Sh*t I Used To Watch – Friends

In this new series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourites TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

So no-one told you life was gonna be this way? Either a question or a statement, the opening words of one of the most recognisable songs of the 90s spoke volumes about the show it appeared on – the all-conquering Friends. The show was about 6 twentysomethings living, working, and loving in New York and followed their various relationships and tribulations over 10 Seasons. It rejuvenated the stale sitcom format, launching the careers of its six main cast members, garnering rave reviews and massive worldwide audiences, and remains incredibly influential. On paper, the shows sounds like something I would never choose to watch; Lord knows if was only created and shown today for the first time it would be packed with too many smiling faces, reality stars, and a multitude of other reasons to not watch. When it first aired in the UK, I was 12 years old (arggghh) and it was a pretty big hit amongst certain groups of my peers. I remember a lot of people in school talking about it, and although most of the people who were talking about it were those whose opinions I didn’t care for, and although they made it sound much worse than it actually was, a few people whose brains I actually did trust also loved it. In short, I’m not sure why I eventually decided to watch it – I’ve never been one to give in to peer pressure, the show sounded rubbish, but for some reason I watched it. And when I did, I was hooked.

What people who haven’t seen Friends don’t realise is that it isn’t a simple, standard sitcom featuring unrealistically pretty people in unrealistic situations. While it was trendy, while the people involved are too pretty, and while many critics and fans did focus on the more shallow and less important aspects of the show, it was, and still is an incredibly well written show, and features exceptional comedic performances. Much of the humour is zany and offbeat, but not in the obvious way and not in the ironic way seen nowadays. It was a very slight touch – often only a single moment in a single episode. While I never really got wrapped up in the who’s dating who aspect of the show, the characters did grow on me quickly, and I did eventually want certain characters to end up with each other. The show played this card a little too often over the ten years, and a little excessively towards the end, but at its peak it was extremely good at being charming and making the viewer root for someone they loved.

Arguably my favourite funny moment of the show is something that no-one else would ever think of. It was in one of the first few episodes, and Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe appear to be having a sleepover on their balcony. The girls are a little tipsy while talking about relationships. Rachel leans forwards and her cushion falls off the balcony; there’s a beat, and the group continue their chat. For no greater insight into my personality – I’m laughing my nuts off thinking about it now, while you are staring at the screen wondering why that’s funny and thinking what the hell is wrong with me. As I continued to watch, I got into the swing of the dialogue, grew to love each of the friends, saw the highest of high quality of the writing, and even got drawn into the various love duels – one in particular.

Yes, in another time I may say I’m ashamed to say i got drawn into such things, especially as everyone else was talking about the will they, won’t they nature of Ross and Rachel, but for a couple of Seasons there it was wonderful. Even though Ross is a bit of a knob who almost falls into all those ‘Nice Guy’ tropes and traps, there is still something loveable about how inept he was, and it was clear for everyone that he was perfect for Rachel. This all peaks of course in The One With The Prom Video – a flashback episode where the gang find an old Video featuring their younger selves preparing for Prom. For some reason Ross really does not want to watch the video, but everyone else does. We assume for much of the episode that Ross is simply embarrassed about everyone seeing what a doofus he was, but the selfless act at the end leads to one of my favourite moments in the show. But before that, we get plenty of hilarious moments which the writers would revisit with lesser effect throughout the series – Monica’s weight, Chandler’s attraction to trends, Ross’s gradual steps from one strand of geekdom (and his music which is visited later to excellent effect) to another etc. As the Prom video progresses we see that even then Ross was infatuated by Rachel and is upset when he sees that Rachel has been stood up by her date. Upon his parents’ insistence, Ross gets dressed in his tuxedo to offer to take Rachel to the prom (with comedy stair-falling), but just as he is about to come downstairs to ask her if she will go with him he catches Rachel leaving with Monica and their dates – it turns out Rachel’s date was simply late; Ross is broken and the video is turned off. We see that this is why Ross didn’t want the gang to see the video, but as he readies himself for a comic backlash, Rachel approaches him and gives him one of the greatest kisses in TV history. Yay! Fade to black and end the series on a high! Ah, I’m tearing a little at the memory of it, and I still remember the feeling of joy now.

Aside from the main characters, the show had a large and varied cast of recurring characters – some excellent actors who would appear in a handful of episodes, or others who would continue to appear over the 10 Seasons – the various parents of each character, Janice, Gunther, Carol and Susan, Julie, Pete, Mr Heckles, Estelle, Emily – all of them and more felt like real people and not simple two-dimensional figures thrown in to serve some random plot. The show also drew the best of Hollywood as guest stars – Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, George Clooney –  the list goes on, and each made a lasting impact. The show was a cultural phenomenon and everyone wanted a slice. Arguably no show before or since has seen such adoration from fans and critics, and seen so many A-Listers falling over themselves to be a part of it.

The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination
The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination

Another favourite memory of mine is the double Wedding episode set in London. Rachel has rushed to London to stop Ross from marrying Emily and the series ends on a stinking cliffhanger. I remember that when this was first shown in the UK, there was a break between when this episode ended and when the new series began. I can’t recall what the delay was  – it may have been only a week, or it may have been a few months. Luckily one of my friends and me had RTE – the television service of the Irish Republic, which just happened to be showing the new episode of the new series that very night – just after the British broadcast ended. Remember that this was before all the internetting and Tweetbooking we have nowadays, so being one of a select few who were able to catch the new episode and get the resolution to the cliffhanger was a real coup.

Over time though I gradually lost my way with the show. The show began to re-tread similar ideas and I began watching other stuff. I would still tune in the odd time to catch an episode or two, but I didn’t like what I saw – there seemed to be a shift in the humour, the performances were too self-aware, and stories of the actors being paid ridiculous amounts of money all pissed me off. The show seemed to have hit its peak and wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until after the show had officially ended that I returned to it. My girlfriend at the time (later to be my wife) had most of the Seasons on DVD so we had a bargain that I would watch all of Friends with her if she would watch all of Buffy. It was win win for me then as I already liked Friends  and was interested in watching it all again, and I love seeing people’s opinion’s of Buffy changing as they inevitably fall in love with it (took her until the 2nd Season like most people). It turns out that I was right and wrong about the final seasons of Friends – yes the show did become bloated, the actors did become overpaid, but the writing for the large part shone through. Although none of the major plots gripped me as much as the early season plots did, there were still a lot of highlights – Ross and his keyboard, Paul Rudd coming on board, and many other smaller moments, and there were some low points – Rachel and Joey’s relationship being entirely unconvincing and silly.

Nope
Nope

So, for a few years there in my early teens Friends became required Friday night viewing, with each episode being discussed with…ahem… friends on Monday morning. It’s been a few years now since I’ve watched any of it, but I imagine it is still as fresh as ever, and those pieces that may not be so fresh will be saved by nostalgia – funny is always funny if the writing and performances are good. The show is definitely seen as a watershed of the 90s, but it was so smart, and had such an easy and smooth transition between slapstick, satire, pathos, romance, and tragedy, that it’s quality will always ensure it will be watchable. Anyone who ignored the show for any of the reasons I give above, or any other reason, I would advise you to give the show a try – a brief run of episodes in order would be best to get accustomed to the characters and not what you imagine them to be. Some of the acting in the first series isn’t great, but that is greatly improved by the time Season 2 comes along and many of the gimmicks are dropped. It’s a quick and easy show to watch, and there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy in there.

Did you watch Friends religiously when it was first broadcast, or did you come to the show later? What are your favourite moments, episodes, and memories of watching? Let us know in the comments!

Sh*t I Used To Watch/Sh*t I Watch

In this latest series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourite TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

It’s my assumption in these posts, perhaps more than all the other junk on this blog, that you will get a murky picture of the person I both am and once was, and that maybe in a wider lens you’ll get a higher level look at the White, Western, child of the 80s. I’ll let you make your own conclusions, but the most obvious may be that we are what we consume, and our lives are rarely more than a procession of vicarious experience. Drill deeper though and we find a less bleak vision, seeing a communal, shared, loving experience as the most important moments of our lives as a species are no longer things like ‘Which Side Won The War’ or ‘Who Got To The Moon First’ or even ‘Why Are We Here’, but rather ‘Will Rachel And Ross Get It Together’ ‘Who Killed JR/Laura Palmer’ and ‘ WTF is Laddergoat’. Actually, that is kind of bleak.

In today’s post, I will be looking at one of the seminal after-school comedies of my childhood, one backed by a legion of talent and which is still spoken of today in Holy terms.

Maid Marian And Her Merry Men ran for a glorious 5 years from 1989 to 1994, though in that time a meagre 26 episodes were produced. I think those episodes have been repeated several times over the years as I remember watching them during my mid teen years, and laughing my balls off all over again. But, what is the show about, some of you may be asking? The show is very British and features many, many in jokes and topical humour which you’ll likely only ‘get’ if you’re from England, Scotland, Wales, or Ireland. However, the humour is so sharp and wide-ranging that there is much to enjoy here for anyone with a sense of humour, from childhood to adulthood. Having watched some highlights recently on Youtube to see if it still holds up, the answer is a resounding YES.

The show a cross between Monty Python and Blackadder, but aimed at a younger audience, and set around the Robin Hood mythology. The central twist in the tale is that our hero, Robin Hood, is in fact a big sissy, getting by on an invented reputation and that it is actually Maid Marian who is the brains and brawn of the operation. We also have the band of Merry Men, each wonderfully written and with twists upon the character you know from legend – the show had such a power on me that it’s difficult for me to take the ‘real’ Robin Hood characters over the ones here. Each episode basically follows the misadventures of Ye Goodies as they try to mess up the plans of the wicked Sheriff Of Nottingham, King John, and his assorted Goons.

Episodes featured slapstick humour, offbeat, bizarre, and wacky plots, and lots of wonderful songs which will get stuck in your head for days. My favourite though was the satire and how the show would blend its historical setting to modern-day issues, with frequent meta references to movies and TV. I remember when I first watched Prince Of Theives I was laughing my head off that the actor of played Rabies appeared, and that later the show parodied both that movie, and his appearance. The show was always one that I talked about with friends of a similar mind in school the next day, particularly on the reruns, as you could tell instantly the caliber of a person by whether they appreciated the show or not (Spoiler – if you don’t like this, you’re a moron).

As I’ve been typing this, the wonderful theme music hasn’t left my brain – once heard never forgot. I admit I had a big crush on Marian when I was younger, as played by Kate Lonergan. According to various site, Lonergan has since left acting after featuring in a small number of other movies and TV shows, a pity as she was such a delight, but if she’s happy I’m happy. Other talents in the show included Tony Robinson (Blackadder, Time Team), Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf, Blade II), Mike Edmonds (Return Of The Jedi, Dark Crystal) and a host of other familiar British actors. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – as a child of the 80s, we truly did grow up in a Golden Age of Kids TV – and not only from an animated perspective. Aside from all the kid oriented movies of the time, from The Goonies To The Karate Kid and beyond, we had shows like this to give us hope and entertainment and respite from the grim realities of school, homework, and just being young and frustrated, defenseless and voiceless. I think this will be a recurring thought over the rest of these posts.

If you’re interested, please seek out this wonderful series – available to purchase on DVD, and many clips available to browse on streaming sites. You’ll be a better person for it. If you have fond memories of the show, feel free to drop a comment below and if you’re particularly bitter you can even shake your fist at the sky and scream about how they don’t make kids shows like this any more!

