Archive for March 12th, 2006

The Great Experiment: Season One

I recently celebrated a birthday, and thanks to the awesomeness of a certain webmaster/temporary-Berlin-resident/boyfriend, I am now the proud owner of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With these precious disks in hand, I will now be able to complete a long-treasured dream: watching every episode of this show, in a row. That’s 144 episodes of Buffy. On 39 disks. Approximately 6,480 minutes of Buffy. Which brings me to the first in a continuing series of articles on The Great Buffy Experiment.

This series will detail the one-of-a-kind experience of watching an entire seven years of television in a matter of a few weeks. Broad patterns will be easier to pick out. Demons will be despatched by the hundreds. Hair styles will change at the blink of an eye. I’m hoping that such devotion and immersion will bring me to a state of television nirvana, whereby all mysteries are brought into the light and the underlying truth and beauty of the story shine through with chrystal clarity.

Am I starting to sound crazy? Then it’s already working.

Buffy is a show that completely passed me by while it was actually on the air. I don’t quite understand how that happened, because I am (and was) a huge dork, with lots of unrequited high school crushes (a staple of the Buffy universe) and a weakness for a well-placed pop culture reference. I think I may have been in denial about just how dorky I was. Or, to be more accurate, I was in a different phase of dorkiness. I was the dork who liked quoting David Mamet and Stephen Sondheim, and went to theatre camp and worked in a video store and was a manager of my school’s radio station. No one I knew watched Buffy. They were too busy memorizing all the words in Company or going to Ani DiFranco concerts.

Anyway, since the show’s been off the air, I’ve caught a re-run here and there, and I generally know what happens and who’s who and what to expect, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. It’s just so charmingly literal. “He’ll die when he sees me,” someone says, and then cut to a scene of said boy getting beaten to death. “It’s not the end of the world,” Mom comforts, and cut to the apocolypse. We all know that high school sucks; this high school has vampires that will literally suck the blood out of your body.

So I’ve started with season one, first aired in 1997. That’s not even ten years ago, but watching these episodes is like taking a trip in the way-back machine. First, there’s the quality of the production. It’s shot on 16mm (most TV shows are shot on 35mm film — like movies are — or lately, high-definition video), and it’s extremely poorly lit. Sometimes there will just be a black screen for what seems like minutes. “I think I saw an arm.” “That’s Buffy — no wait, Cordelia. Wait, it’s a vampire.” “Or nothing.” “They’re in the graveyard.” “No, I think it’s the Bronze.” “Then what are all those tombstones?” “Those are couches.” “There are couches at the Bronze?”

The other disorienting aspect is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s wardrobe. Oh. My. God. Granted, in 1997 I was still sporting baggy sweaters and lumpy cargo pants and Doc Martens (are you getting a pretty clear sense of the girl I was in high school?), but I just can’t approve of the high-waisted miniskirts and poofy blouses and unflattering tank tops and ponytails on top of the head and leggings. Oh lord, the leggings. Leggings!

But these are just the superficial aspects of the show. If you can let your mind rest and stop squinting to see who’s stabbing who, or relax your critical eye for fashion mishaps, you’ll see the show itself: a snappy, fun, addictive little adventure. But everyone knows this, right? I feel like I’m going into a meeting at work and saying cheerfully, “Has anyone heard of these British books — Harry Potter, I think they’re called?” Or out shopping: “I found this adorable little shop, The Gap. They have some great khakis.” Or “They’re this band from Seattle, Nirvana.” “You really must check out some Monet, he’s amazing!”

So… Buffy moves to Sunnydale, accepts her fate as vampire ass-kicker, and befriends Willow and Xander. Willow loves Xander, who loves Buffy, who loves Angel, who’s a vampire, but who loves her back. Giles loves books. Cordelia loves herself. They live on the Hellmouth, which is just a fancy way of saying there’s a lot of freaky shit going down in town. More kids die at this school than you’d think possible. And there you have it.

At the end of the first mini-season of twelve episodes, Buffy dies briefly before killing The Master, who has the best line of the entire season. It pretty much sums up what’s great about the show; it manages to combine grandiose world-saving with the way people actually talk and relate to one another. There’s a an earthquake, and The Master’s in his lair, spouting a lot of portentious nonsense. Vampires will have their day, feasting on the blood of the innocents, etc, etc. Then he turns to The Annointed One (a bored-looking and pretty useless child vampire) and says, “What do you think, a 5.1?”

Next up, season two. What on earth will happen next?

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