So if this is the first post you ever read, let me start by saying “WELCOME” to my series-long, episode-by-episode reviews of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You might not like this show, but I sure did, at least back in high school. And that’s really the thing, here, isn’t it? To see if my nostalgia blinds me from seeing the show for what it really is. Is the humor as quick as I remember? Is the dialogue as snappy as I really thought it was? Are the characters are perfectly developed, the themes as fully fleshed-out, the arcs completely realized? I talk about this show a lot, or at least used to, and it remains one of my all-time favorite shows. I own each boxed set of the DVD’s and have the series added to my instant Netflix account for on-the-fly viewings of episodes. But, while my love for this show is strong, the debate that rages within is whether or not the show is actually as good as I remember it, or if it holds up by today’s standards. As such, this is what we’ll find out as we move forward.

Welcome to the Hellmouth: S1E1
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: March 10, 1997

So, as far as “Welcome to the Hellmouth” is concerned, it is not a good start for the series (as far as holding up today, anyh0w). This isn’t to say that the Whedon charm isn’t there right off the bat. In the very first pre-credits sequence we’re shown that Joss knew how to tease the viewer with a good bait-and-switch. We’re introduced to a hapless dork and an attractive chick in a school-girl uniform as they break into a high school. Of course, the old trope of the damsel being scared and being led into a trap is followed to the letter, here, only Joss messes it all up by having the helpless girl turn out to be the vampire. The chick is Darla, played by Julie Benz (whom some might recall from Dexter, one of the Saw movies, etc.) who is an important character by the time the series ends, especially when you consider Angel’s continuity and all the retcon story-telling that takes place on that show.

If there’s one thing to note about Season 1, by the way, its the lackluster presentation of the material, as far as intros are concerned. The first episode – at least – features a voice over describing the value of the Slayer throughout history, backed with some random images of demons and vampires, action sequences, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. This a weak device for the start of the show because, mere minutes into the episode proper, the character of Giles states the same exact thing (in fact, he does the voice over work for the titles after a time). And the intro theme song by the band Nerf Herder is an atrocity, especially when compared to the quality of the song later on. Also, we have the old logo for the show, which is just crap in comparison to the one the series adopts and sticks to just a bit later:

Now we get into some of the worst aspects the show had for an intro episode: an awful dream sequence with dumb imagery and scenes we’ll see before the first hour of this seven-season show is over, set to some jarring screeches and horns; an awful-awful-awful 90’s soundtrack to compliment high school scenes, and some very poor CG effects (such as Season 1 big-bad The Master’s rise from a pool of blood later in the episode and the just-staked vampire dust vanishing, rather than coming to rest on the ground after a kill). It introduces characters in a rapid flash and some of them are showcased in contrast to the way they are portrayed for the rest of the series (Xander… where did that skateboard even go?). And don’t get me started on the horrible, gross language utilized by these California school children. An exchange (prior to the series first major SCREAM) between two girls in a locker room features such snappy dialogue as “Pos?” “Neg” and “main character” Jesse describing Buffy as “pretty much a hottie.” The show gets such accolades for being written extremely well, with the characters interacting in a quick-witted frenzy of one-liners and comebacks, but its hard to praise the premiere episode (NOT the pilot… we’ll get to that in due time) for these things, right off.

Other nitpicks are the fact that Season 1 (for the most part) is too dark when its night. Its hard to get a good feel for what happens in the action (which the premier lacks) and that the action music is far too synthy and – again – jarring. But we’ll get to that.

What the first episode does right is very impressive, though. The way it just thrusts us into Buffy’s life (the series takes place “after the movie” but it will also get a huge retcon, later) by giving bits of info while she talks to her  mother (played beautifully by Kristine Sutherland – one of TV’s greatest moms) and with the late, great Principal Flutie (who delivers one of the best lines of the first episode: “All the kids here are free to call me Bob.” “…well, Bob…” “But they don’t.”) gives us enough to understand her plight and her unwillingness to take on her role as the Slayer. This is of course assisted by her introduction and subsequent interactions with overly-awesome librarian/Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). These three characters give us enough bits and pieces to understand that Buffy kept her role a secret, killed vampires, and seemingly burned down an entire gym full of them, only to get booted from that school and lose her mother’s trust. Her reluctance to take on her responsibilities are fully showcased when she complains about having no friends, no life, and no relationship with her mom.

Some of the lines in this episode counter the poor ones, too, such as Buffy’s “Seize the day, because tomorrow you might be dead” (a motto you can see her live her whole life around, really) and Buffy and Angel’s first interactions (although it does show Angel as a real creepster, something that doesn’t really mesh with how we see him during the rest of the Buffyverse’s TV run). Speaking of Angel, we don’t learn he’s a vampire right away and there isn’t anything in this episode that contradicts that, nor hints at it, other than showing him being a creepy dude.  Props. And many of the things that date the show are now cute and charming, if not immediately embarrassing (most having to do with the lovely Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia Chase – the size of her cell phone, her seemingly obvious attraction to James Spader,  etc). Also, this season gives us The Master, the first major bad guy, a vampire so old and evil that he’s got more bat features than human, and never reverts back to his old face.

mark metcalf's the man

Overall, the show starts with a big clunk, looking back. I’m sure the show had a better flow when the second episode, The Harvest, aired right after it, the same night. But its “to be continued”  card at the end of the episode makes it kinda weak. It does a great job of introducing characters (how did I neglect to mention how incredibly adorable Willow is at the start of this show? Jeez) and letting them roll off each other and bounce jokes around together. We do get to spend some time in some of the more often-seen settings from the series, such as the school’s library, the dance club, The Bronze, and Sunnydale’s gigantic cemetery. And the central theme of subversion is present immediately, even before Buffy shows up on screen. It sets the momentum going but does so at a trodding, plodding pace. It does pick up, but its not off to the best start, and Welcome to the Hellmouth is not going to ever win the prize for greatest series premiere of all time, that’s for sure.

Episode Rating: 76

Kill Count: 2
Annoying Scream Count: 1

Additional Notes:
-It is
so long before we get Nathan Fillion’s preacher character on here
-Buffy wears knee-high boots to school! I would have had such gross dreams about her if I’d attended the same high school…
-The way the camera treats the band that plays at series’ hot spot
The Bronze is ridiculous and atrocious at the same time. Speaking of that… the band sucks
-Darla is so misrepresented. She’s scared of Buffy, seemingly weak in a fight, and showcases no greater knowledge of a Slayer. In Angel, this is contradicted. A lot.
-When Giles corners Buffy in the school hallway, if anyone else saw that in real life, they’d have reported it. It looked… questionable.
-Jesse is an idiot.
-That god-awful, huge, purple ring Buffy wears? Ugliest thing to ever be called ugly.

Giles and Buffy dance at The Bronze…