My Favourite 60 (ish) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episodes – Part 4 (Season 4)

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In honour of the recent 10 year anniversary of Buffy’s final episode airing (tears), I’m adding my Buffy-related list to the millions of others slaying the internet at the mo. By way of introduction, this is slightly more than just a list, as I’m giving a tiny blurb on each episode along with why it’s a favourite, and I’ll be giving a favourite moment and piece of dialogue too. Most of the 12 people who will read this list, will likely be here because they are already Buffy fans, but for the rest of you, here be spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet (weirdo) go do that first, then come back. I’ll still be here.

Season 4

Season 4, like Season 1, is more of an origin Season, or a mini-linking Season between the Main Plot Bonanza of 2-3 and 5-7. A lot of new characters are introduced, some old favourites leave, or have vanished already, and perhaps most importantly School is left behind and College/University is here. As expected, there is a loss of familiarity throughout the season for the viewers and the characters, and it doesn’t always pay off – at times it feels like a different show.

As you’ll see below from he number of episodes I’ve picked, this isn’t my favourite season. I’ll admit though, it is probably the funniest season of the bunch, with many standalone comedy episodes. What I love best about Buffy (or at least one of the most important pieces) is how it blends comedy, drama, tragedy, action horror all together – Season 4 has a fairly low emotional drive – it’s all comedy and action, with little horror or drama. Unlike others though, I never had much of a problem with The Initiative or Riley. I thought The Initiative was a good idea, which wasn’t pulled off as well as it could have been, again due to real emotional connection. I can’t stand Maggie Walsh – annoying character, acted badly in my humble, against the grain opinion. Adam was an ok baddie, but I never felt the threat as with Angel or The Mayor. As a linking Season I guess Buffy and her friends needed a break from all the trauma already suffered and that yet to come.

Living Conditions

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While Season Pilot The Freshman deals (wonderfully) largely with the excitement, fear, and possible loss (or discovery) of self which can happen in those first days and weeks of going off to University, Living Conditions is the come-down, dealing instead with the annoyances of coping with new people in confined spaces and striking that balance between new maturity and fun. Anyone who moved away from home in their youth, particularly those going to College, will find this episode particularly relatable. On the surface it is a silly, funny, Monster Of The Week episode which doesn’t really tie in with the Season Arc, there are underlying moments which hint at or discuss many of the themes which will be prevalent throughout Season 4; nobody trusts Buffy, and she feels like she is on her own, Oz sees Veruca for the first time, we see (without explanation) the Initiative Commando’s, and we meet everyone’s favourite heart-throb Parker for the first time.

Putting all of those moments aside, this is all about humour, and particularly the brilliant writing and Gellar’s wildly underrated comic abilities. Gellar is superb throughout, with super close-ups of her reactions, from gulping milk, to cringing at Cher, to many wonderful moments shared with Oz – moments which are too few and far between over the course of the whole show.

Favourite Moment: Buffy downing that milk – oh man, that is comedy genius, and if everyone watched a gif of that every morning, the world would be a better place.

Pangs

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Arguably the funniest episode of the whole of BTVS, Pangs sees fantastic comedy turns from everyone, with Spike getting most of the best moments. Five episodes lie between this and Living Conditions, and by this point in the series, the main arcs are in full swing – Spike has returned to Sunnydale and has been captured by, and escaped from The Initiative, and Buffy has been spending time with Riley. This episode sees Spike’s futile attempts at getting food, hindered by the chip which he has been implanted with, rendering him harmless to humans, while Xander and his fellow builders accidentally uncover a buried temple. Nothing buried in Sunnydale is ever good, so when Native American spirits begin murdering people and spreading STDs, it’s down to Buffy and the gang to save the day. On top of all that, this is a crossover episode as Angel comes to Sunnydale after Doyle gets a vision saying she is in trouble. There’s a lot to pack in, but as is true for many of the episodes this Season, all of the details can be glossed over in favour of the laughs.

And boy there are a lot of laughs. From Anya’s imaginings of having sex with Xander, to Spike’s banter with Harmony and attempts to get the psychological upper hand, and survive a siege whilst tied to a chair, this is less of a laugh a minute, more of a laugh every 10 seconds. This episode sets up the future wonderful scenes between Spike and Giles and Spike and Xander, and it’s this episode which truly brings Spike into the fold as part of the regular Scooby fixtures. A few commentators have commented on the racially insensitive plot – I think the writers wanted to actually make a point about the White Man killing all, but don’t manage to pull it off. Aside from some such gripes, this is another breathless lesson in comedy, and one which you will be hurting from afterwards thanks to those laughs – if you follow this up with Angel’s I Will Remember You though, you’ll need to hold those laughs dear to make it through that tearjerker.

Favourite Moment: Buffy makes a bear and Spike is not impressed.

Something Blue

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Um

Following on from the antics of Pangs is another wonderful laugh out loud episode. Spike is still living with Giles drinking pig’s blood in exchange for giving information. While useful info is not forthcoming, he does show his abilities at seeing what no-one else can, namely that Willow is in great pain. Willow’s powers as a Witch are growing, but she is having difficulty coping with the pain of losing Oz. To try to cope, she drunkenly casts a spell to make her pain go away, but somehow instead gives herself the power to make anything she says come true – Giles becomes blind, Amy briefly turns human, then back to a rat, Xander becomes a magnet for demons, and Buffy and Spike fall adorably in love and announce their marriage. It’s almost a fun mockery of magic and how the series deals with magic, throwing in as many ridiculous circumstances as possible. However, there is obvious (whether deliberate or not) foreshadowing of Willow’s future – her growing power, her reliance on magic, her lack of skill coping with loss, her sexuality, and her future as a force of destruction.

Before the darkness of the next two seasons descend though, the central tone of the episode is much lighter – the characters get into various scrapes, but it’s all humourous and there is no real threat or danger. It’s the utter confusion and chaos between each character, and the reactions of each character to what is happening which brings the laughs. The dialogue is whipsmart and fast-paced, the look on the face of Buffy when she announces she’s getting married, the cute flirting which goes on, and the shocked faces of Xander and Giles are perfect, while references to Wind Beneath My Wings, wedding invitations, and other plans are gold.

Favourite Moment: Xander’s triple question reaction to Buffy’s engagement.

Hush

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Well, of course this one was going to be here. From a gimmick point of view, from a novelty standpoint, it’s a critical darling. For me though, it was superb writing and plenty of chills, and builds upon the gimmick of no sound by having the plot and character interaction play just as important a role – lesser shows have attempted the same sort of thing, but have failed miserably. Hush is a clear fan favourite too, appearing on probably every fan’s top 10 episodes. It is almost the perfect Monster Of The Week episode – we have a deadly villain who the gang have to investigate and destroy, the characters are put in jeopardy, and they are acting in an unusually weakened state due to losing their ability to communicate vocally. The particular monster – The Gentlemen, are a particularly memorable bunch – genuinely creepy, and filling the episodes with both dread and jump scares. Indeed, The Gentlemen are frequently voted as the best, and most terrifying bad guys in the whole of Buffy. Their gaping, razor-toothed grins, their silent floating, the calm and… happy way they go about their horrific business, all makes a memorable whole. The fact that they steal your voice and surgically rip out your heart helps too. However, as much as I love them, I don’t find them as terrifying as most fans – I find them quite jovial. I’m actually more disturbed by their bandaged henchmen – wobbling disfigured humanoid creatures who twist and spin about wildly, doing the bidding of their masters. What’s their story? Are they reanimated former victims – tortured into a future of blind obedient horror?

The episode pulls together a bunch of dangling threads from the Season so far – the group have been split this Season more than before, with new friends joining the fold and others leaving or featuring less. Certain members feel like they have metaphorically lost their voice already, and it takes something as drastic as the mass void of sound to make the group come together and flow as a unit like in earlier Seasons. Spike is dealing with being neutered by bitching and annoying everyone, Giles is trying to adapt to no longer being a librarian and having less contact with Buffy, Anya is annoyed that Xander can’t vocalize his love, while Willow is growing frustrated that she doesn’t have an outlet for her growing magical talent, and that the Wicca group is more interested in chat than action. Buffy and Riley are also looking for action of a different kind, but their respect secret identities are getting in the way of their relationship. By the time the episode ends, Buffy and Riley’s secrets are revealed to each other Willow has found a peer in Tara, Giles is left alone again, and Anya and Xander continue having sex.

The episode is notoriously inventive – with the Scoobies having to use a projector to discuss their investigative thoughts in one of the show’s best scenes. For a show known in its early years for witty dialogue, it was a brave move to abandon one of its best qualities for much of the episode. The show relies heavily on sound, with music being an important emotive force – again this is largely cut and replaced with a chilling, effective suite with fairytale qualities. It is apt that Buffy’s scream destroys the monsters, and apt again that having finally found her voice again, she is still unable to speak with Riley at the end. It’s a triumph by what was one of the most talented teams in TV.

Favourite Moment: A toss-up (ahem) between Buffy’s staking motion mime, Anya’s sex mime, and of course, those lovely drawing by Giles.

This Year’s Girl

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Remember school? Remember Season 3? Remember Faith? For fans watching for the first time, the question of whether or not Faith would ever return is finally answered in this episode in the affirmative. If there’s one thing the appearance of Eliza Dushku’s Faith does for an episode, it’s increase the energy. Her boundless energy screams across the screen, giving everything urgency, and her fight scenes with Buffy are always a highlight – usually more violent and action packed than other fights. We get plenty of energy and urgency in this episode – the first part of a two parter – a two-parter that also features as a crossover with Angel.

 The episode beings with a dream sequence – we’ve had a few of these before and we know that a Slayer’s dreams are often portents. We do get foreshadowing here (little sis) and the dream ends violently with Buffy stabbing Faith. We learn that this is actually Faith dreaming, still in a coma, and these dreams, or nightmares, appear to be frequent occurrences – another dream later in the episode features The Mayor and Faith having a picnic, a touching moment, but ruined when Buffy appears, kills The Mayor and again stabs Faith, but Faith later overcomes Dream Buffy and wakes from her coma. While all this is going on, we have the side story of Buffy and Riley chatting about their work and choices, while Willow and Tara get closer. All of this culminates in a superb couple of sequences – Faith watching the video of The Mayor, and Faith’s sudden attack on Buffy at campus, and capping it all off, a brutal fight in Buffy’s house where we learn that the pair have switched bodies.

Much of the episode feels like a prologue to Who Are You, but we get a lot of insight into Faith’s character here. It feels like a goodbye for Faith’s story from the previous Season – we have watched Buffy and Co gradually move away from High School over the course of the Season, but Faith has to do that in the span of a single episode – she learns that she lost, that her truest father figure is dead, and that Buffy seems to still live in a rosy paradise. The dream sequences are interesting – it’s nice to see Faith as the victim and Buffy as the monster.

Favourite Moment: Although Tara’s attempts at punches are pretty funny, that fight scene at the end is epic, one of the most violent in the show’s history, and ends with an awesome twist.

Who Are You

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We pick up pretty much immediately from where we left off – Buffy and Faith have switched bodies – Faith is living it up with Joyce and The Scoobies, and Buffy has been taken away in an ambulance, then a police car, then an armoured track driven by Watcher’s Council members – it’s tough being popular. Faith… explores Buffy’s body…. and then variously interacts with the gang, shocking Tara, voice sexing Spike, and sex sexing Riley. Throughout these interactions we watch the gradual disintegration of Faith – each time someone shows her kindness or gratitude, it rattles her, bringing out unexpected feelings of guilt and happiness. This confusion leads her to want to get away from everything, first fleeing to the airport, but then returning to rescue hostages of Adam’s vampire group. It’s a nice way to both finish off Faith’s early storyline, and set up her redemption arc.

