This week on Sports On TV, we tackle the horror/comedy/drama/everything else of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer,’ the 1997-2003 hit that catapulted Avengers director Joss Whedon into public consciousness, gave Sarah Michelle Gellar seven more years of television success and adapted a semi-forgotten Kristy Swanson movie into a layered, sometimes absurd and always worth-talking-about cult classic.
And yeah, believe it or not, Buffy had more than 20 great sports moments. I was originally going to supplement the list with a few ‘Angel’ moments (personalized hockey jerseys for babies!), but I revisited the show, re-watched several of my favorite episodes and found so many things to talk about I could barely fit it into a part 1.
If you’re a fan of vampires, good television or magical axes that give teens the power to kick through somebody’s chest, you’ll love this week’s column. Please click through to enjoy my picks for ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s’ 20 greatest sports moments.
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Episode: “The Pack” (season 1, episode 6)
What Happens: During a field trip, a zoo warden obsessed with the rituals of the Maasai people inadvertently causes the animal spirits of a pack of hyenas to inhabit the bodies of Xander Harris and a gang of bullies. Watcher and not-yet-cool-enought-play-acoustic-guitar Giles figures out that the transference was caused by a predatory act (bullying), a fact previously unknown by said zoo warden, who’d been trying to do the ritual and steal the mystic hyena power (or whatever) for himself. Eventually he gets knocked into the hyena pen and eaten, but not before causing a group of teenage boys to act out an hilariously heavy-handed metaphor by being dickheads at dodgeball.
Key line: “Testosterone is a great equalizer – it turns all men into morons.”
I’m in that vocal minority that loves season 1 of Buffy, because it skipped most of the character bed-hopping and shout-fights in favor of putting Buffy in a dimly lit room and asking her to fight a puppet monster, or a stunt man with Star Trek costume pieces glued to his head. It also wasn’t afraid to be SUPER OBVIOUS with its messages. Like, if Xander is struggling with hiding an awkward boner at the beginning of an episode, he’s gonna be fighting a giant penis monster at the end. Of course, me saying season 1 had obvious messages pretends like everyone in season 6 wasn’t wearing MAGIC = DRUGS t-shirts, but I digress.
The dodgeball stuff here is good, because even though its become its own trope, dodgeball only exists so kids can show dominance and be mean to each other. The other sports moment is the Sunnydale Razorbacks mascot, a baby pig in a football helmet and “razors” who is made as cute as humanly f**king possible so we’ll feel like dirt when he gets eaten. Also eaten in this episode: Principal Flutie, who was never as emotionally connected to the audience as that pig.
Episode: “Witch” (season 1, episode 3)
What Happens: Buffy, still new at Sunnydale High, tries to reclaim some of her former high school glory by trying out for the cheer team. During tryouts, she meets Amy, another teen desperate to make the team. Despite their efforts, the two girls make alternates on the team. Suddenly, current cheer members experience variety of misfortunes – yes, this includes spontaneous combustion. The Scooby Gang deduces that a witch is behind it all. As Buffy discovers Amy’s mom is the witch, she is struck deathly I’ll. Her friends come to her aid and help put an end to the witches ministrations, trapping her in a cheer trophy and freeing Amy.
Key line: “You have a sacred birthright, Buffy. You were chosen to destroy vampires, not to… wave pompoms at people. And as the Watcher, I forbid it.”
Cheerleading is serious business. Like, deadly serious. This episode is one of my favorite because it has great comedic moments as well as real drama centered around the pressure everyone feels to live up to expectations. Buffy wants to live up to her old popular high school persona. Amy wants to live up to her mom’s past. And Amy’s mom wants to relive her prior glory. This episode epitomizes the path of athletes – aspiration, accomplishment, and continuation of glory. While the tumbling and cheering might be habit dated, the issue of living up to expectations is timeless And universal – especially in sports.
I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up when I saw the mom trapped inside the very object that represented her former glory. She was literally stuck in her past.
