So I’ve finally been re-watching Buffy properly. I actually hadn’t watched beyond the beginning of S1 since it was on the first time around - 1997 and onwards. I remember I initially refused to watch the first season because it was dumb and for babies (not my exact words, I’m sure, but I was really unimpressed with the first few episodes), but my friends convinced me, and anyway once I started watching I loved it.
Re-watching, it is totally astonishing how well it holds up. Far better than any other 1990s show I’ve re-watched, including my precious TNG and DS9. Buffy was not only well ahead of its time in a lot of ways, but current shows usually fall short of it in a lot of ways. I’m up to the start of series 3 now. Series 1 was really solid, good TV, worked, and felt very self-contained, like they really weren’t sure there would be any more series, so they just wanted to tell a good story that worked with memorable characters and so on.
Series 2, though, good fucking god, it’s a fucking epic. And it manages this whilst being relatively episodic a lot of the time. It’s incredible how much stuff is going on here, and how really, at this point they must have realized they had something special, because they clearly and intentionally lay the foundations for the entire rest of the show, seasons 3-7, not in detail or anything, but there’s a ton of stuff here that they’re clearly putting in so they can develop and build on it later, and at the time much of it wasn’t even obvious (one thing was still not developed and could be in the new Buffy show, which is hopefully a sequel). It’s just so well-done, so many episodes that are just highly watchable in a way that way that most SF shows of the era (including TNG/DS9/X-Files) and even stuff like ER totally was not. And some of the stuff being set up here, like Jonathan being angry with Buffy for saving him, and learning that magic is a thing, right back in just a random episode involving fish-men, is kind of amazing. They also set up a bunch of stuff Angel later used. There are a huge number of great lines too.
What’s also interesting is, 20+ years on, a lot of the episodes or plotlines I kind of thought were dumb and boring when I was a youth are actually fairly strong/compelling, or at least make a kind of sense. We’ll see if that holds up in later seasons. I have a feeling “magic is drugs and drugs are bad m’kay” is still going to be pretty dumb, but I bet some other stuff will work better than I remember it working.
It does show its age in a few ways beyond obvious SFX/format issues. There are a number of jokes/comments which wouldn’t really fly today - not many, less than I expected, but a few. The stunt doubles in S1/2 are not consistently well-matched to the actors, which does still happen but is increasingly rare (that said, in S3, Buffy’s double already looks significantly closer, but damn, Angel’s one at the end of S2 is like 50lbs lighter and 20 years older than him), and the fight scenes are extended in a way that’s rare today (kinda sadly, I think). Also interestingly whilst the characters are more consistent and better-written than a lot of modern characters (it’s totally impossible to believe the terribly-written and utterly inconsistent VOY came out at the same time as this, I note, but it did), the lore continuity is, er… unreliable. It’s good but I spot holes in it. Minor ones, but fans would be obsessed with them now, whereas then, we didn’t even notice, typically.
But yeah, S1 and S2 of Buffy, really hold up amazingly.
One little thing I particularly like is that they make far better use of background/minor characters than most modern ensemble shows do. The show will often bring back a minor character from the previous season or many episodes ago, when you’d forgotten about them.