While Faith is growing, Buffy needs to use her skills to evade the Watcher’s Council. Learning that they are going to kill her, she beats them and escapes, leading to a humourous encounter with Giles, where she reminds him of his body switching, mother lovin’ past. Once again Buffy and Faith clash, with Faith (as Buffy) destroying Buffy (as Faith) in the midst of a breakdown. Buffy gets the upper hand, switching bodies again, while Faith escapes. We meet up with Faith again in LA, where she clashes with Angel and the gang, eventually turning towards the righteous path in a story that echoes Angel’s own past.

This is a wonderful episode for the fans, with a bunch of important continuity and references which reward long time viewers. There is character growth, largely on Faith’s part, we get more of Tara meeting the gang, we get some funny moments, more crushing fights, and two amazing performances from Gellar and Dushku – once again the actors on this show are incredible. This current run of form in the 4th Season is remarkable -it’s just a pity that we didn’t get a decent Big Bad to truly spark fear or emotional concern.

Favourite Moment: Faith trying out Buffy’s body in the mirror – that’s gots to be everyone’s favourite scene, right?

Superstar

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Woo hoo, another event episode, the middle part of the Season’s ‘Event Trilogy’. Hush had no dialogue, Restless is a Lynch inspired mess, while Superstar flips the Buffyverse on its head, giving an alternate vision of Sunnydale – a Sunnydale where our little friend Jonathan is a hero which men, women, and Slayers worship. It’s a fun episode, taking us back the central comedy stylings of the series. This episode seems to get a lot of criticism from fans, mostly because they don’t like Jonathan – I’ve always liked Jonathan, but again this is another well written piece of comedy, another interesting look at one of the most important, long serving side characters, and features laid-back, fun performances from all.

The episode sees Jonathan casting a spell on Sunnydale which turns him into a Superstar – actor, musician, demon-slaying hero, military mastermind, all-round genius, and ladies man, with everyone worshipping him. This leads to a lot of humour and interesting interaction, but it isn’t long before the gang realises that something isn’t quite right. It’s interesting that Adam is able to see through the lie immediately, the spell not impacting him, and equally interesting that the gang is able to remember the events and the feelings after the spell is destroyed. There is a fair amount of foreshadowing, with the gang learning of a potential weakness of Adam’s, with Jonathan learning, and showing some skill with magic – not to mention his continuing desire to bend the world to the way he wants it to be and need to be part of a loving family.

Overall this is a silly, throwaway episode, but one with a lot of fun antics and nods to pop culture, such as Jonathan starring as Neo in The Matrix. It’s not the strongest of the alternate reality episodes, but it’s nice to see a Jonathan-centric episode, and always funny watching the group react to bizarre changes.

Favourite Moment: Giles admitting he has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar.

Restless

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Hmm

The strangest finale of any Buffy series, and the strangest episode in all of the Buffy/Angel canon, Restless is a critic’s dream – an experimental episode merging dreams, foreshadowing, memories in a non-linear structure, wrapped around a loose plot and filled with memorable, cryptic dialogue, and even more memorable, cryptic imagery. It’s the stuff that bad essays are written on. Call it Lynchian, call it weird – it all at once is skippable and unmissable, unimportant and vital.

After an action packed, but emotion-lite true finale in Primeval where the group dispatched of Adam thanks to an uber-joining-spell, the Scoobies meet at Buffy’s house for a night of relaxing, movies, and chat. The group fall asleep and begin having strange dreams – the episode showing us the dreams of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Buffy in succession. The dreams flow like actual dream, with reality bending wildly, and characters appearing and disappearing without explanation, and saying and acting in strange ways. In each dream it appears that the dreamer is being stalked by a malevolent force, each dream ending with the dreamer being killed. It turns out that The First Slayer is not impressed by Buffy, woken by the joining spell in the previous episode, and is punishing her by killing her friends. In a Nightmare On Elm Street inspired ending, Buffy mentally defeats her foe, and everyone wakes up and discusses. The episode ends with Buffy staring, confused into her bedroom while Tara’s voice from Buffy’s dream again says that Buffy has no idea what is coming.

Phew, as mentioned, there are many terrible essays about this episode, and many well written pieces made by people much better and more dedicated than me. They go into minute detail on each dream, each word, incident, colour, speck. I won’t be doing that here, but I’ll cover briefly the main points in each dream, starting with Willow. Willow’s dream, like those of the others, centres on fear, her fear being that she could return to the mousey, nervous, no-friends Willow of the past after growing into a strong, independent woman. Willow is transported back to school, long hair, loser clothes and all, and is put on stage again recalling some Season 1 antics and fears. Willow eventually is attacked by The First Slayer and has her spirit sucked away. Xander fears are also adolescent and mirror many he has shown throughout the season – that everyone else is moving on while he is trapped in a loop, never maturing, never leaving his parents’ basement. Also punctuating the dream is, of course, a bunch of sex, with the notorious line ‘Do you wanna come in the back with us’ escaping censorship. He eventually has his heart pulled out.

Giles sings and acts as a father figure in his dream, one which is more concerned about anxiety than fear, and as he works out what is going on, the First Slayer removes his head. Buffy’s dream features a cryptic-speak Tara, a wall-living Joyce, a Dictator Riley,  and various other quick-fire interactions before she confronts the First Slayer and defeats her. Buffy’s dream foreshadows her own death, the death of her mother, and the appearance of Dawn, and the episode acts (only upon recollection) as a nice bridge into the much darker 5th Season. It would have been nice if some of the other characters from previous seasons had made an appearance – Angel, Cordelia, Amy, Miss Calendar, Faith, even Larry were all meant to appear, but were eventually written out or replaced later. As tragic as that is, it’s great to see Oz and Snyder for one last time, and Harmony pops up in an amusing cameo. An utterly confusing episode for a newcomer, but wonderfully rewarding for the long time fan, especially on re-watch. I remember enjoying this first time around, and of course being a little bemused by it all, but it’s an episode that grows in stature with each watch. Oh, there’s also some moron with cheese.

Favourite Moment: Probably something from Xander’s dream, either the cool sets that he runs and crawls and climbs through only to keep appearing in his basement, or Snyder’s Col. Kurtz scene.

Well, there you have it – my favourite episodes in Season 4. The laughter is done, and all we have left to look forward to is darkness, death, and despair, otherwise known as Seasons 5, 6, and 7. Chime in below with your favourite episodes from Season 4, and your favourite moments. And don’t forget to check out the other Season recaps here:

 Season 1: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-1-seasons-1/

Season 2: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-2-season-2/

Season 3:https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/my-favourite-60-ish-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-episodes-part-3-season-3/

Are You Afraid Of The Dark? – The Tale of The Prom Queen

Greetings Glancers! This episode opens with a longer than usual piece of campfire fun, as Kristen, clad in a creepy old Wedding Dress, sneaks up on our group of losers while they sit around moaning that she is always late (you may recall she was late in our previous episode). ‘For effect’ she says, as she speaks in an English accent, proclaiming her version of the tale she’s about to tell, to be the one true version. There’s a thing where I’m from, where all children, once they reach a certain age, begin speaking with American accents when they are playing. Now, they aren’t imitating their favourite TV show, movie, or celebrity, they’re just playing some imagined game and use American accents. Boys and girls. I did it. My friends did it. And I still see little kids doing it now. Why is this? Also, do American kids do this, but with English accents instead?

Charmed, I'm sure
Good Day. I’m English.

Onto the tale, and we open on that staple of Horror Fiction – The Graveyard – as a girl leaves a bouquet beside a grave. It’s certainly at atmospheric opening, with no dialogue for the first minute, and a couple of nice jump scares which are well-timed enough to make cause a jolt in younger viewers. We meet our three protagonists – Jam (America), Greg, and Dede (America). Greg seems like a lovely fellow, aside from the hanging around Graveyard business, Jam has long hair and pronounces the letter ‘S’ as if his teeth have been replaced by clothes pegs, and Dede is full of secrets. The first thing you may notice is that the trio are much older than the usual cast who make up the story. I’m assuming as Prom is coming up that they are all around 17 years old compared with the usual early teens who make up other episodes. I don’t know how old the actor playing Jam was at the time, but he seems older than his character, his face having too many lines and looking like it’s made of leather.

Like looking in a mirror

He also has a bit of a manic look about him which may or may not be a sign of poor acting or attempt at a red herring. I’ll go for the latter. Anyhoo, lets take look at what Amazon says about the episode:

Greg and Jam, while hunting for ghosts, find a young girl, Dede,standing over a gravestone. Legend has it that a ghost appears each prom night waiting for a ride that never comes. The kids investigate to find that a young girl was the victim of a hit and run accident while waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up for their prom in 1956′

We soon get stuck into the plot, as Jam tells Dede, for no apparent reason as they have only just met literally 10 seconds before, the local Urban Legend about a girl killed in a hit and run. The girl, buried in her Prom dress returns to wander the graveyard every year on Prom Night, thanks to those handy digital calendars they started installing in coffins in the early 90s. For some reason there are a bunch of extreme close up reaction shots during this scene which always make me laugh uncontrollably, especially when there is a flick of an eye or a raised eyebrow to accompany it. The gang decide to find the grave, looking around the graveyard, checking old newspapers in the town library to find proof of the accident, which they find in 1956. Before they make it to the library they stop off for milkshakes, where this little exchange takes place:

Jam (offering the milkshake) – ‘You want the rest of this?’

Dede – ‘No thanks, I’m not hungry’.

Now, my experience of American milkshakes may be limited, and I know how you guys LOVE your food, but surely you don’t need to be hungry to have a milkshake. It’s a drink, right? Sure they may be thick with ice cream, but it’s still a drink. Or have you been make milkshakes from burgers all this time? Are all of your drinks considered a meal?

Soooo Thirsty….

At the library, the trio make the grim discovery that Judy, the girl who was killed, was waiting for her boyfriend Ricky to pick her up, but he never got the message. Hmm, i realise this was the 50s, but surely communication wasn’t that bad – you know you’re going to the Prom together, yet don’t tell each other when and where to meet? Silly boo. Ricky, in his grief, drove his car off a bridge, dying too. throughout this scene, we know someone is creeping up on the gang, but don’t worry – it’s only the inexplicable library tea lady. I’ve been in many libraries in my time and have never yet encountered one of these. The trio declines the offer of tea, having filled their stomachs already on milkshakes.

Poor Greg, it’s obvious you have a trouser bulge for Dede, and when you try to flirt a little with her, she responds with a resounding ‘KEEE!’ and wanders off. You’re about to get some blue balls, my son. That night, they group apparently get boating lessons, steal a boat, and perform a séance in the water near the spot where Ricky drowned. This leads to some Cthulu farts under their boat, or perhaps Ricky, and the group are chased onto the land where they collapse 3 feet from the water instead of bolting down the road, screaming. Jam, horrified for two minutes, switches quickly back to creepy mode saying they need to wait at Judy’s grave the next night.