Episode: “Nightmares” (season 1, episode 10)
What Happens: Buffy and her friends (who I refuse to call “The Scoobies” until they get a van, or stop in the middle of mysteries to construct, then lose enormous sandwiches) find that their worst nightmares are becoming realities — Xander gets chased by a clown, Willow has to perform on-stage (which does not involve her being caught or murdered by a clown … good job, Willow) and Buffy gets chastised by her deadbeat dad. The cause? A comatose boy named Billy, who is astrally projecting monsters and terrors because he was savagely beaten for losing a “Kiddie League” baseball game. Some people on the Hellmouth are crazy monsters, and others are just terrible people.
Key line: “What’s the fun of burying someone if they’re already dead?”
I guess Joss Whedon couldn’t get the rights to use “Little League” on Buffy because he was writing an episode about a coach nearly murdering a child for blowing a game. Kinda like how you never see Girl Scouts on TV, they’re always “Wilderness Girls” or “Honeybees” because you can’t write about Girl Scouts without writing about how stupid their whole thing is.
I like TV characters, because their “worst nightmares” are always things like clown attacks or stage fright. I guess you can’t articulate something like “you fail at your dreams, and you end up waiting tables for the rest of your life and getting fat and stuck in a loveless relationship with a bunch of kids you alternately despise and can’t live without, and the cycle of horribleness continues on forever and your family tree just arches and goes straight back into the ground.” If I was Xander, my greatest fear would be “always being Xander.” Or maybe “getting my eyeball plucked out by an evil preacher.”
Episode: “Some Assembly Required” (season 2, episode 2)
What Happens: Buffy gets concerned when her cemetery patrol turns up an open, empty grave. Giles thinks somebody’s trying to raise an army of zombies, but when Cordelia and Angel stumble upon a dumpster full of body parts, the pieces come together (cough) and … well, it turns out that science fair champion Chris has brought his dead jock brother back to life and has been trying to cobble together “the perfect woman” as a suitable mate a la Bride Of Frankenstein. They realize that f**king Charisma Carpenter goes to their school, so they just kidnap Cordelia, which leads to Buffy saving the day and burning said Frankenstein to death with a bunsen burner.
Key line: ” So, both coffins are empty. That makes three girls signed up for the army of zombies.” “Is it an army if you just have three?” “Zombie drill team, then.”
I’ve done a lot of Sports On TV columns for shows you wouldn’t think of when you think “sports show” — Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Glee among them — so when I told people about the Buffy Sports On TV, their response was almost always, “did Buffy have a lot of sports? All I can remember is swimming and zombie football players.” This episode features a zombie theory and reanimated football players, but he is very clearly a FRANKENSTEIN football guy, not a zombie. A Frankenstein.
Also, there’s a great moment where the
zombie Frankenstein is walking under the bleachers at a football game, looking out wistfully at the teams having fun, and all I could think on the re-watch was how awesome it’d be if ‘Friday Night Lights’ had a zombie B-story.
Episode: “What’s My Line?” (season 2, episode 9)
What Happens: In part one of a two-part episode introducing Nikki from ‘Dawson’s Creek’ as a Jamaican vampire slayer (who did exactly one great thing on the show, which was die), Angel sneaks into Buffy’s room and discovers her childhood obsession with 1970s Olympic figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill. He offers to take her ice skating the next day, and while Buffy’s skating around she gets attacked by a member of an excommunicated Vatican assassins guild. Or something. They were special rings, which Buffy thinks is a Super Bowl ring. That would’ve been way better, if Buffy had been ice skating and then suddenly got attacked by Larry Csonka.
Key line: “Oh, my gosh! My Dorothy Hamill phase. My room in L.A. was pretty much a shrine.”
Buffy was 16-years old when the show started, right? And the show started in 1997. If she was born in 1981, why did she have a childhood obsession with a figure skater from the mid-70s? Dorothy Hamill’s big sports/pop culture run is pretty isolated to 1976. Imagine if, I don’t know, Walt Jr. on ‘Breaking Bad’ showed up to breakfast one morning wearing a BO KNOWS shirt, yammering on about how much he loves Bo Jackson. That’d be weird, right?
