Can ''Buffy'' go on without Sarah Michelle Gellar? Ken Tucker weighs in on that ''Slayer'' burning question and several others
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, ...
Credit: Buffy: Greg Gorman/The WB

Can ”Buffy” go on without Sarah Michelle Gellar?

The party line on ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” seems to be: The last season stunk toward the end, if not all the way through; the new one’s slow to get off the ground; Joss Whedon’s spending too much time trying to save ”Firefly”; and can Willow replace Buffy when Sarah Michelle Gellar’s contract is up this year?

Well, in order: I thought the ”dark” last season had frequent moments of brilliance; the new one has been a hoot and a half; ”Firefly” is an intelligent take on genre shows that’s not a sufficiently entertaining SHOW show; and…no, Willow cannot replace Buffy.

I do not presume to yet have the grasp on the overall dramatic arc of this season’s ”Buffy” that Whedon and coexecutive producer Marti Noxon undoubtedly possess. And by the way, I also don’t agree with the demonization of Noxon as the person who took ”Buffy” in the wrong direction last year, as some of the more rabid fan sites have maintained; you can bet she was carrying out — and fleshing out to the best of her abilities — concepts that Whedon felt would bring greater depth and drama to a series that’s always been idiotically unappreciated by those outside its cult.

The problem is that the cult is shrinking. Since ”Buffy”’s move to UPN, the ratings have been declining — this season especially. Does that have an effect on what direction the show takes?

To some extent. Obviously, Whedon and Co. write and begin filming episodes before any ratings trends or fan reactions start developing any consistency. And I think that the richness of the show’s ”mythology” has reached a point where it’s closed the series off to any curious new viewers: Who in the world is going to understand how heart-wrenching it was, on the Oct. 22 edition, to see Xander begging Buffy not to kill Anya? Heck, who except diehards would sit through the opening five minutes of that (great) episode, which was subtitled, set in another century, and may or may not have been a dream?

My guess is that Whedon is setting the stage for a total series finale, and he wants to go out with all the ambitiousness, wit, and passion that have made ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” one of the most rewarding TV series ever. At any rate, I’d be shocked if Gellar stayed around another year, and I’d fall into a coma if the series proceeded without her. (It would be funny, though, if the show got more respect from the mainstream press and the Emmys if it were just called something like ”Vampire Killer,” or ”Hellmouth.”)

But then again, shock and comas are things ”Buffy” characters have recovered from in the past. So if the show continued, I’m sure I could snap out of it and try to dig what Whedon wanted to accomplish.

Wouldn’t you?

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