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Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The Complete Second Season

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head

 

Studio: Fox

Retail Price: $59.98

Features: Audio Commentaries, Episode Introductions, Promotional TV Spots,Still Galleries, Featurettes

Specs: 1.37:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection, Six Disc Set

Released: June 11th, 2002

 

 

Buffy's back and better than before. Who would have thought that after a season of promises not always delivered, that the sophomore season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" would be able to present a twenty-two episode season full of surprises, new havoc, new characters, special guest stars, murder, mayhem, monsters and slayings galore. Not to mention the complete and total turnaround of one (or two) of the series' major characters. The second season also holds a much higher ratio of great televsion episodes to downright lame (there are only two which I cannot find myself replaying).

While others may remember the second season of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" for the remarkable episode ("Surprise") in which the sparks flew to new Gothic levels between The Slayer and her guardian vampire, Angel; for me, the thrill is the arrival of the ineffable punk rockish, vampiric duo of Spike and Drusilla ("School Hard"). Tossing these two into Sunnydale's never-ending supply of demons and monsters took the series to a new, surprising level of humor, and horror. As played by blonde-dyed James Marsters and show business progeny Juliet Landau, these two "Sid and Nancy-"inspired cohorts quickly became the antagonistic glue to hold the series together. Drusilla is a crackerjack crackpotted vampire sired by Angel; David Boreanaz is finally given strong motivations, and a believable backstory ("Becoming, Part 1") that only enriches his characterization. Spike is a 200 year old vampire, William the Bloody, who positively dotes on the wacky Drusilla. Armed with not only his vampire powers, Spike sports an unwavering wit; one of his first lines is a classic, " If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there, it would've been like Woodstock." Dru is a little over the edge of sanity because Angel psychologically tortured her before making her a vampire - he kills her entire family, one by one, before siring her. And once he has sired her, he is struck with a gypsy curse, making him unlike any vampire, Angelus is given a soul, which explains his entire first season attitude. The big surprise of "Surprise," is of course, that Angel's soul is lost again once he has made love to Buffy, and when Angel is soulless, he is not very nice. "Becoming, Part 2" find Angel trying to bring on Armageddon thorugh Acathla, a stone demon who will suck the living world into Hell, making the earth a much better place for demons, werewolves and vampires.

Another pleasant surprise of the second season, is the presence of guest star John Ritter. Although he is only there for one episode ("Ted"), he delivers a knockout performance, part "Father Knows Best," part "Terminator," as the new man in Buffy's mother's life. Not only is Ritter funny, but his "Ted" is deliciously macabre, and his Kung Fu fighting with Buffy is one of the season highlights. While we're on the subject of fights, it would be a sin not to mention the climactic swordfight between the evil Angel and Buffy. This is sooooo swashbuckling! And it is staged on a set on which the screen's greatest swashbucklers would have felt at home. Under the firm directoral hands of series creator, Josh Whedon, this scene in the season finale kicks serious ass.

From the start to the finish, "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer's" second season is a compelling ride. With rare exception, the actors are at the top of their form, even Charisma Carpenter, the show's weakest link, provides a few impressive moments. Shamefully, Carpenter's greatest moment comes in "Go Fish," a nearly unwatchable episode pretending to salute "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." This is one of the finest ensemble casts assembled for a television series, and their growth from Season One to Season Two is noticeable. Nicholas Brendon's Xander is no longer a complete doofus, but has matured enough to warrant a love interest ("What's My Line?, Part 2), even if it is Cordelia! Allyson Hannigan's Willow also rates a love interest, though she's still carrying a torch for her childhood playmate Xander, in Seth ("Austin Powers") Green's Oz, who just happens to be a werewolf. Ever the pragmatic, Willow responds to this discovery ("Phases") with the immortal line, "Three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either." Buffy's Watcher, Giles (the tic-ridden Anthony Stewart Head), unfortunately loses in the love game. Jenny Calender, intorduced in the first season as a computer-science teacher with Wiccan ways, falls victim to the evil Angel ("Passion"), leaving Giles with an empty heart capable of being tempted ("Becoming, Part 2"). Once the evil Angel appears, he seems to be drawn into a subtextually rife menage-a-trois; forming an allegiance, as well as a triangle with Spike and Drusilla.

And then there's Sarah Michelle Gellar. Somebody, somewhere, please explain to me why this woman has NOT received an Emmy Award for her remarkable portrayal of The Slayer! Whether she's slaying, or delivering a comic gem of a line, Gellar completely inhabits the character of Buffy: one of the finest characters ever created. Gellar's work is right up there in the pantheon of great television females: Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards and Laura Petrie, Diana Rigg's Emma Samms and Susan Lucci's Erica Kane. In the real world of the unreality of Sunnydale, Gellar sparkles with a rootedness which makes her Buffy a most realistic television teen heroine. From the angst to the banter, Buffy is bold, brazen, beautiful and believable. Gellar's talent truly was tapped for this particular season, a season which showcases her isolation, her love and her agony. To appropriate the title from the season's two-part closer, this is the year of Buffy becoming.

