This month marks twenty years since the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired!
Buffy is widely regarded as a high watermark in genre television, as well as rightly being considered just a well-written drama, regardless of the fact it’s got literal demons coming out of its ears.
So while it’s the done thing to speak of its successes – strong role models for young viewers, especially girls, positive depictions of gay characters and intricately plotted arc storytelling – let’s take the opportunity to remember that even the greatest of us can have an off day as we commemorate some of the most appalling Buffy episodes ever screened…
‘I, Robot… You, Jane’
The first season has many detractors, but given the concept of the series (cheerleader fights the forces of evil) we think it pitches itself just right, opening up into a more nuanced drama later.
There is, however, no excuse for this tale of a demon released into the internet by the electronic scanning of the book in which he had been imprisoned for centuries. Its quaint depiction of the ‘net is ridiculous to our slightly more modern eyes, though we suppose it does at least warn viewers to be careful talking to strangers online.
‘Where the Wild Things Are’
A strange little episode, consisting almost entirely of Buffy and her unpopular boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas) having unexciting looking sex while everyone else either attempts to get it on, or are revolted at even innocent touches from others.
The reveal that Buffy and Riley’s passion is powered by the spirits of sexually abused children is a particularly distasteful touch. On the plus side, Buffy’s mentor figure Rupert Giles finally experiences his mid-life crisis and sings old Who numbers in a coffee shop.
A common thread in bad episodes of genre TV is when they are attempting to make a point about something, but just pick the most ham-fisted way of doing this. Case in point is this one in which regular character Xander falls in with a bad crowd and starts behaving unpleasantly towards his former friends. And he helps to eat a live pig.
In another drama, it’d be because he was on some crazy drugs, but in Buffy it’s because he’s possessed by the evil spirit of a hyena. Fair enough, then.
‘As You Were’
Long after leaving the series, Riley returned for an unwanted guest appearance in his new guise as a low grade, demon-hunting James Bond-alike. When the shock reveal of the episode is that Riley is married now (to an equally non-expressive character) you know you’re in for a bumpy ride as they chase, yes, a demon that has arrived in Sunnydale.
The entire episode only exists to give Xander a bit more confidence about his upcoming marriage, too, so it can’t help but feel like a poor use of an episode.
‘Beer Bad’ is the low-light of allegorical storytelling in genre television. Its moral is so basic, so unsubtle and so inelegantly handled that the same points could be made by just flashing the title on-screen for the entire duration, and yet it still won an Emmy.
Buffy gets dumped by her boyfriend, the even more unpopular Parker (Adam Kaufman), after a one-night stand and ends up drowning her sorrows with a beer. And then a few more with some drunken frat boys. And as the drinking continues, they get less coherent and their hair becomes much more wild and fabulous (the Emmy was for Outstanding Hairstyling in a Series) because the beer… turns them into literal Neanderthals.
In the end, the villain of the piece is taken care of (he’s been doctoring the beer with chemicals) and the problem is fixed. Fine for Buffy and pals, but no use at all to the viewer who is actually left feeling appreciably stupider having watched.
Which episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer do you think is the worst ever? Let us know below…