Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Jaimie Trueblood
Jeff Jensen
October 24, 2001 AT 04:00 AM EDT

A broke Buffy is tested by a villainous trio

It’s a good thing I take notes during ”Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (UPN, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) in order to do these weekly recaps. Otherwise, I wouldn’t remember that I actually enjoyed watching the Oct. 23 episode ”Life Serial.”

According to my notes, ”Serial” was a clever, witty, quickly-paced hour of entertainment. Buffy, ready to move on with life after her distressing resurrection, first decides to give college another try, auditing classes with Willow and Tara. But she finds herself unable to wrap her mind around seminar topics like ”the social construction of reality,” so she drops out. She then decides to find a job, but her brief stints as a construction worker (arranged by Xander) and assistant for Giles and Anya at the magic shop prove unfulfilling. Along the way, Buffy is bedeviled by a geeky trio of would-be supervillains who put the Slayer through three tests in order to assess her strengths and weaknesses.

According to my notes, most of what I liked involved the revelation that Sarah Michelle Gellar, Emmy-worthy as always, is an incredibly capable comic actress (the time-looping sequence was especially impressive). I’m also charmed by these bad guys, Jonathan, Warren, and Andrew, simultaneously self-serious and self-deprecating about their own geekery; I laughed heartily at the ”Star Wars” car horn and all things ”magic bone.” One complaint, though. It’s official: Connery-verses-Moore/James Bond debates are now a total cliché.

So what was weak about this episode? Beyond the fact that the supporting cast was woefully underutilized, it’s three-trials plot felt formulaic. After praising ”Buffy’s” writers last week for establishing a grand design to the season, ”Serial” made me wonder if they have enough stories to fill out their vision.

Yet what bothered me most about ”Serial” was how it suddenly backed away from the provocative challenge that had been set up for Buffy: juggling her dangerous (and exciting, though she can’t admit that to herself) duties as a Slayer, with the mundane responsibilities of being a single caretaker to little sister Dawn. Sending her to school or finding her a job are natural extensions of that premise, but I was surprised by how casually — and dismissively — the show explored those avenues.

Have the writers suddenly reconsidered this new direction for Buffy? (After all, it isn’t terribly sexy; do we REALLY want to see the Slayer fighting creditors instead of vampires?) The deus ex machina ending cinched it for me: Giles, handing Buffy a check that seems to solve all her financial problems, and then some. It was a lazy way out for a writing staff that earned its good rep by being neither. Here’s hoping ”Serial” was only a slight stumble (if an amusing one) on the way to a truly great season.

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