C: This post is about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seasons one and two; spoiler level negligible.
But first, you may be wondering, “why review old TV? Entertainment Weekly doesn’t do that.” Well, I think most people would agree that TV-on-DVD is a fabulous thing, which I would argue changed the way we experience media more dramatically than anything since the invention of the VCR. Box sets contain 12 to 24 hours of entertainment, and shows designed to be watched over the course of nine months can be gobbled up in a weekend. A series, watched in this way, offers more extensive character development and more emotional engagement than a film, so it’s no wonder box sets get swapped around among friends far more frequently. And one of the greatest things about TV-on-DVD is discovering shows you missed when they were on the air, because you’d never heard of it or had a time conflict or just didn’t realize you would like it so much. In brief, I believe there’s no statute of limitations on TV shows anymore, so there’s no time after which a review of one becomes irrelevant.
Now to the part where I make people angry.
For years, people have been telling me that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is awesome. “It’s so witty!” they’ll say. “You like things that are witty.” Accordingly, I gave the show a try, watching about half the sixth season when it aired. I found it less than witty. In fact, I found it – don’t try to punch me through the monitor, you’ll just hurt your hand – irritating.
A few months ago, though, Roommate 1 borrowed the first season from one of those people, so common among my friend group (and family – that would be E), who think the sun rises and sets on Joss Whedon. (You can tell who they are because they call him “Joss,” like they’re BFFs.) Roommate 2 and I grudgingly joined in watching, having nothing better (except lots of icky work) to do.
And after watching the first two seasons of Buffy, this is the conclusion I’ve come to. The show has really funny lines… once or twice an episode. The show has appealling characters (Xander, Willow), characters who would be enjoyable if they had more to do (Giles, Oz), and seriously dull characters (Buffy, Angel). The show has the stupidest plots I’ve ever encountered (Demon of the Internet? Hyena possession? Brain-sucking alien eggs? Really?). I grasp that it’s supposed to be amusingly campy, like a B-movie. But they try to play the character arcs straight and the plot for laughs, and so you end up with this weird amalgam where people are having emotional breakdowns over the hokiest imaginable stuff. Even Buffy and Angel’s epic romance, though undeniably tragic when fate split them apart, was poorly written and unconvincing when they were together. In short, the show does not live up to expectations.
Oh, I’ve kept on watching. It’s like empty calories. You crave entertainment, you watch an episode and yet another, hoping. Every now and again a really funny one does come along (“Halloween,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”), but most of the time you’re left feeling kind of baffled and unsatisfied. This show makes me long for the intelligence of Veronica Mars and the touching believability of her relationship with her single parent – for the gorgeous romance of Mick and Beth’s vampire/human tension on Moonlight – for the reliable banter and truly chilling monsters of The X-Files.
It’s not just me – my roommates are having the exact same reaction! So go ahead, explain it to us. I know you’re dying to. Just what is it that has you all so enthralled?
M notes: Not to split hairs, but TV-on-DVD did change things more than anything since the VCR… until Tivo/DVR came along. Just because you don’t have one right now doesn’t mean it isn’t the biggest change in TV viewing since reruns. Speaking of which, it pretty much eliminated reruns, changed the way that networks make their schedule, the and is changing the way advertisers spend their money, which changes which shows survive.
C rebuts: No, M, I thought about DVRs… they’re a big change, for sure, but I believe not as dramatic, because while they allow people to watch shows later (not live) and skip commercials, VCRs did all those things too (just less efficiently). TV-on-DVD allows people to conveniently watch multiple seasons of TV in a hyper-condensed period of time, and I believe it’s changed the way TV is written; overarching plots and more complicated narratives are not only more possible these days, but almost seen as necessary.