Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of the wittiest, most well developed, and consistent cult fantasy shows on television. Unlike other shows in the genre, it has been able to showcase a wide balance between fantastic character development, humor, topical plotlines, heart wrenching drama, science fiction, and horror- a horn a plenty of styles all in one 44 min episode. While entertaining, everyone probably can't relate to the technobabble machinations of a Star Trek episode, or the convoluted paranoia of and X-Files episode, but we all went through high school and whether you were average, popular, or an outcast, we know, we remember, all too well, the emotional highs and lows of growing up. Its something everyone can relate to, and its the central fire that keeps Buffy grounded.
But, Buffy began as a humble mid season replacement on a non entity network, and its early days when it was gaining its footing, starting its mythology, seeing how far they could tweek the drama and the horror with a minuscule budget... well, its not nearly the powerhouse it would quickly become in its second season. There are of course, subtle signs of the drama and humor to come, little hints that it was more than a teen show with vampires. And, honestly, if you were going to try and impress someone who had never seen The X-Flies, you certainly wouldn't show them the first season without saying, "It gets much better."
Disc One *descriptions in italics are from the liner notes*
Episode One: Welcome to the Hellmouth- Buffy Summers, a high school sophomore, transfers to Sunnydale High. There she meets her "Watcher" and learns she cannot escape her true destiny.--- Like most pilots, its all about introductions- Buffy the reluctant Slayer, her pals and soon to be Scoobies, spazz with a heart of gold Xander, shy brain Willow, her stuffy Watcher Giles, the mysterious Angel, and the snobbish beauty queen Cordelia. Also, of course, establishes the first main villain, The Master, and the Hellmouth, the demonic portal that would provide the show with its main mythological device keeping the town of Sunnydale infested with all manner of creatures for Buffy to slay
Episode Two: The Harvest:- A Stranger named Angel tells Buffy that if she does not stop the Harvest, the Hellmouth will open and the Master roam free.--- Whereas the first episode was focused on introducing the characters and didn't have much room for tension or action, The Harvest provides a look at Buffy having to accept her role as Slayer as she realizes the deadly consequences if she abandons her destiny.
Episode Three: The Witch: In an effort to inject some normalcy into her life, Buffy tries out for the cheerleading squad- only to discover the competition wants her dead.--- Important in showing that the show will not just be about vampires, and that the villainy will come in forms other than just "the monster of the week" but that hey will have some real life subtext, like overbearing, pressuring parents and the drive for kids to succeed.
Episode Four: Teacher's Pet: Xander falls for a beautiful substitute teacher who is actually a She-Mantis intent on mating with, then decapitating virginal boys.--- Call it the Xander episode, showing his innocent clowning and sympathetic geekiness, that he will be good comedic relief, as well as the guy you always route for, who will fly into the face of danger, but will probably get knocked out and fall down anyway.
Episode Five: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date: While awaiting the arrival of a warrior vampire called the Anointed One, Buffy's big date at the Bronze ends with an assault on a funeral home. --- Once again, showing Buffy's attempts to balance a normal life with her secret life as the Slayer. While a little weak and cornball, it also manages to show the villain thread well, how most main Buffy villains will have some sort of evolution, twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing.
Episode Six: The Pack: A field trip to the zoo turns deadly after Xander and a clique of mean-spirited kids become possessed by the spirit of a demonic breed of hyena.--- Eerily dark episode, showing how the series could take a silly sounding concept and make it have weight. Way before Columbine, this episode, while somewhat heavy handed, showed the danger of adolescent bullies picking on the weak.
Episode Seven: Angel: A moment of passion turns to terror as Buffy discovers Angel's true identity and learns about the Gypsy curse that has haunted him for almost 100 years.--- Probably the most weak, ill-defined character early on, this episode finally showcased more about Angel and gave his character some considerable fleshing out. Taking into account the large part his character would play in the Buffyverse, and the leaps and bounds of change he would undergo, his affect on all the characters, particularly Buffy, in one way or another, it makes this one of the seasons better episodes.
Episode Eight: I Robot... You Jane: Willow unwittingly unleashes a powerful demon named Moloch onto the Internet where he turns Sunnydale's computer crown into his helpless pawn.--- Call it the Willow episode. While obvious in its 'Internet predator' plotline and pretty cheesy. It was important in the growth of lovelorn Willow and in giving Giles a romantic interest. Worthwhile just for the prophetic final conversation between Buffy, Willow, and Xander about how will they ever sustain a healthy relationship while living on a Hellmouth.
Episode Nine: The Puppet Show: Buffy suspects that a ventriloquists dummy may be harvesting organs from classmates performing in a school talent show.--- Although an extremely hokey concept, it manages to hint at how in the future, Buffy would take old horror clichés and give them a new spin. Has quite a few good laughs as well, including a great Shining reference that leaves me howling on the floor every time.
