Shiny Shelf


Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Six DVD Collection

By Mark Clapham on 13 May 2003

It says a lot that the worst season of ‘Buffy’ contains episodes most other shows would kill for, and contains one absolute, no-kidding, instant TV classic. It starts well, it ends well, and although it meanders somewhat in the middle, the season as a whole is still worth having. To sweeten the deal, Fox have included their most generous selection of DVD extras yet.

Shiny Shelf reviewed this season episode-by-episode at the time of broadcast, so I’ll politely point readers in the direction of the TV archive rather than go through them in any detail. In broad strokes, the season starts with the patchy but exciting ‘Bargaining’, beginning an arc of building secrets and tensions which continues until everything explodes to the surface in ‘Once More With Feeling’, the series’ legendary musical episode (and aforementioned classic). Everything seems to be going so well after that, until ‘Wrecked’, a desperately unsubtle episode that mishandles several major plot beats quite badly. For a series as sure of its tone as ‘Buffy’, it’s disconcerting to see such a mess, and the second half of the season varies between solid stuff like ‘Gone’ and the rather good ‘Dead Things’, and rubbish like ‘Doublemeat Palace’, ‘Hell’s Bells’ and ‘Normal Again’. ‘Seeing Red’ is downright excellent, but the patchy ‘Villains’ and ‘Two To Go’ really fail to deliver on that promise. ‘Grave’ is a good solid ending to the season, and admirably manages to rebuild some of the faith lost in such a meandering batch of episodes.

It’s not just the see-sawing quality level that makes the season feel patchy in it’s second half – the series is about recidivism and unhealthy cycles at this point, and as such the characters keep making the same mistakes again and again and again, ad nauseum. While dramatically necessary, it’s overlong. The demon bikers in ‘Bargaining’ are an early signal that ‘Buffy’ is becoming a show that’s short on ideas – previous seasons threw away excellent potential recurring characters in their debut episodes, but the demon bikers are only as good as they need to be, disposable rent-a-monsters. That thinness of content continues through the season, and gives the feeling that ideas are spread too far across pre-set arc beats, as the production team mechanically make their way through an outlined uber-story. Sometimes you just wish they’d throw away their masterplan for the season and just do something fun and funky instead.

Nevertheless, when ‘Buffy’ fails it is, as always, by its own high standards, and even the duller episodes are worth watching, with only a small number being actively bad. And, musical aside, the likes of ‘Tabula Rasa’, ‘Afterlife’ and ‘Seeing Red’ are well worth multiple viewings. There’s also plenty to watch aside from the episodes on these discs, adding up to a ludicrously hefty package of extras. Aside from a strong set of commentaries (including the mighty Whedon on his musical labour-of-love), there are a handful of featurettes that are longer and more substantial than the name would suggest. David Fury’s behind the scenes doc on the making of ‘Once More With Feeling’ is a fairly candid view of the production, neatly intercutting different stages of the process. The season overview is the usual run-through of the episodes from the perspective of the production team, albeit with comments under thematic categories rather than going show-by-show. ‘Buffy Goes To Work’ includes most of the same interviewees as the overview, and is a ‘Smash Hits’ type survey of the first (and worst) jobs the production team had to do in early life.

The two most substantial extras are somewhat more than featurettes. There’s a recording of a panel discussion at the ‘Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ featuring Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon and a selection of cast and crew. By the nature of these live events, it’s a fairly rambling and informal discussion, but the chat is witty and instructive, running to about an hour. The other major extra is a television documentary from between seasons, ‘Television With A Bite’, which has the advantage of a broadcast-level budget, and as such bags interviews with studio heads and the like in covering the history of ‘Buffy’ to date. Through these two features, and many of the others, there is a notably higher Whedon presence than on previous ‘Buffy’ collections. Perhaps his vocal appearances here are a response to negative fan criticism, perhaps not. Either way, his presence throughout the extras on these discs make the set an essential purchase for fans hungry for wisdom and wit from the mouth of the show’s creator, regardless of their view of the season as a whole.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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