Friday, November 26, 2021

Why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best music episode ever

Twenty years ago this week, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired Once Again, With a Feeling, a full-blown musical episode that many (us included) consider the best ever created.

The passage of time has not diminished the bold artistic statement of season six – even if the reputation of its writer and director, Buffy creator Joss Whedon has been tarnished by allegations of misconduct on set. So in celebration of the episode’s anniversary, local music lovers and Buffy fans – Dawn Burks, Tracey Brown, Ashley Lee and Jevon Phillips – gathered to discuss its landmark airing, outstanding scenes, and continuing influence on musical storytelling on television.

Ashley Lee: I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this episode first aired! I must admit that in those 20 years I have never seen this or any other episode of Buffy. After watching it for the first time the other day – the series is available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video – I was amazed. This episode is a fucking slap in the face. I am moderately angry that I was not allowed to watch this show as a child because it would radicalize me. What was it like for a dedicated Buffy fan to see it then?

Jevon Phillips: Fans knew that Whedon had wanted to film a musical episode for a while. We knew that Anthony Stuart Head, who plays Giles, and James Marsters, who plays Spike, could sing. We’ve heard rave reviews about Amber Benson’s voice, so Tara was in tune too. But what about the rest of the members? At a previous job In fact, I took an hour break (which I never did) to watch it in the conference room.

Dawn Burks: It really was an event with a capital letter for Buffy fans. And it happened at a time when people were still struggling to recover from the show’s changing networks and changing favorite characters. Indeed, “Where do we go from here?” (And now I’m singing the whole soundtrack, of which I have a paper copy.)

Tracy Brown: It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve probably watched “Once More, With Feeling” more times than any single episode – the score mostly increased when DVD sets were the only way to revisit my favorite TV. This was before “Glee” or “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, so the only real starting point for a “musical episode” I had at the time was Xena: Warrior Princess. (“Bitter Suite” remains a favorite.) And this continued to be shown in theaters for interactive fan parties at least for a while.

Phillips: I went to this “theater experience” twice and even brought dry cleaning with a note “no mustard.” At one screening in Westwood, Buffy’s writer-producer Marty Noxon thanked everyone for coming and said, “Someone else wants to thank you.” He hid Joss down the aisle. The crowd went wild.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, portrayed with co-stars Christine Sutherland and Michelle Trachtenberg, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

(Richard Cartwright / WB)

Burke: The pure musicality of this episode really, ahem, sang. One of my favorites was when “Standing in the Way” and “Under Your Spell” turned into a mashup with Tara and Giles. But the one for which I know ALL the lyrics and still sing them from my chest is Spike’s heartbreaking song “Rest in Peace”. There was so much meaning and emotion in this song, it promoted the story and helped anyone understand how – spoiler alert – Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) could have ended the episode by doing so much more than just “whispering in the ear of the dead.”

Brown: If I had to pick a favorite, I would pick Walk on Fire – the number that leads Buffy as she heads towards great evil – for the way he catches everyone’s inner conflict leading to what you think is you know it is coming. , plus sarcastic quotes are present even in the songs.

But the musical moment that brings me the most joy in this episode comes much earlier, when Anya (Emma Caulfield) bursts out with a short rock anthem. Her assertion that rabbits may be responsible for the mysterious musical chaos, complemented by pyrotechnics, has always made me smile.

Phillips: Hinton Battle’s Demon Sweet was so smooth and soulful in What You Feel, both with Breaking Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and at the end. He could easily become one of my main Buffy villains.

Lee: I loved Never Say, in which Xander (Nicholas Brandon) and Anya simultaneously conduct internal monologues about relationship problems, dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in pajamas. The number rivals some of the best bittersweet controversies on stage, including Little Things You Do Together from Company, Therapy from Tick, Tick … Boom! and “Take me or leave me” from the “Rentals” section.

In addition, “Something To Sing About” is a killer number at 11 o’clock: insightful lyrics about the meaning of life, dance breaks with Caulfield and Trachtenberg, and Gellar’s haunting sweet voice, turning into those background notes and becoming tearful during the big performance. disclose. Sorry, but there is no other way to say this: Gellar completely killed this song.

Brown: Gellar killed the entire episode. Let’s remember that this was televised when full seasons were usually around 22 episodes and they didn’t have extra time to film an episode. She realized how important this episode was to Buffy’s story that season and took it upon herself to learn all the songs and choreography and performed the numbers herself. It doesn’t seem like there was less Buffy in this episode, and I don’t think the emotion would be that strong if the voice double sang for her.

Four actors

Buffy the Vampire Slayer actors Nicholas Brandon (left to right), Alison Hannigan, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Charisma Carpenter.