The only things I can think are:
1. Sarah Michelle Gellar knew how to ice skate and they wanted to write it in, and the only female ice skaters anybody could name were Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and Wikipedia wasn’t around to fill in the gaps, and
2. It’s one of those weird Joss Whedon anachronisms, like when Buffy shows up to her first day at Sunnydale and Cordelia quizzes her on how hot James Spader is. James Spader? In 1997? Were America’s hot teens really that turned on by his turn as Stanky Hanky?
Episode: “Ted” (season 2, episode 11)
What Happens: John Ritter never died. It turns out he’s a robot from the 1950s, built by a wormy 1950s sci-fi inventor who tried to win his wife back by creating Jack Tripper with an endoskeleton. Buffy runs into him here because the robot’s mission has been to find, enslave, and ultimately kill any woman who looks like that guy’s ex-wife. He gives Buffy shit about her miniature golf etiquette, but that’s before they know he’s a robot. Anyway, John Ritter, robot. I thought that would make you feel better.
Key line: “So far, all I see is someone who supposedly has a good job, and is nice and polite, and my mother really likes him.” “What kind of a monster is he?”
“Ted” has always been one of my favorite episodes of Buffy, not only because of John Ritter, but because of all the wells Buffy went back to (something equals drugs, Buffy getting sexually assaulted, etc.), 50s science fiction homages weren’t one of them. The idea of a robot created with love who goes crazy and secretly kills ladies after badgering them their children to death with condescending advice is amazing, and way more interesting to me than whether or not Spike can have buttsex with an invisible lady.
Also, Buffy playing miniature golf is great. She just rears back and destroys the ball. She should’ve attacked the clown hole with her putter, then should’ve taken off her skate in the ice skating episode and tried to stab someone.
Episode: “Superstar” (season 4, episode 17)
What Happens: Secondary nobody character Jonathan figures out how to cast an augmentation spell that makes everyone else on the show love and adore him. Suddenly he’s great at sports, is a chessmaster, has a series of comic books (and hockey cards!) and is the go-to man for Buffy and her friends whenever trouble starts. The only problem is that the trouble is a demon, created by Jonathan’s augmentation spell, and if that demon is destroyed, so is Jonathan’s amazing life. Come on, guys, his spell got him temporarily inserted into the opening credits! You can’t take that away from a guy!
The real “sports moment” of the episode, however, is when oddly-hairless Buffy boyfriend Riley Finn plays a little Nerf basketball without his shirt on. I’d say this was “for the ladies,” but what self-respecting lady sees Riley’s weird hip-hugger jeans body and thinks “yeah, I wanna rub up against a Ken doll with an average dude’s face and the personality of a rake!”
Key line: “Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books.”
I couldn’t get a great shot of it, but Jonathan’s Ultra Pro 9-Pocket of sports cards is the best:
By the way, you know a writer has created a hacky “All-American guy” when they decide to name him after Huck Finn. Finn Hudson, I’m looking in YOUR direction.
Episode: “Him” (season 7, episode 6)
What Happens: Quick, raise your hand if you want to read the synopsis of a Dawn episode.
Key line: “Xander, be honest. You didn’t, you know, think about slipping that jacket on a little bit?” “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it didn’t fit.”
Okay, sorry. Season 7 Sunnydale High starting quarterback R.J. has a magical letterman jacket that makes every woman on the show fall in love with him, including Dawn, Buffy and Anya, who is inspired by passion to rob a bank. It also causes Willow to do this horrible, against-character thing where she’s in love with R.J., but has to turn him into a woman because she’s gay, which sorta devalues the connection she had with Tara where she loved her for who she was and not for what equipment she had and turned it into a jokey thing about how lesbians hate men, but whatever.
The episode does have a pretty spectacular conclusion, which is just Xander and Spike jumping the kid, stealing his jacket and burning it in a fireplace. Some monster stories have a pretty straight-forward endgame.
In a related story, every time I see this episode’s title, I get sad that it’s not this HIM.
/gets to work on Powerpuff Girls Sports On TV
Episode: “Dead Man’s Party” (season 3, episode 2)
What Happens: In the best-ever episode of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ named after an Oingo Boingo album, Buffy’s mother brings home a Nigerian mask that contains the powers of the zombie demon Ovu Mobani and causes dead cats (and people) from around Sunnydale to rise and start attacking, as zombies do. The gang eventually realizes that whoever wears the mask BECOMES Ovu Mobani, and stops him by killing him in the eye with a shovel. One of those zombies is a cheerleader, who I guess was buried in her Sunnydale cheerleading uniform, and she’s hilarious for a few reasons.
