Listen: ‘The Buffy Project’ kicks off a special eight-part podcast series

What is “The Buffy Project,” and why now?

Fair question.  The “why now” is a simple matter of timing.  And the “what”?  Well, that’s going to take a little longer to explain.

Scott Weinberg is the lead film critic for FEARNet, longtime editor and contributor to Cinematical, now also at Twitch and  A hardworking dude who loves horror movies.  LOVES horror movies.  Is as passionate a critic of the genre as I’ve ever met.  And he recently admitted that short of a few episodes here and there in no particular order, he had never seen “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” or “Angel.”

I think that’s something that horror or comic book fans should do if they haven’t… watch those two shows, and watch them in the right order, and check out this big weird lovely universe that Joss Whedon and his team of glorious big-brained writers thought up for seven full years.

I think horror fans will be amazed at just how dark and ugly the shows get at times, and how they play for keeps.  And comic book fans will recognize a certain shape to things that feels familiar as well.  It’s the combination of the two and the language of it that makes it all feel special, and that make it worth consideration.

Scott was the first to suggest this.  It was his plan to just start watching the shows, and he did.  At a gallop.  I told him I’d be interesting in jumping in and then doing something, some joint publication of some sort, in which we discuss the show.

See, I’m the total opposite of him.  I watched both shows while they were on.  I would even go so far as to say I was fairly addicted to the shows while they were on.  They were significant television for me.  I was amazed at what they were getting away with, what they were trying to build, and I loved the week-to-week serialization of the whole things.

So… #thebuffyproject.

That’s what we’re doing.  We’re going to watch them.  Not quite at the same time, but in the same general time frame, and then we’re going to talk about them.  All of them.  Season by season.  Eight podcasts.  Long podcasts.  We’re going to dig in and have some fun.  I haven’t watched a single episode since the shows went off the air, and Weinberg seems pretty happy with Whedon right now, post “The Cabin In The Woods” and post “The Avengers.”

I apologize for this first one, mainly because I didn’t realize as we sat down to record that I was getting sick.  Today, I am full-blown ill, and it seemed to roll in as I was talking to Scott.  Over the course of this hour long podcast, you hear me go from “I feel fine!” to “I think I need to go lay down.”  So up front, let me tell you that I’m sorry for whatever horrible sounds I emit during the podcast.

I’m also publishing the notes that I took as I rewatched the season.  Many of these points are made again by me in the podcast, so be aware there’s some doubling up of material here.  I just thought I’d include them as text as well, in case you’d rather read along or refer to these later.

This is not meant as an all-purpose episode guide for people who have never seen the show.  This is more of a companion based on my re-watch of the series.

Time to do this thing.


Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

I like the first season of “Buffy.”  I didn’t watch it live week to week as it aired, but between the end of this half-season and the first full season in the fall of ’97, a friend loaned me the tapes, and we were off and running.  Eventually, my passion for the show led me to befriend the person who became Hercules The Strong, one of the Ain’t It Cool mainstays now, a guy whose “Buffy” fandom is legendary.  It was huge fun publishing his work and bringing him into the fold, and it was great to be at ground zero for fandom while the show was on the air.

Context is important, too.  This is a show that benefits enormously from when it was on the air, because it straddles a seismic shift in what television is.  “Buffy” may not have ever pulled the ratings that something like “M*A*S*H” did in its prime, but “Buffy” has arguably become one of the most influential shows of its time.  And when it started, genre TV was still pretty much a sea of awful.  There was a formula quality to it that meant few shows lasted and they almost all felt the same.  At first, “Buffy” was one of those shows, but the longer it was on the air, the more raw and weird and personal it got, and “Angel” was even more of an experiment.

*S1E1 – “Welcome To The Hellmouth”
dir. Charles Martin Smith
scr. Joss Whedon

“Welcome To The Hellmouth.”  Pretty much the whole job.  This is the show where the larger mythology is laid down.  Seems appropriate that Julie Benz is in this first sequence, the first vampire we see.

The first version of the opening credits.  The theme song by “Nerf Herder.”  For me, it was pretty immediate that I thought this sold a show that I’d want to see.  That theme became a focusing point for me for the next six seasons, and every week, that was my favorite minute of television, pretty much.  That’s the way it is with great TV themes for shows we like.  We get a hardwired reaction to them, because they take us back to every experience we’ve ever had with the show.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never gone back to “Buffy” before.  It was a huge investment.  Seven full years.  I gave a lot of energy to the series while it was on, and it was a pretty great fanbase, a network of people who came to it at various points in that seven years.  Once you clicked in on the show, once you handed yourself over the tone and the style and the attitude of it, it had a way of turning you fanatic.  Not just fan, but full-blown fanatic.

