Friday, March 10, 2017

20 years ago today ...

... as various articles have been reminding us, was the premiere of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was not an event I paid any attention to at the time.

I was never interested in the sort of movies that Joss Whedon was guying by making a girl called Buffy into a vampire slayer, and for many years television and I had not gotten along. Every time I wandered into the living room and caught bits of some show that B. was watching, within 15 minutes I was making so many sarcastic remarks that I would leave before I was kicked out.

So for two years I resolutely ignored everything that B., and my old confederate DGK, and various others were saying about how great this program was. What I finally wandered in to the living room and watched was the last part of "Faith, Hope and Trick," which was the third episode of the third season. It actually looked kind of interesting, and I started paying more attention, and gradually figuring out who the characters were.

The episode that really sold me on Buffy was "Doppelgängland," the 16th of the season. I'd seen the previews the previous week. I'd figured this episode was going to be pure fan service for the boys who wanted to see Alyson Hannigan in leather again. I rolled my eyes. But it was so clever, with Hannigan not only playing two disparate roles, but also playing each of them trying, and trying unsuccessfully, to impersonate the other. I can't resist that sort of acting coup, or the level of wit involved. (Not the only time that kind of wit would succeed on Buffy.) Meanwhile, I was also getting caught up in the drama of the increasingly unstable Faith and the increasingly sinister Mayor Wilkins.

I was hooked. I'd drunk the Buffy Kool-aid. Now it was the turn of some other people to be dismayed. As was proven the year an episode was nominated for the Hugo and almost all the voters ranked it either first or not at all, you either loved the show or hated it.

And, by the end, it took some effort to keep loving it. The last season and a half were spun out to lengths far beyond any sinew in the material. But, at its best, it was transcendently good. It's stuck with me. I've even quoted from Buffy in my concert reviews. ("Reduced to the compass of two pianos, the terrifying Rite of Spring makes the listener want to pat it on the head and coo, 'Who's a little fear demon?'")

I'll tell you my pick for the single best moment in Buffy. It was near the beginning of the musical episode, "Once More with Feeling." Special musical episodes have a mixed history in television. They can be great, or memorably awful. I wondered which this one would be. Buffy is singing her first song, "Going Through the Motions." Just watch it. It's at 2:08. And it rhymes. At that moment, I knew we were going to be in good hands for the rest of the episode, and oh, were we.

The articles say that Buffy kicked off a Golden Age of television. Has it? I watched Angel ... for a while. I watched Veronica Mars ... for a while. People said it was the show for people who missed Buffy, and I could see the resemblance, but it just wasn't anywhere near as good. Except for Firefly, which I adore even more than Buffy, nothing I've seen since then has matched it. Even shows I did tag along with for a while, like Castle or Jane the Virgin, just didn't win my loyalty. They offered no Kool-aid. We binge-watched the first two seasons of Orphan Black on DVD, and loved the acting, similar to Buffy body-switching episodes at their best, but felt bludgeoned by the screenwriting.

Sorry, there's nothing else like the best. I have complete sets of five TV programs on DVD on my shelves:
The Prisoner
Monty Python's Flying Circus
Fawlty Towers
and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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