Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Best of Buffy: Readers' Choice (Part 1)

I tallied up your rankings for the best Buffy episodes from this post, assigned them point values based on your rankings, did more than a little long division, and came up with the Low Res Readers List for the best of Buffy. I'll comment on episodes that didn't appear in my own countdown, and you guys will hopefully comment on the list as a whole.

#30. (tie) Pangs
Season 4, Episode 8
Written by: Jane Espenson
This is the Thanksgiving episode, where a Native American vengeance spirit besieges the gang, Xander gets the funny syphilis, Willow gets all anti-imperialist on Giles, and Angel skulks around the periphery. Great Espenson comedy, and hugely relatable, with Buffy trying to have the no-parents first-year-at-college Thanksgiving of her dreams.

#30. (tie) Grave
Season 6, Episode 22
Written by: David Fury
Trivia alert: this is the only season finale not to have been written by Joss Whedon. Fury's as dependable as they come, though, and we get a good (but not transcendent) capper to the Dark Willow storyline. Nice seeing Xander save the day with his utter humanness, and I remember being really into Anya and Giles as a non-romantic pair at the time, so I was happy to see them sharing scenes. Still, Buffy feels cast aside, and if you thought the magic-as-drugs stuff was a smidge heavy-handed, this episode probably didn't help.

#29. Superstar

#28. Welcome to the Hellmouth
Season 1, Episode 1
Written by: Joss Whedon
The pilot! The real one, not the one with Creepy Fake Willow. I'm not sure what I can say about this, in that pilots are judges by how much it hooked you on the show, and by the time I saw this, I was already hooked. But I liked the misdirection re: Jesse (Eric Balfour!), which showed that anybody could go. And unlike many shows that took a long time finding legs, this show really hit the ground running.

#27. I Only Have Eyes for You
Season 2, Episode 19
Written by: Marti Noxon
I always get this one confused with the My So-Called Life episode where Rayanne and Krakow get locked in the basement and Angela sees the ghost of a boy who died at the Halloween dance. (Side note: people HATE that episode for the dopey ghost plot, but as a Rayanne fan, I had to love it as she baited Krakow and high-fived janitor George.) Anyway, this has pretty much the same plot, only it's a Sadie Hawkins Dance, and the ghost causing people to murder-suicide one another. Buffy and Angelus get possessed by the doomed lovers, which was pretty heart-wrenching.

#26. Becoming, Part 1
Season 2, Episode 21
Written by: Joss Whedon
All the great payoffs are in Part 2, but Part 1 does see Drusilla off Kendra and her Terrible Caribbean Accent of Pain.

#25. Tabula Rasa
Season 6, Episode 8
Written by: Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Willow's magic gets out of hand and causes the whole gang to forget who they are. Lots of really clever comic beats, including Joan the Vampire Slayer, a troubled romance between Anya and Giles, Spike as Giles' son, and Willow thinking she's kinda gay. Willow and Tara break up to the strains of Michelle Branch.

#24. Storyteller
Season 7, Episode 16
Written by: Jane Espenson
This one juuuuuust missed my own countdown. Basically, this is Andrew having to run his own personal gauntlet and prove himself as a Scooby, ultimately by owning up to the evil he's done. But all around that is the conceit that he keeps trying to make a movie out of what's happening, and Espenson and Tom Lenk put on a damn clinic of clever, insane comic moments. Especially "We are as gods."

#23. Halloween
Season 2, Episode 6
Written by: Carl Ellsworth
This would be the first appearance by recidivist baddie Ethan Rayne. This time, his enchanted costumes turn people into what they're dressed up as, with results as scary as little werewolves and as humorous as Ghost Willow, Soldier Xander, and Damsel Buffy. Good showcase for Cordelia (who bought her costume elsewhere), who gets to comment on the insanity AND try to save everybody for once.

#22. Fool For Love
Season 5, Episode 7
Written by: Douglas Petrie
Eh. I can't hate on an episode that reunites Angel, Darla, Drusilla, and Spike. And it really was a quietly sweet moment, at the time, when Spike comforted Buffy re: her mom's diagnosis. But the subsequent Spuffy craze really soured me on this one.

#21. Selfless

#20. Normal Again
Season 6, Episode 17
Written by: Diego Guitierrez
Buffy is made to believe she's really in an asylum in L.A., and her whole life as the Slayer -- Sunnydale, Dawn, all of it -- has been a fantasyland and symptom of her disease. Yada yada, Buffy tries to kill her friends but is ultimately made to realize the truth. And then an utterly stupid tag at the end of the episode made everybody think the entire series was indeed a figment of Buffy's imagination. Bleh.

#19. Graduation Day, Part 1

#18. Who Are You?

