffy: Okay, at this point you're abusing sarcasm.

Gilesish to the max.

Thanks to this rewatch I don’t think I will be recommending “go directly to Season 2” in the future. “Teacher’s Pet,” “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” and “The Pack” may not be my favortist Buffys, but they remain inescapable — like puberty.

Miscellaneous Notes, Queries, and Observations
• Buffy will give us several mean teachers over its run, but “Pet” give us perhaps its nicest, Dr. Gregory (“one of the few teachers who don’t think Buffy’s a felon”—as Willow observes) and then, in classic Whedon fashion, immediately kills him. It will come as no surprise in “The Prom” (3.20).
• Will we ever again see Xander as one of the girls (as he is in “Never”)? Take note, in a further act of emasculation, Xander (in the epilogue of “Never”) sips on a juice box in a very Andrew-like manner.
• In her attempted extrication from Owen’s interest in the life of danger at the end of “Never,” Buffy insists “It’s not you, it’s me.” Has Buffy been watching Seinfeld and fallen under the influence of George Costanza?
• In “Never,” we get the following exact duplication of lines (both, of course, describing Buffy):
Giles: She is the strangest girl!
Owen: (to Angel) She's the strangest girl!
• In case you did not know: Musetta Vander, the South African actress who plays Natalie French in “Pet,” would later play one of the Sirens in Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou? (Nikki note: She also played an Amazon on Xena among many other small roles in genre TV.)
• I had forgotten that key School of Whedonite David Greenwalt (an essential Angel contributor as well) wrote “Pet.”
• When the vampire (with a giant claw) runs in terror from Natalie French, did anyone else hear?
• Xander: Generally speaking, when scary things get scared: not good. (“Dead Man’s Party,” 3.2)
In “Restless” (4.22), Xander tells Apocalypse-Now-Principal-Snyder “how glad I was you were eaten by a snake.” On the other hand, I was really, really sorry to see Flutie eaten by The Pack. Wonderful character, played by Ken Lerner, the brother of Michael Lerner, the actor (yes, another Coen Bros. reference) who gave us mogul Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink.
• Some very nice indie music at the Bronze in all three episodes — a Buffy trademark.
• Perhaps it’s just me, but I would lose the “to be continued” ending of “Pet.”
• Television directors tend to be invisible. (Whedon would not himself direct an episode until the Season 1 finale, “Prophecy Girl.”) Two of my three episodes were directed by Bruce Seth Green, a twenty year industry veteran, who came to Buffy with an impressive resume that included assignments on the following TV series: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American Gothic, Xena: Warrior Princess, Babylon 5, Law & Order, I'll Fly Away, Swamp Thing, Doogie Howser, M.D., Baywatch, MacGyver, T.J. Hooker, V, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I. After Season Two (in which Green helmed “Some Assembly Required,” “Nightmares,” “Halloween,” “The Dark Age,” “Ted,” and “Phases”), he would never work for the series again.
• On the DVDs, activation of each episode is accompanied by a Buffy witticism. When you play “Pet,” Buffy announces “We’re talking full-on Exorcist twist.” With “Never” we hear “If the apocalypse comes, beep me.” Nice.

Thank you, David! He'll be watching the comments, so if you wanted to ask him anything specific, I'm sure he'll be happy to answer. Right, David? David?

And now a few more observations from me:

• “Teacher’s Pet”: Xander’s guitar solo. That makes me laugh every time (especially the moment where it cuts into it midway through the episode) and makes me think of a certain guitarist who will appear in S2.
• Principal Flutie telling Buffy to “HEAL!” and making it sound like he’s ordering a dog to sit. (And then, in a sad ironic twist, is eaten by dogs, in a sense.) That’s probably my favourite Flutie line.
• “Never Kill a Boy”: Giles: “She’s quite a good poet for...” Buffy: “A girl?” Giles: “An American.”
• Giles: “While you checking out a book should be grounds for a national holiday...”
• One of my all-time FAVOURITE Xander quotes: “So, Buffy... how did the slaying go last night? I... mean... how did the LAYING go? No I didn’t mean that either.”
• “I’m a slayer, ask me how!” (I have that button, by the way... thanks, Cynthea!)
• Xander’s Tweety watch!!!
• The debut of the Gilesmobile. Oh how I ♥ that car.
• "If the Apocalypse comes, beep me." Yep, Buffy has a beeper. I half expected Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock to pop up and ask her if she was waiting for 1983 to call. It also made me wonder, what would the line be now? "If the Apocalypse comes, tweet it?"
• Buffy: "Bite me." Me: "YEEEESSSSSS!!!!"
• The Pack: Willow on zebras mating: “It’s like the Heimlich... with stripes!”
• Giles reacting to Buffy’s news that Xander has become mean: “It’s terrible... he’s turned into a 16-year-old boy. Of course you’ll have to kill him.”

