“You have an impressive tolerance for shit,” said one journalist (who shall go unnamed for now) to me this morning. I’m not sure whether to take that as an insult or a compliment, but after burning through season one of Buffy The Vampire Slayer on DVD in one day, having just driven from Cambridge to Bournemouth at 7am, you’re willing to take a few verbal knocks, as I did when I told my colleagues that I was starting my Buffy column this week rather than next as initially planned.
As I said before, it’s been years since I’ve seen Buffy, outside of a few episodes half-watched while channel surfing on bored evenings. Revisiting anything is always a pleasure, but particularly so when it’s a series that you watched so much when you were younger. Indeed, it wasn’t long before I found myself pre-empting what the characters were going to say, resisting the urge to skip some scenes and rewind others, and forcing myself to watch in order.
The first thing that strikes you with Buffy’s first season is how overwhelmingly Nineties it actually is. I mean, wow. From the hairstyles through to the ‘laptops’, or their spiritual ancestors and the dodgy old Apple Macs, there’s a charmingly kitsch, retro feel to the proceedings that’s just-of-date-enough to feel nostalgic rather than dated. The second thing that strikes you is how horrifically cheesy it is. “If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive” from poor Fritz in ‘I Robot, You Jane’ immediately springs to mind, but let’s not forget the immortal “Oh look, a bad guy” from ‘Prophecy Girl’.
Despite that, it’s still great fun. The cast gel together, the writing is snappy, if so overly emulated in modern shows that it feels almost tacky, until you remind yourself that this was the show that started it all. Some of the characterisation isn’t quite in place – Xander being a prime example – but overall it’s a fairly solid entrance to the series. It sets up the group dynamic well, and allows future plotlines to slowly take shape over the course of its 12 episodes.
‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’
Director: Charles Martin Smith / Writer: Joss Whedon
Air date: 10 March 1997
Acting as a solid entry point for the series, ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’ has a few great sequences in it, and it’s a well-made episode all around. It is horrifically cheesy of course, with the show still not quite managing to shake the campy roots of the film adaptation. In particular, a highlight for me is Buffy’s complete disdain for Cordelia and popularity in general, a major theme of the show.
Director: John T Kretchmer / Writer: Joss Whedon
Air date: 10 March 1997
Exciting and well done, but not necessarily as good as the first episode. It’s also a bit dodgy in terms of characterisation – Jesse is turned into a vampire and killed, but never really mentioned again in any great detail for the rest of the season (or, if memory serves me, the series). It’s understandable for setting the scene, but really.
Director: Stephen Cragg / Writer: Dana Reston
Air date: 17 March 1997
Buffy excels at these kind of funky little episodes, and it also introduced Amy, who would become (indirectly) a major influence on the show later. It’s a bit odd to see Buffy want to be a cheerleader though, given how she wasn’t too interested in immediately integrating with the school’s popular crowd in the opening episodes.
Director: Bruce Seth Green / Writer: David Greenwalt
Air date: 24 March 1997
This is actually where I started watching the show when it was first airing, but if I’m being completely honest, it’s a little poor. A giant preying mantis for a villain? Given the rich potential of the show’s universe, a giant bug is hardly the height of creative ambition, and it shows.
‘Never Kill A Boy On The First Date’
Director: David Semel / Writer: Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali
Air date: 31 March 1997
This episode was a little uneven, but on the whole quite enjoyable. It also marks the show out as being a little different – particularly with the boy actually getting into the power that Buffy has, and a nice little twist at the end where it’s revealed they didn’t actually stop the Anointed One from being, er, anointed. I would put a spoiler alert on, but come on guys, it’s 13 years old.