#17. Conversations with Dead People
Season 7, Episode 7
Written by: Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard
Interesting structural experiment as Buffy, Willow, and Dawn are each in their own chamber piece, each one dealing with an entity from Beyond. Buffy's moments with chatty vamp Holden are written well enough to be compelling (and we learn Scott Hope came out in college -- KNEW IT!), but Willow and "Tara" (i.e. The First pretending to be Cassie pretending to be Tara) felt limper than it should have been, and Dawn's encounter with The Angry Ghost of Joyce Summers never really went anywhere at all.

#16. Chosen

(#s 1-15 coming up later today!)


Jon said...

For all the comments that got made at the time of Logo's marathon about how the list had too many post-season 3 episodes, I've been really surprised to see just how many season 6 and 7 episodes have ended up both on your list, Joe, and also on the readers' list. Obviously, they're not necessarily the same season 6 and 7 episodes that Logo featured, but it makes clear that despite the weakness of those seasons overall, they still had some great episodes.

magreen17 said...

I didn't vote or comment before (I'm sorta a lurker around here) but Tabula Rasa will always be one of my favorites -- if only for that screencap of them all screaming. And that's mostly credit to Spike and Giles screaming in the background, although each and every one of them looks pretty hilarious.

Rbelle said...

So glad Welcome to the Hellmouth made the list. I find myself going back to that episode again and again. It introduces all the major players without any heavy-handed exposition and sets the tone for the rest of the show right off the bat. The part where Buffy meets Giles for the first time and he slams that giant book on vampires down in front of her is just the best. While I'd seen many episodes - maybe even a season or two - before I finally saw the pilot, I would say it got me "hooked" by ensuring that I caught up on the whole series.

Also, Becoming, Part 1, while definitely more setup for a better Part 2, has my second-favorite moment of the two-episode finale - Buffy's run back to the library when she realizes she's left all her friends vulnerable, right up to the slow-mo of her falling down on her knees next to dead Kendra. It should be cheesy, but it gives me chills every time, maybe because of Whistler's so very matter-of-fact voice over.

MattPatt said...

Following up on Jon's comment above --

It's a little paradoxical, isn't it, that although it's generally agreed that the overall quality of the storytelling was much better in earlier seasons, most people's list of top individual episodes is going to be disproportionately weighted toward later seasons. I think, though, that this is a systematic problem with making a top 10 list -- at least, when I do it, I tend to be thinking of the episodes in isolation rather than in the context of their overall story arc. So, for example, my top 10 list didn't include anything from the season 3 Faith storyline, despite the fact that I loved that to pieces, because the individual components of it just haven't stood out in my mind.

(Same problem with Angel season 4 -- that entire 20-episode run takes place in, like, a month of in-story time, or something, and they just all totally run together. I enjoyed the hell out of it at the time, but I'll be damned if I could tell you one single episode title.)

Something like "Selfless" or "Once More, With Feeling" is much more memorable, partly because they don't have as much to do with moving along a many-episode plot, and partly because they're standing head and shoulders above neighboring episodes quality-wise. It's hard to keep this in mind when compiling a list, even if you know you're probably subject to this effect.

seanisbored said...

This list has brought me so much joy. I loved your countdown and the focus on the writers of each episode. I've never encountered a fandom so obsessed with the writers of each episode. It's the only show I can come up with a top 10 writers list for (Epson/Whedon/Petrie leading the pack btw).

You've encouraged me to start The Great Annual Buffy Re-Watch a few months earlier (normally its a Autumn thing).

Christ, I love this show. Other might think they're the best (i.e. my favourite) but nothing beats out the emotional impact that Buffy has had on my psyche. These characters are an integral part of my being and your list has summed up this emotional connection more than others I've read.

Thank you, sir.

Jamie said...

So much gratitude for this list. I was going to make the boy watch the Logo top 10 with me (because I feel like he just doesn't get enough of my jokes, and if he could watch Buffy, get hooked, and see all the original references I'm alluding to, he'd find me much more hilarious). When he came over for "movie night" on the top 10 night, he was confused to find me watching a baseball game. So now I'll use this list to compile a new movie night to suck him in (pun intended).

Now all I'll need is a top 10 Arrested Development.

Joe Reid said...

I'm so glad you guys all like it!

As for seasons 6 and 7, I've noticed they do play a smidge better with hindsight and -- especially -- in isolation. And episode like "The Killer in Me," which I watched the other day, has some amazing stuff in it, and the Buffy/Spike segments, which were still kind of boring in comparison, weren't part of some six-episode block of story like they were when it originally ran.

Jamie: Don't tempt me on the "Arrested Development" thing.

jessica said...

Uhh, I'm late to the party, but ... consider the Arrested Development thing seconded.