Slaying vampires and tunes is all in a days work for Buffy. //
Although it may not feel like it, there was a time before Glee and High School Musical. This was back when audiences were still unaccustomed to a sentence turning into a five minute melody, or a character casually whipping out a guitar as the gymnasium lights dim on their own (and candles everywhere, why are there always candles everywhere?).
During this blissful pre-Smash time, television shows would employ the stunt of the musical episode (often during sweepstakes) to tear apart conventional TV and rake in viewers. Classic tropes such as ‘talking’ and ‘walking’ were abandoned for ballad-belting and grape-vining, delighting and upsetting audiences globally.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer looked to do just this in Season Six for the episode “Once More, With Feeling”. For those unfamiliar with Buffy, she is a kickass gal on a mission with her buddies to fight evil forces: demons, vampires, witches, ghosts and even robots. Turns out she doesn’t just slay vampires – she can also slay a hell of a tune. In this episode a musical demon forces the residents of Sunnydale to reveal all of their secrets to each other through the majesty of song and dance.
Before you cringe so hard that your face folds into an origami swan – it’s actually pretty cool. The writing in Buffy is smart and funny enough to make fun of the musical whilst simultaneously participating in it. Characters make “witness arias” instead of witness statements. Anya expresses disillusionment with her own musical number with Xander, “clearly our number is a retro pastiche that’s never going to be a breakaway pop hit”. Giles shows his distaste for 80’s power ballads, and then breaks out into something very close to an 80’s power ballad. It’s great.
The fight-scene number “Something to Talk About” also shows that this isn’t some Rogers & Hammerstein rose petal affair. Buffy sings inane sugary lyrics (“it’s alright if some things come out wrong – we’ll sing a happy song”) whilst beating the crap out out of ventriloquist-dummy-demon-henchman. When did the Von Trapp family ever do that?
Another highlight of the episode is Sweet, the off-broadway demon who made it all happen. Combining the sexual energy of The Mask with the aggro aesthetic of Hellboy, Sweet jives his way across the dancefloor in a silky blue suit and makes it very easy to forget that he is the bad guy. Or is he? I will leave you to watch the episode to find out.
The gang finishes with a big finalé number asking “Where Do We Go From Here?”. After a musical spectacular like this, I’m really not sure.