*S1E2 – “The Harvest”
dir. John T. Kretchmer
scr. Joss Whedon

This is really just the second half of the pilot, and while it’s not great, it’s not bad, and it does lay down the basic groundwork for the rest of the show.  Buffy is the Slayer.  Giles is her Watcher.  Willow and Xander are her friends who know her secret.  Her mom is in the dark.  Cordelia is a bitch.  The Master is the bad guy.

At the end of the episode, we have a status quo.  Brian Thompson is gone.  There are some stakes to the thing, but the Apocalypse has been held off for the moment.  It’s all tied up pretty neatly.

*S1E3 – “Witch”
dir. Stephen Cragg
scr. Dana Reston

Why, hello, Amy.

It’s hard being the first episode after a pilot, because you have to demonstrate that there is elasticity in the concept, and bringing in witchcraft shows that there are more things out there to fear than just vampires.

I credit the ending of this episode for making me think that the show might have some real balls on it.

S1E4 – “Teacher’s Pet”
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. David Greenwalt

S1E5 – “Never Kill A Boy On The First Date”
dir. David Semmel
scr. Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

Two monster of the week episodes in a row, and honestly, neither one makes a single impression on me.  This is that period where as I was watching the tapes of season one the first time, I started thinking maybe this just wasn’t for me.

*S1E6 – “The Pack”
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer

I liked this one.  Nice example of how Whedon was willing to shake up the status quo.  When the hyenas eat Principle Flutie, that sends a very clear message:  authority figures are not safe simply because they are authority figures.

Bold, because it assumes you already know the characters well enough that an out-of-character Xander is going to be something you can recognize.

Also… having bad guys desperate to eat a baby?  Way to go, television!

I like the bad guy here, but this is one of the episodes that I would argue helped earn them the nickname “The Scooby Gang,” because that guy is a wearing a straight-up Scooby Doo bad guy outfit.

*S1E7 – “Angel”
dir. Scott Brazil
scr. David Greenwalt

Darla’s back!  Just in time for an episode that is a cornerstone of everything else in not only this series but “Angel” as well.  They don’t get much more essential than this.  “The Three” are the main villains in this episode, having been called in by The Master to wipe Buffy off the playing board.

Sixteen minutes in, Angel talks about wanting to kiss Buffy, and in that beat, the die is cast.  And when he turns into a vampire, that was one hell of a moment in 1997 when you had no idea it was coming.

Young Julie Benz was smoking hot, but the make-up is so gross by design that it ruins it for me.

“For a hundred years, I offered death to everyone I met, and I did it with a song in my heart.”

The John Woo moment as Darla slides backwards on the pool table.  Ah, yes, back when John Woo still pretty much owned that sort of filmmaking.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand bye-bye, Darla.

Up till this point, the show was a horror-comedy.  This episode also made sure that the series is a soap opera.  And that last shot, of the cross burnt into his chest where she leaned against him during the kiss?


S1E8 – “I, Robot… You Jane”
dir. Stephen L. Posey
scr. Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden

What’s the opposite of genius?

This isn’t the worst episode ever, but it’s bad enough that if this was the only thing I saw in season one, I would have never tuned in again.

Miss Calendar?  KA-POW.  If nothing else, at least this episode gave us Miss Calendar.

The eventual reveal of Moloch’s physical form?  HIL-ARIOUS.

And the whole terrible episode is almost worth it for the moment Buffy leaps at Moloch and bounces off of him with a “CLUNK.”  Just plain funny, but in all the wrongest of wrong ways.  Ed Wood silly, which happens sometimes on TV, particularly in the first year of a genre show.

S1E9 – “The Puppet Show”
dir. Ellen S. Pressman
scr. Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

The new principal is a hit from the moment he arrives.  “I know what Principal Flutie would have said.  ‘Kids have feelings.  Kids are human beings.’  That’s the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten.”  Spectacular.

I don’t know about two episodes in a row about demons wanting to become flesh, though.  That seems like a weird rut to drop into only nine episodes into a series.

At this point, Cordelia is still a joke.  Just a hollow bad guy, used for cheap laughs or to give Buffy someone to bounce off of.  There’s nothing else to her yet.

Best part?  Buffy, Xander and Willow performing in the talent show in the closing credits.  Genuinely funny and awesome.

S1E10 – “Nightmares”
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. David Greenwalt
story Joss Whedon

Oh, yeah… Buffy has a father.  I’ll be honest… this is one of the first things I’ve encountered that I totally don’t remember.

I’m hoping Wes Craven at least got a thank you note.

It’s not a great episode, but the scene with Buffy’s father telling her that the divorce was all her fault?  Totally worth it.

*S1E11 – “Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight”
dir. Reza Badiyi
scr. Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden
story Joss Whedon

Oh, hi there, Harmony.

I may have been slow to really “get” the premise of the show, but this is where it really started to click for me that the real horror of the show is high school itself and growing up and dealing with adult decisions and adult consequences, and all the monsters and everything else is just a way of articulating that.