Key line: “Nice pet, Giles. Don’t you like anything regular? Golf, USA Today, or anything?”
I think the key line is more of a sports moment than the zombie cheerleader, and I almost didn’t include her on the list (I mean, SlayerFest ’98 is right there), but the preparatory re-watch sealed it.
I love the zombie cheerleader. You can tell she’s just an extra with no idea how to “be a zombie,” so she just kinda stands there with her arms out while other zombies attack. At one point, she’s trying to get in through the kitchen window, and Xander has to act afraid of her. She doesn’t actually go THROUGH the window, she’s just about navel-deep into it, waving her arms around. We cut away, and when we cut BACK to the kitchen, that window is closed, and zombie cheerleader is nowhere to be found. Xander seriously stopped her by CLOSING THE WINDOW. A little later, when zombies break through the front door, zombie cheerleader reemerges, still trying to get in through the window. Precious. No wonder she didn’t make it through her teens without dying.
(Guest contributor FembotDanielle)
Episode: “The I In Team” (season 4, episode 13)
What Happens: Habitual shower masturbator Carly has a passionate and seductive love affair with Zeke, unaware Zeke has secretly wired the apartment building with hidden cameras and he has been watching the lives of each tenant living in the apartment building, including her. No, wait … that’s the plot to Sliver. Ehhhh, close enough.
In this episode, Buffy begins working with the government-backed Initiative. Professor Walsh feels that Buffy is a threat to both the Initiative, as well as her semi-secret plans to create a series of bio-mechanical demonoid super soldiers. The mother-son relationship between Riley and Professor Walsh also takes a turn for the squicky as Walsh does her best Billy Baldwin impression, “monitoring” Riley as he and Buffy have aggressive post-demon hunting sex. Beepers are still a thing, Willow and Tara get closer, and the Big Bad for season 4 is revealed. Oh, and Walsh sets up an elaborate scheme to kill Buffy because she wants to
take a train to Bone Town protect Riley.
Key line: “I implore you, Neisa, blessed goddess of chance and fortune, heed my call: Send to me the heart I desire …”
This is one of those episodes that’s written so you can basically learn all you need to know about each character before the theme song even kicks in. I picked this episode because “Anya playing poker” was the description, and hey, who doesn’t want in on that action? My choice was immediately followed by a frantic email asking to trade once I remembered which episode it actually was. Buffy is at her most obnoxious, Riley exudes the charm and sex appeal of a stick of unsalted butter, and Professor Walsh gives us all a firsthand lesson in psychoanalytic theory by illustrating the dangers of a Jocasta Complex. Were this an entirely different Brandon column, it would read: Best – Anya learns to play poker and alludes to enjoying moderately kinky sex. Worst – Everything else.
At this point I should address the “sport” of poker playing, but I have to admit that I am not actually good at it, and do not 100% know the rules. I am the person who has a cheat sheet of what hand beats what next to them, but still takes all of your money because I am both very good at bluffing, and also I forgot that sheet so why wouldn’t I realistically think my pair of eights can beat you? I also Googled ‘poker related puns’ because I don’t know enough to make them myself. So really, the only things I can take away are that Anya and I have more in common than I should be admitting on the internet, and that when Vampires play poker, they play HIGH STAKES. Get it? Get it? Thanks to the internet and an extensive knowledge of Vampires in popular culture, I do!
Episode: “Life Serial” (season 6, episode 5)
What Happens: After returning from a visit with Angel, Buffy tries for the 879th time to Be Normal. However, because she’s Buffy, any problem that can’t be solved by punching it in the face kind of leaves her at a loss. As a result, she completely whiffs at fake-attending college with Willow and Tara, and gets immediately fired from her job as an adorable construction worker. Meanwhile, season 6 villians The Trio (Warren, Andrew, and a pre-Emmy Jonathan) implant Buffy with a device that causes time to speed up, slow down and repeat itself. In an attempt to gather information, Buffy gets schmammered with Spike and accompanies him to a backroom demon-run poker game where the currency is kittens and the participants all look like the clearance rack of one of those Halloween stores that crop up in abandoned Circuit Cities.
