I went back and read my initial foray into this question and again found myself disagreeing with the words I wrote. Well, not all of them, because most of my problems with Season Seven (race, consent, misogyny, unresolved plot holes, constant monologues, etc.) are still valid, and trust me when I say I will discuss all of these later on in the challenge.
But here’s the thing: I don’t hate the seventh season like I did five years ago? And if I’m going by the criteria from yesterday’s challenge, well …
Season One wins. Or loses? Take your pick.
First seasons tend to be rough, period. Not everything can start off with a bang like Battlestar Galactica and basically be perfect. BTVS was a mid-season replacement for some show (honestly, don’t remember), and although it had potential, especially with the season finale, “Prophecy Girl,” it was clear several things had to be tweaked.
First, Sarah Michelle Gellar is a fabulous actress (who apparently doesn’t age), but there was just something missing in her performance during that first season. There was an article several years back where Cynthia Bergstrom, the costume designer of the series, lamented that they didn’t really nail Buffy’s look until the second season, and honestly, I can totally see that change right at the beginning of “When She Was Bad,” the second season’s premier episode. Buffy abandoned the dark jewel and earth tones for a definitive Valley Girl vibe, complete with shimmery eye shadows and pastel lipsticks. And everything just clicked; SMG knew who Buffy was now. Of course, her look got more somber as the series continued, but hey, she goes through a lot, so I suppose I can cut her some slack there.
Second, the writing wasn’t … great. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t give me that “OMG I MUST WATCH THE NEXT EPISODE” feel that later seasons had. Part of the problem there was that it was much more Monster of the Week than it became; there wasn’t really a strong unifying story to tie everything together. Sure, the Master returning the the surface was a big deal, but he mainly lurked in the shadows until it was time for him to drown Buffy. And honestly, he was an underwhelming villain, anyway. Even the Trio from Season Six was more ominous and threatening. Not only was the main story weak, individual episodes were spotty in quality and pretty forgettable. I can’t really think of a single episode from the first season that I would recommend to a Buffy newbie to watch, other than maybe the opening two-parter, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest,” and the season finale. At least they provide establishing information for the remainder of the series. I didn’t even watch the first season until it came out on VHS, and even then, it was only up through “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date.” I eventually purchased the DVD, but that’s only because I’m a completionist. As the series progressed, the writing team became much more daring in the content they presented to their audience, for which I’m thankful because some of the episodes in the first season were so on-the-nose topical that they might as well have been after school specials.
Third, the production budget was obviously going to be minimal, considering it was a mid-season replacement and was kind of a risky project, anyway. It’s still pretty impressive what they were able to do with the money they were given, but still. Moloch from “I Robot You Jane” was laughable, and I was not impressed with the Hellmouth sarlaac pit thing in the finale. The vampire stuff – makeup, dusting, etc. – was handled much better, thankfully, but it’s still not enough for me to pop in those old discs.
Season One just doesn’t have that rewatchability of later seasons, either. Maybe it’s because I’m older now or because I know the show gets better as it goes. Or maybe it’s really because I didn’t obsess over the show until the middle of the second season and don’t have the same nostalgic opinion of it. More likely than not, it’s a combination of all of them: a lackluster season that just doesn’t feel like Buffy to me.
At least I have the others?