Once that set in, I pretty much handed myself over to the show completely and was willing to follow it wherever it was going.  I had no idea they were planning what they were planning, but I loved the idea completely.

I like that Cordelia isn’t a dummy.  She’s actually got some insights and she can pull off some surprising moments of clarity.  It’s smart writing because even at this point, before they knew what to do with her, they realized that giving her surprising edges was more interesting than just making her an empty stereotype.

Clea Duvall only has a few moments, but she makes them count.  She’s really good as the girl that people looked through.  She’s a credible villain, and she’s really sad in a few places.

Cordy coming to Buffy for help was inevitable, and it’s smart that they pushed it off for most of the season.  When she finally does, it feels like she’s been backed into a corner, and she’s got no choice at all.

The ending of the episode is built well because they really hurt everyone.  Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Cordy.  They all come reeeeeeeal close to dying this time.  That way, heading into the last week of the season, they’ve taken a bit of a beating.  And now… what?

What’s interesting about the ending is that it suggests the government could very well know all about Buffy and Angel and vampires and whatnot.  Why wouldn’t they?  If they’ve been watching Sunnydale, then they’ve been watching Buffy.  Right?

*S1E12 – “Prophecy Girl”
dir. Joss Whedon
scr. Joss Whedon

The vampire-falls-and-turns-to-dust gag is still fairly fresh.  And when they stage a nice one, they get their money’s worth.

Miss Calendar’s back and RIDONKULOUS.

Then some stuff happens and HOLY CRAP MISS CALENDAR.

Excuse me.

There’s a lot of character in Act One and not a lot of horror.  This is the real high school stuff again, the stuff that grounds the show.

And then Buffy hears the prophecy and plays the best scene of the season with Giles and Angel.  Boom.  This is a moment that suggests just how big it’s going to eventually get.

“Giles, I’m 16 years old.  I don’t want to die.”

This is the show.  This is why you watch.  Because Joss writes it real and the cast plays it real, and yet he can play with the idea of television, a sort of meta-textual game in which he’s showing off his understanding of TV tradition, comic book form, horror iconography.

Then Willow is traumatized.  And Buffy decides she’s got to face her destiny.

And again, this is better than anything else in the season.  This is a suggestion of what’s coming, and how good it can be.

Mark Metcalf as the Master cracks me up, because he will always be Neidermeyer, even under crazy Nosferatu make-up.

Calendar makes herself valuable to Giles here, and did I mention OH MY GOD LOOK AT MISS CALENDAR SHE IS A SPECIAL EFFECT RIGHT?

Xander lusting after Buffy in early seasons of the show = Luke and Leia’s romantic relationship in “New Hope” and “Empire.”

This is what the show’s built up to for twelve episodes.  There are beats in this that “Avengers” fans might recognize.  Buffy shooting at the Master is like Hawkeye shooting at Loki.

He knows how to get multiple players in motion, how to stage action on several fronts, how to ratchet things up.  He has no money in “Buffy.”  Not really.  So he’s got to draw it out with staging more than anything.  He doesn’t have money to do something like the attack on the Helicarrier.

So it’s all in how he writes it and plays it and he does a nice job here.  You have no idea where he’s going to go and how he’s going to play things out.  It seems impossible for her to escape…

… so she doesn’t.

He bites her.  He drinks the Slayer.

And she dies.

He is set free.

Evil wins over good.  The apocalypse begins.

And there’s still ten minutes left.  I love it.

It’s a pretty powerful resolution to the Xander arc for the season.  He does finally get to kiss Buffy, but he’s trying to save her life.  It’s an act of desperate faith.

And it works.

He brings her back.

Vampires everywhere on the surface.  Things going crazy.

Cordelia driving her car into the school is like Buffy burning down the gym.

It’s the point of “you can’t pretend this didn’t happen” for her.

She’s in it now.

The Hellmouth starts to open.  Things going crazy.  The Master walks again.

“I feel strong.  I feel different.”
Ohhhhhh, boy.  That seems pretty significant.

And then the first use of the theme as she arrives.
First time it’s been used in an episode.

It’s a cool moment, but oddly truncated.

All Hell breaks loose in the library.
It’s a pretty amazing monster as TV monsters go.

And then Buffy goes head to head with the Master.
Giles goes head to head with the crazy Monster thingy.

And when she kills the Master, it’s a big moment.
It’s suitably staged and animated.
And Hell rolls back as a result.

Buffy wins.  Vampires gone.  Master dead.  Hellmouth closed.

“It’s been a really weird day.”

“We saved the world.  I say we party.  I mean, I got all pretty.”

In the end, I think you only need to watch the episodes with the (*) beside the title.  They lay down pieces of continuity that you’ll need later.  Technically, I guess you can start with season two, but you’ll have to play catch-up, and there are pleasures to be had in that first season.  You just have to accept that it’s the warm-up.

“The Buffy Project” will continue.