Jeff Jensen says the season premiere proves that the blond Slayer's move to UPN has only made the series better
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Richard Cartwright

Buffy is back in an episode that kills!

She’s BAAACK! Buffy does indeed live, just as the billboards have teased, and just as Oct. 2’s season premiere of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” proved. Buffy’s back, and much has changed — beginning with new network UPN, which wrangled the show away from the WB for a whopping $2.3 million per episode. Has all the hullabaloo affected the show for the worse? The answer is a resounding ‘Hell No!’

Judging from the season premiere, ”Buffy” remains one of the best shows on TV. It may have even gotten better. UPN’s pretty pennies have bought ”Buffy” some snazzier production values, including location shoots, cinematic establishing shots of Sunnydale, and some markedly improved special effects. The resurrection sequence — with Willow (”American Pie 2”’s band-camp vixen Alyson Hannigan) breaking out with skin lacerations, conjuring a blood-red light show, and barfing up a snake — may have set a new standard for simulated satanic sinistery-ness for the show.

There was no real suspense in Buffy’s death in last season’s cliffhanger conclusion, which had Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leaping into the crackling void to sacrifice her life for the sake of her teenage sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). But if you bet your tax refund check that Buffy’s buddies would rely on the same zombie voodoo that briefly revived Buffy’s dead mom last season… well, easy come, easy go, right?

Instead, Buffy’s resurrection came courtesy of a magical vase, which the dishy demoness Anya (Emma Caulfield) purchased on eBay (she also picked up a Backstreet Boys lunchbox for her fiancé, Xander, played with usual befuddled brilliance by Nicholas Brendon). Of course, witchy Willow needed some other, more secret ingredients, too — the most shocking of which was the blood of a baby deer. Watching Willow lure and then gut a poor, defenseless Bambi set the stage for a provocative storyline: Willow’s gradual corruption due to her dabblings in the darker magical arts.

”Buffy” lore tells us that coming back from the dead is no easy feat. Long departed Angel (David Boreanaz) devolved into a snarling animal when he was repaired to his undead coil in Season 3, and Buffy herself suffered some post-traumatic stress after a brief sojourn into the underworld in Season 1. Judging from her bewitched, bothered and bewildered reaction to her most latest revival (handled superbly as usual by Gellar), Buffy’s transition will be a pronounced and prolonged mix of past precedents. ”Buffy” lore also tells us that this Slayer has ”the gift of death” — an as-yet-unexplained bit of business that suggests not even the Reaper can keep Buffy down for long.

There’s so much I liked about the season premiere: all things Buffybot; the sweet send-off for Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head); Trachtenberg’s emotionally rich scenes with babysitter Spike (James Marsters) and her resuscitated sister; the kick-ass action and smart-ass humor — that I feel like a heel for acknowledging some flaws. I’ll stop with just one: I liked launching the UPN era with a two-hour event, but the second hour felt a little padded.

I do have a deeper concern, and it’s only a flaw depending on how you like your ”Buffy.” I fret the show may be becoming too Greek tragedy-ish; there’s so much gravity here, ”Buffy”’s running the risk of becoming a total drag. It will be interesting to see if the Scooby gang have entered a time of life that, however natural the progression, will remain of interest to all fans; clearly, the carefree superheroing days are over.

What do you think?

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