In all honesty, the creepy stuff works pretty well in this episode, with most of te second half taking place at night, with building tension and a spooky atmosphere. As with most episodes, they miss a trick in one scene, where the trio are positioned facing the camera, with the backdrop of the graves behind them. A hooded figure appears in this scene, but only when Jam turns around and alerts the others to this presence. What would have worked better would have been the figure appearing in the background and approaching the trio while the remained unaware, facing the camera till the last moment. It’s another red herring, but is soon replaced by another spooky appearance – that of an old Chevvy. And with that, the twist is revealed! I won’t spoil it, but it isn’t that unsurprising, and while I’m sure most kids would be tricked by it, older viewers should have it all worked out (even though there aren’t any hints pointing towards it). Ricky looks like a right wee scumbag, and Judy would be safer getting out of that car.

Get out of your pants, and into my car
Get out of your pants, and into my car

The ghost Chevvy passing through the gate is actually a nice effect, not too shabby at all. We return to the campfire where the group are left suitably spooked by the tale. This was a fun episode, focussing on a familiar horror story, and with some decent performances, scares, and a nice twist. Speaking of performances, lets take a few moments to honour the cast of this episode. Katie Griffin stars as Dede, and aside from looking constipated in most scenes, does a fine job. Before I speak of her other roles, I must say that this lady has changed in the years since this episode was created – she looks a lot different from then. Anyway, Griffin has carved out an impressive resume over the last few decades, but HOLY BALLS SHE WAS IN ROBOCOP! One of my favourite movies ever, she appears in an uncredited role as ‘Young Girl’. I’m assuming this is in one of the adverts within the films, or in some ‘Stay Out Of Trouble’ background scene. Aside from a large list of TV movies and minor TV shows I haven’t seen, she is famous for a recurring voice role in Sailor Moon. Moving on from that, she has appeared in a number of other English versions of Japanese cartoons, such as Beyblade and Bakugan Battle Brawlers, but may be best known for Totally Spies where she voices for Alex.

The rest of the cast has had much smaller careers, with Andre Todorovic (Greg) having only 3 other credits, and Graeme Millington (Jam) appearing in a handful of other movies, his biggest role as Kyle in the TV series Black Harbour. Rounding out the cast, Irene Kessler stars as the Tea Lady and has an odd selection of 13 credits since 1978, while Amyas Godfrey (Jam’s Cousin) left media to become the head of UK Armed Forces Programme at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Finally, Matthew Mackay (Ricky) joins the list of actors who appear in AYAOTD in more than one episode, so we’ll keep an eye out for him again and see if he looks less like a scumbag then. Most notably, he appears in the Irish Gang TV series Claddagh as The Assassin.

What are your memories of this episode? I don’t recall seeing this first time around, but I’m sure many of you do. Let us know in the comments. Next time around, we’ll be dealing with Dash X lookalike Peter, in The Tale Of The Captured Souls. Sweet Dreams!

Are You Afraid Of The Dark? The Tale Of The Hungry Hounds

Reading the synopsis of this episode on Lovefilm (now Amazon Prime streaming) before watching, I remembered very clearly some pieces from when I first watched it many years ago. In fact, this is the episode I previously alluded to in a previous post as remembering. Having re-watched it now, I’m not certain why it had such an impact on me, especially when I’ve enjoyed some previous episodes more than I enjoyed this one – maybe it was the first I saw. It does have its merits, which we’ll get to, but overall it isn’t a particularly good show. Then again, when you’re a man of the world, they say you always remember your first, rather than all the hundreds which follow –

My first… the two beside her came soon after. Ahem.

A brief look online suggests that this is one of the most oft and fondly remembered episodes of the series, so it must come down to the performances, the atmosphere, and the visuals, because everything else is rather lackluster. But before we get down to business, lets see what the blurb has to offer:

‘During summer vacation, Amy visits her cousin Pam, who lives in the country. While rummaging through the old family possessions in the attic, they come across a picture of Aunt Dora, who died tragically at a very young age. To their amazement, she looks strikingly like Pam. The girls find a trunk from which a scratching sound emerges at the mention of Aunt Dora’s name’

So, as I mentioned above, the episode has some clear strengths – it has easily the best acting of the series so far, and it has a truly unique, unusual atmosphere – something more akin to Twin Peaks, Jacob’s Ladder, or a nightmare. There is a sadness ripe throughout, and this would have been a much more powerful episode had all the other vital elements been up to scratch. Sadly though, the story is a complete mess, with more hole than plot, and you’ll be left bewildered and frustrated by questions – it truly does seem to be a half-assed story which no-one understands, writers included. The basics are that Pam puts on her Aunt Dora’s old horse-riding jacket which simultaneously turns her into Dora, and opens a portal in the attic to the past/some other dimension, and the cousins/aunts/girls, try to right a past injustice before Al appears and makes some lurid wisecrack.

Horses eh? They used to say I was hung like a –

The whole thing seems to be about guilt, with Pam’s mother never forgiving herself for forgetting to feed the Hungry Hounds of the title – if this still doesn’t make sense, you should probably watch the episode (spoiler – it still won’t make sense). Just a note on that title – I used to live near a chippie called The Hungry Hound. Further up the road, there was a Hungry Hound II. Possibly there was some wacky inter-dimensional salt and vinegar goings on going on on that road. Regardless, both were tasty.

The episode starts with Kristen arriving late to the party, bringing her dog, Elvis, along for effect. This prompts some truly bizarre activity, including the completely absurd ‘my dad says Elvis is king’ comment, which arrives and leaves without prompting or follow-up. That was one of the most cringe-inducing moments of the series so far. Once the pleasantries are out-of-the-way, we meet Pam and Amy, cousins and friends. continuing the dual kid dynamic from previous episodes, this time the girls are actually good friends, and on a level with each other, though there is some basic city girl versus country gal fun early on which doesn’t lead anywhere. Pam loves to ride horses, but her mother tried to stop her at every turn, continuing the useless/absent parents theme of the series – early on Pam’s mother almost causes Pam to break her spine by honking on her horn as Pam is trying to mount a horse. When will these crazy parents learn that being overly cautious only leads inevitably to broken spines!?

Speaking of weird things – what’s with the weird midi file music? And why is the chest of riding gear in the attic covered by a shroud of smoke? Anyway, once the riding jacket goes on, the weird goes off, with a portal and stairs opening to another world and/or time. The image of those stairs was one which I could remember vividly, so kudos to the show for some brain-etching. The girls do a Red Riding Hood through a forest and end up in a graveyard, naturally. Pam goes for an Emmy with a lovely little speech about Foxes, hunger, and being ripped to shreds, and suddenly, a creepy old ghost appears – again, kudos for this startling and unsettling image. Unfortunately, his weird accent veers towards Irish and his voice has some cheesy vocal effect added, so the chills fade rapidly. So Giles had a heart-attack running away from the Hounds? Did Dora die when she fell off the horse? Was she eaten? The build-up to Pam/Dora opening the door is filled with tension for the young-hearted, but even the most timid child would laugh when we see the hungry hounds are a group of the least frightening, small, happy dogs you’re every likely to meet.

RIP THIS BITCH APART!

After somehow surviving this terrible onslaught, Amy makes it back to the attic, where it turns out Pam was hiding all along, behind a pile of jackets. Was it all a dream? Does Pam remember nothing? What was it all about? I’m still none the wiser about why Pam’s mother is so guilty and frightened of horses. Anyway, the curse is lifted and everyone lives happily ever after.

As I mentioned, the acting in this episode was the best so far, at least from the kids. Lets pay our respects. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that Pam is played by a young Mia Kirshner, known for her adult roles in a variety of TV shows and movies – Mandy from 24, Kenya from Defiance, Jenny from The L Word, and the titular Elizabeth Short from the poor Black Dahlia. Her successful career is unfortunately not matched by her cousin Amy, played by Jennifer Gula. Gula only has 3 other credits to her name, nothing of note. Equally short-lived is the mother of the piece, played by Ais Snyder who appeared in tiny roles in a handful of 90s films, while David Francis, who played the ghost has popped up in minor parts in big movies like 300 and in bigger parts in a number of notable TV Series like Fortier.  He even returns for 2 more episodes of AYAOTD.

A strange episode then which, though messy, manages to successfully stay with you. Don’t forget to share your memories in the comments and check out my other episode reviews. Next up, we go back to school with The Tale Of The Prom Queen. Sweet Dreams!

Ziggy!

My Favourite 60 (ish) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episodes – Part 2 (Season 2)

In honour of the recent 10 year anniversary of Buffy’s final episode airing (tears), I’m adding my Buffy-related list to the millions of others slaying the internet at the mo. By way of introduction, this is slightly more than just a list, as I’m giving a tiny blurb on each episode along with why it’s a favourite, and I’ll be giving a favourite moment and piece of dialogue too. Most of the 12 people who will read this list, will likely be here because they are already Buffy fans, but for the rest of you, here be spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet (weirdo) go do that first, then come back. I’ll still be here.

Season 2

While Season 2 retains much of the Monster-of -the week formatting of Season 1, there is a much greater adherence to the overall arc. Even the most seemingly one-off episode gives a few pointers to the overall progression of the story, and continuity. Season 2 is my favourite of the bunch, as I find it to be the most emotional, gripping, and funniest series, and it contains the episodes I love most. We meet wonderful new characters, we wave goodbye to others, and the show truly bares its teeth towards the end as we descend into much darker territory.

School Hard

The third episode of Season 2 is where the series truly kicks into gear as When She Was Bad feels more like an interim episode to tie up loose ends from Season 1 and introduce us to the darker themes of Season 2, while Some Assembly Required was a simple Monster-Of-The-Week episode. In School Hard we catch up The Annointed One, but more importantly, we are introduced to Spike – double Slayer killer, and his psychotic, psychic partner Drusilla. Their actions in this episode are potent enough to make the viewer sit up and actively feel the series moving into a new, higher gear.

This episode effectively kicks of the Season 2 Arc, presenting us with 2 thirds of the Big Bad, whilst informing us that Spike, Drusilla, and Angel have a past… this intrigue will grow as the season progresses. Other intriguing moments – Buffy struggling to hide her secret identity from her mother in an interesting parallel to a later Season 2 episode, Snyder revealing that he is aware of the supernatural events of Sunnydale, and Buffy’s mum is named and has her first interaction (like everyone) with Spike.

Favourite Moment: Spike and Drusilla’s first meeting with The Annointed One, their writhing together as if a single entity, their banter, it’s a great introduction which the pair rarely match again.

Inca Mummy Girl

This episode rarely makes anyone’s list of favourites, but it’s one I enjoyed from first viewing. Not only do we see some growth on behalf of Xander’s character, but we meet Oz, Jonathan, and it is the first episode to deal with a genuinely tragic figure/tale, and gives us one of our best early ambiguous baddies in The Incan Mummy (most commonly known as Ampata even though Ampata is the foreign exchange student killed early in the episode).

This is important in the steadily growing emotional force of the season, sowing the seed that Buffy is alone even though surrounded by family and friends, as well as preparing us in a small, but genuine way for all the death and loss which comes later. Even though the focus appears to be on Xander, as he experiences the loss of a potential lover, the episode is really about Buffy and her life paralleled by The Mummy, who also had her life stolen away by fate and without her influence.

That’s not to say the episode doesn’t have it’s lighter moments – the various costumes the Scoobies wear (particularly Willow’s Eskimo costume – incidentally, do any of these costumes act as metaphors for the characters a la Halloween?), and seeing Xander trying to act all charming is, well, charming. First seeing this at around the age of 16, Ampata was also extremely cute, and Ara Celi gives one of the best performances of any early supporting character.

