Monday, October 17, 2011

Classics: BtVS 4:5 - Life Serial

Overall Rating: 7.5

The trio is genuinely funny in this episode...but the story is distinctly ordinary.

Plot Synopsis:

Wikipedia has a good summary of this episode.

The Skinny:

Buffy goes slumming for the first time...and it ain't pretty.  She professes guilt over her escapades like so many alcoholics while they're praying to the porcelain idol, but we get a real sense in this episode that Buffy is going to have to hit rock bottom before she realizes that there is still the same good in the world that there was before she died.  That part of the plot is very uncomfortable to watch (and I'm sure this was done intentionally, though the fans of the show hate this season I think in part because they don't like not liking the lead and Buffy really becomes difficult to like starting now) but, I think, reasonably well written.  Spike, for his part, has switched from noble lovesick soul on the path to redemption to the man without a soul again as he begins playing on Buffy's weakness and vulnerability because he senses an opportunity to spend more time with Buffy - perhaps because he desperately wants to be with someone who is as miserable as he is, just to feel that connection.  His redemption will come when he stops trying to get Buffy to come down to his level and instead sacrifices to come up to hers.

But this episode is really the first prominent story driven by "The Trio," and, I think, the funniest episode in which they play a major role.  The passionate arguments about which is the best Bond, whether the deathstar painting on the side of the STEALTH van is accurate, who had the best Buffy prank, and whether it was hot or not to be kicked by Buffy...they are just so nerdy and unbelievably silly that you can't help but laugh hysterically in places.  I honestly think that the Trio - although wildly unpopular since they lacked big-bad ambitions (other than Warren) and therefore produced a season completely bereft of life or death consequences for the Slayerettes to battle that they didn't create themselves - is the most well-developed bad-guy that Whedon and his team ever produced for Buffy.  Each of the characters is unique and interesting in some way, each of them have different skills and foibles that serve interesting roles, and their interactions are entirely human - allowing them to be occasionally charming in a pathetic and goofy sort of way (with the exception of Warren, who, IMHO, is the only bad guy in the group).  Here, they are very much on display as innocent, lost souls who are just as clueless about how to handle the difficulties of living in a grown-up world as Buffy now is (post-death).  You really come to feel for Andrew and Jonathan when Warren goes public with his evil and they get caught in the crossfire by association.  They definitely made bad choices, but it was because Warren prayed on their weaknesses.

In any event, this episode does not pop as a message piece and it really works more to set-up the interpersonal dynamics that will dominate the rest of the season (other than the Willow/Tara relationship fallout, which will be dealt with in the next episode) than as a stand-alone story...but it's a good hour of laughs and queasiness rolled into one product.  Nothing wrong with that.

Writing: 8.0

The story concept works well for a set-up/filler episode and the comedy is well worth the viewing.

Acting: 8.5

I always felt that Adam Busch (Warren) is the weakest actor among the trio - which may also help to explain why the trio doesn't come across as threatening enough to hold the interest of the viewers.  He doesn't really pull his role off very well...most of the comedy comes from Tom Lank and Danny Strong (Andrew and Jonathan).  SMG has NO clue how to act like someone getting drunk or disliking the flavor of hard liquor...but she's certainly playing the loser very well otherwise.

Message: 6.0

No serious messages yet - other than the "don't do what Buffy does!" schtick we're going to see all year.

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