Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Welcome to the Hell Mouth/Harvest Review (1997)

My History With the Show: 
This past March 10th, Buffy the Vampire slayer turned twenty-two years old and that makes me feel old. I was in the seventh grade when Buffy debuted and I’ll never forget hearing all about it on the bus ride home. Kids were going nuts about how great this new show was, but being the rebel that I was, I didn’t watch it. I mean, I was a fourteen year old teenage boy, why the heck would I watch something called Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
That’s the same excuse I used a few years later in 2005, when I was twenty two years old and my buddy Alex tried to talk me into watching it. I fought him on it and said I wasn’t interested, but ultimately he got into my head and when I stumbled upon a DVD for $5 including the first two episodes, I decided to buy it to see what all the fuss was about.

I wouldn’t say my socks were knocked off, but I was intrigued enough to want to see more. So, I went back to Target and bought the first two seasons and began my Buffy fandom.

I’ve watched Buffy all the way through and will occasionally throw on an episode or two for background noise, but it’s been a while since I just sat down and watched Buffy. After a particularly difficult day at work, I just felt like watching Buffy, so I curled up on the couch and started at the beginning with Welcome to the Hell Mouth and The Harvest which are two episodes that combined make up the pilot.

What The Film Is About (Non-Spoiler):

A teenager girl attempts to navigate high school while juggling the pressure of being cosmically chosen to slay vampires and save the world.

What I Liked About It:
-This is the beginning of something epic, and it might be unfair to review something based on what is to come but it’s hard not to. This episode lays the groundwork for seven seasons of greatness and it does so in a wonderful fashion. Spreading the pilot over two episodes gives everyone time to breath and really gives us time with every character so that they are clearly defined by the end of it.

-Buffy’s gradual acceptance of her responsibility is handled incredibly well and in a realistic fashion. She doesn’t want to slay and she attempts to divert her responsibility but ultimately it’s up to her to save the day and she steps up.

-Xander (Nicholas Brendan) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) really steal the show with great dialogue. Cordelia had the two best lines/insults with:
“What is your childhood trauma?”
And
“Sorry to interrupt your downward mobility…” while she talks to Xander, Willow, and Jesse.
-I’ve always admired Mark Metcalf’s performance as The Master. He takes what should be a terrible, cheesy character and interjects enough personality to keep you invested. The early prosthetics looked like they were difficult to move/talk in and yet he still oozes evil while restraining his performance just enough to not become hokey.

-Sunnydale is a unique little town and you really grow to love it. You don’t see a ton of Sunnydale in this first episode but what you see you will like. The high school feels real and lived in, the cemetery is where a lot of the fighting goes down, and The Bronze is that cool hangout spot that everyone wish really existed.

-I love how Buffy and the characters aren’t written as untouchable superheroes. Buffy gets delayed because her mom grounds her for getting into trouble. Another example would be the principal baring her from leaving campus despite putting up a good argument. Not everyone is dumb in the show and the writers never treat the viewers as dumb which is what makes the show really work despite is absurd premise.

What I Didn’t Like About It:

-Buffy’s flipping onto the stage at the Bronze. It was way over the top and reminded me of the original movie. Luckily, this sort of ridiculous showboating doesn’t continue in the show. The flips and stunts are used sparingly when they make sense.

-The show struggles to juggle the humor and seriousness due to some of the special effects and performances. It’s not terrible, but it definitely is not a great reflection on what Buffy becomes a season or two down the road.

Additional Notes:
– Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) was sixteen and Mercedes McNab (Harmony) was nineteen when they filmed the pilot, they were the only two teenagers at the time when this episode was filmed. Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) was twenty-six years old.

-The school used for external shots and some internal is Torrance High School in Torrance, California. This school was also used in Beverly Hills, 90210.

-Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) originally auditioned for Buffy, while Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) auditioned for Cordelia. Both Julie Benz (Darla) and Mercedes McNab (Harmony) also auditioned for Buffy and were cast in different roles.

-There was an unaired pilot that was shot in 1996 that featured a different actress playing Willow (Riff Regan) and Principal Flutie (Stephen Tubolowsky.)

-The show is considered a continuation of the original film starring Kristy Swanson and its mildly referenced.

Rating:
The first two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are a little rough around the edges. A show like Buffy was unique at the time and it took Joss Whedon and crew a little while to find their rhythm (season two). You can see nuggets of greatness in the pilot (quirky sense of humor, catchy dialogue) but you can also see some rough special effects, some goofy stunts, and a tonal imbalance. Still, it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half and is still enjoyable even after watching the series through.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of those shows that holds up thanks to its witty dialogue and great storytelling. You can see glimpses of this in these first two episodes. Sadly, season one isn’t all full of great episodes, but it’s worth watching so that you can become invested enough to enjoy the rest of the series to its fullest degree.

I’d rate the first two episodes of Buffy a three and a half out of five and say it’s a high priority rental if you are into 90’s teen television/movies.

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