Did You Notice?
• David Boreanaz is listed as a guest star, which is such a shock to see!
• When Flutie was killed in this episode, fans were shocked and we realized Joss could take out anyone if he wanted to. I realize Flutie certainly isn’t a Scoob or anything, but he was major enough that his death was a surprise. It doesn’t seem so shocking now, but at the time, characters who were killed off TV shows were still mostly redshirts who had been introduced to one episode solely for the purpose of killing them off.
• I was recently watching a S1 episode of Supernatural where Sam was in a cage next to another guy, and it made me think of “Teacher’s Pet.”
• Willow saying that Owen can brood for 40 minutes is foreshadowing what Angel will become best known for.


Anonymous said...

The writers Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali would do many more Buffy episodes, but will tackle high school again when producing That Seventies Show.

Watching The Pack, while it doesn't specifically reference homophobia, brings to mind the recent horror over bullying in school and the It Gets Better campaign.

I was introduced to David Lavery once by my friend Kimi. It was like meeting a rock star. :)

Jennifer said...

I am SO in love with this rewatch Nikki! And thanks David for your take on these three episodes.

As I was rewatching these three episodes, it seemed like Xander was such a big part of each (which was fantastic). I was impressed again at his portrayal and the range he expressed in these episodes.

And of course, I love Giles. I'm a librarian and I love to see how Giles represents (or misrepresents) my profession. He's so good with Buffy and the Scooby Gang but seems to loathe anyone else who might want to enter the library. LOL (Although I've always considered that he was a Watcher first, librarian second).

JS said...

Watching Pack, I understood that this is probably what the rest of the seasons are like, and why it was so good. I was scared, and Xander was scary. And, even though trained by LOST to be ready to lose any character, I definitely didn't expect it here, and in such a gruesome way!

The Question Mark said...

I just wanna go on the record to announce that I've never seen either "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel" before, and I'm loving this rewatch because I'm finding it to be AWESOME so far!

I've been a big fan of "Smallville" since in its first season, and I can see where that show got a lot of its inspiration. There's a great cast of characters on "Buffy", including but not limited to the eponymous heroine herself (who, I've gotta say, is one mighty HOT slayer! LoL) Nikki, Buffy has officially becoem to me what Desmond Hume is to you ;)

The characters are great, the stories are fun & wildly entertaining, the series doesn't seem as aged as one might imagine, and to top it all off, the classic, lightning-quick Whedon wit is as spectacular as ever.

As a newcomer to the Buffyverse, I can't wait to see what this series and its spin-off have in store!

P.S.- And yeah, "the Pack" creeped the hell out of me!

AEC said...

I'm loving the rewatch so far! I wasn't thrilled by the Teacher's Pet episode (it felt very 'monster of the week'), but I liked the other two. The Pack was especially good- just the right amount of creepy/scary, and I totally didn't see the death of the principle coming. I was sad to see him go! I know he wasn't a main character at all, but I still liked him.
And you're right, you could actually hear Willow's heart break with Xander was mean to her. I felt so bad for her!
I'm looking forward to next week! Oh, and as a first time watcher, having the spoiler text in white is working great for me! Thanks for letting the 'first timers' stay spoil free :)

Cynthea said...

David--I too have started people on the series by suggesting a season other than Season One. I myself began with Season Three, so I very much disliked both Seasons One and Two when I first saw them. But I have come to appreciate both seasons as I've rewatched (and rewatched and rewatched...) over the years. Thanks for your input!

