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March 01, 2003
by Daniel Erenberg
This is my first negative article.
In my extremely humble opinion, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the best show ever to be aired on television. But, like every show, Buffy has had its share of misfires. They're few. They're far between. But they do exist.
I love these misfires more than the best episodes of most television shows. They are great to me simply because they are Buffy.
There is at least one moment in each of these that redeems them in my eyes. However, of the hundred-thirty-something episodes of Buffy, these are my least favorite.
THE TOP 10 WORST EPISODES OF BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
10. "The Puppet Show", written by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali
Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali worked as staff writers on the first two seasons of Buffy. They consistently churned out uneven episodes. The one that I liked was "Phases", but that was largely due to Seth Green's fantastic performance. Their first season offering, "The Puppet Show", redeemed slightly by the end credit scene and the debut of Principal Snyder, was simply sloppy.
In the end, the villain turned out to be the magic guy who we'd met once before in a silly, stupid gag. They wrote an episode about a living dummy that makes jokes about wood and tried to make his death an emotional experience.
Currently, Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali write uneven episodes of That 70's Show, including the hundredth episode musical, which was far worse than "Once More, With Feeling".
9. "Gingerbread", written by Jane Espenson
I have a very "love it or hate it" relationship with Jane Espenson's episodes. Thankfully, it's mostly been "love it" ("Earshot" even making my best-of list last week), but when Espenson isn't on the top of her game, it's not a good thing.
"Gingerbread" was a decent idea made utterly boring. It's almost odd. Whenever I go back and watch it, I feel my eyelids droop.
Amy is completely wasted despite being extremely integral to the outcome of the story, the ending is the polar opposite of poignant, and The Mayor here (for the first and only time) seems trite and uninteresting.
You'll find a lot of Jane Espenson on this list for some reason. It surprised even me when I went back to look at the list. I tend to really love her episodes. Her early season six offerings were fantastic, she wrote some really good stuff in season five, she's at the top of her game in the current season seven (I'm looking forward to her episode this week that will have aired by the time this is read, "Storyteller"), and she wrote the supremely brilliant "Earshot". However, for some reason, there are FOUR of her episodes on this list. Don't know why. But, let it be known, despite these four episodes, I love Jane Espenson to the utmost degree.
8. "Fear, Itself", written by David Fury
I'm normally a colossal fan of David Fury's offerings, both on Buffy and Angel. However, this one I'm not too fond of.
A huge number of fans loved the big twist ending of "Fear, Itself". Yes, the big threatening demon turned out to be teensy weensy. Wonderful. But what we got out of this episode was nothing.
The only thing I really liked in the entire episode was Oz's Halloween costume, a costume I adopted on Halloween a few short months ago.
Another reason I didn't like it is that I'd already seen season one's "Nightmares" and this was a blatant rehash of it.
Buffy has been very creative with its Halloween specials. "Halloween" is still by far the best and I'd have to say that I consider "Fear, Itself" to be the worst.
7. "Reptile Boy", written by David Greenwalt
This is another case of Good Writer/Bad Episode syndrome. There are things I liked a great deal about this one: Willow's outburst at Giles and Angel, the "When I kiss you, I want to die" scene, and the overall characterization of the regulars.
But, this episode contained one of the worst monster subplots in the history of the show. Machida and his shoddy design were so unthreatening it was ridiculous. Also, this episode gave us one of those terrible "Our tied up hero finds a loose nail to free herself" scenes. That's just sloppy.
This is just so mediocre that it's bad.
6. "DoubleMeat Palace", written by Jane Espenson
A sub-par Espenson show.
The ultimate pointer to the lack of thought put into this episode comes in the big closing fight scene. When the demon is revealed, Buffy, in surprise, says, "Wig Lady?" However, the character was never before referred to as Wig Lady previously in the episode.
You could almost see what they were trying to go for with this one. The question of "What if Buffy had a job" that fans had been pondering since the start of the series was finally answered. And the answer was: If Buffy had a job, it would make for a dull story arc.
A wasted opportunity.
This episode also loses points for unimaginatively introducing the horribly annoying character of Halfrek, the vengeance demon.
She showed more promise in later episodes but was killed, leaving us only with the information we gained from this outing.