Key line: “So who wants to advance me a tiny tabby, get me started? C’mon, someone’s gotta stake me.” “I’ll do it.”
Getting past the central conceit of, “isn’t it hilarious that these demons are presumably going to do horrible things to house cats?” the weirdest part of this scene is drunk Buffy just kind of hanging out. This episode happened in the weird dead zone (no pun intended) between when Spike stopped being a completely useless add-on, but before he and Buffy humped a building down. Some fans thought the Spike/Buffy pairing effectively killed the show; some loved it. I won’t say where I my opinions lie. What I will say that high school was lonely, I used to read a lot of fan fiction, and if I ever meet James Marsters I probably won’t be able to look him in the eye.
On a less awkward and sad note, this scene also marked the first appearance of Clem, a demon who looked like one of those sphynx cats mated with Barf from Space Balls.
Episode: “Revelations” (season 3, episode 7)
What Happens: A few episodes into season 3, Faith and Xander realize that Angel (the guy who spent the second half of the previous season trying to torture and murder everybody) is still alive. To handle the news, Xander goes to The Bronze, the sports (and music, and rafters anal, and everything else) epicenter of Sunnydale to work out his frustrations with some ANGRY ASS BILLIARDS. It’s my favorite pool-related moment on the show, right ahead of that moment in “The Wish” where the vampires strap their human victims to the tables, and every other episode of ‘Buffy’ where somebody at the Bronze gets a pool cue smashed across their bag or jabbed into their heart.
Key line: “She says he’s clean.” “Yeah, well, I say we can’t afford to find out. I say I deal with this problem right now. I say I slay.” “Can I come?”
Every good show needs a confrontational billiards scene. ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’ had Uncle Phil breaking out ‘Lucille,’ ‘Full House’ had Danny pool-sharking Uncle Jesse, ‘The Brady Bunch’ had Bobby Brady hustling everyone in his family … hell, even ‘Boy Meets World’ had Eric Matthews be a legit (?) Mexican billiards champion.
‘Buffy’ didn’t have any pool hustling moments, but it did allow Xander to suddenly be masculine and good at sports when he needed to show anger. My theory: Faith/Eliza Dushku was so hot circa 1999 that anyone standing near her became the f**king Dos Equis guy. But yeah, poor The Bronze, always having to replace their pool cues. Maybe they had it in with the billiards impresario of southern California or whatever, and that’s how they were the only bar in Sunnydale. That city had an AIRPORT and only one bar? And it’s full of TEENS? Come on.
(Guest contributor Bill Hanstock)
Episode: “Go Fish” (season 2, episode 20)
What Happens: Members of the swim team are getting dead, so Xander joins the swim team to investigate. The end reveal of the episode ends up having a lot less Hellmouth-y origins than you would expect given that there are FISH MONSTER MEN doing all of the killing. There were a lot of episodes in the first two seasons that traded heavily in the whole Universal Monster aesthetic and this was the ‘Buffy’ homage to Creature from the Black Lagoon. Kinda.
Key line: “Well, all I know is, my cheerleading squad wasted a lot of pep on losers. It’s about time our school excelled at something.”
What’s more notable in this episode (perhaps … the most notable?) is that this is the episode that attempted to make/actually made Xander into some beefcake. Even for the edgy late-90s, this episode kind of stands out for unabashedly giving Nicholas Brendon some Mulvey-level Male Gaze and allowing the characters to drool over him in a Speedo. This wasn’t your standard “hunky stud taking his shirt off at a construction site” Diet Coke commercial; this was simply, “Hey, I never considered wanting to have sex with this dude before, but you can see his whole dong oh my goodness.”
In other words, this is one of my favorite episodes.