Lisa(until further notice) said...

Ok...blogger just lost my comments, so I'll use the cliffs notes version.

Couple of comments: nice of the PE teacher to really step up and stop the obvious dodge loved assault.

In Teacher's Pet, I loved this Giles moment:
Giles: This computer invasion that Willow's performing on the coroner's office... One assumes it is entirely legal?
Buffy: Of course.
Willow: Entirely.
Giles: Right. Wasn't here. Didn't see it. Couldn't have
stopped you.

Lisa(until further notice) said...

Ok...blogger just lost my comments, so I'll use the cliffs notes version.

Couple of comments: nice of the PE teacher to really step up and stop the obvious dodge ball assault.

In Teacher's Pet, I loved this Giles moment:
Giles: This computer invasion that Willow's performing on the coroner's office... One assumes it is entirely legal?
Buffy: Of course.
Willow: Entirely.
Giles: Right. Wasn't here. Didn't see it. Couldn't have
stopped you.

Ok, Buffy in those inappropriate length skirts is appalling.
Joyce really is slacking on the parenting job. When Cordelia bumped her in the cafeteria and she spilled her
tray, did you see her trying to pick it up? Not easy.

Alysa said...

I too am loving the rewatch! And Nikki, you've got such a great eye for intertextual references both big and small :)

Page48 said...

How would you like to be a crisis counselor at Sunnydale High? You'd never get a chance to see your family (unless they went to high school). I always wonder how we managed to get through school back in the day without ever being exposed to crisis counseling.

The Gilesmobile would be right at home on any Bad Robot show with a license plate sporting the always welcome "47".

For several seconds, Mr. Gregory is shown cleaning his glasses, which is something we often see Giles doing.

Two substitute teachers later, and Gregory's broken glasses and his jacket were still hanging around the classroom. The police investigation must have been verrrrry thorough.

In sunny California, Buffy wears a toque to school. Covering up a bad hair day?

In "Teacher's Pet", Xander was the one preyed upon. In "The Pack", Xander did the preying upon. Role reversal in the 2 Xander-centric episodes.

When it comes to her own pack, Buffy doesn't sweat the small stuff. You can be deeply flawed, socially isolated, and even exhibit some very disturbing behaviour on occasion and still find favour with Buffy if she senses that you're rolling with a goodness of heart.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

And moving that right to the other comment thread because I don't want to dance on the "Is this a spoiler?" line. ;)

Lesley C said...

Week 2 and Tuesday has officially become my favorite day of the week.

After the first 5 minutes of "The Pack" I was groaning in disbelief. Seriously, green glowing eyes? Animatronic hyenas? Then I saw Alpha-Xander (and the incredible acting job by Nicholas Brendon) and was hooked. What an overall creepy episode! I had a sinking feeling that Principal Flutie was a goner, however. Joss is infamous for killing off characters when you least expect. (As evidence, please see Dollhouse, Firefly, and Serenity).

Loved the witty banter between Giles and Buffy. Can you actually buy "I'm a Slayer. Ask me how." buttons? Where? And even though I'm getting hints that the Angel character (Angel Angle?) gets MUCH deeper, I kinda like the mystery for now. Apparently, judging by her reaction as he walks out of Bronze ("Oh, my"), so does Buffy.

Glad to hear the deliberate silliness/idiocy (Dickens? Really?) of Buffy gets toned down as the series progresses. I hated that about the development of Echo during Dollhouse Season 1, as well. I wish I had more of a feel on Willow's character at this point. She seems a bit meek - the brainy, quiet one that is almost always overlooked. I'm hoping that changes for the better... soon?

Lesley C said...

Some more (really random) thoughts:

1. The anointed one is a small child. Uber-creepy. Following that, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised over the creep-factor in "The Pack." Can't wait to see how its resolved.

2. The cliffhanger ending of "Pet" reminded me of several early X-Files episodes, which had lots of monsters-o-the-week.

3. I'm pretty sure we never get a long shot of Buffy dancing with Owen because that dress was so short that Buffy was in real danger of exposing too much when she put her arms around the neck of (very tall!) Owen. ;)

4. Cordelia! Crimped hair! Enough said!

Gosia said...