Episode Ten: Nightmares: The nightmares of a comatose child send Buffy and her friends into a realm where there nightmares become a reality--- One of the first seasons best episodes, showing a great sense of character development touching on so may relevant things for every character, including many which would be developed into major plotlines, like Giles fear of losing Buffy, Buffy's abandonment issues, while also having a great comedic sense particularly Xander's typical fear of clowns.
Episode Eleven: Out of Mind, Out of Sight: As Cordelia prepares for Sunnydale High's May Queen competition, an invisible force starts attacking her closest friends.--- Another of the seasons better episodes, and a clever look an always pertinent issue, showing yet another sympathetic foe, those fringe kids who are always ignored, sometimes until it is too late.
Episode Twelve: Prophecy Girl: As the Spring Fling dance approaches, Giles discovers an ancient book foretelling the Slayers death at the hands of The Master.--- While a tad abrupt, this finale serves up everything one wants, tension, conflict, and turns you don't quite see coming. Pivotal in the series for all players, but mainly Buffy, showing that she isn't just an invulnerable buttkicker able to save the day alone, but through banding together her and the Scoobies will take on many a Big Bad to come.
The DVD Quality:- Fox presents some very nice packaging, liner notes, and a fair amount of supplemental material, much of which was on the previous video releases, but overall, presents a low cost, good buy for fans that is not without its minor faults.
Picture- Now I have read a few complaints about this. Buffy was filmed not only on a low budget, but on 16mm, 1.33:1 . What that means is that Buffy is very dark, muddy, and grainy picturewise. Even in its higher budgeted days it has always maintained its dark look, but in the early seasons, more so because of the equipment used. The DVD transfer doesn't go very far to improve this, which has some people grumbling. However, although Fox probably could have tweeked the image a little more, they certainly did a fair enough job with what they had to work with. At least on my local WB and FX stations the early episodes were 'swimming' in grain and gray, whereas now they are just wading in it. The picture, though rough, is far better than the previous vhs or tv broadcast, so therefore its the best Buffy picture you will find. Hopefully, in forthcoming releases, as the show gets better financially, we will see an improvement in the image on the future Season DVDs.
Sound- 2.0 Dolby Surround. Original English as well as French audio (the French dub is funny because the dubbers are all clearly in their mid-late 30's). Optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Certainly not the most dynamic series in terms of sound, the DVD presents it as best it can, with no noticeable flaws, and considering there are many WB stations that broadcast in mono, its certainly much clearer here than it was on television.
Extras- Another area of minor complaint is in the extras. One would like to see just a tad more, maybe an additional commentary track and certainly interviews with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, and Nicholas Brendon. Disc One- Pilot Script. I was excited over this, however instead of giving us a first draft with variations, different scenes, it is actually just the 'shooting' script for the first episode, so there isn't the fun of reading a first/rough draft and seeing the changes the show underwent in the early stages.- Buffy Promo Trailer- DVD ROM material- Joss Whedon, show creator and guru, intros to "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest", both of which were previously on the video releases, so nothing new there.- And a 4 min generalized studio promo with Joss and David 'Angel" Boreanez- Joss Whedon Commentary for "Welcome to the Hellmouth". By far the best extra, Whedon is funny and informative covering all angles very well, from the production, the inception and evolution of the show in its early days, the actors and casting, the benefits of being a low budget mid season replacement which allowed them to go back and fix things, change subtle nuances. And most of his comments are laced his sarcastic wit, such as they had the vamps morph into something demonic because they just couldn't have a girl running around stabbing normal looking people on a weekly basis, or in a scene where a kid is rejected by a girl, Joss notes how hit was taken from his own life, only he didn't have a witty comeback, he just slumped back into a corner for four years. Because his commentary is so good, it leaves you wanting more, perhaps a commentary on "Nightmares" and "Prophecy Girl". Like I said, this is where they could improve the second season discs, by having Joss (and crew) do four or five commentary tracks for pivotal episodes. Disc Two- Once again Joss intros to "Never Kill a Boy..." and "The Witch" that were previously on the video releases.- Extensive Photo Gallery, mainly involving studio promo shots of cast members. Disc Three- Joss intros to "Puppet Show" and "Angel", as I said, previously on the video releases. – Very nice Character and Actor Bios for Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy), Nicholas Brendon (Xander), Alyson Hannigan (Willow), Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia), and show creator Joss Whedon.
So, in conclusion,... sure, at first the image quality and lack of supplements was distracting, but as I watched the episodes I ceased to care. At right around $30 for 12, fine, 44 min episodes of television, it is a worthwhile buy for fans and the uninitiated. Its a fantasy show that gives a heart and relevance to its characters and its villains, and goes beyond being a creature feature or a weekly show just about the teen malaise. It is about much more, and the greatest thing is... the best is yet to come.
*It should be noted there was an insert saying Season Two will be coming in June 2002, but of course a sticker on the packaging also said "The Complete Fist season- 3 Disc Set- All 24 Episodes", which lets us know Fox wasnt completely on top of their game when putting this together.*