Overall Rating: 6.0
Its heart was in the right place - its execution was decidedly not.
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I went into this one wanting to like it. My sister reviewed some fluff from the DS9-verse...fluff that worked because of the characters...and I wanted to come away form this script thinking "well that was senseless fluff, but at least it did what it set out to do and entertained." But the script fails for two main reasons. First...to shoehorn Jonathan into the hero role, the writer (Jane Espenson) sacrificed her characters, rather than highlighting them. Anya tends to be blunt...but she's not a cold, Buffy-hating bitch. Buffy might not have gotten a chance to stand solo against the big bad in Jonathan's universe, but she wouldn't be a confused, helpless wuss. Tara might forget some things in the new order...but I don't buy that her relationship with Willow would be so fundamentally different. And sorry, but no...I don't buy that Xander would be the most vulnerable to hero worship and to sacrificing the real world for Jonathan's circus. He's a geek, but he's not that much of a pathetic loser. Espenson...to pull off light fluff...you have to stay true to your characters.
The second failing here is that it's just...too much. It's one thing to parody action flicks and spy stories and the like...it's quite another to give Jonathan speeches that are just plain STUPID and have your regulars hanging onto his every word. When I'm watching the show with someone who is not a hard core Buffy fan, and she spends the whole episode saying "OK, that's just stupid," and "are you sure you want to watch this?" then I think you've failed to sell the camp as intentional.
I led off this review saying the episode had the right idea...it was a smart idea, IMHO, to look back on Jonathan after his stunning appearance in "Earshot," and the core message...that you can't fix what's wrong with you or win friends and influence people with a single big gesture...that life is not easy and no amount of cheating will make it so (you're only cheating yourself if you try)...is a message worth hearing. It's just a shame that Espenson passed along this message in such a lackluster and unfaithful way.
Character assassination + really REALLY cheesy, unfunny comedy = FAIL
But there's nothing wrong with most of the performances, with the possible exception of SMG's weaker-sister Buffy rendition (and yes, fans...I know Buffy is the one that blows the facade off Jonathan's house of cards...the rest of her stuff doesn't fit with that fact, though) and Marc Blucas' unwatchable wooden Riley (reprised just as stiffly in alternate realities!)
But as noted above, it's a message I can live with any day...living in the real world requires a willingness to face the consequences of your actions, work for the friendships you desire.