Buffy the Vampire Slayer picks up right where the feature film of the same silly name left off. Buffy has just torched the gym at her school, forcing her family (a generally non-existent mother) to move not-so-peaceful Sunnyvale -- a city whose unofficial town motto must be "Welcome to Sunnyvale, The city at the mouth of Hell." During the day, Buffy attends classes at the local high school, where everyone has a weird or chic Cali-name and any skirt with a hemline below mid-thigh is clearly gouche. At night, she must occasionally absent herself from the town's only popular teen hangout to fight the forces of evil that prey on Sunnyvale. Basically, the show is Clueless with obscure references to The Day of Reckoning, garlic, and holy water.
The show is nepotistically created by screenwriter Joss Whedon, who started his career with the bomb that was Buffy before going on to write such literate Hollywood fare as Speed and Waterworld. Whedon needed to find a way to develop a weekly one hour show out of a simplistic film that drew appeal only from its title and Luke Perry's sideburns. The answer? Make the individual plot lines confusing, pretentious, and convoluted and let the light humor of the script and the sex appeal of the stars carry the show.
And both things have happened. While the central plot revolves around the Vampire King and his constantly thwarted attempts to crawl out of the sewer, subplots have featured a substitute teacher who is really a huge praying mantis and at least three different evil looking people referred to as "The Chosen One." And are we interested? As if.
Buffy works because it doesn't take itself seriously. If it did, people might begin to get sheepish about the shoddy make-up and quirky editing. Fortunately, any show that can get in jabs at El Debarge and K-Mart in the same episode as kickboxing vampires and many a bare-midriff clearly has its priorities in order.
In the title role, former All My Children badgirl Sarah Michelle Gellar easily trumps Kristy Swanson's film performance. She's tougher, smarter, and just plain hotter than Swanson could ever have hoped to be. Armed with a ridiculous arsenal of clothing consisting of -- and we're not complaining here -- short skirts, leather jackets, and shirts that seem to lack the top five buttons, Buffy has to rely on quips and kicks and, for whatever reason, the combination is successful. It's been a long time since television created a single character this much fun to watch.
The supporting cast hasn't been nearly as successful yet. While recent episodes have attempted to give the new characters (all with those silly names) some kind of nuance, the meek and nerdy Willow (Alyson Hannigan), the wooden Xander (Nicholas Brendon), and the bitchy and popular Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) all seem a little stranded. Anthony S. Head is fun to watch as Buffy's bookish librarian mentor -- if only so that you can yell, "Hey, it's the guy from those silly British Taster's Choice commercials" whenever he's on screen. One hopes that future weeks will continue to develop these looser ends.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer probably doesn't teach any important life lessons, unless you need to know how to balance dating and slaughter, but it is generally funny and often exciting. Since the Warner Brothers Network is currently lacking any real hits, Buffy should be given a chance -- a bit like Curt Shilling -- to go out every fifth day to strut its stuff for years to come. Before you laugh at its existence, give it a shot.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer,