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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Second Season  Print E-mail
DVD TV Shows
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 11 June 2002



title:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season


studio:
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Anthony Stewart Head, James Marsters, Juliet Landau
release year: 1998
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Two-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is one of those series that divide the viewing audience into several segments – those who think it’s one of the best episodic TV shows on the air now (maybe ever), those who enjoy it occasionally, those who’ve never tried it and those who just don’t get it.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season” is recommended for everyone who doesn’t fall into that last category. While it would be wrong to say that “Buffy” hit its stride in its second season – the show pretty much hit the ground running in its two-hour Season One premiere and seldom has stumbled thereafter – Season Two is widely viewed as one of “Buffy’s” best seasons. Even if this isn’t one’s personal take (I’d rate Seasons Three, Five and Six even higher), this six-disc, 22-episode set is chock-full of great TV, not to mention lots of fun extras.

For those who have somehow missed any explanatory hype about the show during the six years it’s been on the air so far (Season Seven commences in September), here’s the situation. Pretty, normal-looking high school student Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been brought from L.A. to Sunnydale, Calif. by her mom Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), who still doesn’t know that the reason Buffy burned down her old high school gym is that it was full of vampires. Buffy, you see, is a Slayer, destined (whether she likes it or not) to battle vampires, demons, monsters and the like. Wouldn’t you know that new home Sunnydale is on something called a Hellmouth, which attracts all manner of evil to it? Though Buffy’s mother (like most of the town) is still oblivious, Buffy has help in her battle. There’s Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy’s Watcher/advisor/quasi-father figure who works as the high school librarian, Buffy’s best friend, the adorable computer geek Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Buffy and Willow’s other best friend, teen loser Xander (Nicholas Brendon), and reigning high school mean queen Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who reluctantly gets roped into the action because she’s in on the secret. Oh, yes, there’s also Buffy’s older boyfriend Angel (David Boreanaz), who looks like he’s in his 20s but is really a 240-year-old vampire cursed with a soul that makes him feel guilt about his previous murderous acts.

Created by Joss Whedon, “Buffy” sends up horror movie clichés left and right while playing with all sorts of metaphors that work beautifully. Here’s an episode (“Innocence”) where, when a guy changes after that crucial first date, he really changes; there’s an episode (“The Dark Age”) where, when an authority figure has a wild side, it turns out to include literal hell-raising rather than just the figurative kind. As co-executive producer Marti Noxon cheerfully points out in the “Bestiary” featurette, when frat boys get out of hand in the Buffyverse in “Reptile Boy,” they worship a giant snake that looks just like … well, that other thing frat boys worship, only bigger. Somehow, though, real emotion shines through everything – the characters are played with such open honesty and written with such empathy that we wind up liking everybody and getting caught up in the romantic triangles and quadrangles that sometimes turn into bloody messes. Humor, tragedy and some striking chills coexist side by side here and the dialogue is effortlessly playful and sharp, sounding so natural that you may begin to believe everybody really talks this way in the real world.

Most genre TV series are either in syndication, on cable or die quickly. “Buffy” is one of the rarities to survive existence on network television (albeit it leapt from the WB to UPN for its sixth season). It is more densely arced than one might expect – the continuity resembles, say, “The Sopranos” more than “Star Trek” – though this needn’t be an impediment to the casual viewer and is a positive bonus for the boxed set owner, who can view it as a 22-part miniseries.

The discs are handsomely designed, with different menus for each episode and a very find-your-place-friendly 15 chapters per episode. Opening titles and end credits get their own chapters – it’s not that the credit sequence isn’t dynamic, but those who wish to zip past it are able to do so easily. The surround sound is nicely balanced, with dialogue standing up for itself clearly among the various audio effects and some surprisingly good rock music selections that run throughout the episodes (a “Buffy” soundtrack of songs used in Seasons One-Three has been available for some years now and is highly worthwhile in its own right).

Disc One begins with “When She Was Bad,” which finds Buffy with an understandable but ultimately excessive bad attitude about being stuck with the Slayer gig on the Hellmouth, especially as she already got killed on the job once (she was immediately revived, but death is still traumatic). “Some Assembly Required” puts a Sunnydale High spin on the Frankenstein legend, while “School Hard” introduces tough bloke vampire Spike (James Marsters) and his ailing, psychic and psychotic beloved fellow bloodsucker Drusilla (Juliet Landau), a pair who stick around and make life tough for Buffy and Co. In “Inca Mummy Girl,” Xander’s habit of falling for femme fatales runs true to form.

Disc Two contains the aforementioned “Reptile Boy,” about a fraternity with an unconventional (outside Sunnydale, anyway) path to success; the episode comes with cheerful commentary by its writer/director David Greenwalt. “Halloween” finds most of our heroes inadvertently turning into their costumes, so that Buffy is a fragile Southern belle and Xander is a soldier – and the small children dressed as demons give new meaning to the term “little monsters.” “Lie To Me” starts amping up the tension between Buffy and Angel over Angel’s past with Drusilla (he turned her into a vampire way back when), while Buffy’s old boyfriend from L.A. comes to town and she contemplates trying for some normality. (Need it be said she doesn’t get it?) “The Dark Age” conjures up a lethal body-jumping demon.

Disc Three has “What’s My Line?” Parts One and Two, both with entertaining commentary by episode writer Marti Noxon, as a second Slayer (Bianca Lawson) comes to town, Buffy grapples with being involuntarily stuck in a dangerous career and Spike tries to kill Angel in order to cure Drusilla. In “Ted,” guest star John Ritter (who appears in several of the supplemental featurettes) plays Buffy’s mom’s too-good-to-be-true new boyfriend, while “Bad Eggs” riffs on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” mythology.

