Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 1, 2010

Robin’s Review: S1, E01 – Welcome to the Hellmouth

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 101 – Welcome to the Hellmouth

Synopsis: Buffy and Joyce Summers move to Sunnydale. Buffy is a Vampire Slayer and was kicked out of her previous school because of her alter ego. At school she meets queen bitch Cordelia, geeky Xander, Jessie and Willow. She also meets the librarian and her new Watcher Giles. Beneath Sunnydale an old vampire called the Master is trying to rise again. A mysterious man warns Buffy that “The Harvest” is coming.

The Good: There is no time wasted in the first part of this two part pilot. Within forty five minutes we already know quite a lot about Buffy Summers, her new life and the mythology of vampires in this particular universe. As you might expect no one knows about them but they walk among humans, blending in until they reveal their “demonic visage” and it looks like a stake through the heart is the swiftest way to get rid of them.

The show is unselfconscious about what it is. It’s a super hero story set in a high school but instead of lycra suited villains, the bad guys are vampires, demons and were wolves. There is an inherent cheesiness in both high school dramas and super hero shows and no first glance the writing manages to embrace both without becoming irritating. This is accomplished by constant attempts at humour to avoid anyone taking the cheese seriously, excellent casting with actors who fill their roles well and a little touch of seriousness when the time calls for it.

The character who seems the best cast on first glance is Buffy’s Watcher Giles. Having a British adult mixing with the American teens immediately sets him apart as a figure of discipline and gravity. But by being such a stuffy contrast to Buffy he provides a perfect launch pad for humour. Each time he attempts to make her own up to her responsibilities she cuts him off, pointing out how worldly she already is and how many vampires she has already tangled with. His role in preparing her and doing the research makes sense but in an excellent bit of writing she says “Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? for losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them?” It’s the classic super heroes dilemma and its spelt out in a very relatable way.

Then there is queen bitch Cordelia who is given some of the most obvious lines but somehow pulls them off. She tells Buffy point blank that she needs to hang with her to be cool. She mocks Willow and comments on Buffy’s “downward mobility” just for talking to her. She gabs about shoes and “cool” diseases and is clearly a plot device to demonstrate the life Buffy is having to give up in order to fulfil her role as Slayer. But Cordelia plays the role really well, constantly frowning and looking down her nose, not putting on airs but looking like that is who she is. She would have to be to make this line the laugh that it was, after Buffy accidentally threatens her with a stake she announces “Excuse me; I have to call everyone I have ever met right now.”

Willow too, as the unassuming book nerd is another on the nose character. She is so convinced of her own worthlessness that she vouches for Buffy when Cordelia comes over “She’s not hanging out with us.” Again she is there to demonstrate Buffy’s morality, as Buffy would rather treat people with respect than on their social utility. But she seems ideally cast, not sounding forced and pulling off the best line of the episode (see Best Moment).

Xander seems more well rounded as the geeky guy whose self confidence comes and goes. He is over scriptedly awkward when he first meets Buffy and tries to be amusingly cool when they meet again. But throughout he seems authentic and likeable and adds to the humour giving Buffy her stake back and commenting “The only thing I could think is that you’re building a really little fence.” At this stage Jessie is undefined, confident enough to hit on Cordelia but dumb enough not to see its futility.

Let’s not ignore Buffy herself of course who puts in a fine leading performance. She effortlessly fills all the roles she needs to: sex symbol and girl power icon, tough but fun, likeable and convincing. She even has a love interest by the end of the episode as the mysterious older guy comes to warn her of impending dangers.

Those dangers lurk with just enough menace to give the show its super villains. Though initially cheap looking the vampire makeup looks better as we meet more of them. Strange accented Luke is threatening and demonic looking but the Master looks truly inhuman (Or like a bat in human form as Cordia aptly put it). The use of animal growls is a clever touch to convey the inhuman and threatening nature of the vampires. 

The Bad: As I have hinted at Cordelia, Willow and company were given some lines which were so blatantly designed to make a particular point that it could have backfired. Principal Fluite tearing up Buffy’s file and then hastily taping it back together felt like a joke too far, though perhaps the acting just wasn’t quite up to the gag.

Buffy marching into the crypt to crack wise also seemed like an extension of the super hero metaphor a little too literally. Not only were her three new friends in jeopardy but they had the extra terror of realising vampires were real and threatening all of a sudden. That should have been an earth shattering moment for them but instead Buffy decided now was a good time to have a giggle.

The Unknown: We don’t know the extent of Buffy’s super powers just yet. She is strong and has excellent balance. But we don’t know how far her abilities extend into the mental realm, she has dreams foreshadowing the Master’s rise but Giles implies she might yet gain an extra sense to scout vampires. He may have just meant a honing of her existing senses.

Best Moment: Buffy and Willow are chatting at the bar.
B: “Do you wanna hear my philosophy?”
W: “Yeah I do.”
B: “Life is short.”
W: “Life is short.”
B: “Not original I’ll grant you but it’s true. You know, why waste time being all shy and worrying about some guy and if he’s going to laugh at you. Seize the moment coz tomorrow you might be dead.”
W: (Genuinely) “Oh that’s nice.”

The Bottom Line: A fast paced introduction to a clever new interpretation on super heroes and vampires. The casting seems excellent.

67/100

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