Episode: “Graduation Day, Part One” (season 3, episode 21)
What Happens: In her first appearance (in “The Wish”), Anya was the vengeance demon Anyanka, sent to destroy Xander Harris for his relationship wrong-doings. By “Graduation Day, Part One,” Anya is a powerless mortal, and she’d kinda like to go on a date with him. She tries to entice him with a little conversation about sports, but he’s too concerned about the whole “Mayor of Sunnydale ascending at their graduation ceremony, becoming a pure demon and murdering everybody in town” thing and blows her off. But still, she’s pretty right-on about the sports.
Key line: “Men like sports. I’m sure of it.”
Xander’s response is typically Xandery: “Yes. Men like sports. Men watch the action movie, they eat of the beef, and they enjoy to look at the bosoms. A thousand years of avenging our wrongs, and that’s all you’ve learned?”
This is only tangentially-related to the moment, but real-life Anya (Emma Caulfield) married, then divorced a guy named “Cornelius Grobbelaar.” I didn’t run that through a Harry Potter character generator, that is his actual name. There is no way a dude named Cornelius Grobbelaar likes sports. “Yeah honey, I’ll be back later, I’m gonna head up to the sports bar and have a few drinks and eat a few wings and watch the Steelers game with f**king CORNELIUS GROBBELAAR.”
So maybe she was totally wrong about the sports. Or maybe she just has terrible taste in men.
Episode: “Once More With Feeling” (season 6, season 7)
What Happens: Because stuff like this happens in Sunnydale, a demon is summoned who makes everyone break out into song, and dance until they catch fire and die. Spoiler alert: It’s Xander’s fault. Anyway, “Once More With Feeling” is a musical episode, six whole years before the hacks at ‘Scrubs’ gave it a shot, and features a lot of solid musical performances: Tara spins around in a park singing about magic, Buffy sings about how bored she’s gotten stabbing dead people in the chest and Willow … uh, tries her best. The best musical number comes from Giles, who is well into his LOOK HOW ADULT CONTEMPORARY SEXY ANTHONY HEAD IS phase, singing about how he’d like to help Buffy get better, but he’s only holding her back. Somewhere back in 2001, a few million hilariously uncool girls swoon in unison. Also probably 21-year old me, because I’m not gonna front.
Key line: I can’t find a good clip of the scene (because thanks, Internet), but here’s the song, throwing knife foley sounds and all:
“Once More With Feeling” is a pretty amazing episode of television from beginning to end, and it’s available on Netflix Instant, just like the rest of the show. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the episodes you should experience whether you watch the show or not, alongside “Hush,” “The Body,” and whichever episode it is where you find out Xander has a Tweety Bird watch.
(Guest contributor FembotDanielle)
Episode: “Earshot” (season 3, episode 18)
What Happens: Buffy slays one of two mouthless demons, only to be infected by its phosphorescent special effects blood. The infection, besides causing a nasty rash that Buffy really shouldn’t be picking at, eventually causes part of the demon to manifest itself in the host. Is it horns? A tail? A demon penis? Nope, just telepathic powers that seem fun at first, but would eventually drive her to a life of insanity and total seclusion. Oh, if only we could only be so lucky. We get to hear Sunnydale student and faculty’s innermost thoughts, affirming that teenage boys only think about sex, Wesley’s character started out super creepy, and a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before have thoughts that will never be important ever again. There is a pep rally for the school’s basketball team, Buffy does some crazy parkour moves in broad daylight, casually betraying that she was just another boring regular kid, and, most importantly, there’s murder afoot! Also, Angel rips out the heart of a demon and feeds it to Buffy because romance.
Key line: “Oh right, ‘cuz the burden of being beautiful and athletic, that’s a crippler.”
This was a significant episode, the more minor of the reasons being the confirmation of past events through character exposition (apparently enough people couldn’t figure out that Giles and Joyce had sex in Band Candy), and the obvious being the subject of a potential school massacre being addressed on television in 1999. Originally the episode was set to air just a week after the tragic and shocking events at Columbine High School occurred. Obviously the episode was pulled, and eventually it aired, out of order, in September prior to the premiere of season 4.