Disc Four begins with “Surprise,” which has Drusilla and a less-than-totally-enthused Spike trying to assemble a demon that will destroy humanity, while Giles’ girlfriend Jenny (Robia La Morte) has a startling reason for wanting to separate Buffy and Angel. In “Innocence,” which has droll commentary by episode author/director/series creator Whedon, Buffy finds herself with a dismaying new enemy, who continues through the season finale. In “Phases,” a werewolf – and a werewolf hunter –make themselves known just as Willow is experimenting with dating and in “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Xander is plagued by a backfiring love spell.

Disc Five starts with “Passion,” which has a shocking-in-context death as Buffy’s problems worsen. “Killed By Death” looks like a combined homage to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Nosferatu,” with a vaguely Freddy Krueger-esque creature menacing children in a hospital wing. “I Only Have Eyes For You” has two star-crossed ghosts fatally re-enacting their final encounter by possessing people in the halls of Sunnydale High, while “Go Fish” mixes a blown-out steroid story with wet, squishy monsters.

Disc Six has the two-part season finale, “Becoming,” directed and written by Joss Whedon, One ally is lost forever, an unlikely new ally (who turned out to be less temporary than anybody imagined at the time) emerges and there’s the threat of both emotional and global apocalypse.

Granted, these sketchy descriptions could herald anything, including total lameness, but here the joy is entirely in the details. The show delights in reversals of expectations – a situation that has been a source of stark tragedy in every horror film where it’s occurred is just one more problem with a practical solution to our gang, while apparently hopeful signs are often preludes to disaster. There’s no way to praise the mostly killer cast highly enough – Gellar finds an extraordinary balance between the kind of glibness that makes us believe her Buffy really does aspire to being an average airhead, a heartfelt vulnerability and a grace of movement that suggests the Slayer really is something special. Hannigan, Brendon and Head never put a foot wrong and Marsters, as the evil, romantic but mostly exasperated Spike, inhabits the vamp so thoroughly that it’s no wonder he was upped to full-time regular by Season Four.

Disc Six also contains three lively making-of documentaries – one on production design, one on makeup design and one on the various creatures in the series – which have on-camera interviews with creative types Whedon, Greenwalt and Noxon, production designer Carey Meyer, makeup effects maestros Todd McIntosh and John Vulich and a host of actors including Brendon, Carpenter, Head, Marsters, Landau, Sutherland, Ritter, Danny Strong, Julie Benz, Robin Sachs and Thomas Gibson. Whedon also contributes short interviews on six episodes, and the episodes with audio commentary also have an onscreen script option.

With such terrific content, both primary and supplemental, how could anyone have caveats about these DVDs? Well, there’s the picture quality. The videotaped supplemental interviews are bright, clean and handsome, but this is not always case with the episodes themselves. In “When She Was Bad,” Chapters 3, 8 and 9 are grainy. Chapter 6 of “Some Assembly Required” has some shots that appear to be on the verge of breaking into pixilation. Chapter 1 of “School Hard” has such odd contrasts that the characters in the foreground almost appear to be matted in, even though the actors are indeed working in a real physical environment. In Chapter 10 of “What’s My Line?” Pt. 1, shot quality changes radically every time the camera angle alters in an ice rink sequence. The problem seems to exist to varying degrees in night and/or dark interior scenes – a few are good, but they are the exception rather than the rule. A lot of the night shots look better on analog videotape than they do on the DVDs, which is surely not the natural order of things.

The video quality isn’t all average-to-bad news, though. Some very delicate lighting effects are lovely, especially in dawn shots in the latter chapters of “Becoming” Pt. 2. Special effects look consistently good (even better when you consider the time and budgetary constraints under which they were made). There’s a really good werewolf-to-man morph in Chapter 7 of “Phases,” and the human-face/vamp-face morph that’s a hallmark of the series looks smooth every single time the transition is made. A human/multi-creature morph in “What’s My Line” Pt. 2 is handled so deftly that it sells itself even when Noxon is explaining how it was achieved on the commentary track.

All things considered, the sound fares well, with an occasional really nifty effect showing up despite the lack of discrete features. There’s a nice dimension-adding distant noise in Chapter 12 of “When She Was Bad” and some lovely underscoring in Chapter 11 of “Some Assembly Required.” In Chapter 11 of “Innocence,” a platoon of soldiers sound as if they’re quick-marching away during a downpour through the right main. Chapter 3 of “Phases” has a very effective jump scare and Chapter 11 of “Killed By Death” features a piercing scream that retains integrity and doesn’t turn into an electronic screech in the high range.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season” is a must-have for fans of the show and anybody who is serious about collecting on major contributions to the horror/fantasy genre. The episodes are mostly sterling and the supplements are fun. It’s a shame that the episodes didn’t get the quality of optical digital transfer the material deserves, but maybe Season Three will look better.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround; French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Full-Screen Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
special features: Audio Commentaries by Series Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/Director Joss Whedon (“Innocence”), Executive Producer/Writer/Director David Greenwalt (“Reptile Boy”) and Co-Executive Producer/Writer Marti Noxon (“What’s My Line” Pt. 1 and 2); Six Mini-Interviews With Whedon; “Designing Buffy” Featurette; “Beauty and the Beasts” Makeup and Effects Featurette; “Bestiary” Featurette; Photo Gallery; Monster Sketches Gallery; Production Sketches Gallery; Production Design Blueprints; Cast & Crew Biographies, Episode Scripts; TV Trailers; Season Two Episode Guide Booklet; English and Spanish Subtitles
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reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba








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