Favourite Moment: It’s a toss up between a couple of scenes: Xander and fake-Ampata’s flirtation on the playing field is very sweet, while Buffy and fake-Ampata’s discussion about being chosen is touching, sad, and acted touchingly by Celi and Gellar.

Halloween

Buffy_2x06_Halloween_162

Halloween is an all-round entertaining episode which introduces Larry, Ethan Rayne (giving us our first glimpse into Giles’s mysterious past), and serves a stepping stone to several relationships; Buffy wants to please Angel and agrees to go on a date with him (leading her choice of costume) and Oz and Willow have their first interaction (without actually knowing it). This episode is also important to plot and character development in several ways – Xander’s military costume gives him knowledge that will be important later, and while it gives him a surge of confidence, he appears to lose it again. Willow learns, in a similar fashion that she can lead the group and save the day which is a large step for her, and Buffy learns that she can be herself with Angel. They kiss.

The episode plays with the idea of switched personalities, with Buffy becoming a helpless 18th Century maiden, Xander becoming a hardened soldier, and Willow being some sort of sexy ghost. Elsewhere, Cordelia wears a cat costume, and Spike sees the chaos as a chance to cause havoc, even though Halloween is typically an off-day for the supernatural. Xander and Cordelia spend more time in each other’s company, and Giles and Miss Calendar’s relationship seems to be taking tiny, timid steps forwards. This is a mostly light episode with plenty of action and laughs, one of the last before the series shows its tragic colours.

Favourite Moment: Cordy as a cat? Willow as a something? Buffy scared of a car?

Lie To Me

Buffy_2x07_LtM_342

While previous episodes had mostly been light fare, some had provided a few moments of genuine sadness. Lie To Me is the first episode which truly deals with sadness, loss, and expands upon the season’s theme of ambiguous evils. It’s one that gets forgotten under the weight of the later, more emotional episodes, but it still has a fair amount of power, and its potency remains sharp after many rewatches. Buffy and Angel share some mutual jealousy (Angel with Ford, Buffy with Drusilla), and Buffy is annoyed that the scoobies were working behind her back. It’s the first time Buffy meets Drusilla and we learn more of her back story with Spike, and we also meet Chanterelle who will make infrequent future appearances.

The episode’s force comes from Buffy’s relationship with Ford – he is someone she has known for a large part of her life, and his appearance in Sunnydale is obviously a massive thing for someone who sees herself as an outsider. Ford though has ulterior motives, wanting to become a vampire. We think this is simply an ugly, naive fascination he feels, similar to the rest of the cult he entertains, but his actions are greyed by the shocking gut-punch he delivers to Buffy near the end of the episode – his real reason for wanting to turn. By the end of the episode, Buffy grows much closer to Giles, as exemplified by their Lie To Me discussion.

This is the first true tear-jerking episode, acting as a test for what will be coming in the second half of the season.

Favourite Moment: Angel’s clothing mishap in the Lonely Ones club? Buffy’s argument with Ford over his motives? All good, but I think that final scene with Giles and Buffy is my favourite, beautifully filmed and with nice dialogue, delivered perfectly.

What’s My Line Parts 1 and 2

Buffy_2x10_WML2_014

The first of this Season’s two parter’s is arguably the weakest, but when your weakest two-parter is still amongst the best couple of hours TV ever you know you’re onto a winner. This is a mixture of mystery and intrigue, comedy and romance, action and horror, we meet new faces, and we see our first major, series-changing twist. It’s also in this episode that Buffy and Angel truly cement their love, while Xander and Cordelia finally embark on their torrid relationship.

The episode begins simply enough, with another pointless rites-of-passage to suffer through – Career Week. Buffy is only getting used to the idea of a (potentially short and brutal) life as a Slayer, dealing with school, and is only starting to negotiate the realisation of a life with an immortal who will never age while she continues to, so the idea that she may never be able to have a normal life comes as a depressing bombshell. However, later events paint her future in a positive light as we see she does have a future, and may have a pseudo-escape from being Chosen.

Meanwhile, Spike is up to his old tricks, looking for a way to heal Drusilla and take out the Slayer. He finds a potential solution to both problems, sending a an ancient group of assassins to do the dirty work for him. This creates a great deal of tension for Buffy as she and her friends are repeatedly attacked by the Order – the problem is that the assassins could be anywhere, or anyone at any time. Xander and Cordelia face off against a maggot man, and in facing death in the face, they kiss. While this is going on, Willow finally gets talking with Oz, and they have an instant, beautiful connection and rapport. Buffy’s first interaction with Oz is to slam him through a locker, believing him to be one of the assassins.

The episode heads towards its twist when Angel goes to Willy’s Bar (first appearance) for information, only to be attacked by one of the (we are led to believe) assassins, who locks him in a cage as sunlight creeps nearer. The episode ends with Buffy and this girl having a fight, only for her to reveal that she is ‘Kendra, the Vampire Slayer’. Gasp! Since episode 1 we have been told that there was only one, a Chosen ONE, but Part 2 reveals that Buffy’s death in Prophecy Girl called forth a new Slayer. Gasp! We get to see Giles’s cute, child-like excitement over this development, Buffy and Kendra argue over the notion of a ‘good vampire’ nevermind being in love with one, Angel is captured and tortured by Spike who plans to kill him to restore Drusilla, Buffy is almost shot, Oz takes the bullet, and we end with an epic church battle between assassins, Spike, and the Scoobies, and although the good guys win, it appears Drusilla is not restored to some super-vampire state. Gasp!

So much happens over the course of these two episodes that it would take hundreds more words just to scratch the surface. Aside from the relationship stuff going on, the episode sees Buffy taking a more mature approach to her role as Slayer, an acceptance, but also an understanding that she is not alone. Each episode moves at breakneck speed, and it’s amazing to watch in retrospect that so much important stuff happens which would have a ripple effect right until the final episode. I think that if I wasn’t hooked by this point when Buffy was first aired, this two-parter sealed the deal and held me in awe. Great new characters – I love Kendra and would have loved to have seen her in more episodes, the assassins are each interesting, particularly maggot man (who looks exactly like a weird guy who got the same bus from University as I did), and it’s nice to see Buffy and Kendra part in a positive way. From now one, things are going to go downhill rapidly…

Favourite Moment: I like Kendra’s reveal, and I like Buffy kissing vamp-face Angel, and I love Cordelia and Xander’s first kiss. Oh how I giggled like a school girl who giggles a lot. But I think my favourite moment is Drusilla emerging from the wreckage of the church, dangling Spike like a broken spider on a thread. They had built her up to be such a mysterious presence that the revalation that she may be restored to full power made me wonder how strong she actually was.

Surprise

Buffy_2x13_Surprise_003

It’s Buffy’s Birthday, and as all BTVS fans know, Birthdays, and Halloween, and – well – celebrations of any kind really – do not go down too well on this show. Beginning with an effectively creepy, and prophetic dream, we see Angel’s death. This leads Buffy into his arms where we get a particularly smokey, sexually-charged scene. Elsewhere, all seems lovely as Oz and Willow prepare for a first date, Xander and Cordelia banter and argue, and Spike and Drusilla conspire to bring back an indestructible demon whose limbs were scattered across the globe; A nice surprise for Buffy’s Birthday bash. This is an extremely important episode in the series – we find out why Jenny is really in Sunnydale and watch the tiny steps towards her tragic demise, and we see Buffy and Angel have sex, which completely changes the tone of the series and sets up the second half of the season.

The first half of this two-parter is the culmination of all the growing passion and tension and romance between Buffy and Angel, finally exploding in a tender, drenched, shivering scene. I love the build up to this as everything surrounding the characters seems so urgent and hectic – it’s hardly surprising that it’s this episode that they decide to get it on. Their lives are put in danger, the pressure of Spike and Drusilla’s threat has been growing, they fail in their attempt to stop the resurrection of The Judge, and their friends are beginning to have doubts about their relationship. And then there is that cliffhanger – when watching this for the first time, although the signs are there, it’s not obvious what has happened to Angel, or what it means – but all that will soon be made gruesomely clear.

Favourite Moment: As always, it’s difficult to pick a favourite for these Season 2 episodes which I love so dearly. I think it gets off to a brilliant start with Drusilla’s shock appearance in Buffy’s dream, in Buffy’s house. For me, that is one of the most frightening moments in the series, and one where a vampire actually seems like a vicious, demonic, thing, devoted only to death.

Innocence

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One of my all time favourite episodes, this continues right where we left off. It’s interesting that we choose to focus on Angel for the first moments rather than Buffy, but we see immediately that Angel is dead and gone, and Angelus has awoken in his place. He kills an innocent passerby, with a devilish glee not yet witnessed by any evil on the show, and we watch as he rejoins his old crew, even surprising The Judge with his complete lack of humanity – the audience knows for sure that a truly terrible creature has been unleashed – any none of our Scoobies know. The rest of the episode follows in a downward spiral – Angel systematically destroys Buffy with his barbs, relishing the torture rather than trying to kill her; Willow is broken-hearted when she catches Xander and Cordy kissing; Buffy almost kills Jenny who is later cast out by the group, especially Buffy and Giles; Jenny’s uncle is killed; Buffy gets older.

This all builds to an effective series of action scenes where Buffy and the gang devise a brilliant plan for destroying The Judge. After this Angelus and Buffy have their first fight, which is bloody, heart-pumping, and quite different from most fights in the show up till this point. Although Buffy wins the fight, she cannot bring herself to stake the vampire, and it feels like a shallow win in the midst of a losing battle.

There is so much to love in this episode, as it brilliantly handles the darker scenes whilst still giving supreme action and the usual strong dialogue. I buzz with every viewing, and was bouncing all over the room the first time I watched. There are many iconic moments – Buffy crumbling under Angel’s accusations which will be particularly painful for anyone who has gone through a similar situation (minus vampires), Buffy’s attack on Jenny is shocking, the end of The Judge is a classic moment, and Buffy and Angelus’s fight is as water drenched as their loving encounter the previous night. It ends on a complete downer, with Buffy, childlike in her mum’s arms, admitting that she has suddenly been forced to grow up. Poor Buffy – a heartbreaking end to a breathless episode.

Favourite Moment: I’ve already mentioned a lot of iconic moments above, and any of those could be a favourite, from Buffy choking Jenny, to the rocket-launcher surprise, to Giles saying he hasn’t lost faith in Buffy.

Passion

Oh Lordy, first there was heartbreak, then there was Passion. Possibly my favourite all time Buffy episode, Passion is has a tragic inevitability throughout which can only be truly appreciated in hindsight. It’s one big mind-fuck, singularly designed to destroy us all. We see how various characters are trying to makes amends for their past actions, namely Jenny, who attempts a spell to return Angel’s soul. Naturally, Drusilla gets a psychic whiff of air about this, and the soulless trio set out to save their beloved Angelus. Meanwhile, Buffy is in the early stages of forgiving Jenny, as is Giles, whilst Angel is continuing his slow-burning torture – killing Willow’s fish, stalking the characters as they sleep, telling Joyce that he slept with her daughter – all creepy of course, but nothing truly dangerous.

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You would be forgiven for thinking this is just another episode of safe television – there is a problem, Buffy and Co. are in danger, Buffy saves the day in the nick of time. But you would be forgetting that this is a Joss Whedon show. Since Angelus arrived, there has been an extra potency to the threat of Season 2, a viciousness that has topped even Spike and Drusilla, but even so, when Angel finds Miss Calendar alone in the school at night, we still believe she will escape – she’s a main character! Alas, Angel catches her under the moonlight, as cars pass by outside, and snaps her neck. With that crack, the series truly takes a step forwards, and marks the first of many main character deaths.