As the internet is constantly reminding me, I can no longer talk about things in the nineties assuming that everyone will know what I’m talking about, or was alive when it was happening. For those of us who were in high school when this happened (including the KMFDM listening, all black wearing, unpopular kids such as myself), it was a legitimately terrifying event with ripple effects across school policies, television and music broadcasting, and of course, the oft-overreacting media very publicly capitalizing on the moral panic over subcultures and the social dynamics of teen outcasts. Music was viewed as a weapon, video games an instigator, and television, the same medium that broadcasted the events with as much detail as possible as they happened and repeatedly in the days that followed, was heavily censored. For something that has come to be viewed as part of the American vernacular, Columbine was a confused, sad, and fearful time for so many people. School shootings were hardly unheard of at that point, but there’s a reason why 13 years later, it can be argued that more people know the word ‘Columbine’ than can remember the name Kip Kinkel.
Jane Espenson, the writer of Earshot, has penned quite a few of my favourite Buffy episodes. I’ve always loved her deftness at writing engaging tertiary characters, her ability to portray Xander at his best and most realistic, as well as the way she can inject a sense of humour and humanity into serious issues without turning them into a campy, thinly-veiled PSA with a supernatural plot device. Yes, the episode culminates in a funny little Xander side adventure involving jello and a crazed lunch lady looking to poison the students, but the actual theme of the episode follows the investigation into students who could potentially commit mass murder. There’s a meaningful (and generally unusual) cross-section of students whose characters and stereotypes go beyond ‘unnamed goth kid,’ ‘fat nerd,’ and ‘mean girl smoking in the bathroom.’ While some of these characters don’t actually appear again, there are enough high school archetypes to get the point across that anyone could be sad, or bullied, or have enough issues that they could surprise everyone and lash out.
Jonathan is eventually found in the clock tower, and Buffy assumes that he, angry, ignored, and overwhelmed, is going to attempt to murder his fellow students. In reality, he was going to commit suicide. Initially it seems that Buffy is going to pass along another insipid, self-righteous speech, but there’s a little gem of dialogue that helps set this episode apart:
“Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening.”
It sounds weird to say that such a heavy episode was refreshing, but after months of people trying to find a place to lay blame, subcultures being singled out, and media fear-mongering, it was a much needed reminder that anyone can be depressed, or feel marginalized in our society. In the end, rather than be suspicious or afraid of someone who might seem a little different, we’d all do best to show a little compassion and understanding for everyone, and most importantly, we need to listen. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Episode: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (season 5, episode 1)
What Happens: There is an episode of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ where Buffy fights Count goddamn Dracula, and it’s pretty great. There’s a lot to be said about the episode, good and bad. Good: our first hints about Buffy’s inner darkness. Bad: when Buffy defeats Dracula, she doesn’t have to start over on the upside down version of his castle. Anyway, as good as it is, “Buffy vs. Dracula” starts off season 5 with the most season 4 moment ever — Buffy and Riley playing comedy football on the beach. Riley’s wearing a shirt here, because they learned from the Nerf debacle.
Key line: “Touchdown! Yes! Go team Me!”
The gag is that Buffy “throws like a girl,” so when Riley gives her the business about it (because he is insufferable), she blasts him in the chest with a pass and knocks him on his ass.
Because that’s the entire sports moment, here’s a quick list of 7 reasons to hate Riley:
1. His face
2. His weird plastic doll body
3. Marc Blucas is a terrible actor, to the point that the only work he gets is as the love interest on USA Network shows
4. Season 4 of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’
5. His name being “Riley Finn,” which makes him sound like he should be played by either Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen
6. The fact that his character arc ends with him becoming HUSBAND AND WIFE SECRET AGENTZ with some lady
7. The fact that ‘Buffy’ had an awesome episode in season 1 about invisible kids being herded away to secret government assassin camp, then did a season 3 years later where the bad guy is THE GOVERNMENT and never brought back the invisible kids
And that doesn’t even touch on specific Riley episodes, like the one where he and Buffy have orgasms for an hour and it’s supposed to be something we’re happy to watch.
Episode: “The Zeppo” (season 3, episode 13)
What Happens: In the episode’s cold open, the Scoobies (plus Faith) battle some blue witchy girl-demon things. After dispatching them, Xander crawls out from underneath the pile of rubble into which he was thrown. The rest of the gang points out that, as usual, he was well-intentioned buy mostly useless. The next day at Sunnydale high Xander, in some attempt to get his groove back, harasses a random jock to include him in his game of catch. He manages to screw this up as well, and the ball lands in the lap of school heavy Jack O’Toole.