5. "I Robot, You Jane", written by Ashley Gable and Tom Swyden
It's notable because it gave us some real insight into the character of Willow, a heretofore-stereotypical character. Joss Whedon nailed her in "Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest" and she was good in "The Pack", but she really began to take shape here.
That said, besides Willow's character advancement, the episode was pretty terrible. Our threat this week was Moloch, a gigantic robot-demon that lived in the computer system.
Not only that, but Moloch (The Corruptor) was hitting on Willow on the Internet. This, like every episode of Smallville, was a stupid case of connecting a regular with an arbitrary character that only works as a single-week plot device. Also, the director or the post-production team or somebody was not paying attention. This episode contains the most obvious blunder in Buffy's history. Buffy's profile is shown on the computer and, in the next shot, her birth date is completely different. This was even worse than the infamous Timeline mistake of "Innocence".
But, to be fair, a big hurrah for the first appearance of Robia LaMorte as Jenny Calendar.
4. "Pangs", written by Jane Espenson
I'm going to get crucified for including this episode, aren't I?
This was including on a great many people's Top Ten Best lists last week so that means a great many people are going to be pissed off at me this week.
My central problem with this one is Angel. While I love the character, he left Sunnydale at the end of season three with some pretty extenuating circumstances. To return so early, something huge would have to be going down. However, what that huge thing turned out to be was some sort of weird spectral shaman who was, perhaps, less a threat than the aforementioned Reptile Boy.
On top of this, we have Willow's funny but ultimately uninteresting uber-politically correct diatribes about Thanksgiving.
Aside from the ingenious ending, this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
3. "Killed By Death", written by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali
Okay, "Killed By Death" contains one of my favorite scenes in the history of Buffy. Xander confronting Angel in the hospital was just excellent.
However, let's look beyond that to another list, The Three Things I Despise About "Killed By Death".
The first thing is the opening scene. The episode starts with Buffy fighting Angelus. We have no idea how the fight came about or why Angelus would be attacking Buffy so soon before his plans could take shape (he showed remarkable skill in holding back on her in "Passion"). It is of my opinion that they wouldn't be fighting this early.
The second thing I hate about the episode is the new information we learn about Buffy. I mentioned it before with "I Robot, You Jane", that it isn't a smart idea to connect a regular with a one-shot character. That's done here with Buffy and Der Kindestod (more on him later). We find out that this demon killed Buffy's beloved cousin Celia when they were both young. Not only does this not fit in the slightest with the Buffy that we'd gotten to know for two years, but also it's just plain stupid.
And, finally, the third thing I hate about the episode is Der Kindestod himself. He's a Freddy Krueger rip-off and nothing more. Thank God he's dead. Never come back. Please.
2. "Triangle", written by Jane Espenson
This one gave us some insight into the past of Anyanka. However, the facts introduced in this episode, didn't seem viable into two seasons later when Drew (best new Buffy writer since Noxon) Goddard wrote "Selfless".
The main fact that's introduced in the episode is that Anya, in her past, dated a massive troll named Olaf. She plays it purely for comedy, something she's usually insanely good at, but something didn't seem right here and this episode has become my least favorite episode of the ultra-well-rounded season five.
Also, for the first and last times, Willow's lesbianism wasn't handled very sensitively. There were jokes at the character trait's expense and this isn't something that is usually characteristic of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
1. "Beer Bad", written by Tracey Forbes
As Comic Book Guy would say, "Worst episode ever".
I would tend to agree with that statement if it were about this episode. I expected something much more from first-time writer of the show. Usually, writer's first offerings have been intelligent and interesting. This was true of the first episodes of Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, David Fury, Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, David Greenwalt, Dan Vebber, Carl Ellsworth, and quite a few others that I'm leaving out because I can't think of them.
Tracey Forbes came up with "Beer Bad" which turns Buffy into Cave-Slayer, also known as a one-dimensional character. A show that has such an abundant feminist subtext should come up with a better message than "If a guy wrongs you, smack him on the head with a large stick".
Tracey Forbes wrote two more pretty average episodes in season four and I haven't heard from him/her (?) since.
That'd be that. I'm laying off lists for a while in favor of my usual essays. So keep reading, keep writing, and post your comments in the box directly below. You know the drill.
|Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday nights. You can contact Daniel on firstname.lastname@example.org.|