Nobody asked for this. But my Wi–Fi is down and I’m stuck listening to the workmen who cut the cable for it in the first place as they tear up the backyard at my house, so here it is.
There’s nothing in this entire world I love more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except probably my family, my dogs, and 34th Street Magazine. So, for all you first–time watchers out there, load up your Hulu Limited Commercial plans and trust me when I say this teen soap/dramedy/horror mashup will change your life. Where else can you get a show with vampires, teen angst, maybe even a musical episode? Okay, well, everywhere, but Buffy did it first.
Now, it’s got seven seasons. Which, I know, is a lot. But if I can find time to rewatch it every year for the past five years, you can find time to watch it once through. So, without further ado, here it is. The definitive, no–questions–or–comments–allowed ranking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seven beautiful seasons—don’t worry, it’s spoiler–free.
7. Season 4
When it’s good, it’s just so good. Season 4 of Buffy brought the gang to college, and features what might be the show’s best episode, the stand–alone, almost dialogue–free “Hush,” in which monsters take everyone’s voices in an episode guided along almost entirely by music. But seeing our heroine fall down in her first year at the fictional UC Sunnydale doesn’t always make for the best viewing experience. And the introduction of the most yawn–inducing romance and one of the least interesting “Big Bads” in the show’s run cement it squarely at the bottom of the ranking.
- “Beer Bad:” You really don’t need to see grown adults regress to cavemen because of cursed beer. Trust me.
- “Where the Wild Things Are:” A much less self–aware take on Big Mouth’s Hormone Monster: a hormone poltergeist keeps our leads banging. For. An. Entire. Episode. It’s just too much.
- “Hush:” Widely lauded as Buffy’s best episode, this one features some hella creepy monsters, the start of a series–long–joke about gruesome stick figure drawings, and Buffy in a kerchief.
- “Restless:” Buffy always nails a dream sequence, and “Restless” is no exception. Some beautiful desert shots and prophetic dialogue keep this end–of–season gem from feeling like a filler episode.
- “This Year’s Girl/Who Are You:” Body swap! It’s like Freaky Friday, but so much better. Don’t miss this one.
6. Season 1
For uberfans like myself, Season 1 will always hold a special place in our hearts. And if you're into 90's fashion, it's worth a watch for Buffy's "stylish yet affordable boots" alone. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s just not that good. The show took a while to find its footing, and while watching it back after having seen the rest of the show engenders a certain nostalgia, for first–time viewers, it’s really just something you have to get through.
- Except maybe the premiere and the two episodes below, much of Season 1 is eminently skippable. Watch it for the fashion, but bear in mind that the show doesn’t hit its stride until Season 2. Great things are coming.
- “Angel:” A tall, dark, and handsome stranger gives Buffy his leather jacket. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this one.
- “Prophecy Girl:” Buffy faces her first–ever Big Bad, and wears an awesome white dress while doing it.
5. Season 7
Fun fact: Season 7, episode 4 featured the first use of “Google” as a verb on primetime TV. And Episode 20 showed us the first lesbian sex scene on primetime as well, albeit with a character most of us can’t stand (but, hey, the “my girlfriend has a pierced tongue” line will live in infamy). Season 7 had some great firsts, but parts of it dragged on. It’s redeemed, though, by an excellent finale and its callbacks to the earliest seasons.
- “Bring on the Night:” It’s punishing to see your heroine get beat up, and this episode is near season–6–level in the hopelessness meter.
- “Empty Places:” The apex of Buffy’s menacing speech–making career. She did a better job at the Doublemeat Palace.
- “Storyteller:” Some much–needed comic relief that winks at the fourth wall, with a great showcase for a character who’s often in the show but never foregrounded.
- “Chosen:” Don’t you “want to see how it ends”?
4. Season 5
Season 5 brought about one of the most controversial decisions in Buffy’s history: to introduce a new character integral to the dynamic while the rest of the gang acts as if nothing had changed. It’s risky, and the character can be a bit annoying, but the payoff is huge.