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And yet, we, and Angelus, are not done. We still have to witness the aftermath and reaction – Angelus thoroughly enjoying watching Buffy and Willow’s devastating reaction, and the psychotic, painstakingly artistic way Angelus delivers his ‘gift’ to Giles. And to top it off, we see Giles enter the lion’s den, and almost, almost, destroy the evil trio himself. In the end though, are heroes are defeated, deflated, and don’t know where to turn. The only certainty is that Buffy is now ready to kill.

Favourite Moment: Good Lord, as my favourite episode, I don’t know what to pick here. Everything hurts so much in this episode, I feel like a psychopath picking a favourite moment out of so much misery. I think Buffy and Willow’s breakdown is my favourite moment, as the acting is so strong we breakdown ourselves, even though we don’t hear them speak, even though we are watching through the eyes of a murderer, from a distance.

Killed By Death

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Even with the main arc causing havoc to our characters, we still have time for a few strong monster of the week episodes, some which tie in to the arc neatly, some which feature it in passing. And we have Go Fish. Killed By Death is a standalone which manages to hint at future episodes in Seasons 5 and 6 by showing us a deeper glimpse into Buffy’s psyche, displaying her memories, and keeps the Angelus, Spike, Drusilla plot to a minimum.

This is a mostly standalone episode dealing with Buffy’s fear of weakness, wrapped around a plot about her fear of hospitals – turns out her cousin died in hospital at an early age which traumatized Buffy. Further turns out that her cousin was actually murdered by a Krueger-esque demon. Further further turns out that this demon is lurking the hospital Buffy is taken to in this episode, following a convenient bout of flu. Buffy, in a weakened state, haunted by memories and stalked by Angelus, must overcome the odds to defeat a foe which only children can see, saving the lives of the ward’s kids, and to some extent avenging her cousin.

Der Kinderstod is one of the series most memorable, most scary demons – I would rank him above The Gentlemen. The way he creeps around the dark hallways is unsettling enough, but he seems to have a swagger as if he knows he is unstoppable, has been killing children for decades, and will continue to do so. He is everything we fear in a boogeyman. The scenes in which we actually see him attack are pretty terrifying, those eyes coming out of his head and…. well, you can watch for yourself. It would have been nice to see this episode having a greater impact on Buffy’s character in later episodes, but I don’t think we ever explore the memories and fears presented here too deeply later. It’s proof though that Buffy can still make standalone episodes just as powerful as those concerned with the main season arc.

Favourite Moment: I love the insidious nature of this episode, and how Buffy seems largely helpless. I like the first appearance of Der Kinderstod, walking slowly past the doorway, scary stuff.

I Only Have Eyes For You

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This is a strange episode as around half of Buffy fans will mention it as a favourite, while the other half won’t mention it. True, it does veer awfully close to melodrama at times, but it is so well-crafted, so flawlessly written, and so painfully, brilliantly acted, that I love it. In the run up to the Season finale it is easy to forget it, but it is a must watch with regards to the arc, foreshadowing much of what will happen in the next few episodes. Under the guise of a monster-of-the-week episode, it is really all about Buffy and Angel, their relationship as a whole, and the struggles they have faced and will continue to face this season. Naturally, there are a few surprises and more levels to traverse than Bruce Lee does in Game Of Death.

It appears that a ghost is floating around Sunnydale high, possessing innocents, and making them re-enact a horrible murder-suicide. It seems that whenever two people are alone together in the school hallways, the ghost will attack, taking over both parties and recalling the past incident, where a student and teacher have an almighty argument, and die, due to the ending of their forbidden love. Word for word, and action for action, we see this happening a few times through the episode. What stands out is the different atmosphere and suggestions we see with each separate re-enactment, and it’s interesting to watch how the different characters, and actors play the scene. Kudos to Gellar and Boreanaz, as they act the shit out of their scene and deserved to win every award going. I love love love how the ghost flips the two characters so that Buffy is the murderer, and Angelus is the meek, and that kiss they share at the end is all the more devastating knowing what’s to come.

There is so much depth to this episode, I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned the subplot with Giles believing the ghost is Jenny Calendar, trying to contact him from beyond the grave. An episode centred entirely on that premise still would have been stunning, but Season 2 likes to keep giving, and so we get a true classic.

Favourite Moment: Oh, it’s got to be the entire gun scene with Buffy and Angel, wonderful performances and brilliant, twisty writing.

Becoming Parts 1 and 2

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I honestly don’t know what to say about these, other than they are possibly the best couple of hours of TV I’ve ever seen. How they managed to pack so much in, resolve so many storylines yet leave so many cliffhangers, destroy so many characters yet strenthen others, fill it with so much action, tragedy, treachery, sadness, guilt, humour, and yes, there may have been some happiness in there too, I’ll never know. It has some of the most iconic moment in the entire series, it has brilliant dialogue, music, performances. It’s Whedon’s favourite. I don’t think the show ever peaked again quite like it does here, in terms of range of emotion and plot.

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So, Part 1. We traverse time and space, going back to before Angel was a Vampire, seeing how he was a drunken, harmless waster, sired by Darla. 100 years later, we witness his first moments with pre-vamp Drusilla. 30 years later we see the gypsy curse being doled out. Another hundred years pass, and Whistler (hiya) introduces a near-feral Angel to pre-Sunnydale Buffy. He is instantly smitten and decides to actively atone for his sins by helping the helpless. Skip to present day, and Buffy is studying for exams, Giles is investigating a devilish new museum find, Angelus is preparing the end the world, and Kendra is arriving just in time to give the Scoobies an important weapon and then be murdered. Oh, and Spike is not happy about how cosy Drusilla and Angelus are getting. And Buffy and Willow find Jenny’s floppy with the gypsy spell. And the gang argue over whether it is right or wrong to even restore Angel’s soul. And a vampire kills itself in front of Buffy’s class. Willow attempts the restoration spell, but it’s a trap, as Drusilla and Co attack. Willow is knocked into a coma. Kendra is killed. Xander is knocked out. Buffy is too late. A cop points a gun at her, as she stands over Kendra’s body. An ungodly amount of ‘Holy shits!’ ementated from my mouth as the episode ended when I first saw it. To be continued.

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Unsurprisingly, Part 2 makes things endlessly worserer. Buffy is expelled. Buffy is on the run from the law. Buffy admits to her mother that she is the Slayer (with the help of Spike), Buffy’s mum hits her and throws her out of the house. Buffy decides to kill the person she loves. Buffy leaves Sunnydale. I really don’t want to say much more about it – if you’re ready this, you already love this episode as much as I do, and though it’s always wonderful to read the thoughts and dedications of other fans, I can’t do it justice. It’s utterly, utterly heartbreaking, it has possibly the best fight in the whole show, and even though the world is saved, it ends on such a downer. I don’t think anything I see on TV will ever affect me as much as this two-parter did. It’s much better than sliced bread. As Season 2 closed, I realised, if I hadn’t already, that Buffy The Vampire Slayer was my favourite TV show ever.

Favourite Moment: My favourite moment from Part 1: Buffy’s slow motion run through the school. From part 2, it has to be that screenshot below, followed by the immortal ‘me’.

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As always, please leave your thoughts on these episodes in the comments, and let me know if I missed any of your favourites or picked one of your most disliked episodes. Have a go at the poll too. Tune in soon for my favourite Season 3 episodes!

My favourite 60 (ish) Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes – Part 1 (Seasons 1)

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In honour of the recent 10 year anniversary of Buffy’s final episode airing (tears), I’m adding my Buffy-related list to the millions of others slaying the internet at the mo. By way of introduction, this is slightly more than just a list, as I’m giving a tiny blurb on each episode along with why it’s a favourite, and I’ll be giving a favourite moment and piece of dialogue too. Most of the 12 people who will read this list, will likely be here because they are already Buffy fans, but for the rest of you, here be spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet (weirdo) go do that first, then come back. I’ll still be here.

I’ve split my list into several parts as there are over 60 episodes, and no-one should be expected to read such a long list in one lunch-time sitting (for those of you reading this when you should be working – hey! Get back to that inbox – those emails aren’t going to reply to themselves… yet…). I’ve done the list in series order, as it is too difficult to make a Buffy list in order of importance – I don’t think there is really an episode I don’t like, and that includes Beer Bad. I either like them, love them, or worship them. I may revisit at a later to give more info on every episode, and why j’adore them so much, but until then, let us join hands and walk through the fire together, and remember our dear friend, Buffy Summers.

Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest

Buffy BFFs
Buffy BFFs

The pilot episode/two parter brilliantly introduces us to the Buffyverse; we meet most of the series core characters, we learn the history of Slayers, Vampires, and Watchers, and both episodes give an idea of what to expect from the show – humour, horror, the destruction/inversion of tropes/expectations, clever dialogue, and pop-culture references aplenty. It sets the tone for both the first series and the show as a whole as all serialized TV fiction should.

In Welcome To The Hellmouth, Buffy Summers and her mother, Joyce, have moved to Sunnydale after a divorce and after Buffy was expelled from her previous school for burning down the gym. Buffy is 16, and is The Chosen One – the one person in the world handed super-strength and other powers in order to fight vampires, demons, and other assorted evils. In the first episode she simply ‘wants’ to deal with the evils of high school, and specifically, embarking on her first day in a new school. We meet the three friends who will become her most important friends and allies through the course of the series – Xander, who is a bit of a hopeless outsider/class joker, Willow, who is a timid science/computer geek/outsider, and Giles, the school librarian and Buffy’s new Watcher. Hoping that her Slaying days were behind her, Giles informs her of recent Vampire activity and the interesting fact that Sunnydale sits on top of The Hellmouth – an opening to Hell which draws evil like a magnet. Soon, an ancient evil threatens to rise, and its cohorts unleash a brutal attack on Sunnydale, threatening Buffy and her new friends, and drawing her reluctantly back to her fate.

Aside from the main characters, we also meet Cordelia, semi-antagonist, semi-Scooby, the mysterious Angel, The Master (this season’s Big Bad), Darla, and a host of other minor characters who will pop up throughout the series. The first half is all about introduction, the second is all about action, and even though it appears to be a fluffy little low-budget show to fill space for a few week, it is clear that this is a smart, super-entertaining, and potentially important show.

Favourite Moment: I can still remember the first time I watched this, the first time it was aired on BBC 2. Sitting in my bedroom, huddled on the floor against the radiator. I think I enjoy the overall mood of the episode and the fact that it has such a nostalgic power. There are a lot of moments to enjoy here, but I’ll pick the final chat (the first of many) between the scoobies with Giles quipping ‘The Earth Is Doomed’.

Favourite Dialogue:

Luke:  You forget, metal can’t hurt me.

Buffy:  There’s something you forgot about, too. Sunrise!….It’s in about nine hours, moron!

Sonya Blade vs Shao Kahn
Sonya Blade vs Shao Kahn

The Puppet Show

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As seasoned Buffy fans will agree, Season 1 is the weakest in the show’s history, not quite capturing the full 22 Season arc style that the other series achieve, and instead relying on standalone, monster-of-the-week episodes designed to endear us to the world and the characters, whilst simultaneously dripfeeding us information on the show’s mythos. The most positive things to be taken from Season 1 are (aside from the obvious strong acting and characterisation) how fresh it seemed at the time, and how inventive it was in terms of storytelling and surprises. The Puppet Show is a prime example of this, telling the story of an unknown killer taking the brains of its victims. A series of misdirects make this feel more like a detective drama, and you will be kept guessing until the end.

