So, basically, this season is kind of all over the place. We have highs, we have lows, we have a couple really great episodes, and some really important episodes, and we have things like <sighs> “I Robot, You Jane.” Let’s talk it through, shall we?
We start out with the two episode arc of “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest.” These are not the greatest episodes, but they do make a solid story-arc. Buffy comes to Sunnydale, meets Xander and Willow and Giles, and does her duty as the Slayer despite her desire to step down and be a normal girl.
The next few episodes basically build up our team dynamic, and let everyone settle into their roles and define themselves. A few things are set up that get called back later in the series, but mostly, the episodes are used to figure out how the four central cast members work together. We don’t really get anymore essential information until “Angel,” and then we go back to very episodic, non-essential episodes until the end of the season, with “Prophecy Girl.”
My conclusions, after rewatching are basically this: Season one is fun, light-hearted, and basically only has four episodes you actually need to watch. Sure, you can throw in “Witch” or “Nightmares” if you want, but pretty much, everything is so episodic this season that it’s pretty much non-essential viewing, particularly for someone who isn’t committed yet to finishing the series. If I had to guide an uninterested newbie through this show, I’d probably show them “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest,” “Angel,” and “Prophecy Girl,” and just explain anything that pops up that you don’t get in those four episodes.
However, season one is kind of like seasons four and six in that it has a lot of crappy episodes that get ragged on a lot, but it also has some pretty solid ones, maybe even some favorite ones. Season one also has a solid story arc (granted, there are twelve episodes, and the main arc is told in only four of them), and a lot of much needed character growth and development. It’s not the strongest season, but I also can’t call it the worst.
Acting-wise, the standout moments pretty much all go to Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head. David Boreanaz is pretty baby-deer-in-the-headlights for most of this season (and, honestly, most of the show when he’s not Angelus–as I recall he does get better through S3). Alyson Hannigan is good, but doesn’t really have any super-stellar moments this season, although she does have some good character growth and a few good comedy moments. Nicholas Brendan gives a solid performance the whole way through, but like Alyson, never really has any big standout moment.
In summation (a very subjective summation based entirely on personal opinion), I’m going to list my picks for best and worst of the season. Because why not?
Best Episode: Prophecy Girl
Worst Episode: Teacher’s Pet (it wins over “I Robot, You Jane” due to the sheer amount of anger and frustration it inspired)
Best Character Arc: Buffy Summers
Worst Character Arc: The Master (what was he even doing for most of this season?)
Most Improved Acting: David Boreanaz (he actually emotes in “Prophecy Girl!” Miraculous!)
Best Actor/tress: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Best Supporting Actor/tress: Anthony Stewart Head
Best Standalone Episode: Nightmares
Standout/Starmaking Moment: The “I’m 16 years old. I don’t want to die.” scene from Prophecy Girl. Brava (to steal a turn of phrase from Seth Rudetsky).
Best Actor/tress in a very minor role: Kristine Sutherland
That’s a wrap on Season 1! Onward and upward, Slayerettes!