Friday, May 7, 2010

Buffy vs. The New York Times

Over the past few years, a few of my students have researched how Buffy the Vampire Slayer was received in its first season. Some of the reviews they dug up were fascinating, so I thought that I’d share some juicy quotes from their sources:

John J. O’Connor, of The New York Times, panned Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a 1997 article talking about the “fledgling WB network” and how The X-Files and other shows should “not worry” about this supernatural show because “nobody is likely to take this oddball camp exercise seriously….” O’Connor goes on to describe the show’s audience as being “Humbert Humberts all over America” because the main character wears “hot pants and boots” and “changes from one skimpy outfit to another.” He finds amusing the concept of a feminine powerful girl as the main character, writing “What a bother, when there are split hair ends to worry about.” He dismissed it in the end, writing, “The series is fun, but that’s a thought to make you really shudder.” 

(Of course, when students do similar assignments on other works, they find that the paper of record got it wrong on Psycho, Night of the Living Dead and All in the Family too.)

Todd Everett of Variety: “Direction by Charles Martin Smith and John T. Kretchmer is OK; if story sags a bit in the second half, it’s a script problem. Series has potential for early-teen viewing, though a second episode viewed was far less amusing than show’s original segment.”

Henry Mietkiewica of the Toronto Star: “The TV version comes up short. Satire is fine in a one-shot project, but it’s tough to sustain in an ongoing series. We’re left with the amusing but unexceptional tales of Buffy.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Kristen Baldwin: “Infinitely more entertaining than the cute but forgettable 1992 movie it’s based on, Buffy The Vampire Slayer …is this mid-season's most distinctive and sharply written new show.”

Tom Gliatto of People magazine, loved the series, writing, “...all in all, this looks like one of the brightest new shows of the season.... The cast…is as smooth an ensemble as you could wish in an hour-long series.” But I love this observation: “The vampires, presided over by a king bloodsucker (Mark Metcalf) who looks like an albino rat in a leather bar, are the only disappointment. Because of his fangs, Metcalf slurps his lines."

Franklin Foer, surveying his colleagues’ opinion at Slate Magainze, found BtVS to be one of the editorial boards favorites of 1997.

Interestingly, the Parent’s Television Council didn’t say one negative word about BtVS until season four, when it started to make its top ten list for worst television, debuting at fourth, then third, worst for season six... and then not making the list at all for season seven. (Angel's second and fourth seasons made their lists, incidentally.)

Consider this blog post a follow-up to Kristen’s “6 episode rule,” as clearly reviewing a series based on a few episodes is a holdover from television production practices pre-Hill Street Blues and Twin Peaks. Myself, BtVS inspired me to try to give a series an entire season, although that was pretty painful with Babylon 5 and Charmed

Tip of the pen: Malika Moro-Cohen, Katherine Farino, Ariana Sigel.


  1. I liked this blog. I also love Buffy, so I must disagree with all the negative quotes about it here. Nice work.

  2. I have to admit, I had zero interest in Buffy as a show when it first aired. In the summer of 97 it was in reruns and I was sitting working on my VCR, trying to get it to record properly. I had tv playing as a test signal and it ended up being the WB just by chance, and happened to be Buffy. I still remember watching about 2 minutes of the show thinking, "Wow, this is kinda funny and well written." It took a few more minute before I realized what it actually was, but by then I knew BtVS was going to be one of my favorite shows. It took me all of a few minutes, some of these reviewer must have really had some preconceived notions on what they expected.

  3. I'm not sure how emblematic my first experience with the series was. I was at a friend's house studying with her for a film studies midterm. She insisted that we take a break and watch an episode being aired that night. It was "Phases" from the second season. In it, Oz is revealed to be a werewolf. What enthralled me, and annoyed my friend, was that it played out one of my pet theories about the werewolf myth, which is that it investigates what would happen if men menstruated. (Once a month on a cycle connected to the moon, the man's secondary sexual characteristics run wild and he experiences violent mood swings. See Ginger Snaps for an excellent take on the werewolf myth from this perspective.) The final exchange between Willow and Oz clinched the series for me:

    Willow: Well, I like you. You're nice and you're funny. And you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either.

    The series creators knew how to work on multiple layers of meaning at the same time and were aware of the multiple meanings that these myths carry.

  4. The first season of Buffy was okay, it definitely had direction and laid a lot of important groundwork. But there is a difference in quality between the first season and the ones that came after.

    Again, not saying the first season of Buffy is bad, but one could hardly have expected Season 6 Buffy based on the sample (even if they had seen all twelve episodes of the first season).

  5. Or... Use Hulu or Netflix, which are totally legitimate means of streaming programming. ;)