Our reviews of Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season (published August 7th, 2002), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season (published January 27th, 2003), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 10th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season (published January 5th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season (published November 10th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Seventh Season (published December 8th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (Blu-Ray) (published January 17th, 2011), and Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992) (published September 4th, 2001) are also available.
Into each generation a slayer is born…
The first season of the best written show on television finally makes its way to DVD. Sit back, spin a disc, and enjoy the joy that is Joss Whedon's Buffyverse.
Facts of the Case
"Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest"
"Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"
"I Robot-You Jane"
"The Puppet Show"
"Out of Mind, Out of Sight"
Based on the 1992 film of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues to be, week in and week out, the best written show on television. Now, I will admit that is not always evident with the first season's batch of episodes, but to fair the show was trying to find its footing. Still, it is worth noting that while the terrain may have been bumpy that first year, its voice was already pretty clear. The brainchild of screenwriter Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Titan AE), Buffy shows, even in those earliest episodes, a way of turning a phrase so that it manages to be not only witty but also full of multiple layers. Some of these layers continue to be peeled back today, six years later. The show is smart in a way that few television series ever have been before while never becoming preachy or tired. With Buffy the Vampire Slayer Whedon took a fairly basic idea and gave it a defiant spin: It's the standard Hollywood tale of a pretty girl that goes into an alley full of monsters, but instead of being toast, it ends up being that the one with the upper hand is the supposedly defenseless girl. It is this fanciful idea combined with the alienation of youth and growing up that gives Buffy so much of its very basic power. Rarely has there been a show that deals so much with the consequences of actions coming back to haunt these characters years down the road.
On top of that, there is the whole comic book aspect to the writing. I'm not talking about cheesy over-the-top super hero heroics (although to be fair there are certainly aspects of that) but rather the feeling that as a viewer you are making an investment in a character and as the weeks go by that character evolves. With that evolution comes change, and with that change comes the unexpected. When one goes back and looks at the growth line these characters have gone through over the past six years, you will see clearly defined and very different people than who were present during season one. You may not be happy with the changes that have occurred, but to give the show credit, the seeds for change were planted years ago and they make these changes honestly.
Like any show, new or long running, there were some dogs. In season one's case "Teacher's Pet" and "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" were kinda lame, but these shows were more than made up for by winners like the pilot episode, "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," and the first season closer, "Prophecy Girl." I think there are aspects of "Prophecy Girl" that are just now coming to fruition as we move towards the tail end of season six. Or at least that is my theory now; talk to me when the season is over. Even standard horror plot retreads like "Puppet Show" and "The Witch" have things about them that I really like. "Puppet Show" also has the distinction of being the first time Principal Synder (Armin Shimerman, Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) slimed his way through Sunnydale High.
Speaking of actors, it is tough to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and not talk about its cast. Granted, everyone was finding their way that first season, but how can anyone deny the charms and skills of Sarah Michelle Gellar? The perfect Buffy, she manages to be the strong hero always cracking wise but never forgetting that she is a 16-year-old girl. No one on television combines strength and vulnerability quite like Ms. Gellar. A skilled comedic actress to boot, to see what she does with the material is a weekly charm. Alyson Hannigan created the perfect sidekick when she stepped onto that sound stage and gave birth to Willow Rosenberg. Besides Gellar, Ms. Hannigan is the most completely rounded character that first season. On the other hand, Nicholas Brendon's Xander Harris was always good for a laugh at the character's expense in season one, which would change as the writers got a better clue of how they wanted to use him. As Buffy's father figure, Rupert Giles, Anthony Head would begin to show in those early days why he was the soul of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for so many a season but also in those early days his character was a borderline cliché. A very funny and noble cliché, but a cliché nonetheless. David Boreanaz brought the dark, brooding good looks to the show and it's evident from their first scenes together that he and Gellar had some serious chemistry. Charisma Carpenter is another character that started out broad, and while she always remained something of a joke, her Cordelia Chase would walk a more interesting path as the show moved forward. One other actor I wanted to mention is Mark Metcalf as the big bad from season one, The Master. One of the best written villains the show has ever produced, Metcalf played his scenes with a darkly comic touch the show has rarely seen. It is also worth noting that Mark Metcalf is the same Mark Metcalf who played Neidermeyer in the classic Animal House. So there you go, trivia hounds.
For tech specs, the sound is a bright sounding Dolby 2.0 Surround mix.
Directional effects are pretty limited, but as noted the soundscape created is
one that is pretty full and alive. There are a couple episodes that sound a bit
on the thin side, but overall things sound better than I would have expected.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, it took over a year from when it was initially announced, but here we finally have the box set of season one. The question is: was it worth the wait? As is the case with most things in life, yes and no. There is an undeniable charm to finally have this sitting on my shelf, but it just feels like there should be so much more. First off, the transfers are less than ideal. Whedon talks to some degree of length about how this season was shot on the cheap with 16mm, and with that some of the problems are understandable. The image overall tends to be on the grainy side but the black levels tend to hold together fairly well. As noted, these problems come from the actual production, not the DVD mastering. That said, it would have been nice if some work had been done to make the picture sharper. Detail is severely lacking, while flesh tones seem to carry a hue that is most definitely on the orange side. As it stands, the picture on display is hardly any better than what can be viewed on the FX Network nightly, and that is a pity.
Another complaint and one that I hope is addressed in future box sets is the sparseness of the special content. Truly a universe unto itself, I would love to see deleted scenes, more commentaries, and more behind-the-scenes material. Not that crappy electronic press kit stuff that was recycled from the VHS releases either, please. Also, if the rights can be cleared up, it would be great to one day have the original half hour pilot Whedon used while trying to sell the show.
One more thing. When the set was originally announced back in October of 2000 or so, the packaging shown was that of a fold out design that when opened was in the shape of a crucifix. What happened?
That concludes the complaining of a 38-year-old Buffy fan with too much time on his hands.
The ideal box set of my favorite television show it is not, but finally the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One box set is upon us and I'm pretty happy. As someone much wiser than I once said, the best place to start is at the beginning, and for the first time viewer this is indeed a good place to start. It has the benefit of sporting a great commentary track by Joss Whedon, and while otherwise that may make for slim pickings, in the extra content department it is a good start. I'm also someone who is a staunch supporter of season by season sets of television series on DVD and the one sure way to keep them coming is to put the money where the mouth is. For me and just about any other Buffy fan out there, this set is a no-brainer. If after this set you become hooked on the show, well, just wait to you see what happens in season two.
Problems noted, this set is acquitted of all charges. It is this bench's sincere wish that when next we meet in chambers it will be with a more fully loaded package. Otherwise, this case is dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Creator Joss Whedon
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