The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a flawed beast. At a measly 12 episodes long, the season meanders, wastes time, treads water, and overall buys time with “monster of the week” episodes while it attempts to get its legs, develop its characters, and get some central themes going. When this plan works, it works very, very well (examples include “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”) but when it doesn’t work, it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth so awful, it demands to never be seen again (here’s lookin’ at you, yet again, “Teacher’s Pet”). But for all of its major strengths and weaknesses, the season does have one thing going for it; pure innocence.

In later seasons of the show – in particular seasons 2, 5, and 6 – the characters go to some dark places. I won’t discuss them here, necessarily, other than to say that knowing what I know, now, and rewatching this season with as fresh a view as can be possible (this is likely my fifth time through the series since I started watching it nearly 8 years ago), seeing the major conflict for the characters being nothing more than “what kind of demon will represent this week’s high school-related dilemma?!” and watching them simply stab a few vampires here and there? Its a heartwarming and gratifying experience. No major deaths (just Jesse who, really, is never mentioned again for the rest of the damn series – though, in a piss-poor decision, he was part of a scrapped narrative in a particular episode of season 7 in which the cast members talk to dead people. Would have been awesome), no huge moral issues, and no major consequences for any actions taken, by the good guys or the bad guys.

The characters really did come into their own a bit, but mostly just Giles and Buffy, both of whom we get to know best  – or, at least far better than the others – thanks to the roles they have  in each others’ lives. Giles’ turn as Watcher is in its infantile stages, here, showing a timid, cautious man that will, over the next six seasons, become a different person altogether. Buffy, as the Slayer, showcases growth as she struggles to fit into two roles: teenage girl and Slayer. The contrast between both “jobs” is tough for her, but she makes all the effort to commit to them both. These two characters would be nothing without the quality acting the people portraying them present. Anthony Stewart Head is just learning the character, but he has father-like qualities already in place. SMG, on the other hand, immediately gets into the emotion of her character, playing the part beautifully in many of the episodes that feature her doing anything aside from being sarcastic and an ass kicker. Re-examine the scene in “Nightmares” where she has a horrific confrontation with her father. Its chilling and, as will be the case throughout the series, all in the eyes.

The other characters, too, are well developed, just less so. Xander is a douche half the time, a quirky nerd the rest of the time. He is sometimes annoying as all hell, but other times he is funny and so much like me, in that time period, that I can relate to his angst. Willow is just cute. Alyson Hannigan plays her just right in these first seasons, showing a meek, nerdly little girl. Her character is, at first, a mega-hacker, but even the first season does away with this notion pretty quickly, letting it really only exist on the sidelines by the end of the season. Other characters include Jenny Calendar, who only shows up in two episodes (“I Robot, You Jane” and “Prophecy Girl”), but is an interesting female foil for Giles. And Angel is pretty cool, once he stops being such a damned creeper near the end of the season. Cordelia is mostly around to be hot and bitchy, but Charisma Carpenter does get some good development going in  the later episodes, showcasing a human side to the biggest evil the group deals with on a daily basis.

As for the bad guys in this season, really you’ve got The Master (who, I’ve found out, is featured in Season 8, the comic line. Never would have known!), the Anointed One, and Darla. In reverse order, these guys go from least interesting to most, with each and every one of them being cheesy and stupid. Darla – especially in respect to everything we come to learn about her in the coming seasons/Angel’s spinoff – is a waste of character. You get some semblance of her being crucial and important, at least to The Master, but you don’t really learn why, here. And, when you compare her to her later self, this season’s portrayal of her seems… strange. The Anointed One is more interesting, but pretty much from a presentation angle (NOT an acting angle, as the kid playing him sucked). The twist in his reveal, his questionable role in any and all apocalypses, and the fact that he’s – I think – the only vampire child we see on the whole show is cool. The Master, though? Mark Metcalf, as I say in every single review, plays this guy as such a hammy, cheesy, scene-chewing dude, but with enough aplomb to make it work. Yes, he’s corny, sarcastic, and a touch goofy. But it works, especially when you stack it all up against his portrayal in the season finale, where he finally kills Buffy.

As I’ve said a million times before, the production values of the show is where its hurt the most. Again, the rumor I’ve heard is that Whedon had to pay for a ton of the show out of his own pocket, so its no surprise that some of the effects are bad, some of the makeup and prosthetics are easy to note as being fake, and some of the actors hired are less than stellar. The music, which I’ve noted up time and again as being awful, starts to get better, as does the lighting, the effects, the costumes, and some of the other junk we have to deal with, but its not until season 2 really starts to pick up that we get into the “good stuff” (so to speak). Here, we’re forced to clench our jaws and push through, attempting to forget the lamer stuff (like that Mantis Demon) and just press on to the next season.

The show has many lulls and pitfalls in its first season, but it mostly does everything it needs to do: it sets up great characters, features some fantastic episodes, and develops the major theme for the first few seasons. As the show progresses, it gets better and better and, while its true the first season is easily the weakest – some might suggest I use the word “worst” instead, however – it  is nice to be able to go back, look at this episode, and be reminded up a different time. The light-hearted fluff of this 12 episode run is charming in the right ways, and just as embarrassing in all the wrong ways. There are episodes to remember and tons to forget, moments to look back upon later, and sequences I’d forgotten about for the right reasons. It was the start of the Buffy + Angel love, the start of the “Will they?! Won’t there?!” relationships for various characters. And it was worth watching again, these past few weeks.

Now lets leave this crap in the dust and get to the quality stuff!

Average Episode Rating: 77
Overall Season Rating: 80

Best Episode: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
Worst Episode:“Teacher’s Pet”

 

Hottest Chick: Cordelia Chase. Hands down.

Favorite Character of the Season: The Master

Call me old fashioned, but I like a bad guy that just wants to ruin the world. After these first few seasons, we get bad guys that want power or want titles or what have you. But here? We have a bad guy that simply wants to bring it all down around him. I respect The Master for this.

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