Buffy: Game Over (Updated)

I finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night. Seven seasons, each with 20-odd episodes. The episodes used to be 42 minutes but they dropped to about 38 in season five with the network jump.

I could write lots of things about what I liked, but it’s a lot easier to write my single complaint. (Well, actually I have some additional complaints, but they’re so minor I wouldn’t bother to write them down, although I might mention them to you if we had a lengthy conversation about the show.)

An interesting thing about the Buffy series is how the writers in their commentaries, and increasingly in the remarks of the characters in the show, made it clear that each season had a “Big Bad”. I guess that was true in the early seasons, but it wasn’t so formulaic as in the later ones. I suppose you need some kind of structure like that. You can’t just stake vamps each episode like it was Joe Friday collaring perps, week after week. I just don’t think it’s wise for Joe Friday to keep mentioning how the perp he just collared is no big deal, because it’s the “Big Bad” that keeps him awake at night.

The other problem with this formula is that each season’s “Big Bad” had to be worse than the previous season’s, and, of course, they couldn’t be, because you can only get so bad. So in season four it’s Adam, then in five it’s Glory, the three nerds in six, and finally “The First” in season seven. Ignoring the nerds of season six, there’s a straight progression of increasingly powerful badness. But IMHO there’s also a straight progression of increasingly dull shows.

In short, much as I liked this series, and as much as I wanted it to be excellent right through to the end, I was glad it ended. It’s a good thing that there wasn’t an season eight. It peaked in season two. And a very fine peak it was, too: it took five years to reach nadir, and even season seven, which was my least favorite, was better than some of the other series I’ve tried to get interested in. (For example, Babylon 5 was so bad I couldn’t watch an entire episode. Maybe it got better later, I suppose, but phew-ee! Gong!)

Even in these last three seasons, there were some high points. I liked the musical episode “Once More with Feeling” in season six, and I almost liked the episode in season five where Joyce dies. “Hush” in season four deserved its kudos. Willow got better and better, while Xander always seemed underutilized. I got to the point where I didn’t detest Dawn, and Anya was a delight right to the end. However, I believe the best thing about seasons five through seven was how they made me feel about Firefly. Now I’m a little less sorry about Firefly getting cancelled. I wish instead of 14 episodes it had run for three years … but if it had, it might have continued further than would have been good for it.

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