(Getty Images)

Lee: It fascinates me that this whole experiment was not framed as a 50-minute episode of dreams, hallucinations, or an alternate universe like many of the musical episodes that aired after that. Instead, there is a sense of self-awareness that there is a sudden flash of a song that sells the “rules” of storytelling in the episode. I howled when Anya asked about Spike’s song: “Would you say it’s a popular pop hit or something like a book number?”

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Burkes: This is one of the main things that I liked about Once More, With Feeling. It wasn’t just some one-off musical episode for the cast to complement their resume or showcase their Broadway skills, and the episode immediately signaled that. There was actual exposure and story movement through the song. It was almost revolutionary.

Phillips: These were huge franchise-changing revelations mixed with small details such as dancing in the background of the stages and writer-producer David Fury and Noxon in popular singing roles. (Yes, many of us knew who they were, or found out very quickly.) Buffy’s statement at the end of her last song hit us all hard. I just remember thinking, “There are so many stories in this episode!”

Brown: Right? Beyond the Buffy-focused revelations, what mattered to me was how Willow (Alison Hannigan) and Tara’s relationship was changing. This episode took place at a time when the queer representation on television was almost non-existent, so every little thing that happened between them in Buffy was one that I clung to. “Once More, With Feeling” had a magical (G-rated) lesbian sex scene on network television, and it amazed me. At the same time, Willow did something completely unforgivable, and it was hard for the viewer to put up with it.

Lee: As more TV shows try out musical episodes, what do you think these showrunners might find out by watching Once Again Feel?

Phillips: Plot integration is one of the reasons, if not the biggest reason this episode works. One of the most underrated fantasy shows of the past 10 years is The Magicians. Syfy featured several songs, but the fourth season had one episode titled “All That Hard, Glossy Armor” in which Margot (Summer Bishil), uttering some of the most evil curses and insults ever to appear on television, hallucinated … Don’t Get Me Wrong, The Challengers, I’m Coming Again, The Beautiful Dreamer by Roy Orbison, and The Gathering Storm by Gnarles Barkley are all on the playlist. It was fun and self-sufficient, and it was not a one-off episode that was not related to the plot as a whole.

Burkes: Episodic TV provided some good material: Hear a musical exchange between Supergirl and Flash – Glee alumni Melissa Benoit and Grant Gustin – with Rent legend Jesse L. Martin as a singer on another Earth. See also the songs (and dances) of “Lucifer” in several episodes, most notably the full musical “Bloody Celestial Karaoke Jam” in its final season. And everything that Amber Riley sang on Glee, especially Bust Your Windows. Now that the plot is thickened.

The vampire prepares to take a bite "Buffy the vampire slayer"

James Marsters as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

(WB / Hulu)

Lee: After watching “Once More, With Feeling,” I would like to see more shows try their hand at using original music rather than cover versions of existing songs. Although the latter is an art form in its own right, lyrics written specifically for these characters allow the episode to survive the popularity of the song that will soon be replayed, and are necessary in order to make the aforementioned plot possible.

BurkesA: Just look at Seth Macfarlane’s empire, in particular American Dad and The Cleveland Show, to hear the echoes of Once More With Feeling. Like Buffy, these shows believed their viewers were smart enough to follow the original song that would really take them somewhere. Who knows their heroes better than their creators?

Brown: Greetings to colleagues from the animated Fox series “Bob’s Burgers” and his masterful original songs. Even The Simpsons, during the season premiere this year, turned into a musical – original songs and all – with an episode about Marge’s past as a stage director in high school.

And Steven Universe is in a special league. The show was already known for the quantity and quality of its original music and how it was incorporated into its narrative, before he used the full musical episode as a test run to create a musical film.

Lee: You are both right. Even though we have had so many live TV shows since then that are all about the original music, including Smash, Nashville, Empire, Galavant and Schmigadoon! – the animation remained the same high note for the form. My favorite lately is the animated “Central Park” on Apple TV +, created by Josh Gad and Bob’s Burger veterinarians Lauren Bouchard and Norah Smith.

Brown: Now worth watching “Centaurworld,” a series about magical centaurs, voiced by Broadway talent. It’s more of an original episodic musical than a show that just includes a lot of songs. This is the soundtrack I’m repeating now.

Live performances can learn a lot from how “Once More, With Feeling” and animation shows incorporate musical sideshows. I’m totally in favor of going beyond “staging a musical” or “it was a dream / hallucination all this time” or even “the villain is trapping us in the musical” (as far as I like it). A reason is not always needed. Just let it happen!

Burke: The creators seem to think they have to be comical and even silly when it comes to including music. But it does help soften the dramatic blow: ABC’s Queens showcases the originals, and the first episode has an important plot point in the middle of the song. Will this continue? One can only hope.

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