It was at this point in the show that it really began to earn credit for surprising the audience and flipping clichés on their asses. The episode has a high ick factor with ventriloquist dummies, brain-stealing demons, the first appearance of Principal Snyder, but it is the balance of the scares, the mystery, and the humour which makes this a highlight of the first series (other episodes either focus too much on the scares or the humour).

Favourite Moment: It’s gotta be the credits sequence, the only credits sequence in the whole show, and it is a thing of comedy genius.

Favourite Dialogue:

Snyder:  I don’t get it. What is it? Avant-garde?

Nightmares

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Nightmares marks the first time where BTVS succeeds in being scary – previously it had felt more like X-Files lite scares, or a few steps above something like Are You Afraid Of The Dark. While it doesn’t come close to the terrific scares or genuine horror of some later episodes, it does a stellar job of pinpointing the fears many of us have had at various points during our lives, not just those we face in adolescence. While there are an assortment of typical, juvenile fears – Clowns, boogeymen, general insecurities about appearance, school, status etc, there are a handful which get to the core of the characters and in turn give us food for thought. Buffy has anxiety over the divorce of her parents, and the fact that her becoming a Slayer and getting up to perceived mischief may have caused the divorce – Buffy’s dad confirms this fear in a fairly brutal scene, telling her that he isn’t interested in seeing her anymore; Buffy fears becoming a vampire, and experiences it, really acting as a metaphor for her fears of losing/losing control/joining the dark side; Giles witnesses Buffy’s grave showing us his greatest fear – the Watcher losing the Slayer – this of course happens later in the show. Perhaps the scariest thing is in Billy’s fear of abuse – he is beaten into a coma by his coach and creates a nightmare world – not many shows deal with abuse in such a frank manner, at least not primetime shows in 1997.

The episode becomes more interesting in retrospect as quite a few of these nightmares are realised later;  Buffy faces The Master and loses, Giles suffers the death of his Slayer, Buffy wakes in a coffin, Xander is continually confronted with childish fears, Willow struggles with confidence throughout the show. Aside from the witty dialogue, there aren’t too many laughs to be had with this one.

Favourite Moment: The quick sequence encapsulating Willow’s nightmare about singing, Xander and the clown, and Buffy of being buried alive in rapid succession is creepy, funny, and ridiculous in the space of a couple of minutes.

Favourite Dialogue:

Buffy (As Vampire): Well, we better hurry… ’cause I’m getting hungry.

Prophecy Girl

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Night Of The Living Dead

The (short) season long arc comes to a head with the final episode, where Buffy learns of a prophecy telling that she will face The Master and die, and that he will rise. Prophecies have a way of coming true on this show, but the writers have a knack of turning even these inevitabilities on their heads. This is really the first moment in the series where we get a glimpse of the strong emotional core as we are reminded, tragically, of the fact that Buffy is still only a sixteen year old girl, burdened with an insurmountable task she never wanted.

However, we see the power of one of the greatest themes/lessons of the show – that with friends/family you can overcome even the darkest foe. Previous Slayers have been a lonely, solitary bunch, but Buffy surrounds herself with an army of allies, and it is this fact which saves her here, and time again. Re-ignited, she is able to cast off her fears and doubts, and bring the reign of The Master to a speedy conclusion.

The finale feels almost like the real start of the show – every character experiences some growth and maturity, relationships are blossoming, the first great threat has been defeated, but still a recent danger remains, lurking in Sunnydale’s underbelly until Season 2 starts.

Favourite Moment: Quite a few here, but I’ll pick from my two main favourites and leave the other as my favourite dialogue. The sequence of Buffy being brought back and charging back towards the school, soaking in her Prom dress and swatting vampires out-of-the-way easily is one of the early iconic scenes. Actually, I also have to mention Willow and Buffy’s scene talking about Willow finding the Audio-visual guys massacred is powerful – thanks to Hannigan’s teary speech. This show has the best crying actors!

Favourite Dialogue:

One of my favourite scenes in the whole show, and one which never fails to 0ver-moisten my eyes features the following dialogue (Yes, just reading it makes me want to dive into the TV, back through time to a 1997 that never existed, and slaughter The Master myself for daring to make Buffy cry):

Buffy:  So that’s it, huh? I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one’s called! Wonder who she is. (to Giles) Will you train her? Or will they send someone else?

Giles:  Buffy, I…

Buffy:  They say how he’s gonna kill me? Do you think it’ll hurt?

Angel tries to hug her, but she puts up her hands and quickly steps away.

Buffy:  Don’t touch me! (to Giles) Were you even gonna tell me?

Giles:  I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to. That there was… some way around it. I…

Buffy:  I’ve got a way around it. I quit!

Angel:  It’s not that simple.

Buffy:  I’m making it that simple! I quit! I resign, I-I’m fired, you can find someone else to stop the Master from taking over!

Giles:  I’m not sure that anyone else can. All the… the signs indicate…

Buffy:  The signs? (throws a book at him) READ ME THE SIGNS! (throws
another one) TELL ME MY FORTUNE! YOU’RE SO USEFUL SITTING HERE WITH ALL YOUR BOOKS! YOU’RE REALLY A LOTTA HELP!

Giles:  No, I don’t suppose I am.

Angel:  I know this is hard.

Buffy:  What do you know about this? You’re never gonna die!

Angel:  You think I want anything to happen to you? Do you think I could
stand it? We just gotta figure out a way…

Buffy:  I already did. I quit, remember? Pay attention!

Giles:  Buffy, if the Master rises…

Buffy:  (yanks the cross from her neck) I don’t care! (calms down) I
don’t care. Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die.

Don't make me hurt you... vampires!
Don’t make me hurt you… vampires!

So, that’s it for Season 1.I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who hate this season with a passion, or maybe there are some episodes from Season 1 that you prefer. Let us know in the comments (Thanks to Ohbambi for all screengrabs).

Are You Afraid Of The Dark? – The Tale Of The Laughing In The Dark

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After a couple of okay episodes offering not a lot in the way of chills, we enter darker territory. For reasons no-one cares about, a lot of broken adults claim to be scared of clowns. In a world where spiders, crocodiles, giant freak show jellyfish, murderers – basically- in a world where Australia exists, clowns are of little consequence.

Australian clowns on the other hand….

Regardless, clowns have always been a staple of horror fiction, from Falstaff to Pennywise, so it seems reasonable to feature murderous undead clowns in a children’s television show. Lets see what Lovefilm has to say about the episode:

‘Two 12-year old boys, Josh and Weegee, and Kathy, 10, come upon a spook house, “Laughing in the Dark”, at an amusement park. Even though it is rumored to be haunted by Zeebo the clown, Josh declares he will go through the spook house and bring out Zeebo’s nose as proof that he completed the mission. Josh soon discovers for himself the truth about the mysterious Zeebo’

The first point to note for the more nerdy types in my audience is how the episode starts –

Yes, she’s a subscriber

Rather than opening with our campfire losers as usual, we start with the story first, panning around an Amusement Park and zooming into the maniacal face of a raving loon.

Too Easy

At this point we cut to the campfire where we learn that Kristen is freaked out by clowns which leads to considerable ribbing from the group. Kristen seems to be getting a lot of attention in these early episodes, maybe she will turn out to be a zombie FBI agent sent to infiltrate and eviscerate the gang for the safety of the nation.

That’s what the FBI does, right?

After this brief interlude, we return to the story. Josh, Kathy, and Weegie (America) are exploring an Amusement Park and stumble upon a Funhouse which is supposedly haunted by a dead, cigar smoking criminal clown. Weegie and Kathy are too scared to enter so Josh dutifully mocks them until the sinister owner pops out to spook shit up further. And lo and behold, it’s our old friend Arun Tager from the pilot episode. He’s playing another weirdo, but this time he is more convincing and subtle – a Carney who’d sooner steal your kidneys than your money.

At this point I must ask my American readers – do you all have bizarre themed bedrooms, and no parents? Weegie appears to sleep in an ice-hockey rink, and after 3 episodes we’ve only seen 1 parent (Aunt Dottie) who was completely oblivious to the devious antics of her spawn. Anyway, after we are treated to the ice-rink bedroom, we are sweetened by a scene more cringeworthy than walking in on your decrepid geography teacher fiddling with himself in the supply cupboard. Josh chases Kathy out of her house in his mocking way in a scene that belongs in Hades rather than in anything human eyes should ever have to witness.

Luckily, everything else in the episode is of better quality. There is a fair amount of tension and atmosphere once Josh enters the funhouse, and this develops well for the duration of the episode as Zeebo stalks the teenager. The section where Josh is at home at night (parents absent) is particularly strong and may scare younger viewers.

One thing to mention is the different take on the arrogant teen trope; in the pilot, the arrogant teen does nothing but moan and punch empty air, while in the second, the arrogant teen is a ringleading tossbag

Hiya!

In both episodes, it is the younger, nicer character who saves the day, but here Josh has to resolve the situation himself, using his owns smarts and bravery.
I’ve always loved Amusement Parks and have always envied people in the US for having such a readily available supply. Where I’m from we don’t have many, if any, but we do have other ways of amusing ourselves –

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Step right up!

Any Amusement Parks I visited in my youth consisted of insect infested candy floss (cotton candy), vomit swamped puddles, an as yet unaccounted for stench, tramps, and one of those virtual reality rocket ship rides which goes up, AND DOWN!

WOOOOOOOOWWW! It’s so real it’s unreal!

Any ghost train I’ve ever been on was a trip through darkness while hobos spat in my ear and cut-out cardboard skeletons tragically flopped forwards out of their cardboard box tombs. One particular ghost train consisted entirely of a man in plain clothes who wiggled the four rubber Witch fingers he was wearing at me – that was apparently enough to justify the £4 entrance fee. I never got near anything resembling a funhouse until I visited one in Scarborough in my early teens and loved every high budget second of it.

Maybe I am lenient on shows which feature funny mirrors, mazes, and other spooky family fun. We see a variety of these sorts of devices during the episode, including the final room of many doors, one of which is the exit, the others hiding toxic horrors

Still too easy

The scenes based in this room could have had a few jump scares, but instead they focus on lingering tension.

I have to say that I don’t remember ever seeing this episode, and I should add that it is the best out of the three I’ve reviewed so far. The series is getting better and hopefully this trend will continue. As always, I will conclude with a few comments on the cast. As already mentioned, Tager returns and does a good job in a couple of short scenes. He isn’t over the top, and is balanced enough that we are 50/50 on whether he’s involved with the evil clown, or just playing the part of a creepy carny. Christian Tessier, who plays Josh, has the most impressive resume of any guest star we’ve seen so far. Admittedly that isn’t saying a lot, but Tessier has been a consistent performer since his debut. Indeed, since 1988 there are only 2 years that don’t feature a credit to his name – 1997 and 2009. He has been an important fixture in many series – You Can’t Do That On Television, The Tomorrow People, and Battlestar Galactica to name a few. He can also claim some pretty big films to his fame – The A Team, The Day After Tomorrow, and Underworld: Awakening. Weegie, played by Daniel Finestone, only has 1 other credit to his name, appearing in a few episodes of the animated series For Better Or Worse, while Tamar Koslov (Kathy) has made a career out of voice work for the animated series Arthur, as well as popping up in a few small movies.