I'm loving this rewatch, Nikki! Thanks! Plus a big bonus at the very beginning - David Lavery! I could read anything he writes only for his language (I'm a linguist;p).

David,thanks for reminding one of the best Xander-quotes: 'Generally speaking, when scary things get scared: not good.'

Efthymia said...

I think "The Pack" is proof enough that season 1 doesn't have to be "suffered through" to get to the good stuff, but is pretty good itself (and I can think of two seasons worst than the first, as far as I'm concerned).

Flutie's death -the fact that it happened and, most importantly, HOW it happened- had me really shocked the first time I watched the episode, and it still seems a bit unbelievable, which for me proves how well written and executed the show is.

Am I the only one wondering how the Pack people (besides Xander) felt after they were de-possessed? We have the reassurance that our beloved Xander didn't resort to cannibalism, but what about the rest of them? Sure, they were cruel and pretty much a group of a-holes, but I'm positive they wouldn't have normally eaten a person alive. How did they go on with their lives? Every time I watch this episode I can't get this thought out of my head...

Ian said...

Figured my own observations were too large to post here so I put together some bonus commentary on my blog! http://ianklein.me/?p=330

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Ian, really enjoyed reading your comments particularly on Buffy's mise-en-scene. I also enjoyed the design of your blog site.

By the way, my ramblings are too much for the Nik at Nite. I have broken them up into postings but think I am going to give up the ghost. Unfortunately, I don't have a blog site and am not likely to get one.

Michael Holland said...

Okay, just have to say "Gilligan's Dickinson?" BRILLIANT.

Thank you, Dr. Lavery, for your Comments. Really well done.

So much fun to be (re)watching with fans. As Lesley C said, "Tuesday has officially become my favorite day of the week." Just like old times!

And, "I wish I had more of a feel on Willow's character at this point. She seems a bit meek. I'm hoping that changes for the better... soon?" Ah, so much to come. For the already-fans out there, imagine being able to watch these anew again?

Keep up the great work, everyone, week to week!

Cheers ...

Suzanne said...

Not only am I enjoying the wonderful reviews from both Nikki and her guest writers, but I am really enjoying reading the comments from new watchers of Buffy and remembering the joy of first love that I felt last year when I watched it for the first time.

Yes, Tuesdays have become my favorite day also and my 10-year old son's favorite day. He loves Buffy, too, and wants to watch more than the three a week. I am holding to the three a week, though, since I don't want to gulp my Buffy watching down the way I did the first time around. I want to enjoy it for a little longer.

Rhonda W said...

David's post brings the joy of the series to life--and yes, David & Nikki together make for great allusionary fun...

David Kociemba said...

Actually, I introduce people to the series in my History of Media Arts classes by showing them Surprise/Innocence, from season two, then The Body, from season five. The former encapsulates the best of the series in the popular imagination and the latter encapsulates the best of the series.

Of course, when I want to introduce people to Buffy, the best way seems to be to tell them to watch Firefly: minimal time commitment, great series and they immediately want to see more from this "Joss" guy.

David Kociemba said...

Lesley C: The season you're watching? It's so old it predates the use of DVDs for watching TV. (DVDs went commercial big time in 1997, but only for film. TV took a few years, even though the medium is much better for TV.) The first feature to use digital color manipulation, Pleasantville, came out the year after Buffy debuted on the WB. Hollywood started using nonlinear editing in a big way just 3 years prior, in 1994, with Avids, while the CGI monster effects you allude to got their big boost with Jurassic Park in 1993. That movie had just 50 such shots, however. And, of course, the internet was booming in the mid-1990s after it escaped its military-higher ed institutional bonds in 1990.

Buffy was a TV series airing just as digital technology was reshaping how you made, watched and talked about television.

Michael Holland said...

Question for thought ...

Dr. Lavery writes, "Whedon would not himself direct an episode until the Season 1 finale, “Prophecy Girl.”"

