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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Series
In today's installment of you are old, did you know that the then-UPN show Buffy the Vampire Slayer quietly celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Yes, it's 20 years old. Inspired by the 1992 film, the show was received with initial adoration and better than expected critical praise, and exploded into a show that helped dwarf its cinematic older sister with humor and romance sort of in the same vein as the film, but bringing larger themes and conflicts for its characters into larger light, one or two of them being notable historically. With this time marker being ticked off, it was only a matter of time before it was celebrated somehow, and it has been with the usual retrospective ephemera; some books, some occasional ensemble reunions (usually partial), and a boxed set of the show was recently released once more…with feeling!
Joss Whedon (Firefly) created the television show, with the eponymous Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge) being your typical run of the mill teenager in high school. But she's actually the latest in a long line of people who have the ability to spot and kill supernatural creatures. She balances this with the arguably harder life of an average high schooler, with her best friend Willow (Alyson Hannigan, How I Met Your Mother), a nerdy guy with a crush on her named Xander (Nicolas Brendon, Coherence), and her advisor of sorts, a watcher named Giles (Anthony Head, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters). The group lives in a sleepy California-esque town which actually sits on something called the Hellmouth, where demons, spooks and other creatures hang around, and Buffy tries to vanquish them. They're mostly evil, except for the ones she occasionally has a a crush on.
There was a lot to pore over when it came to the life of Buffy. There was the high school stuff like relationships and school activities, but Whedon got the chance to not only work outside the conventional storytelling norms on occasion but handled them all pretty well. Late in the series, "Once More With Feeling" was late in the series' existence in Season Six but an installment filmed as a musical. The brilliance of the episode is not only was the kitsch of the material good, and the songs stellar, but it managed to carry on storylines with a couple of jaw dropping moments for characters that had ramifications past the episode. Season Four's "Hush" received an Emmy nomination for an episode where characters had to communicate silently, and against the background of two scary gorram creatures, also had a storyline where Willow and her friend Tara (Amber Benson, King of the Hill) had a friendship that went to a next level, in then relatively-new ground for television with a lesbian romance. It may have beat the WB show Dawson's Creek as far as out characters in young adult shows, if memory serves.
The evolution of Buffy's group through the years and the unfortunate exits and entries (I feel like if you mention Buffy's younger sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg, Ice Princess) that there is a reflexive shudder before they share their thoughts on her) is fascinating, but the evolution of Buffy as a character and Gellar's communication therein were also fascinating. Generally upbeat for the first couple of seasons and during a romance with a brooding vampire named Angel (David Boreanaz, whose Buffy spinoff that beared his character's name went for five seasons and 110 episodes). The character had a turn into darker territory, perhaps partly inspired by events that happened to people around her, but over the course of the show she seemed to come to grips with her place in the Hellmouth and the isolation that came from it. Gellar handled the transition from clueless optimist to skeptic very well, even as the story arcs around her went into different directions.
Other shows with supernatural themes have had an inherent curiosity and popular following associated to them, but Buffy was different from the others, in that it handled basic storytelling and character exposition so well and the main character so identifiable, that there's a reason why people remember it to this day. Sure, Fox occasionally does an X-Files revival (and full disclosure I like those 4 to 6-episode runs), but I feel like Buffy at the Vampire Slayer, the television show is head and shoulders above them all because it did so many different things and was good about them. The creatures and spooks are there, sure, but Buffy was about characters, and relationships and story challenges, and decided to take those steps with confidence.The Discs:
All 144 episodes of Buffy are presented in 1.33:1 full frame video, with each of the 7 seasons neatly packaged in slim packaging along with the extra tangible material. There's a little more silver/metallic in the packaging than the 2010 release of the set, and on the inside the show looks as it did over the course of its several-year run, which is to say it's a mixed bag. It does improve in quality over the course of its run but the flesh tones are natural, and black levels are decent with some crushing throughout the series. Film grain is present during viewing and the set is a nice document to production values in the era.Audio:
Two-channel Dolby stereo rules the day for everything, which isn't a surprise but considering we're at an anniversary point of sorts, is a minor disappointment. The small booms when a vampire turns to turn, the larger explosions, all sound good, but would sound better with surround and a subwoofer to help round out the low end. Dialogue is clear and generally well-balanced with some pockets of drop-offs early on in the series, but overall this may have been one of the last shows (at least one of the last in my memory) of the big shows that didn't have the ‘advanced' audio of six-channel surrounds. It could use some of it though.Extras:
The extras from all the seasons (One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven) are included from past sets, and this fancy boxed set also has an issue of the comic and some additional postcard art go with it. Wait, no retrospective bonus material with new interviews with the cast and Whedon? Really? Ugh.Final Thoughts:
Fox has released and re-released a complete series version of Buffy at the Vampire Slayer through the years since the show ended, so there's a pretty good chance that Buffy devotees either a) bought the individual seasons and have kept them, or b) bought one of the two or three previously released complete series versions sitting out there. So in that regard, unless you want the physical bonus material there's nothing here that you haven't already seen. But I know a few people who haven't seen Buffy before, and I'm going to give them this set so they can see one of the better shows (which touched a couple of big storytelling genres) that came out in the late ‘90s-early ‘00s, and the episodes that weren't just good eps for the show, they were good episodes of television. It was fun going through the Buffy-verse again and if you have the time I hope that you do the same.