More than any other season, this one makes you cry. “Family” makes you cry in a happy way, as Buffy’s Scooby Gang adopts another member into the fold. And, in a welcome arc, a character comes to terms with a queer identity! On primetime! In 2000! And “The Body” takes a hard, unflinching look at what it feels like to lose someone.
- “Listening to Fear:” Space aliens as a quasi–metaphor for brain cancer. Who signed off on this?
- “Into the Woods:” Though it does see the end of the show’s most boring romantic relationship, it doesn’t handle the breakup well.
- “The Gift:” “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.”
- “The Body:” See above. Tissues mandatory.
- “Fool for Love:” For fans of a certain peroxide–drenched, leather–duster–wearing vamp, this is about as good as it gets. It’s told mostly in flashbacks and features some excellent period costuming.
3. Season 6
This is a controversial one. Season 6 is the darkest Buffy ever got, with a heavy addiction subplot and an attempted assault scene that I still can’t get through. But it does have the zaniest villains, known as “The Trio,” two emotionally stunted nerds led by a cold–blooded misogynist who gets scarier the older I get. It’s a dark and decidedly un–subtle season with one message: the scariest monsters are the ones inside ourselves.
- “Doublemeat Palace:” “What if the chosen one had to work at a fast–food restaurant, and there was a vaguely phallic monster?” Asked no one, ever. A.K.A., the one where we learn that Buffy does not look good in orange. But at least Jane Lynch is there!
- “Hell’s Bells:” Watching a character make a horribly stupid decision and not being able to change his mind is frustrating, but this episode takes it to a new level. Ugh, Xander.
- “Once More With Feeling:” It’s a musical episode that somehow still moves the plot along and has a natural explanation. This one is so re–watchable.
- “Tabula Rasa:” The Latin incantation for “blank slate” gives this episode its title, and it’s a classic amnesia caper that starts out a hilarious venue for Joss Whedon’s trademark one–liners and winds up exquisitely sad with “Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch piping through the background.
2. Season 3
This season’s characterization is, frankly, perfect, with a germaphobic bureaucrat acting as the Big Bad. It also explores the most complex and nuanced female relationship in the show, introducing a darker counterpart—the “want–take–have” id to Buffy’s superhero superego, if you will.
- “Dead Man’s Party:” Buffy’s mom makes a really annoying friend! Zombies! The gang is fighting! It’s just…meh.
- “Beauty and the Beasts:” Not Marti Noxon's best.
- “The Wish:” This alternate universe allows Alyson Hannigan (hi, HIMYIM!) to showcase her acting chops and break out of her character’s “good girl” box. It also introduces my second–favorite character, a vengeance demon who describes herself as “strangely literal.” Same, girl.
- “The Prom:” You will never listen to the Sunday’s cover of “Wild Horses” the same way ever again.
1. Season 2
This is Buffy at its absolute best. The gang is in high school. There’s romance, vampires, impractically short dresses, Principal Snyder, and a healthy dose of laughter and tears. Buffy really figures itself out in this season, and the plot arc is both heavily supernatural and completely relatable.
- “Bad Eggs:” Apart from featuring everyone’s favorite country–bumpkin vampire brothers (sadly, they have a very short arc), this one is just kind of gross.
- “Killed By Death:” A Freddy Krueger knockoff terrorizes a hospital in this episode, which is also set entirely in the hospital. Gross and somehow still boring.
- “School Hard:” Apart from the introduction of my two favorite characters, one of whom was supposed to have a half–season arc and wound up staying until the series finale because he was so damn great, this episode gives us Buffy trying to make lemonade. She forgets the sugar, and it’s surprisingly funny.
- “Surprise/Innocence:” Arguably Buffy’s best two–parter, this is the full realization of Joss Whedon’s central conceit for the show: “what if the monsters we faced in high school, were, well, actual monsters?”
- “Passion:” You will cry.
- “Becoming (Parts 1 and 2):” You will cry, again, possibly harder.