Although it’s got a RIDICULOUS name, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is widely considered to be one of the greatest television shows of all time. The story of a young girl chosen to fight the forces of darkness, Buffy continues to receive critical acclaim to this day, and is frequently dissected and analyzed in academia across the globe. Watching this pilot, it’s easy to see why the show has such an iconic legacy: it’s simply unlike anything else.
Joss Whedon might be at the top of Hollywood’s A-list thanks to The Avengers, but he was an unknown when Buffy debuted back in 1997. Nevertheless, his talent is more than obvious here; the script is enormously clever, jampacked with hilarious one-liners (see below) and multi-dimensional characters. Admittedly, the two-hour premiere is dated from a technical perspective: the fight choreography and editing are clumsy, and the music is outright horrible. However, the show’s signature dialogue is immediately charming and witty. It perfectly contrasts the supernatural stakes with the the right dose of comedy and humanity, and the show is all the better for it.
Quite amazingly, every one of the show’s cast members feels like a fully-realized character right from the start. Xander is a likeable doofus with an immediate crush on our heroine, Willow is an insecure bookworm, Giles is Buffy’s stuffy mentor, and Cordelia is the gorgeously cruel high school nemesis. And yet each of these characters never feels like a caricature: they all display different dimensions in the pilot, and that helps imbue the show with a whole lot of heart. And of course our title character (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is just bursting with charisma and spunk; she carries the show beautifully.
The script really only falters with regards to its villain. The Master and his various minions are cheesy and unimposing, and every single scene in that wretched cave is tedious to watch. Thankfully the baddie flaw is rectified in future seasons as Buffy’s complex Big Bads end up becoming a shining staple of the show. Unfortunately, this is one element that the show doesn’t pull off well right off the bat.
Snippets from Sunnydale
– How atrocious is the opening VO monologue? “She is the Slayer.” Cringe.
– Great subversive teaser with the innocent blonde (Darla) turning out to be a vampire. In fact, this was famously Joss Whedon’s inspiration for writing Buffy: he wanted the typical blonde in horror movies to actually fight back when cornered. Empowering no?
– Buffy’s prophetic dream is way too cheesy, and it goes on for far too long.
– It’s an interesting route to take with Buffy already having discovered her powers before the show begins. Essentially, we’re dumped right in the middle of the story.
– So Sunnydale is located on something called the “Hellmouth”. Sounds cozy.
– Niftiest shot in the whole premiere: Buffy elevated on the pole above as she flips down and kicks Angel. #Badass.
– Seriously how stunning is Charisma Carpenter? Cordelia’s one-liners are definitely a highlight.
– The fight choreography and editing in the mausoleum are absolutely cringeworthy. Still, it’s fun to see Buffy own Darla only for Luke to throw her around like a ragdoll.
– The premiere’s first hour has an effective cliffhanger with Buffy being thrown into the crypt, and then slowly starting to rise before Luke lands on top of her. This moment has always creeped the hell out of me!
– Although Angel is one of the show’s most pivotal characters (and later on leads an excellent spinoff), he doesn’t get much to do in the pilot besides brood, give ominous warnings, and gift Buffy with a cross that saves her from Luke.
– Loved the parallels with the principal telling Buffy to “keep her feet on the ground”, only for her to jump over the fence.
– Favorite Willow moment in the pilot: Her standing up for Buffy in the computer lab, and that hysterical “deliver” trick she does with Cordelia who idiotically deletes her assignment. Ha!
– The tunnel scenes with Xander and Buffy on the run are too darkly filmed for my taste, but there’s a terrific twist with Jesse having been turned into a vampire.
– Although she doesn’t get too much screen-time in the pilot, Kristine Sutherland gives a memorable turn as Buffy’s suspicious mom Joyce. Does she know more than she’s letting on?
– How hilarious is Jesse’s accidental death? Just as he’s about to finish off Xander, a random woman in panic bumps him into the stake. Typical Joss Whedon!
– The final battle in the Bronze is definitely amusing thanks to Buffy’s snark and everybody else getting their moment to shine (loved Willow burning Darla with holy water).
Xander: You know, I kinda had a problem with the math.
Willow: Uh, which part?
Xander: The math.
Xander: (to Buffy) Can I have you? uh… Can I help you?
Willow: Do you have ‘Theories in Trig’? You should check it out.
Xander: Check it out?
Willow: From the library? Where the books live.
Buffy: I’m Buffy. I’m new.
Xander: Xander is… me.
Cordelia: They let anybody in, but it’s still the scene. It’s in the bad part of town.
Buffy: Where’s that?
Cordelia: About a half a block from the good part of town. We don’t have a whole lot of town here.
Aphrodisia: The new kid? She seems kind of weird to me. What kind of name is Buffy?
Girl: Hey, Aphrodisia!
Aphrodisia: Oh, Hey!
Cordelia: (to Buffy) I don’t mean to interrupt your downward mobility….
Cordelia: Some guy was stuffed in Aura’s locker!
Cordelia: Totally dead. Way dead.