While this is true, at least from at least a credit standpoint, and probably a full episode one as well, we know that none of the Season 1 episodes aired until after all them were shot, giving Whedon the ability to go back and redirect scenes in both "Welcome To The Hellmouth" and "The Harvest" (which he did, to give them more of the feel he wanted).

And can anyone confirm who directed The Pilot (with Riff Regan as Willow)? I've always presumed it was Whedon himself, but ...?


Lesley C said...

@David K: Good point, it's hard to recognize sometimes how far digital effects and editing have come - especially in the realm of TV shows. I shouldn't have been so critical of animatronic hyenas since I'm sure Season 1 had budget constraints. Green glowing eyes notwithstanding, I'm still a Buffy convert. Hey, I loved X-Files from Minute 1 and there are some truly terrible special effects in Season 1 of that show... :)

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

My understanding is that Whedon directed and financed the pilot.

Page48 said...

Under "Did You Notice?":

The drawer in the morgue that Buffy opens and says "oooh..parts" is the same drawer that Giles opened a second earlier.

David Kociemba said...

@Michael... I should be dealing with Whedon's official directorial debut with Prophecy Girl. So, tune in two weeks from now...

David Kociemba said...

Lesley C: Also, they shoot on 16mm until season 3. Ever since I learned that fact, I've understood another reason why the third season felt like "their finest hour." Everything looks better in 35mm, and they made such use of that tech switch.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

You can really see that Buffy was shot in 16 mm during the first two seasons on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD's. Check out the beginning of "When She Was Bad". See all that graininess? That is 16 mm. Why 16 mm? Probably for the same reason that Whedon and Company could only build one school hall in season one or tended to use old school special effects. Money. Yup, academics need to put TV shows and films into context, technological, economic, and financial contexts.

Dale Guffey said...

Helfron said: "Yup, academics need to put TV shows and films into context, technological, economic, and financial contexts."

That's a GREAT idea for a paper! But why wait for someone else to write it? Sounds like something SLAYAGE would be interested in - check out the submission guidelines at http://slayageonline.com/pages/Slayage/submissions.htm.

Tove said...

Hello from Norway! I watched the original Buffy movie when it came out, hated it, and while the series were shown here in Norway, I refused to watch it. Then, years later, a friend told me I had to see it on DVD, as it was just the kind of show I'd love. I did, and she was right! Now I'm a fan:-)

Anyway, the rewatch has already reminded me of one of the most important reasons I love Buffy. Namely, how often do we see women on TV or film being strong and unafraid, without being mean or bitchy?

Many comparisons have already been made between Buffy and insipid heroines such as Bella and Sookie (Sookie is better than Bella, but the True Blood TV series do her no justice).

I mean, wouldn't you rather be Buffy? The way she patrols dark alleyways and churchyards. The way she stands up to the bullies in "Pack." She reminds me of the Swedish Pippi Longstocking in this, strongest girl in the world, not afraid to stand up for those weaker than herself.

I recently watched "Damages" and loved Glenn Close in it, but it struck me how the story here is "superwoman - super mean." Buffy can be sarcastic, smart-alecky, silly, but she isn't one of the mean girls.

BTW, Owen is a little reminiscent of Riley, no?

David Kociemba said...

Actually, if a student wanted to write about the technological side, we're always interested at Watcher Junior: http://www.watcherjunior.tv/submit.php.

David Kociemba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blam said...

Nikki : “The Pack” is considered by many fans to be the first truly great episode of the series.

I'm going to speak up in the minority here and say that I don't love it. To me, “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" fired on more cylinders, thanks to not just the return to mythology after MOTW episodes "The Witch" and "Teacher's Pet" but, as you noted, Nikki, some really choice dialogue. I get the significance of the character insight into Xander and how the shocking death of Flutie is more proof that the series will shockingly undermine expectations, but while I appreciate me a good one-off threat divorced from the Big Bad I didn't consider "Pack" to be a great one.

