Emmy-worthy ‘Buffy’ musical slays this critic

Jul 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

It’s always been easy to underestimate Buffy. Particularly if you’re a normal adult. I am nowhere near the right demographic for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and indeed, through the first five years of the show, I managed to see exactly zero episodes. And that was just fine with me.
Then one night as I was flipping past Buffy I saw that some strange musical episode was beginning. Buffy-wonderfully played by Sarah Michelle Gellar-was belting a Broadway show tune in the middle of a graveyard, plunging wooden stakes into backup-singing vampires as she sang of her existential despair (“I’m just going through the motions, walking through the part”)-and it was absolutely captivating.
The rest of the episode was like nothing I’d ever seen on regular series television-and I’ve watched and written professionally about TV for more than 20 years. Music on TV works best in the form of specials or variety shows. Rarely does anyone attempt to do actual musical theater on the screen (leaving aside the occasional telecast of an actual stage play).
Even less often does anyone attempt to actually incorporate a true movie-musical sensibility-meaning not only writing catchy, hummable music and dancing, but also having the music make some kind of sense within the show’s own context-through an entire hour series episode (especially since Steven Bochco’s “Cop Rock”).
And rarest of all is someone who can put all this together, and do it at the very highest level of talent that makes it something special beyond itself-a TV high-wire act of breathtaking delight. But that’s what creator Joss Whedon pulled off here in “Once More With Feeling,” his probably-not-to-be-Emmy-nominated musical episode of Buffy.
The show has never had much luck winning Emmy awards, though it should have. It has been a showcase for great TV wit and style since it began in 1997. (Yes, OK, I admit that after I got hooked I did catch up with all five years of reruns via the FX network.) Last year’s musical extravaganza was the wonderfully entertaining culmination of all those seasons of hard work by all the cast and crew.
In the end, though, we’re still talking about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and as I say, it’s an easy show to underestimate. I’m not optimistic that it will win the Emmy it deserves this year either-particularly since in a typical “Buffy” kind of curse, the Emmy nominating forms mistakenly went out to voters without including “Once More With Feeling” on the ballot at all. So it may well not even get nominated.
Well, that’s the way the demon crumbles. The world is replete with deserving would-be award winners who never actually win awards. But make no mistake-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” merits recognition in the professional TV community for its superb television achievements. And just for the record, “Once More With Feeling” was without question the finest episode of TV last season, even if it never takes home a statuette.
David Klein, a former TV critic at the Cincinnati Post, is VP of publishing and editorial director of Advertising Age.