Xander: So not just a little dead then?
Cordelia: Don’t you have an elsewhere to be?
Buffy: Well, were there any marks?
Cordelia: Morbid much? I didn’t ask!
Buffy: (to Giles) To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It’s like a whole big sucking thing.
Giles: A Slayer slays, a Watcher…
Giles: Yes. No!
Giles: Something’s coming, something is gonna happen here. Soon!
Buffy: Gee, can you vague that up for me?
Joyce: Are you going out tonight?
Buffy: Yeah, I’m going to a club.
Joyce: Oh. Will there be boys there?
Buffy: No mom. It’s a nun club.
Buffy: (to Joyce) From now on I am only going to hang out with the living. I mean, lively people.
Buffy: What do you want?
Angel: The same thing you do.
Buffy: Okay. What do I want?
Angel: To kill them. To kill them all.
Buffy: Sorry, that’s incorrect. But you do get this lovely watch and a year’s supply of Turtle Wax. What I want is to be left alone!
Buffy: Who are you?
Angel: Let’s just say I’m a friend.
Buffy: Yeah, well, maybe I don’t want a friend.
Angel: I didn’t say I was yours.
Buffy: Oh, are you guys going out?
Willow: No, we’re just friends. We used to go out, but we broke up.
Buffy: How come?
Willow: He stole my Barbie. (Buffy looks confused) Oh, we were five.
Willow: Well, when I’m with a boy I like, it’s hard for me to say anything cool, or, or witty, or at all. I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and then I have to go away.
Buffy: It’s not THAT bad!
Willow: No, i-it is. I think boys are more interested in a girl who can talk.
Buffy: You really haven’t been dating lately.
Buffy: Seize the moment, ’cause tomorrow you might be dead.
Giles: I’m not sure. Who told you this?
Buffy: This… guy. Dark, gorgeous in an annoying sort of way. I figured you two were buds.
Giles: No. The Harvest. Did he say anything else?
Buffy: Something about the Mouth of Hell. I *really* didn’t like him!
Buffy: (to Giles) You’re like a textbook with arms.
Buffy: Oh, please! Look at his jacket. He’s got the sleeves rolled up, and the shirt! Deal with that outfit for a moment.
Giles: It’s dated?
Buffy: It’s carbon dated. Trust me, only someone living underground for ten years would think that was still the look.
Cordelia: (to Buffy) God! What is your childhood trauma?!
Cordelia: (to her groupies) Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met right now.
Giles: The vampire is not dead?
Buffy: No, but my social life is on the critical list.
Darla: Who the hell are you?
Buffy: You mean there’s actually someone in this town who doesn’t know already? Whew, that’s a relief, I’m telling you! Having a secret identity in this town is a job of work.
Buffy: Okay, first of all, what’s with the outfit? Live in the now, okay? You look like DeBarge!
Buffy: Now, we can do this the hard way, or… well, actually there’s just the hard way.
Darla: That’s fine with me!
Buffy: Are you sure? Now, this in not gonna be pretty. We’re talking violence, strong language, adult content…
Willow: Oh, I, I need to sit down.
Buffy: You are sitting down.
Willow: Oh. Good for me…
Giles: For as long as there have been vampires, there’s been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One. Buffy: He loves doing this part.
Buffy: I looked around, but soon’s they got clear of the graveyard, they could have just, voom!
Xander: They can fly?
Buffy: They can drive.
Luke: (to Jesse) Congratulations. You’ve just been upgraded. To bait.
Giles: So, all the city plans are just open to the public?
Willow: Um, well, i-in a way. I sort of stumbled onto them when I accidentally decrypted the city council’s security system.
Buffy: Oh, fire, beheading, sunlight, holy water, the usual.
Xander: You’ve done some beheading in your time?
Cordelia: (to Willow) Excuse me? Who gave you permission to exist?
Xander: (to Buffy) Look, Jesse’s my bud, okay? If I can help him out, that’s what I gotta do. Besides, it’s this or chem class.
Buffy: They’re close.
Xander: How can you tell?
Buffy: No more rats.
Buffy: So, Giles! Got anything that can make this day any worse?
Giles: How about the end of the world?
Buffy: Knew I could count on you.
Cordelia: It’s like when I go shopping. I have to have the most expensive thing. Not because it’s expensive, but because it costs more.
Girl: You know, I…
Cordelia: Hello, Miss Motormouth, can I get a sentence finished?
Buffy: There’s something you forgot about, too. Sunrise! (She stakes him) It’s in about nine hours, moron!
Buffy: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school!
Xander: Oh, yeah, that’s a plan. ‘Cause lots of schools aren’t on Hellmouths.
Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They’re really strict about that.
Buffy: I was thinking of a more subtle approach, y’know, like excessive not studying.
Giles: The Earth is doomed!
Technical complaints aside, Buffy’s two hour premiere is a definite winner thanks to its sharp dialogue and lovable cast.
Note: Check out my retro review of the show’s seven seasons. Here’s hoping I get to review every episode individually one day.