Next time round the campfire we’ll be facing a trio of spooky delights with Halloween, Witches, and wish-granting amputated limbs. Night night.

Ready for more terror? Here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-twisted-claw/

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost

Should ghosts really be lonely? Think of all the perverted things they could be getting up to

After a shaky first episode, I was apprehensive about the next one; if this was dodgy too I’d probably give up on the series

Although some of us are addicted to punishment
Although some of us are addicted to punishment

For this to succeed, the acting needed to be greatly improved and there had to be an interesting story. This one again focussed on ghosts, but featured two female leads. Lets see what lovefilm has to say about the episode:

Everybody is psyched about summer vacation except Amanda Cameron, because she has to spend the entire summer with her obnoxious cousin, Beth. Amanda is willing to do anything to join Beth and her group of friends, including the initiation: Amanda must sleep all night in the haunted house across the street. Even though Amanda does not believe in ghosts, what she finds in the house changes the past and the future. She might be able to change her fate for the summer after all…

From reading that, I had vague recollections of a girly, ghostly attic, but I must have been thinking of another episode. After watching this, none of it sparked any memories so it’s possible I’d never seen it. The story was fine; girl goes to stay with her annoying cousin who wants nothing to do with her, cousin tasks girl with staying in a haunted house, cousin gets comeuppance. I was half prepared for a silly conciliatory ending where both girls learn to respect and love each other, but luckily things don’t go that way. The episode goes for the more honest approach of ‘once a twat, always a twat’

The episode does have a few missed opportunities though which would have made it more memorable, and perhaps powerful. Firstly, why didn’t cousin Beth and her cadre pull any stunts on Amanda when she was in the haunted house? Did Beth know it actually was haunted? Did she think Amanda suffered from some deep-seated psychological trauma and that a night in a new house would cause an immense shitstorm freakoutorama? No, they leave Amanda to her own devices, and she would have spent an easy, uneventful night in peace had it not been for the pesky appearance of a meddling ghost.

Secondly, the episode does a good job of building tension but the pay-off isn’t worthy. Amanda finally comes into contact with a spooky little girl ghost, she screams, cowers in the corner, and covers her eyes knowing that she’s seen something unspeakably awful.

When she looks, the girl is so tragic that Amanda takes pity on her and tries to help. They could have still followed the story in this way, but went for a big scare too; Amanda pulls away her hands and for a second we see that the room is empty. With the camera close on her face she begins to get up, but suddenly the ghost girl’s head pops into view from the side and we all scream. It may not have fit with the ghost’s desires, and it may have been an obvious, telegraphed scare, but it would have worked damn it.

The general tone of the episode is much improved over the Hilton-esque (bland, messed-up, sweaty in all the wrong places) ways of the pilot. I’m glad to say the cast is much better too. Laura Bertram, who plays Amanda, is a fine young lead, and just about balances the sensitivity and strength required without becoming too whiney or stupidly empowered. Laura Levin (Beth), on the other hand, is like Buzz Crocker all over again. Told that she has to be the grumpy, spoilt, bad-tempered, bossy cousin, she snarls inanely, pouts in an over-the-top fashion, and generally shows no tact or restraint. It’s not quite the unholy mess of the previous episode, but it’s not far away.

Jennie Levesque, who plays The Lonely Ghost, has little to do but is creepy when she needs to be, sympathetic when called to be, and overjoyed when reunited with her mother. The mother, or nanny, played by Sheena Larkin, gives the strongest performance, standing out as someone I’d like to see more of. Again it’s a small role with only a few lines, but she makes every second count. I’m used to well acted bit parts in similar shows such as the wonderful Eerie, Indiana and Larkin has given me hope that this series will deliver.

The final point to make on this episode concerns the wraparound. Yes, a couple of Midnight Society members get a little character growth of their own. It begins and ends with a tender, young teen romance moment with Dave offering Kristen a gift (not of the mouth variety). We have to wait until the end of the story to see her open it. Could there be love brewing in our little group of losers? I’m interested to see if this progresses and what else is in store for the rest of our group.

Before I douse the flames of today’s blog with the water of closing my Kindle, let’s have a glance at the careers of the guest stars. Laura Bertram played Amanda and is the only recognizable name on the roster, having already starred in such popular series as Ready Or Not and Andromeda. On the other end of the scale is Laura Levin as Beth. Levin is to acting what poverty is to a Wall Street Banker, so it’s hardly surprising that she only has a few more minor credits to her name (including a few episodes of Ready Or Not). Pauline Little as Aunt Dottie has had a long career in minor TV movies and series and has lent her voice to some classic cartoons like Sharky And George and Samurai Pizza Cats while Jennie Levesque as The Ghost has only shown up in a few roles in minor series and small movies. Sheena Larkin, as Nanny (who I’ve just found out hails from my very own Belfast – I normally hate people from here on the big screen (due to a crippling lack of talent)), has made appearances in the odd blockbuster such as The Sum Of All Fears and Affliction. Her mainstay though is in smaller movies, although she does pop up in the Are You Afraid Of The Dark movie.

Overall, this was a large improvement over the pilot and I have hope that this improvement will continue as the series progresses. Our next episode deals with one of those misunderstood painted freaks, The Clown. Sleep tight.

Thirsty for more? Look at this: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-laughing-in-the-dark/

Are You Afraid Of The Dark – The Tale Of The Phantom Cab

The first episode in any tv series should introduce viewers to the central characters, tone, and ideas of the show. This way, prospective audiences can decide if it’s something they wish to continue with, or something they should avoid, like a spider shooting zombie

Something To Avoid
Something To Avoid

Ideally, the opening episode should kick so much ass that Jean Claude Van Damme would have a hard time dancing his way out of tuning in to the next one.

Awww, Yeaah
Awww, Yeaah

This being an anthology show of sorts, the usual rules may not apply – like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits etc before it, each episode features a standalone story with standalone characters. However, taking a cue from many anthology movies, each episode and indeed the show as a whole features wraparound characters and plot.

The first episode introduces us to our narrators and the premise of the series. A gang of friends, teens called the midnight society meet around a campfire in the woods to tell spooky stories. It’s not much of an idea, but it is the sort of thing I loved as a kid, and the sort of thing I wished I could have been part of.

I Just Wanted To Be Loved
I Just Wanted To Be Loved

We briefly meet the group, but don’t learn much about them except that they probably have a lot of experience with bullies

Why yes, you may rid me of my pecuniary funds for midday sustenence
Why yes, you may rid me of my pecuniary funds for midday sustenance

We learn that they have some archaic rituals, sprinkling sugar on fire, opening each tale with the same evocation, and most importantly, voting on the quality of any newcomer’s story in order to initiate them into the group. Our newcomer, Frank, at first glance appears to be a mole on behalf of the school bully initiative, possibly joining to gain some valuable ammunition in his war against the freaks and geeks

As if any was needed
As if any was needed

He is all hilarious teen macho posturing and has based his look off Rufio from Hook, but after some general male ball cuppage, his story begins.

I'm looking for a lady... with a hook
I’m looking for a lady… with a hook

Lets have a look at the episode blurb from lovefilm:

Two brothers, Buzz and Denny, get lost while hiking in the woods. As night falls, they are directed by a stranger to a cabin where they might seek help from old Dr. Vink. The strange Dr. Vink poses a riddle to them which they mus solve before he will let them phone their parents. The boys cannot solve it and he throws them out into the forest. The boys panic as they are left in the woods alone under Dr. Vink’s curse. Their only hope is the Phantom Cab.

Ignoring the myriad spoilers above, just from the title I remembered parts of this episode from my youth. Although the show came out in 92, it was probably 95 or 96 that I first saw it. Either way, it’s quite some time so it must have made some impact on me. Not that my 12-year-old self would have been scared by a show like this given that I was already well versed in King, Craven, Carpenter, and Romero by that age

Some pictures tell you all you need to know about a person
Some pictures tell you all you need to know about a person

I remembered a creepy fairy tale house in the forest, but not what was in it, and I remembered a taxi zooming through the forest towards a fiery crash unless a question was successfully answered. As I watched, more pieces came back to me, such as the jittery bushes and Dr. Vink (who would show up in subsequent episodes).

Unfortunately, what I didn’t remember (and if I’m honest, didn’t expect) was how terrifyingly bad the acting was. The story consists of five characters; the two brothers, Denny and Buzz Crocker (America), Dr. Vink, the cab driver Flynn, and a Park Ranger. The Park Ranger only has one line and can be dismissed, while that noted thespian Aron Tager hams it up more than a Vincent Price themed pig orgy. The cab driver (Brian Dooley) has a complex dual role to contend with so it is understandable that a lesser actor could get confused. He struggles to deftly manage the positions of potential saviour, weird wood walker, aggressor, lunatic ghost, cab driver, and more, never really convincing anyone that he is any of the aforementioned things. Like I said though, it takes a higher class of performer to traverse such varied characters

Hello Again!

That leaves us with our ‘heroes’, a term which I truly wish to never sully again in such a manner.

Wrong Sully
Wrong Sully

They have a typical older/younger brother dynamic going on, with all the clichés and none of the charms which come with such territory. I appreciate that both actors are young, but given that the series depends on upon child actors for its existence, you’d think the director would have tempted them with some candy or threatened them with death by shark to entice a better performance out of them. Their lines are blown away like a coke fiend furiously swiping his stash into the toilet as the Narc squad tears down the door. I’d call them wooden, but that wood be doing disservice to the best actor in the episode

I couldn't get an actual screen grab
I couldn’t get an actual screen grab of the ghost bush

They don’t convey any of the feelings that you would expect – annoyance, frustration, confusion, disgust, fear of an imminent explosive death – and to top it off they nonchalantly shrug off the whole affair by quipping with the person who saves them with the same thing that nearly got them killed in the first place. It’s enough to make you want to pull your own legs off

Last one, I promise

Luckily, The Midnight Society feature a more promising set of actors. Although their respective parts are small in each episode, each part adds up. I seem to remember that a few characters got more involved as the series proceeded, so hopefully this bunch of kids, as well as the cast of each story improves.

Finally, let’s do the cast some credit and cast a glance over their careers to date, as some of the guest stars on this show have become more famous since appearing. Most of the team on this episode have appeared on other Canadian and US TV shows and have done various pieces of voice work. Ted Dillon, who played The Ranger, has appeared in decent series such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Littlest Hobo, and has done voice work for the Rainbow 6 series. His shining honour in my book is landing the hallowed role of Commandant Lassard in the ill-fated animated Police Academy series. I’m sure he provided many, many laughs.

Jason Tremblay, who played the convincingly tough Buzz, shockingly has only 6 credits to his name. This raw talent’s career peaked with the respectable movie The Kid, but shock of shocks – IMDB says he will be back for another AYAOTD episode. Little brother Sean Ryan has actually appeared in some good movies such as To Die For  and In The Mouth Of Madness, while Brian Dooley (Flynn) has been in a large number of TV movies as actor, writer, and director. Aron Tager (Vink) waited until his 60s before embarking on his televisual conquest. Since his first taste, he has been a mainstay of lesser known TV series and movies, and occasionally pops up in more famous fare like Serendipity and X-Men.

Next time, we’ll be entering a haunted house in ‘The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost’, so until then….

Sweet Dreams
Sweet Dreams

For more retro bits, read all about episode 2 here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-lonely-ghost/