I'll admit (shamefully) that I had only seen one episode -the musical one-of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before getting my hands on this boxed set. I had to set by and simply state that I didn't get the WB network on my satellite, while my mother, sister, friends and peers talked on and on about what a good show it was.
Growing up on a diet of radioactive monsters and cursed creatures, the show seemed like something I really wanted to see. But it was also something I didn't want to pick up in the middle. I didn't want to be lost from the start. So, I had to settle for the plot summaries and pictures I could find.
Thanks to FOX home video, anyone can now understand what others are talking about when they mention watchers, slayers, Masters and Angels. The first season box set is finally available to all of the region one DVD and Buffy fanatics, and while it's not a perfect set, it was well worth the wait.
The set presents all 12 episodes of the first season in order. There were only 12 episodes originally because it was a mid-season replacement. The episodes here lay the groundwork for what was to become a hip version of the X-Files. Like the X-Files, some of the episodes center more on the mythology-or the Big Bad, as fans like to call them-and others take a more monster-of-the-week approach. I personally like the story-arc driven episodes, but all were entertaining.
Here is a brief breakdown of the episodes in order. They will, in general, be vague and not reveal major plot points for those who have not seen them:
Episodes 1 & 2: Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest - This two part season opener sets the stage for the rest of the season and the rest of the series for some time to come. It essentially picks up sometime after the original film starring Kristy Swanson and explains why Buffy has moved to Sunnydale. Giles, the school librarian, is the new Watcher who is poised to train Buffy. Two students at Sunnydale High School are quickly let in on Buffy's secret as well. The bookish Willow and the goofy Xander. Both quickly become loyal companions to Buffy, despite the otherworldly foes she will face. Likewise, this episode also sets up the reoccurring menace of the eons old Vampire, the Master and introduces other key characters to the mythos.
Episode 3: The Witch - After two episodes that introduced the show, Vampires and Masters take a backseat to a interesting look a peer pressure and the pressure that can come from ones own parents. Amy is a Sunnydale High student that tries out for the cheerleading team with Buffy, but both are left as alternates. When the other cheerleaders one-by-one begin experiencing difficulties, Buffy and her gang quickly realize something is not quite what it seems. Whedon and his crew easily take what could have been a simple monster-of-the-week plot and ground it firmly in the here and now.
Episode 4: Teacher's Pet - Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the next episode. It is a by-the-book monster thriller set in the high school. One of the teachers is not quite what they appear to be and it's up to Buffy and the gang to find out what is really going on before it's too late for one of them. Standard stuff, but easily still worth watching.
Episode 5: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date - This episode plays into the main plot of the season, but is also the weakest of the five that truly further that plot. Giles discovers a prophecy that states the Master's greatest warrior will arise from the bodies of five that will die. Trying to stop that from happening, the gang tries to investigate the newly dead at the morgue without Buffy, who's on a date at a local. As Buffy arrives to save the day from the predictable bag guy, we are left watching as a new character emerges as the Anointed One (the Master's Greatest Warrior). Said anointed one essentially stays on the sidelines for the rest of the season until it's time for his task.
Episode 6: The Pack - The high school is spending a day at the Zoo when something strange happens to a group of kids, Xander included. They become more feral and cunning. This group of students wreaks havoc on the school and it's decided they must be taken back to the Zoo before it's too late. Another standard plot that's made more interesting by the school setting and the similarities to real life groups and pressure that are often found in school.
Episode 7: Angel - Buffy's mysterious benefactor's history is revealed in another season important episode. The biggest part of the show is dialog heavy and well crafted and the action only presents itself at the end. An important revelation is made and one of the most poignant ending of the entire season is at the end of this excellent episode.
Episode 8: I Robot, You Jane - What could have easily been a silly plot is made all the better with an excellent set-up, the introduction of anther key player, and the continued focus on characters other than Buffy. A demon has been set lose on the Internet at Sunnydale and is terrorizing the student body through the computers. An excellent episode is ended on a familiar note with Buffy defeating the villain.
Episode 9: The Puppet Show - Giles is cornered into running the school talent show and of course strange things begin to happen. Borrowing a riff from an old episode of The Twilight Zone, a ventriloquist and his dummy aren't quite what they seem. Again, it seems like standard fare until the plot nears the end and the truth is revealed. It's another reversal of roles that keep the show's format interesting. You think you know what you're getting, but you really don't.
Episode 10: Nightmares - Easily the most confusing of the episodes mainly because of the dreams, or nightmares, that all the characters face. A little boy is making his nightmares into the real world, but like other episodes it's all not as simple as we'd like to believe. There are other forces at work and other reasons for the things that are happening. In all, it seemed like too many things and ideas were crammed into the episode simply because they could be explained away as dreams.
Episode 11: Out of Sight, Out of Mind - An ingenious combination of monster and social commentary make this another standout episode where Angel makes an appearance and Cordelia seems to be one of the gang for a short while. Something, or someone, is mysteriously attacking students at the school, but no one seems to know who it is. As the story progresses, we realize that no one really ever knew who it was to begin with and that makes it all the more powerful.
Episode 12: Prophecy Girl - The season is brought to a neat and tidy close without much fanfare. There seems to be too much crammed into this episode as several plot-points are struggled to be resolved in this episode. The Master is nearing the completion of his goal and Buffy is in fear of what her future may hold. She is once again uncertain of what she wants to do and doesn't realize how important she is until one of the gang is scared more than ever before. Perhaps they did not know if they would be back for another season or not, but this episode could have used another hour or could have been carried over into the next season.
The show is well done from the start, but it is obviously getting a feel for what they can and cannot do. It's great when done correctly and the mistakes still fare better than most TV shows could hope to do. All in all it's a great look at the beginning of what will hopefully be a continuing set of DVDs.
The Video: Is presented in its original 4:3 format from television. The video is perhaps not as good looking as a typical film, but again the show was in its infancy and still an unknown quantity. There is nothing here to detract from the viewing and the color, saturation and contrast all hold up well.
The Audio: Again, it's from the original show, but it is better that the average show. The audio is bright and the Digital mix makes all the sounds appear in the right places. You can't complain about the 2.0 Stereo mix when it's often aired on TV in varying formats.
The Extras: This is the only area where the set could have used a little more. The first disc offers up interviews, a script and two commentaries. The script is only a shooting script and doesn't expand on the episode at all. The interviews are culled from the VHS release and also offer up nothing new to the set. The commentaries for the first two episodes (Welcome to the Hellmouth / The Harvest) are easily the best extra and only make you wish for more. Done by creator, writer, director Joss Whedon, they are informative and often bitingly funny. He's not afraid to speak his mind about any subject. He expresses his love of working with Rats, the problems of having a good vampire, and many other great stories. His commentaries are great and would be a great feature on the other episodes. Disc Two and Three barely offer anything. Video introductions for four episodes are rehashed from previous video releases and there are photo galleries and actor bios. The popularity of the show and the length it's been on should have allowed more creative extras on these discs, perhaps there will be more on Season 2 if these sell well enough.
Overall: It's a great set that should please the uninitiated and well make long-time fans happy enough. The low price and the quality of the presentation help make it an easy decision to buy, here's further sets will continue this trend.