 

Presented in its original full-framed aspect ratio, I would like to be able to report that the second season looks better than last year's Season One box. I can't. From the opening scene of the first episode, "When She Was Bad," the picture is excessively grainy, likewise many of the daylight scenes throughout the season suffer this same fate. The series is shot on 16mm film stock, but mastered on videotape, so allowances should be made for a less-than-stellar picture. As such, fleshtones vary form episode to episode, often from scene to scene; accurate at one point, jaundiced at the next. Sure there are times when the quality improves - "School Hard" - features some nearly pristine shots, but "Buffy's" budgetary confines are still clearly in evidence. The budget for the special make-up processes, however, has not been stinted on. The creatures of the night are always cleverly and ingeniously constructions of latex and flesh, and the DVD accentuates the detailed work of the Emmy Award-winning Make-up Crew. In the winter of this year, however, we should be seeing a pleasant change in Buffy; only the first thrity-four episodes were filmed in 16mm, so Season Three on DVD should be a marked improvement.

 

Never muddy, always clear, the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack also shows its budgetary limitations. It is a fairly standard television track, using the surrounds very sparingly, but effectively. With all the rock bands appearing on "Buffy," the music trylu plays an important part to the series success. The stage of The Bronze, Sunnydale's coffee bar cum dance hall, plays host to all the up and coming bands, and Oz even plays lead guitar for Dingoes Ate My Baby, one of the Bronze's resident bands. Satisfactory, nothing more, but I have to say the use of Sarah MacLachlan's "Full of Grace" to close the season was an inspired choice of material. In the end, The Slayer's Sunnydale sound is serviceable. If you're in the mood for Old World vampire slaying, you can always access the French Language soundtrack, for a truly charmante aural experience.

 

With the addition of ten episodes, to make for a full season of The Slayer's exploits, the fine folks at Fox found a way to include far more extras than for the twelve episode Season One boxed set. Season Two still has Introductory Material provided by Joss Whedon for six of the episodes, and his short chats are comfy. Whedon also provides running commentary on "Innocence;" with script writers Marti Noxon and David Greenwalt providing two other invaluable commentaries. The episode choices for the commentaries are quite eclectic - from the phallic demon snake worshiper, "Reptile Boy;" to the Emmy Award worthy "Innocence," (which in the humble opinion of this reviewer holds Sarah Michell Gellar's finest acting to date). Plus, the Scripts for "Reptile Boy," both parts of "What's My Line?" and "Innocence" are available are available, textually, as seperate bonus features on their respective discs. Three Featurettes prove to be more than merely fluffy, the series' creators (note the absence of headliners Gellar and Boreanaz) take us far behind the scenes to show us the elements that go into an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Designing Buffy" delves into the fine art of carpentry, and lack of space, as we learn how and where the sets, and the set dressing, are conceived, crafted and photographed. I'm not going to state that this is an essential, but having been on many theatrical set crews, I can say that I found it to be quite good. At a little under fifteen minutes, it is also the shortest of the trio. Even better, though, is the half-hour long "Buffy Beastiary;" a talking head and clip infested guide to the demons who have stalked Sunnydale and "Beauty and Beasts," taking us through the layers of latex used to create Buffy's foes, all in the space of thirty minutes. "The Beastiary" is essential for those who are very new to the wild and wooly world of The Slayer; while "Beauty and Beasts" gains extra credit for also allowing Buffy's costume designer to have her say. Finally, there are some very short, 10 second spots, promoting Buffy's second season; complete with critical lauds and a plug for the premiere of "Dawson's Creek." Video Trailers, domestic and United Kingdom promote the video releases of both "Angel" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," here and abroad. In addition, we get a very nice Art Gallery, comprised of four subsets. A Still Gallery skillfully blends behind the scenes shots, publicity photos as well as onset photos. The Monster Sketches, charcoal or pencilled, re-affirm the greatness of the makeup crews, as all original drawings are readily identifiable as the monsters they became. The Set Designs are gorgeous portfolio-ready photos of sets sans actors as well as charcoal sketches. And for the master builder in all of us, there are the Set Design Bluepints so that now, thanks to theses blueprints, we can all get out our powetools and start building Sunnydale in our own back yards! Eleven Biographies, as text documents, not only offer biographical sketches of the creative talents, but give us the lowdown on their characters, too. I even like the cool CGI animation on between the menus!

 

Obviously Fox has put quite a bit of effort into the boxed set for Buffy's second season; though not earth-shattering in their greatness, the Special Features, like the series, improved radically the second time around. Since forewarned is forearmed, one can safely buy "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Two" knowing in advance that the picture quality is still very iffy, but the sheer entertainment value comes out on top. A season of relationships, dealt with in a mature manner, makes this season a true winner. To watch these characters come to alive, or become undead, and grow more mature and less angst-ridden is certainly a pleasure. Fans of famous monsters of filmland are likely to enjoy the references to past classic films, although the only reason I'll be watching the "Go Fish" episode ("Creature from the Black Lagoon" homage) is for the radical shots of Nicholas Brendon in his Speedos (A similar set-up occurs on another Fox second season boxed set, as David Duchovny sports a Speedo for the "Duane Barry" episode. They have some truly great minds at work over there at Fox, I can see them all sitting around saying, "Ooooh! It's the second season, isn't it time to put our male lead into a Speedo?" nudge-nudge-wink-wink.) Great and near-great performances abound as lives are taken, and heroes become villains. It's a topsy-turvy world over there in Sunnydale. I for one am glad to have Buffy opposing those forces of evil, I think most viewers will agree when I say, "Buffy slays me."