The cold open of "Never Kill" proves brilliant twice — even on rewatch, since I haven't seen it in so long. Once is the pithy vampire battle itself, the second time is Giles popping up to comment on Buffy's technique. And it has a mislead of its own, — a kind of (funhouse) mirror image of the way the start of "Welcome to the Hellmouth" subverts classic horror-film tropes by having the guy bite it, or rather be bitten, vy the gal wearing the fangs. Owen doesn't become vampire fodder, and neither does he bolt when he discovers Buffy's extracurricular commitments; rather, he's drawn to the adrenaline rush, and Buffy has to call things off not to protect the secret of her double life but to spare him its consequences.

VW: pacton — A subatomic particle that promises not to collide with any other particles if they reciprocate.

Blam said...

David Lavery: The series’ signature “flexi-narrative” formula (the term is Robin Nelson’s) — one season = the struggle with and defeat of a singular Big Bad, punctuated with “Monster of the Week” episodes — was a fortunate side-effect.

I like that concept, "flexi-narrative". And I think that the broader interweaving or alternating episodes / arcs that involve what's come to be called a series' "mythology" on one hand with stand-alone episodes on the other dates to The X-Files.

While all series with recurring characters have "mythologies" to an extent, be they series that used callbacks infrequently (The Brady Bunch) or explicitly relied on a driving narrative (The Fugitive), their prominence — complete with regular discussion of such by viewers and journalists — is a relatively new phenomenon that followed a similar development in periodical comics. Even after different editorial and creative perspectives, as well as the growing sophistication of the readership, found the dominant superhero genre moving from an unchanging status quo based on self-contained short stories to more of a soap-opera element through the '60s and '70s, it wasn't until the '80s that the industry moved heavily towards more definable "story arcs" easily named and collected alongside original works as what by the '90s were popularly called graphic novels. X-Men and New Teen Titans were fan-favorite titles that tended to spell their multi-issue epics with quieter or more idiosyncratic single-issue stories; then, during the rise in popularity of the limited series, Batman's four-part "Year One" ushered in not only a newly defined look at the character's backstory but a move towards "miniseries within a series" (from such continuity/"mythology"-oriented material as Year Two or A Death in the Family to more forgettable stuff like Night of the Beast), complete with distinctive cover dress. Sandman came along and melded the "miniseries within a series" approach with the rotation between multi-issue stories and groups of stand-alone tales whose impact on the overarching saga might be significant but only apparent in retrospect, an approach that inspired both other (often supernatural) series aimed at mature readers in Sandman's vein and a new breed of superhero series like Starman.

Although comics scribes successfully crossing over to film and television to an extent was not unheard-of, even outside animation, it wasn't very likely for comics writers to break into Hollywood — nor very professionally sound to have made it in Hollywood and return to, or just dabble in, comics — until a about a decade ago, so I don't know how much can be read into the parallel rise of this kind of "flexi-narrative" storytelling in both media, but I find it fascinating. Maybe it was just a generational, zeitgeist, natural-evolution, critical-mass, time-has-come sort of thing.

Blam said...

The Question Mark : I've been a big fan of "Smallville" since in its first season, and I can see where that show got a lot of its inspiration.

I think that Buffy made the world safe for non-costumed, coming-of-age superhero dramas, which opened up a whole new subgenre. Tights and/or body armor can be hard to pull off on a budget (or at all), which I suspect is a reason why The Hulk fared so well on prime-time TV in the late '70s alongside The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman whereas Captain America and Spider-Man didn't; Wonder Woman had the camp and cheesecake factors going for it. Smallville's kryptonite served as the freak-of-the-week equivalent of the Hellmouth, of course, in terms of an explanation for all the strange goings-on, which lets the characters remain in one area, age-appropriately, rather than be sent out on missions or roam the country looking to help.

And speaking of The Bionic Woman, Sarah Michelle Gellar's latest photos in the announcements of her prospective new series, The Ringer, have her looking even more like Lindsay Wagner than ever, which I always thought was particularly funny given the similarities in name between Buffy Summers and Jaime Sommers.

I had lots more comments pasted into a document for reply, but it's so late in the game that I'm just gonna let them slide on the grounds that I want to get caught up and most of my remarks would be redundant anyway. The conversations have been nice and meaty, though, so, once again, "Yay, Rewatch!"

Page48 said...

RIP, Mr. Lavery.

The Great Buffy Rewatch salutes you.