O’Toole is also, we find out later in the episode, a sentient zombie. But he’s eating lunch when the ball hits him, so I guess he’s a lunchmeat zombie? Anyway, then Cordelia shows up to mock Xander about how worthless he is, leading him on a quest to find his “thing” that makes him important. It goes as well as expected.
Key line: “I happen to be an integral part of that group. I happen to have a *lot* to offer.”
I hadn’t watched this episode in years, and it was interesting to revisit it as an adult rather than a teenager. Man, Nicholas Brendan sure was adorable. But MAN, he sure wasn’t much of an actor. Even more jarring: why the hell would Cordelia, of all people, even know who Zeppo Marx is? Does she strike you as a big Marx Brothers fan? I write about pop culture on the Internet. Know how I learned who Zeppo Marx is? THIS EPISODE. It would be like Dalia Royce from ‘Suburgatory’ suddenly making a Fatty Arbuckle reference. And even that is somehow less strange than the fact that Cordelia is for some reason dressed like The Good Wife in this scene.
(Guest contributor Bill Hanstock)
Episode: “Welcome To The Hellmouth” (season 1, episode 1)
What Happens: Pretty much everything, dude. It’s the first episode.
Key line: “Coming through, coming through … not certain how to stop …”
There are certain staples of any series pilot. Doubly so when it’s the pilot of an hour-long drama. You’ve got to introduce all of your main characters, their traits and motivations, and sometimes you lay out the plot. (Not always. Looking your way, new version of Dallas.) Sometimes characters will behave in a certain way in the pilot and after the show gets picked up the showrunners will be like, “Yeah, that doesn’t work/I don’t care” and it will never be mentioned again.
Xander’s shitty skateboarding was one such (merciful) casualty of the first episode. It’s the late 1990s, so Kaz Kuzui or whoever signed the checks was contractually obligated to follow the network note GUY SHOULD RIDE A SKATEBOARD scribbles in the margins of the pilot script. (“Skateboard” was misspelled.) So Nicholas Brendon had to fake like he rode skateboards all the live-long day. Then his best bro not-Xander got killed in the famous first time Joss tried to kill someone in the opening credits and the skateboarding thing was never mentioned again. For the good of us all. If only the showrunners could have written out Xander’s hissing anti-lisp. But what can you do?
Episode: “Chosen” (season 7, episode 22)
What Happens: There can only be one Slayer per generation. What this episode presupposes is… maybe that’s not true? I mean hell, we saw three Slayers in the same generation in the first three years of the show. But yeah, Buffy and The Gang have to defeat THE FIRST EVIL~, a loosely-defined and totally-not-rushed shapeshifter thing, and their secret weapon is the Mastadon Axe the Black Ranger used on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. If you do MAGIC to it, it can activate all of the potential Slayers in the world at once, creating an army of Buffies to quip and yell at their friends and stab bad guys in the heart. It can also, I’m assuming, command a powerful Zord.
Anyway, every potential Slayer in the world becomes one, including Millie from ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ a woman being domestically abused, and a girl who is afraid to swing a baseball bat until HISTORY CHANGING MAGIC helps her be confident enough to … I don’t know, use super powers to win a baseball game? They don’t really explain it or show where it goes. Are there any baseball scores in the season 8 comics?
Key line: “From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
And that’s how season 7 of ‘Buffy’ ends … with every girl in the world becoming powerful enough to hang out in graveyards and stab dudes to death. In real life, we call this “women I know in southern Virginia.”
Being the Slayer doesn’t really help you in sports. It didn’t make Buffy a more coordinated cheerleader, or help her do anything beyond basic ice skating, or stop “throwing like a girl.” Maybe that’s why the scene ends where it does. Maybe she hits a home run, but maybe she swings too hard a la Buffy on the miniature golf course and strikes out. Then she goes home, says “nuts to this” and practices that thing she can do now where she backflips, and then the camera cuts away and she’s standing on top of a moving semi truck.
That sounds way better than being able to get a base hit, doesn’t it?